Posts Tagged ‘Kelley Armstrong’

It doesn’t matter where you go, what you watch, or what you read. Inevitably, there is some sort of relationship involved. That relationship could be with another person, with yourself, or with God, but there is always at least one relationship involved in life and stories.

Every writer needs to know the relationships between the characters in the story, and many times aspects of those relationships are taken from the author’s life, whether consciously or unconsciously.

In my last post, I reviewed Kelley Armstrong’s Sea of Shadows, from her Age of Legends trilogy. In an email interview, she answered a few questions regarding the relationships within this trilogy, specifically the first book.


Photo credit: Kathryn Hollinrake. kelleyarmstrong.com

“Relationships are a huge part of any novel for me,” she wrote. “They might actually be the part that interests me most because it impacts so many other aspects of the plot.”

I’ve always been intrigued by the characters of stories, and I’ve loved the relationships that are formed, whether I root for them or not. It’s something I’ve always looked at in stories, and I’ve always found them to be the most intriguing aspect of a story.

In Sea of Shadows, the plot focuses on twin sisters Moria and Ashyn as they travel to the Imperial City of the empire. They are forced to leave their home on the edge of the Forest of the Dead. They each travel with other companions, but are separated. (For a lengthier summary see my last post here or Goodreads here.)

How much should relationships impact the overall story? “I had the primary relationship of the twin sisters,” Armstrong said, “and I wanted to explore how that changes as they near adulthood. It’s such a close bond, and yet one that will change, as they prepare to lead independent lives, away from the family home. The plot of the book let me accelerate that process.”

Armstrong, like many writers, incorporated some of her own life into the relationships in Sea of Shadows. “I would take my own relationship with pets or my experiences seeing twins and then add the fictional ‘what if.’” Two of the “what if’s” she asked were: “What if your dog/cat was supernaturally bonded to you?” and “What if, as a twin, you grew up in a world where you’d never been apart?”

Writers often take their own experiences and find ways to express them, and for fantasy writers sometimes that means taking life experiences and incorporating them through fantasy elements. By doing this, authors can better connect their readers to the fantasy world, as there are familiar aspects involved. By incorporating small aspects of life, authors let readers bring their own ideas and experiences to the story.

The next hurdle for authors is in how to show the relationships within the confines of the story’s plot. Both dialogue and action are important. Armstrong says, “Dialogue is the easy way—show how they interact in conversation.” However, she thinks showing a relationship through action is stronger. “It’s the old adage about actions speaking louder than words.” She likes to take it a bit farther. “It’s also very telling if a character says one thing but does something very different, and I often play with that. Trust the actions, not the words!”

The story doesn’t end after Sea of Shadows; it continues on with Empire of Night, the second installment of the trilogy, and then with Forest of Ruin, to be released in 2016. Even as a writer myself, I haven’t yet had a story that’s warranted more than one book. It’s fascinated me how well characters’ relationships can both change and stay the same over a multi-novel story.

Armstrong wrote that it can be difficult to maintain relationships throughout a multi-novel story. “I think the hardest part is maintaining the right balance of focus on each relationship, as new relationships form and the old remain (and remain important).”

Not only does Armstrong maintain human relationships with five main characters throughout the trilogy, but she also adds Moria and Ashyn’s “bond beasts,” which she characterizes as “a pet relationship in overdrive.” She includes the sisters’ relationship as it grows and changes, the friendships they make, potential romances between characters, and each characters’ relationship with the bond beasts, as the sisters’ bond beasts are with them the majority of the time.

How does one keep track of so many relationships throughout all of the plot that has to carry through three or more novels? “I actually tracked all of those in charts,” Armstrong said, “to be sure that I wasn’t focusing too much on one relationship at the expense of others.”

That sounds a lot like real life to me, aspects of which, as I said above, many authors want to include in their stories. Not only does the author need to maintain a balance in those relationships, but the characters themselves may have to balance relationships throughout the story. Which is yet another thing for the author to keep track of while in the process of writing.

As is fairly usual for an aspiring writer interviewing an established author, my last question for Armstrong was if she had any tips for portraying character relationships. “Deep relationships should be complex,” she said. “They are in real life. We might have simplistic relationships with acquaintances, but it’s very different with deep or long-term relationships. When drafting relationships, look for points where two characters are in sync but also for where they conflict.”

That’s some good advice. As far as I’ve found, no relationship is all sunshine and roses. Nor is a relationship all fighting and contention. There has to be a balance of both, as there usually is in real life. People’s interests conflict and cause tension in a relationship, and characters should be the same. “It’s those points of conflict that will really add to your interactions, but you need the “in-sync” points too—endless bickering between characters is as boring as no conflict at all.”


