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Category: Characters

Valar Morghulis

Posted in Characters, Heroes, Plot, The Chained Adept, and The Chained Adept

ValarMorghulis
“All Men Must Die” — The motto of George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones

We're part way through a multi-day marathon of the entire 5 or 6-season run of Game of Thrones on cable, and it's been on non-stop for the last couple of days, downstairs in this small cabin. Periodically I go and get some lunch or dinner, and make sure my husband is still breathing, in front of the TV.

No doubt about it — this is quality programming, and I've seen all the episodes (and read the books). Upstairs at my writing desk, where I can hear snatches of the dialogue, much of the music, and all of the screaming, I'm having no trouble following along with the episodes as they go by.

This is having two effects on my writing…

I am oh-so-glad that George R R Martin is not the god of my personal universe

When novels first became popular in the 16th/17th century, readers felt that they held up a mirror to life. My opinion is: yes, and no.

Yes, in that the characters must emulate real people, or the story they tell has no foundation, no reality, and is nothing but fable, with puppets moved at whim by the author.

No, in that the author is the god of his created world, and it is only a pretense to abdicate that responsibility. It is not fate that kills his characters, or accident, or evil — it is the author's pen, disclaim it how he may. Even when writing a novelized version of historical events, the author cannot help but take sides, offer explanations, create a reality where the events make some sort of fictional sense. It's his story, and he has shaped it as he wants it.

Re-reading old favorites

Posted in Characters, and Heroes

Leisure Hours, (oil on panel) by Croegaert, Georges (1848-1923); 23.5x33 cm; Private Collection; (add.info.: Leisure Hours. Georges Croegaert (1848-1923). Oil on panel. 23.5 x 33cm.); Photo © Christie's Images; Belgian,  out of copyright
Leisure Hours, (oil on panel) by Croegaert, Georges (1848-1923); Belgian

It's a common bit of advice to write the books you want to read, and I think that makes good sense. Of course, if you're going to do that, it helps to understand why you like the books you like, so that you can put more of that into your own stories.

I enjoy many different sorts of books, and I read hundreds each year (no, really) and like lots of them. However, my re-read list of favorites that reliably engage me over and over is actually quite short. It's thoroughly idiosyncratic and includes a few guilty pleasures (like everyone's list).

My frequently re-read favorites

Now don't laugh…

Tomboys

Posted in Characters, and Heroes

Jo March (left) & Family (Little Women, Louisa May Alcott)
Jo March (right) & family (Little Women, Louisa May Alcott)

What is a tomboy, exactly?

I participated in a discussion recently about the tomboy character in literature. We discovered that we all had very different opinions of what constituted a tomboy. If you search online these days, you'll find definitions associating tomboys with lesbians and transgenders, which I think is wrongheaded and anachronistic.

I know what I mean when I say tomboy, and I think of it it as an example of a story character archetype which, like all archetypes, reflects something in real life.

Let's try this definition:

A tomboy is a girl or young woman, typically pre-pubescent or at least virginal, who values highly the same male virtues that appeal to boys of her own age, and values less the virtues that appeal to girls of her own age.

Building the world of The Chained Adept – Part 2: Characters

Posted in Characters, Fantasy, and The Chained Adept

Part 1 is here.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Dungeon Masters and Fantasy Authors both need to create characters, but DMs have software to help them.

For my current series, The Chained Adept, I used a Character Card creator module from ProFantasy called Character Artist. Some writers browse the internet looking for photos that remind them of their characters, but I think that takes too long. I had much more fun coming up with an iconic “card” for some of the main characters in The Chained Adept.

These are not paper dress-up fashion dolls, and the choices are limited, but it's surprising how much you can do with the given tools to provide a very quick sketch. While I don't want to get too specific when describing a character for a reader, so that the reader can fill in much of the picture himself, I do find it helpful to get specific for my own view.

So, here's what I think about my main character (Penarit), her companion (Sanderel), and the commander of the military unit they accompany (Benir Zant).

Gallery

Of course, there's one big difference between Dungeon Masters and Fantasy Authors. The DMs don't care about keeping your character alive.

It's a good thing you can trust authors. Most of the time. Unless that character really, really, needs to go.

