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Character Design Brainstorming: The Witch

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Sept. 19, 2020
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The witch is different than a sorceress, though their affinity with magic and their powers often can overlap: the sorceress carries status; the witch carries fear.

It's not that the sorceress is not potentially feared or the witch is not potentially respected- it's that the core of their design regarding these elements has different weight.

Sorceresses are more neutral (or more open, if you like) conceptually speaking when it comes to the nature/hue of the magic they have/are using.

Witches on the other hand always have some kind of brush with the Dark: the devil, black magic, the twisted occult that hinges on pain, murder, live sacrifice, and so on.

That doesn't mean that the witches in a story are necessarily cavorting with demons or embracing evil. The tone might be pure superstition, bias or prejudice heaped upon them by the society they live in. Or, there may be “good” witches and “bad” witches, depending on different qualities they may have, or the type of magic and spells they use.


Talking about bias…

What about male witches?

Usually, a witch is always female, but there's no reason to adhere to the rule. From what I've seen, male witches, if they are called that and not warlocks or sorcerers (thus immediately acquiring more status for the same practices) are also subject to the same biases or connotations, if in the setting of the story the title ‘witch’ is not genuinely ascribed to a dark powers user.

If you have a secular, non-magic story that contains witches, this usually means the woman is either a social outcast or a person that practices science in some way or form within a society that doesn't understand it. Which, of course, is true to history in several situations.

Do you have a witch in your story? Several ones? How much have you adhered to or bent the archetype?

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comment

anonymous?

jerrie at 7:38AM, Sept. 20, 2020

I always thought a sorceress and witch were the same thing. very interesting article. I use witch characters, but also call them sorceress

Kou the Mad at 3:54PM, Sept. 19, 2020

In an attempt to find it on TVTropes, I found it in less than a minute, it was called 'The Goblin Wood'.

Kou the Mad at 3:53PM, Sept. 19, 2020

I remember reading a book where a Witch somehow found herself among Goblins (Don't worry, not Goblin Slayer esque Goblins.) and I can't remember how or why she got there, but things happen and she becomes their leader (Neither are evil for clarification.) and then there's a time skip where the 2nd protagonist is introduced. Can't remember for the life of me what the book is called.

bravo1102 at 7:32AM, Sept. 19, 2020

At the 2018 Drunk Duck awards the sorceress main character from Sword of Kings crossed the line and went on tour playing the witch Epheba in Wicked after belting out "Defying Gravity" She even had a lovely black lace gown and the pointed hat.

PaulEberhardt at 3:35AM, Sept. 19, 2020

My own witch's characteristics somewhat overlap with that of a sorceress, because I asked myself why anyone that powerful and experienced would settle for a relatively humble lifestyle. In this particular case she is more interested in comfort than in ruling where she'd get no time off and would constantly have to deal with people who consider her a target. Part of it is probably down to professional pride, too. Of course, my main concern was creating a suitably cartoony character, so I tend to think of classic witch characteristics rather as opportunities to produce gags by either subverting them or taking them absolutely, painfully literally.

Tantz_Aerine at 3:06AM, Sept. 19, 2020

Hushicho: thank you!/ Bravo1102: now I got to watch it!/ PaulEberhardt: that's definitely another approach to them, just as legit!

PaulEberhardt at 2:52AM, Sept. 19, 2020

In classic sources (legends, myths, fairy-tales, trial records and so on) the terms sorceress and witch were often used interchangeably, regardless of the language (same with “Hexe” and “Zauberin” in German). I don’t see modern fantasy always make a strict distinction either, and that’s usually the best bet for finding one if you don't count RPGs. Distinguishing them by their place on a sliding scale of light and dark is one approach, but it doesn't feel quite right to me. I'd rather make the distinction in terms of their ambitions and how spectacular they come across. This is to say, I intuitively think of a witch as more secretive and cranky, contenting herself with some kind of home-made sticks-and-bones magic and a relatively small range of influence, whereas I picture a sorceress as a much more glamorous, regal Circe-type with at least an entire island or similarly-sized area firmly in her thrall. Note that I'm not talking about their power, just how they make it appear.

bravo1102 at 2:13AM, Sept. 19, 2020

You should watch the 1922 silent classic Heksen (English title Witchcraft through the Ages) As much as I've studied witchcraft it is very accurate and comprehensive. Many of its sequences and imagery have been used in so many other films over the years, but it's the original. And as we all know Epheba wasn't ugly. That was only Glinda being disingenuous.

hushicho at 12:55AM, Sept. 19, 2020

A great article and great writing. Thank you for the (accurate) inclusiveness! I have so much I could say on the subject, but I think this has covered all anyone needs to start on the path of developing that character! Great job, again.


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