What do you think? As a reader, how do you prefer to see relationships portrayed? What are some of your favorites?

Writers, how do you prefer to portray relationships, and why? Do you use a model of some kind? Leave your comments and ideas below!


Find out more about Kelley Armstrong on her website or blog. The Age of Legends trilogy can be found on Amazon.


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WARNING: This post may contain SPOILERS, though I have done my best to give away as little as possible. However, as I’m examining the characters’ relationships throughout the novel, some context and relational development will likely be considered spoilers by many. You have been warned. Read on if you dare. (Or read the book first, then return. I recommend it. You can find it here.)

sea of shadows

Ashyn closed her eyes and reached out to the spirits. After a moment, she could feel them pulling at the edge of her consciousness. It wasn’t like the gentle plucks of the ancestral spirits; these were harsh, like needle jabs.

She repeated the words Ellyn had taught her.

“I’m here to give you peace,” she said. “You want peace.”

No, they wanted revenge.


Short Summary:

Ashyn and Moria are twins who live at the only entrance to the Forest of the Dead, where the empire’s criminals are exiled. They are the Seeker and Keeper of Edgewood, and they must defend the empire from the vengeful spirits within the forest. On Ashyn’s first trip into the wood, everything goes wrong, and the two girls are forced to leave their home and head to the Imperial City to find the emperor. But they can’t travel alone. Gavril, a young warrior from a disgraced family who has lived in Edgewood for many years, and Ronan, a young thief exiled to the forest before the winter who managed to survive, accompany the girls while facing many challenges and threats along the way.

The relationships:

The two girls are close to one another, hardly separated for more than a day before they’re forced from their home under grim and unusual circumstances. They have a close bond, as expected of twins, and are identical in looks, though extremely different otherwise. However, the two girls temper each other: Ashyn, the quieter one who tends to think things through and is well-read, and Moria, the rambunctious fighting-type who’s good with a dagger and quick wit, but letting no one get away with insulting her sister or friends. Both are fiercely loyal and charged with daunting tasks, but they care deeply for one another and the few close to them.

Both are close with their bond-beasts, Tova (a Hound) and Daigo (a Wildcat) respectively. These bond-beasts help set them apart as Seeker and Keeper, and are fiercely loyal of their charges and vice versa. Multiple times Ashyn protects Tova and worries, and Moria worries over Daigo when he’s injured. Both Tova and Daigo are much like the girls with whom they are bonded, and are also close to one another.

Throughout the novel, the young warrior Gavril changes–or we get to see more of who he is–through Moria’s eyes. While in Edgewood, Gavril is intimidating and seemingly cold, though he and Moria get along alright. She enjoys his jabs and corrections, and quips back, not to be outmatched. As they travel to the Imperial City across a large expanse of cooled lava (the Wastes), following after Ashyn and Ronan, he starts to soften after an encounter with a mythical creature. We hear more about him and start to learn who he is. We also see Moria opening up and staying respectful, and we watch as their relationship deepens. We are shown how they temper each other, Moria taking action when it’s needed, and Gavril showing caution and giving chastisement when needed.

We see this developed relationship clearly through Ashyn’s eyes after they’ve caught up with her and Ronan. She sees something more between Moria and Gavril than was there in Edgewood, though Moria continues to claim that they’re only friends. By the end of the book, Gavril changes before our eyes, and readers are left bewildered by his actions. (Read the book to get the full extent and to find out what happens! I’ll not spoil it here 😉 )

We also see a relationship start to develop between Ashyn and Ronan as they work their way together across the Wastes. He ever so slowly opens up about who he is and why he’s so anxious to get back to the city, but (from my angle) we’re still not sure we know much about him by the end of the book. However, we do see a struggle within Ashyn as she works to quell her growing feelings for him and her desires for a romance as she’s read of in tales. We don’t really get the chance to see Ashyn and Ronan’s relationship through Moria’s eyes, as that’s not the sort of thing she’d think to look for or worry about, as Ashyn does. Therefore, we get to see it mostly through Ashyn’s eyes as she struggles with herself. However, again at the end of the book, we are shocked to see where their relationship truly is and how it’s developed. (Again, you’ll have to read the book.)


This is merely a review of the main relationships throughout the novel, but, as with most novels, there are many more relationships that come and go: the girls’ father, the villagers, other soldiers. There is much more that can be said and evaluated about the relationships we’ve already talked about as well, though that would require great depth and many spoilers. And I’m not inclined to giving things away, as that’s something that bothers me.

If you’ve read the book and have something to add, or you would just like to discuss aspects of the book, comment below or shoot me an email. I would love to discuss it with you, though I ask that comments be as free of spoilers as possible. At that point, just email me. 🙂

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