Melinda Salisbury: Character Development in The Scarecrow Queen

Melinda Salisbury: Character Development in The Scarecrow Queen

One of the best things about writing a trilogy has been having so much room to let my characters grow in a way that feels organic and natural for both them and the story. Though the time period for all three books is relatively short – taking place over a period of six months; from late summer to the end of winter – in that time all of the main characters – and Twylla in particular – change in some ways quite dramatically. They all go on significant emotional journeys, and because I’ve had three books to allow that, they’ve had the space and time to process the things that happen to them on page, so the reader can see their journeys, and how they’ve moved on and grown.

When I started writing The Sin Eater’s Daughter, one of my main goals was to write a realistic female protagonist. I was – and still am – a prolific reader, but I’d never read a character – especially a female, teen one – who was like me. While I’m endlessly grateful to the authors who wrote strong, feisty, certain characters for showing me what I could be, what I was lacking was the backstory, and the knowledge of how to become. I needed a role model that I could recognise myself in; vulnerable, naïve, a little cowardly, and frightened. I needed to know how that girl stopped being those things, and became a real heroine.

In absence of finding her, I wrote her.

In The Sin Eater’s Daughter, we meet Twylla aged seventeen. We learn since the age of thirteen she’s been living in a castle, under the direct care of the queen, who has gone to great efforts to keep her isolated – thereby continuing the work of her mother.

She has no friends, no allies, save the Gods she is there to honour, and the queen who has manipulated and abused her until she’s retreated completely. When she finally, accidentally makes a new friend, she’s completely unprepared for the consequences of it, and as a result ends the story broken, and fragile, and more alone than before. When we next meet her, we learn that she’s spent three months living at the edge of the world, rebuilding herself on her own terms. She’s learned to read, learned to find things that she enjoys, she lives independently, and has befriended a good many people in her village without the reputation of her former life influencing how she’s seen. They like her, because they like her.

We find a girl who is shrewd, but who still has an open heart, albeit a wary one. By the time The Scarecrow Queen begins, Twylla has learned through her experiences how to trust herself and her own judgement, and how to work with her weaknesses. She can weigh up a situation and make a decision, and she knows how, and when, to stand up for herself. And also when to give in. Twylla has discovered the value of herself, on her own terms, and in doing so is truly strong. She has broken out of her Rapunzel-in-the-Tower stereotype and become a person all of her own.

But despite the changes she’s undergone, she’s still Twylla at heart and I believe that is the strongest test of good characterisation. There is a moment in The Scarecrow Queen where Twylla voices that she still has the same doubts and fears as she’s always had – they haven’t left her, despite the things she’s done since. At her core, she hasn’t changed – she’s still the girl who plunges her hands into dirt because the feeling of the earth between her fingers grounds her. What she has learned to do is admit that she’s afraid and face up to her fears – something she couldn’t do in the first book. She isn’t unrecognisable from the girl she was at the beginning. But she’s undeniably stronger.

And she’s not the only one. All of the characters have learned to stand on their own two feet by the end of the series, and make decisions that they could never have made at the beginning of the books. What they’ve gone through over the course of the stories has really shaped them – both for better and worse – and it’s been the most delicious thing as a writer to be able to explore that. It’s not something you get to experience often in real life – we don’t necessarily know when a chapter is coming to an end for us until much later, and often they all blur together, meaning we’re constantly developing, and never reaching that elusive ‘final form’. We’re always a work in progress.

So it was important, to me, that while Twylla, and the others, changed and grew, that at heart they were still people they’d always been. The girl who was too eager to please, the boy who would do anything for his family, the apothecary who couldn’t bear to fail, the prince who craved knowledge, and the young man who took everything so seriously it crushed him. By the end of the series they’re still the same people, but they’ve learned to work with their true selves and embrace their flaws. Their development has been in becoming aware of themselves, and everything that means.

And while I’ll be sad to say goodbye to them, I’ve reached a point where I can leave them in the story now, and know that they’re going to be all right.