Disclaimer: I don't know how to draw. My entire family can. In fact, one of my sisters drew a life-size version of Botticelli's The Birth of Venus on her bedroom door. My dad drew a picture of Olivia Newton John and sent it to her, and then got a "thank you" in response. My mom drew a portrait of Paul McCartney (but did not send it to him). My other sister and brother can even doodle to perfection.
That's supposed to be Durgan. Can't you tell how elegant his cloak looks? Don't you like how misshappen his fingers are?
For the longest time, I didn't know what the Grifters looked like. Isn't that funny? I'd see them in my head, I'd see Ella talking to them or random Academists fighting them off, but I didn't even know what I was seeing. I guess they were just blobs of grey, and then I thought, "Hey, maybe they SHOULD be grey!"
The evolution of the Grifters from nothings to enemies to grey blobs to monsters to Grifters was an interesting 2+ year process. The Grifters at first only existed so that the Academists would have something to do. They gradually became important, and then I realized that their origin was crucial to absolutely everything in the trilogy. Figuring out their appearance was the hardest part, because—in case you hadn't realized before—I am not at all creative in the artistic sense. Imagine a story, sure, but conjuring up a physical representation of an idea?
But it was still fun, if not complicated. Envisioning the Grifters involved a whole onslaught of questions, such as, "Why do they look like that?" and "How is their physique anatomically possible?" and "Can you please draw one for me?" and "Oh, THAT'S your drawing? I see..." and "Can you please hire someone to draw them for me because you suck at drawing?"
I tried, okay?? I drew that picture in my British Lit class, over my notes for the second book when I still was only halfway through the first. (Currently, I'm on chapter twelve of the second book, which I started about two months ago. Six chapters a month? Alright, I'll pick up the pace.) Disregard everything that is written behind Durgan and his elegant cloak, since none of that is going to happen and all of that is quite embarrassing. I thought the picture was actually an alright depiction of the Gritfters, but no one else agrees with me. Sigh.
At first, all the Grifters were evil. Then they were all good. Then they were all evil again. Then they became three-dimensional characters. Some were evil, some were good, and some were the awkward middle mixture of good and bad where the majority of the world rests. I realized that their very inability to fit comfortably into a mold that is fixed and graspable is what makes them richer characters, and what makes Ella's growth in her understanding of them so important. The war between Academists and Grifters then becomes an emotional and complicated thing, rather than the simple version of an "Us vs. Them" battle that narrow-minded Ella would prefer. But then, Ella prefers a lot of things that aren't necessarily good for her.
Don't we all?
I do need to credit a friend of mine for coming up with the name "Grifters." They were called "monsters" all throughout The Trace because I didn't know what else to call them. Then, my friend suggested this name, and I decided that I liked it. Thanks, Alex!