Elemental Characters

by bioraka on Deviant Art

Do you ever think of characters in terms of where they seem to naturally fall within the four elements?  It may seem odd to equate a character with earth, water, fire, or air, but it can help to maintain a theme throughout several works or to create cohesion of your character’s personality.

I’m one of those writers who tends to write, then sees the patterns forming within my writing and continues them.  In The Earl of Brass and The Winter Garden, I have several characters who represent elemental powers and this influences how they interact with their world.  It may make more sense to demonstrate how this happens with concrete examples.

Eilian Sorrell is an earth elemental.  He is an archaeologist and historian, who loves nothing more than being outside and digging in their earth to discover how civilizations flourished or fell.  Even his physical description matches his earthen qualities. His hair is described as raw umber, which to me is a nice way of saying “dirt brown,” and his scars from the dirigible accident are described as vine-like in their structure.

Hadley Fenice is a fire elemental.  Besides her dark red hair, which was an afterthought, she is a craftswoman, so I often think of her work in terms of Vulcan with his forge.  She manipulates medal and creates prostheses and dolls using porcelain, another item that requires fire to form.  Her last name, Fenice, is also suggestive of fire as it is the French/Italian word for phoenix, which is a mythical bird that rises from the ashes.  Because Adam is her twin, I equate him with the same element, especially when both have an internal fire that protects them against the adversity they both face.

Immanuel Winter is a water elemental.  I don’t know how many people would equate him with water after reading The Winter Garden, but to me, it makes sense.  When Emmeline falls into the Thames, Immanuel is the first to dive in after her.  The potion he carries with him from his ancestors is one that restores life, and water is the element that can most easily give or destroy life.  It was also key to alchemy because of it’s odd properties as a solvent.  In a future story (which is currently a short story that will hopefully be released as a steampunk bundle in a few weeks), he once again becomes entangled with things that dwell in the water.  Oddly, his name can be suggestive of water in a few different ways. Winter conjures images of snow and cold, but in German it is pronounced Vinter, which suggests one who sells wine.

Through these elemental relationships, interesting pairings form as well. There is a relationship between Eilian and Hadley, which is a fairly obvious connection between earth and fire.  There are other relationships like this, but I’ll let you figure them out and see how they interact.

Sometimes I enjoy analyzing my own work, especially concerning how my characters connect to each other and themes outside and within the work.  By thinking about the four elements while working on your story/characters, you may be able to create a network of patterns and deeper connections between them.  It also is a somewhat easy way to track how these characters would react to certain situations and what they would gravitate to.

Have you discovered elemental relationships or characteristics in your works or works by others?

5 thoughts on “Elemental Characters

  1. I have not thought much about my characters in terms of elements. However, elements tend to feature strongly in my writing as a way to set a tone or convey sensory images. I will definitely have to put more thought into my characters’ personal elements, as I could see how that could add some depth to my writing. Thanks for the tip, Kara!

  2. I hadn’t considered my characters much in these terms before, at least not in any of my current projects. Back in high school I started a fantasy novel with an alternate scheme of 6 (really 7) elements: Stone, Water, Air, Fire, Growth, Void, and (highly volatile and often unrecognized) Spirit, out of which everything in the world is woven.

    I think the Dream World Collective characters actually fit pretty well in this.

    – Sushi is Fire: volatile and passionate, raw force.
    – Zen is Water: thinks around the edges, finds the path of least resistance, changes his environment while conforming to it.
    – Alex is probably Growth: initiator, transformer of situations, willing to put in slow, steady effort (but possibly Stone: stable, careful, steady).
    – Summer, though her nature-loving might make you think Growth, is probably really Air: flexible, willing to try many things, sometimes stormy.
    – Otto is tricky, but what I lean toward (and he’d love this) is Void: unconventional thinker, very indirect, shapes things more by his absence than his presence. Maybe.

    The story’s free for now at bit.ly/startdwc.

    I’m definitely Water. What about you guys?

    1. Cool, I’ll have to check it out. I tend to think of myself as water. I have always been attracted to the water. I can be steady and even, but at times moveable and steadfast (ice). I tend to think of myself more as ice at times, but I try not to say that with all the Elsa/Frozen hype =P

      1. I like that. I like water’s ability to be still or swift, gentle or powerful, but I hadn’t really thought about the ice aspects of water as an elemental description.

      2. Maybe it’s my age, but I always think of ice pokemon (my fav type and aligns with my element).

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