Today I shall continue reviewing the development of Artemis Arrowsmith, the character who has developed to fill the role of antihero in my epic fantasy, Gods Among Men. This is part of a larger series of posts about the roles of protagonist, antagonist, hero, villain, antihero, and antivillain, and includes posts about the nature of the hero, protagonists and antagonists, and multiple posts about the more heroic characters Morel and Tara Rihtwiz. Those posts can be found by following the links to parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Last time I covered how I first included a male ranger-type character drawn from my Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) role-playing experiences, then evolved the character into being a female archer/hunter called Artemis Arrowsmith. Although I did discuss how the character underwent a sex-change and was renamed, I did not discuss the changes that occurred with her back story. That is because at this point in her evolution she had no back story to speak of.
To call Gods Among Men a large, complex tale is an understatement. It took a long time for me to understand what the story was, which made actually writing any of it rather difficult. For many years I was plagued by more problems than solutions and few of my vague thoughts made their way to written word.
Artemis was one of many characters included because I felt instinctively a need for certain archetypes common in fantasy and mythology. Over time, my thoughts on the plot began to coalesce and the real needs of the story became more clear. As that happened, some of the characters I first included were removed while others were altered, some quite dramatically.
The central character in Gods Among Men has always been Damon Roth. Part of my growth as a writer was understanding how making Damon Roth central to the story influences the development of other characters. To state this revelation in simple terms: all the other characters become defined by how they react and interact with Damon.
As originally conceived, Artemis was to be Damon’s ally. For many years I kept her personality defined based upon stereotypical notions of what she should be like, and that made her impossible to write effectively. Once I realized Artemis needed a personality and history that made her a natural ally of Damon then she came into focus.
Thus began a slow mixing and matching of traits so that, upon first glance, Artemis would appear to be the exact opposite of Damon. He was a wizard, she was almost immune to magic. Damon was wealthy and lived in a grand manor, Artemis carried all her belonging in a backpack and had no permanent home. Damon was subtle, while Artemis was blunt. Damon planned everything he did with infinite care, while Artemis lived entirely in the moment, reacting instinctively to all that happened.
Underneath all these surface differences were the similarities that would bind them together. Both were exceptionally skilled, unusually intelligent, individuals who loved leading dangerous lives. Both were orphans, raised by the Guild, and inducted into service at a young age. Both had hurt those who cared for them, and both suffered guilt and regret over their actions. They each want redemption for their past sins. They want to be heroes, but both are willing to cross the moral lines that a true hero never would.
Then came the insight that firmly moved Artemis from merely an ally to a central character once and for all: Artemis is the lens through which the reader sees Damon Roth.
Damon needed to be mysterious; the reader must wonder about his motives and history and plans. Ergo, Artemis must ponder those questions. The reader should not trust Damon right away, therefore Artemis must not trust him right away. The reader should come to understand Damon overtime, so Artemis must come to understand him. Every question, every concern, every reaction I wanted the reader to have concerning Damon became the theme that ran through all of the scenes involving Artemis.
It was in this process that Artemis transitioned from a traditional heroic model of character to an antihero. As I explained in my post about Damon as the protagonist :
Damon Roth cannot be the hero because he does not embody heroic ideals. In his past he committed horrible acts for his own benefit. Acts which harmed many,including people he cared deeply about, though he was unable at that time to acknowledge those feelings even to himself. The important point of his character is that he is still doing this. He will again commit and cause atrocities that will harm many including those he cares for. … The acts he commits in Gods Among Men, as terrible as they will be, are intended to save mankind, to save the world and everything on it. To avoid the death of every living thing on the planet he believes, truly believes, that he must follow a ruthless plan that leaves a path of death and destruction in his wake. Some must suffer so all may be saved.
If Damon is going to commit atrocities, and if Artemis is going to accept those acts as being required to achieve a greater good, then Artemis cannot be heroic in the classical sense. She must, on some level, be capable of rationalizing that certain amoral acts are required, and that is something a classical hero would never do. She is not a villain, because her acts do not spring from selfish desires, and she performs heroic deeds without thought of reward. She is flawed, and those flaws make her an antihero.