Dungeon Masters can be cruel. So can authors with a long series.
Dungeon Masters can be cruel. So can authors with a long series.

Preconceived notions about the weapons that heroes carry

Posted in Characters, and Heroes

Iron – Utility or Rarity?

Golden dagger & sheath of Pharoah Tutenkhamun (d. 1327 BC)
Golden dagger of Pharoah Tutenkhamun (d. 1327 BC)

Ceremonial weapons are all very well. They look splendid when you ascend the throne. The goldsmith was probably the best in the land — look at all those animals on the sheath (click on the image to enlarge it).

What insights can we draw from this dagger from Tut's tomb? The blade is gold alloyed with copper to harden it, but it can't have been a practical weapon. So the boy Pharoah who carried this never had to defend himself (or didn't expect to need to after death) — that's what he had guards for.  Judging from his physical remains, he may have been unfit and walked with a cane. The cause of his death at 19 is disputed.

So, this dagger defended his reign, the right of his dynasty to rule (but he had no issue, so the 18th Dynasty ended with him). It was a beautiful, treasured, symbolic weapon.

The pair of daggers from Tut's tomb - gold and iron.
The pair of daggers from Tut's tomb – gold and iron.

But before we jump to conclusions, there was a second dagger found in his tomb, this one with a meteoric iron blade. (Notice that the haft for the iron blade can't be the original, since it's shorter than the tang of the blade requires.) Given the similar haft and sheath treatment in gold, there is speculation that the iron blade was valued as highly as the gold one.  Certainly it's more practical as a weapon, being able to take an edge.

The motivations of alien beings

Posted in A Writer's Desk, and Characters

Goat-Red-Surprise
Ever wonder what an alien thinks? Well, aliens may be in short supply in our daily experience, but life in the country recognizes alien beings all the time.  It's just that they typically have four legs.

So, today we're driving along the road on top of the holler and we see a good-sized goat trotting diligently down the middle of the (deserted) pavement. We pull alongside and ask it what it's doing, and it pauses to consider the question, but continues on its determined way.

The next driveway belongs to a neighbor, and we think he may keep goats, so we pull in and, sure enough, the goat (following us) turns in, too. So we head to the house to let the neighbor know he's got a goat loose, but no one's home. Meanwhile the goat trots into the one-stall barn, and takes up his post next to the horse there, good buddies that they clearly are.

It's those horizontal slit pupils that betray their alien heritage
It's those horizontal slit pupils that betray their alien heritage

We shrug, head on home, and later give the neighbor a call to tell him about his goat's travels. Only it turns out, it's not his goat. It belongs to one of his neighbors and is in the habit of paying his horse a visit from time to time.

That goat had places to go and people to see.  Wasn't lacking for motivation at all.  Wonder if it borrowed a cup of oats while it was there?

Breaking the logjam

Posted in Characters, Setting, Structures of Earth, and The Affinities of Magic

LogjamMen
Sometimes I'm asked, “How do you come up with these invented worlds so you can write about them?”

I don't think that's the right question. I think the real question should be, “How do you make these invented worlds seem real?”

I'm working on Structures of Earth, the first book in the series The Affinities of Magic. I plan to write several books in this series, and I'm approaching the first book as the foundation story, the prequel to the long string of stories to follow. I have a plot and a team of characters, and a good bit of the book written, but for the last while my brain has been raising alarms, saying “Stop. Something's wrong.”

Focus on what’s important in a story

Posted in Characters, and Just for Writers

fox-and-hounds

You often hear people refer to the fabric of a story or to weaving a plot, but these textile metaphors are maladroit. Stories aren’t flat 2-dimensional objects.

In a piece of cloth, all threads are functional, all must be anchored at each end, and all are necessary for a whole cloth. Stories, on the other hand, are about a person (one or more, human or alien or any sort of thinking/feeling being) who does something. Everything else in the story is background context to help tell the main story.

The story implicit in the (photoshopped) illustration is the fox’s story. Certainly, each hound might have a story to tell, but if you tried to tell them all at once, there’d be no story at all. So every hound’s story must be subordinate to the fox’s to make a proper tale.

A better metaphor is in the domain of optics, in the form of lens focus.