Character Study: Catherine Barahal (Spiritwalker Monday 8)

Over on her blog, N.K. Jemisin did a series of character studies for some of the characters in her Inheritance Trilogy. Here’s one, for Itempas.

I decided to borrow the “character study” idea for today’s post so  I could combine it with a question I was recently asked: What was your thought process for the creation of Cat? (LS)

Warning: There will be spoilers later in this post for Cold Magic and Cold Fire, but the first part is fairly general.


First, I wanted Cat to be physically confident, someone who knows when to run and when to stand her ground, and who isn’t afraid of a physical challenge. At the same time I wanted her to NOT be a person whose feelings are bottled up; Cat is very free with her feelings, she laughs and cries easily and does not judge herself for having strong feelings.

That is the initial contrast I was going for: She is both physically confident *and* emotionally confident in the sense that she doesn’t try to hide, disguise, or be embarrassed by her emotions nor does she see being emotional as something inherently weak. She wears her heart on her sleeve and she is not afraid of a challenge.

I did not want her to be a girl who needs to be rescued; I wanted her to be a young woman able to rescue herself (and others). I did not want her anger to be debilitating or shameful; I wanted her anger (when it manifests) to be clean and pure. I did not want her to be coy or retiring; I wanted her to be forthright, curious, and fully engaged in exploring all the aspects of herself that commonly unfold as people come into adulthood, like her sexual feelings, her growing understanding of how politics and the world works and her place within the world, and her concern for and loyalty toward others. I wanted her to judge injustice harshly but to feel compassion even for people who may have hurt her. I wanted her to display a sense of the absurd and to have the capacity to see joy in the world.

Most of all I wanted her to speak for herself because I wanted readers to read about a character who believes in her own voice, as I hope we all can learn to believe in our own voices.

That last turned out to be easy because the book is written in her first person narration. All I had to do was move my own “voice” aside and let the book emerge in her voice. One of the most interesting things about writing in Cat’s voice is that she’s funny. My usual serious-business epic fantasy writing voice is not funny so it has been an illuminating experience writing books that people tell me make them laugh out loud at moments.


Spoilers for Cold Magic and Cold Fire follow. Continue reading