Friday, April 26, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

This post is a day late, I know.  It was started on Thursday - that's what counts, right?  I'm also too darned lazy to try alliteration for Friday.

Today, I wanted to talk about character age and social ties in fantasy.

The classic fantasy hero is the young farmboy, the orphan, the wizard's apprentice - a teen or twenty-something at the beginning of life's journey.  The genre has gone many different directions from there, but it remains a popular staple ... including in works of humor that lampoon this familiar archetype.  This type of character is particularly prevalent in quest narratives.  If I can hazard a reason why, it's two-fold:  first of all, such characters don't have ties that would make it difficult for them to set forth into the world; and second of all, without the molding of long history, these youngsters can grow and change readily within the span of a story.  The quest becomes the Hero's Journey becomes a Coming of Age narrative.  All these things in a neat little package.

But that's not the only kind of story that can be written, especially (though certainly not only) if you get away from the quest narrative.  I had a personal epiphany on this when I started working on Butterfly's Poison.  The events occur about a decade after a failed imperial rebellion where the current emperor's sister disagreed vehemently with her father's choice of succession.  The chosen heir was a teenager at the time - which meant for me to have main characters who were involved in the rebellion, they needed to be older.  (Not "old," thank you - just outside the callow farmboy age range.)  Miayde, my first protagonist, was thirty-seven (no, that wasn't a deliberate Monty Python reference), with Treddian being a few years older - and he had a daughter in her mid-teens.

I had so much fun with the history, personal ties and responsibilities that connected the characters.  It helped that the story was more political intrigue, of course - but the amount of material I had to play with got me excited about writing characters rooted in their social sphere.  If they have more resources (possibly another reason why the young hero is so popular - they can't rely as much upon outside help), they also have more complications and restrictions upon their movements.  How they deal with these strictures while still moving towards their goal tells the reader a lot about the character.  It can be argued that more mature characters don't change as readily, but the impact of that change may be more significant.

And, of course - as I posted earlier - a character in this age bracket often has a wider array of family matters to deal with, and that has its own archetypal power.  He or she also has a longer backstory, which can be an infodump pitfall, but can also enrich a reader's understanding of character and world at the same time.  It increases that feeling I love that a story isn't in a void:  it's one point on a continuum, and life continues before and after.

No comments: