A young man sitting in an open boat on the open sea in summer

Here are a few tips that proved useful for me when creating my characters.

  1. Make the picture first and get inspired by it. I often want to picture something else than what I get. (See some examples.) Of course you could think that’s mildly annoying, but most of the time it’s just plain useful.
    When I get a fantasy viking woman not inside a period house made of turf sods but next to a stone wall, lit by candles instead of a bonfire, I try to keep my calm and roll with it. Where would she have to be? Not Bjartey for sure. Sweden maybe? She has a dark complexion: Can she be from a more southern part? So what about the European mainland then? What can the candles symbolize? Christianity? So she is a Christian woman from Normandy. (Except I don’t call her a Norman Christian.) She looks well-fed and clean, so she must be wealthy. But she is young, how did she acquire her wealth? Ah, it’s her family’s wealth. So, what is her job? And so on and on. (See the resulting character Yolant from Dinan.)
  2. Read lots of Old Norse literature, but don’t take it at face value. It’s mostly literature, not history. You don’t have to read sagas in their original language, most of them have been translated (be aware of the trouble with names though.) Pick one of the minor characters and think about the part of their life that isn’t told in the saga. As an example, Þorbjörg urta is inspired by Helga in 👉 Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss who made an involuntary „expedition“ to Greenland on an ice floe. I thought about how being rumoured to have done that might affect a person.
  3. Use information you come across in your daily life and make it the center point of your character‘s personality. I made a character who sees faces in inanimate objects after I read about the phenomenon of pareidolia. Another character came to life because I wanted to have somebody with a byname given with sarcastic intent. Then a friend told me about their skin condition and I passed it on to one of my characters. Often I notice how much easier my life is compared to my vikings… dentistry is a fantastic invention, refrigerators too, and let‘s not even mention beer in a bottle, because the concept of disinfection alone would be mind-blowing for any of my vikings. Reading viking-unrelated non-fiction can spark your interest in a way of life without all of our convenience. How would my viking deal with an infected wound? Loss of a loved one? Disorientation? They had the same problems that we have, only without tetanus shots, therapy, and sat nav. Poor sods, the lot of them.