Yes, it’s about my own work. It is also about the business of one way of creating characters and fitting them into a narrative.
I don’t really know why my fiction always ends up with at least one central female character of some determination and intelligence with the ability to cause any nasty protagonists harm be it physical or mental while surviving and prospering. And I am not going to inflict upon you any reasoning. It is what it is. Let it be (Of course there is the secret wicked hope that this predilection annoys the heck out of those male readers who are uneasy with female characters who are not victims or feisty sorts needing a man to help them out and infuriates even less pleasant creatures biologically considered male….. don’t care)
Why Three? Doesn’t it get a little crowded?
This objection is never raised when the companionship is all male. The traditional male composite business is a bit of an artificial construct which does seem to be dying in the general area of mainstream; the danger being not to have the characters acting as men simply inhabiting women’s bodies. And that dear reader is a bit of a challenge for the male writer to get the balance right. I tried, ‘frib’ (see books-shameless plug) knows I tried.
A long, long time ago, far, far away there was just one. Dry, tallish, humourless right out of stock casting, there was a great deal of evolution, until there were two: protagonists, one a feisty unconventional soldier, the other a haughty princess in a comedic setting…. annddddd still that stock casting. Those self-published books are still out there, I don’t talk about them, just use some of the material as background long ago history for this trilogy. Finally after another series of false starts a certain set of images formed, albeit maybe not that original, there again has anyone in the past dozen or so centuries written a truly original character?
The Characters Appear
Firstly unless you really wish to drive yourself to distraction it is advisable to engage with some of the basic conventions and commonalities of the genre you’re in, it makes things easier and you can always build, tweak and nuance.
In Fantasy you often find a person who gets put upon, chosen for something they did not intend to get involved in- classic cases Bilbo and Frodo. In my narrative this is Trelli: a hardworking and diligent house servant of a rising mercantile respectable family in a modest port town . Their younger son Wigran is a Jordisk (see previous post), his enthusiasm and her concerns on discovery of actions that he will ruin the family reputation and her job prospects leads to ructions between them. This results in another of those classic circumstances albeit normally reserved for SF; she gets accidentally imbued with the Stommigheid (again see previous post). We shall leave the poor girl there suffering because we have to backtrack to the other two who occupy earlier parts of the narrative. The important thing I had to remember with Trelli was not to leave her as a constant confused victim, nor a damsel in distress to be rescued by the others. She now has a power and needs to understand this. Hers will be a long and uneven journey. She also brings a very practical aspect missing from the other two.
A Fantasy narrative with a light hearted streak yearns for a maverick, and for a maverick to survive in a Fantasy world they had better have at least one and usually more skills, gifts or what-have-yours to go with their unconventional streak. Along popped up Karlyn Nahtinee . Self-appointed arsonist in the service of ‘The Good Lord God’ burning down places she decided were evil, also athletic, with a sense of smell the range of a small radar and accompanying discernment a dog would envy; she talks to flora and fauna. Her perception of the world, her logic and communication skills are quirky, sometimes child-like and definitely disruptive. So odd, she is taken as an assistant by an stern, judgemental very focused Custodian Meradat who see ‘qualities’ in her. She has no problem with this. Of course no maverick should be without an air of ‘why’ and ‘who’ about them, so she starts with a very sketchy back story. Her task is to aid in the hunting down of some miscreant Jordisk, which will end up with her tracking Trelli (She is fun to write – the great challenge being not to have made her appear as a Harley Quinn knock off… very difficult)
You get Rangers who have seen ‘things’ and been ‘places’, you get conflicted warriors with guilty pasts, you find devout trained followers who are going to get upset on finding out something and you get cynical mercenaries who deep down inside actually have a moral compass. In short you get soldiers. The trouble with the female version is they tend to be taller than most men and often possessed of that humourless dispositions, or are vulgar barbarians (maybe tautology there) who can weather the worst climates in skimpy clothing (looking at you Red Sonja ). I took the more rounded version you get in SF and placed her down amongst ‘the ranks’, a medic (Or Medician). Like most soldiers she is prone to grumbling, also is dedicated to her role, caring, respectful of rank but has an amorous reputation with girls. Overall Arketre Beritt, was written with the ordinary soldiers of the past more than one and a half centuries in mind. The Dog-face, The Tommy, The Grunt, The PBI, The Footslogger (in her case mounted infantry). Because of her empathetic nature and skill as a Medician she is sent with the file (team) who are to trace and apprehend what we call these days a ‘Person of Interest’ to her regiment (The elite LifeGuard). Which of course will be poor Trelli. Arketre is not as completely sunny as she first seems. Like many a soldier who has been in the harsh front line she has another side to her. One of the reasons why one hardened officer in the LifeGuard Headquarters chose her. Her accents changes are to indicate that conflicting between nature and training.
Custodian and LifeGuard’s paths naturally cross; by convention they co-operate. Arketre and Karlyn bond in a slightly jagged, bantering way. While this is happening both having been tracking the wayward young Jordisk as they get closer it is then Trelli gets her accident and will be the focus.
The final meeting of the three is set against a chaotic background of a town under piratical attack from the sea; that’s due to another strand of the narrative and to go into would distract from this subject matter. Karlyn enthused by her role wants to arrest and restrain Trelli, Arketre wants to approach with caution. All intentions get swept up in the background chaos; file and Custodian are missing assumed dead , leaving Arketre with the responsibility of getting Trelli out of danger and to her immediate commanders. By now Karlyn is content to follow whatever Arketre (named by her as ‘Flaxi‘- blonde hair) decides. Trelli distressed, scared by the nascent powers she has displayed looks to the more apparently sympathetic Arketre for protection, and their journey, soon to be disrupted begins.
Having one Alpha character can lead to a great deal of their introspection or repetition, and often wasting of the potential of the associates. These ‘associates’ might have their ‘moments on stage’ objecting to certain actions and decisions and even quit the company (or get sacrificed for the plot), but tend to still gather about the said Alpha when they are being heroic. That notion often works quite well with a very good writer or one who knows their readership and supplies the goods, an equally laudable skill and artistry.
I chose another alternative; a group of folk drawn together by circumstances and a possible empathy through the Ethereal / Stommigheid / Astatheia . Being very much individuals from differing background and outlooks they squabble, also being uncertain of just what they are supposed to be doing there is never one dominant personality, any one of them will take the lead or get very stubborn, being supported by either of the others or ganged up on by the other pair. Very much like any other bunch of folk. Initially it was Arketre with her military ways who took the decisions, that fractured under stress, and returned, and went away again and so on. Much more fun to write.
The above seems all well and good, however it was getting it to work in a way which would be as near to natural as I could get in a Fantasy was the challenge. Luckily there was the good ol’ Ethereal / Stommigheid / Astatheia to assist, a vital component when a sub-text appeared of a growing attraction turning to affection to physical between Karlyn and Arketre; Trelli could not be a third wheel. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! There had to be a triangulation with internal lines and in constant motion. It worked like this, sort of.
Arketre being a person involved in the practical world was uneasy when dealing with matters Astatheia, as she would call it. However being a medician and empathetic with folk in distress was sympathetic to Trelli as she saw as a victim. Trelli in turn responded to this friendliness, the accompanying bond gave Arketre someone she could turn to for inspiration and support when faced with Astatheia and the burden of responsibility . ‘If Trelli can do it, so can I’ . Whereas Karlyn and Arketre were bonding in other ways, Karlyn was unable to communicate with Arketre over the Stommigheid (‘Stormhiggle’ as she calls it) , initially hostile to Trelli she begins to appreciate there is a companionship through a shared use of this power, and this is reciprocated. Eventually when Arketre and Karlyn have a furious row over an action the former sees as irresponsible, it is Trelli, Karlyn turns to for support and comfort and Trelli who signals to Arketre matters are not as straightforward as she would wish and to treat Karlyn’s action with more respect. As the trio face the most dangerous and eventful part of the first volume roles of leadership, support, and sacrifice flip back and forth as the camaraderie grows as I hoped they would.
In the final chapters of the first volume Trelli is parted from the other two not by choice but by circumstance, for the time they must go as a duo and one. Arketre worries for Trelli, but Karlyn assures her that ‘Whychie’ (Karlyn rarely calls anyone by their true name) is safe, and in turn Trelli feels her friends are somewhere but secure, knowing they will be together again. It is this bond between Karlyn and Trelli which puts Arketre’s mind at ease both because she sees Trelli as a friend and between Trelli and Karlyn she is safe from being overwhelmed by an unseen powers.
Thus is the grouping formed. Although throughout the books each has to sometimes work alone and there are pairings between all three, it is only when they are together as the trio that their full strength is seen.
Aside from charting my own efforts in this area, I hope there will be some snippets which can be of service to any writer’s journey with characters.