Hero, Part 3: A Closer Look At Tara Rihtwis

This is part of my continuing exploration on the nature of heroism in literature, and of the role of the hero in my epic fantasy, Gods Among Men. Here are links to parts one and two, and a link to the post that started this overall series about the various roles characters play in literature.

Today I am going into more detail on Tara Rihtwis, daughter of More Rihtwis. Tara’s history is unique in my story in that She is the one major character who did not exist in my mind even as a concept when I first started writing Gods Among Men.

In the beginning I knew I wanted a wizard, who rather quickly became my protagonist Damon Roth; a knight/prince, who became one of my heroes, Morel; an archer/tracker/ranger, who became the antihero, Artemis Arrowsmith; an undead wizard, who became my antagonist, Demiurge; the evil warrior, who became my villain, Maelgar; and so on. I had defined roles that needed to be filled, and developed characters that met that need.

Tara was developed in a series of fits and starts. First I realized I needed someone innocent and inexperienced, someone who needed things explained to them. All of my initial major characters were worldly with many experiences involving dangerous and magical situations. As I wrote their scenes I often had times when something happened that would be obvious to them, but not to the reader. I needed someone the experienced characters had to explain things to so I, the writer, would have a reason to explain what was happening to the reader.

With that thought in mind, I created Morel’s son, Tomas, and began developing his character. This brought my story to a screeching halt. Try as I might, I could not make Tomas into a character that worked as Morel’s son. He was pedantic, two-dimensional, and wholly unbelievable. Worse yet, his interactions with Morel and others was boring to write and worse to read.

As I was struggling with this, and many other issues, I asked my girlfriend at the time to read over what I had written. After doing so, she had various good comments including, “You don’t have any female characters.”

This is an example of the blindness that can afflict a writer. I had thought of the characters before then just as what role they filled in the plot, not as to how their gender might affect their development. I had made all the characters male because I was a man and it made them easier for me to relate to.

Armed now with the knowledge that I was being stupid and sexist, I began looking for which major characters I could change from male to female.

I first changed Artemis Arrowsmith, my archer/tracker/ranger character, into a woman. She immediately became much more interesting and a slew of story lines opened up for her. I will detail those changes in a later post.

Casting about for another character to change, I spied dull, boring Tomas. I tried switching his sex like I had on Artemis. This did not work. The personal qualities I had given him were too deeply flawed for a gender change alone to salvage the situation. Tomas had to go.

Feeling sorry for Tomas, as writers will do for characters they have put a fair amount of time and effort into, I gave him some minor ability with magic and shuttled him off to become one of Damon’s assistants. There, much to my surprise, surrounded by magic and books and all things arcana, he blossomed. The poor kid was never cut out to be a hero, he was a nerd. Who’d have thunk.

I was still stuck with needing an inexperienced character, and having one as a child of Morel still made sense, so I began crafting a daughter for him from scratch. I called her Tara as a shorthand note to myself.

Tara was the name of Scarlett O’Hara’s plantation in Gone With The Wind. Scarlett was a willful, spoiled, debutante. The daughter of a rich, powerful, landowner who will do anything to keep her land and get what she wants. Whenever I read the name Tara I thought of Scarlett, which kept reminding me of some of the characteristics I wanted my new character to have when the reader first meets her.

Tara’s impact on the other characters was felt almost at once. Morel developed a sense of humor and loved to tease her. Artemis became Tara’s surrogate big sister, protector, and trainer. Maelgar, when he discovers who she is, see her as a way to trap or hurt Morel. Damon sees her as the hope of the future and tries to guide her toward the knowledge and experience she will need to succeed.

Tara became a character unlike the others in that she is not prepared for what is about to happen, but thinks she is. She boldly charges into dangerous situations that are far above her abilities to handle. Situations where she should die, but somehow survives through luck and skill and the intervention of those more powerful than herself. She discovers what it means to feel fear, and how to control it. She suffers, but does not falter. She learns the difference between being foolhardy and courageous.

In short, Tara starts out as an innocent and becomes a hero, though of a different mold than her father. Morel is a classical hero, but Tara is a more modern style of hero. As such she represents the changes that are happening in the world around her better than Morel, or anyone else, does.

In a later post I will delve more into the differences between her heroic model and Morel’s. Until then, have fun.

Hero, Part 2: A Closer Look At Morel Rihtwis, Part 2

This is both a continuation of my last post, and of a series of posts about the roles of the protagonist, antagonist, hero, villain, antihero, and antivillain in a story, as well as my exploration on the nature of the hero. I have previously talked about the protagonist in Gods Among Men, Damon Roth, and the antagonist, Demiurge, and why both fail to be either a hero or villain. Today I will focus again upon Morel Rihtwis, an archetypal hero patterned upon classical mythological heroes.

When I started writing Gods Among Men I was heavily influenced by medieval imagery. This grew out of my love of the game Dungeons & Dragons, which itself was influences by medieval stories such as Le Morte d’Arthur, Beowulf, tales of Robin Hood, faerie tales, and even more modern works with a medieval flavor such as The Lord of The Rings.

Given this bias, I decided early that my hero would be a knight. I was young at the time, in college, and sought for a literary or historical figure I could pattern my knight upon. I considered Arthur, Lancelot, Gawain and other knights of the Round Table, but those thoughts led nowhere interesting. They worked against the emerging plot, and made the character hackneyed.

Then I thought of Charlemagne, Charles the Great, King of the Franks. He helped bring about the Carolingian Renaissance, a revival of art, religion, and culture. Through foreign conquests and internal reforms, Charlemagne helped define both Western Europe and the Middle Ages. He is counted as of the Nine Worthies; nine historical, scriptural, mythological or semi-legendary figures who came to personify the ideals of chivalry.

In Charlemagne I had a foundation for a character with a history as broad and deep as any of the Arthurian knights, and was as symbolically important as Arthur himself. In fact, Charlemagne formed a group of paladins who were analogous to the knights of the Round Table and form the basis for the French chansons de geste, “songs of heroic deeds”. Charlemagne as a historical or literary character is directly associated with spiritual and cultural rebirth and renewal.

Charlemagne gave me a touchstone for the character that would eventually become Morel Rihtwis. Whenever I felt the need to give Morel more depth or expand his character, I could search though information about Charlemagne and find something useful.

Charlemagne had a brother, Carloman, who died, so I gave Morel a brother name Carloman who died.

Charlemagne had a group of loyal paladins, so Morel now had a group of loyal paladins. One of Charlemagne’s paladins was Roland, who the Song of Roland is based upon. This inspired a subplot centered around Morel’s battle with a dragon.

One of Charlemagne ‘s chief opponents was the Saxon leader Widukind, who Charlemagne converted to Christianity. This inspired a character of my own creation called Widukind, with whom Morel will argue morality and religion in order to convince Widukind to break his allegiance to the villain, Maelgar.

Morel is not Charlemagne. I made Morel into his own character with a unique history and story to tell. But Charlemagne is the point from which I began creating Morel; it is Charlemagne that I return to for inspiration on how I should further develop Morel’s character. The history and legends surrounding Charlemagne helped me build Morel into a character that will be associated with spiritual and cultural rebirth and renewal.

The Nature of the Hero

Over the last few months I have come to realize that my story, Gods Among Men, has a subtext I did not originally intend. Implicit in the characters and their interactions is the question of what it means to be a hero or a villain. Given the parts of the story I have focused upon so far, I have written mostly about the characters I think of as heroes in one way or another.

I have always thought that some of my characters where “more pure” in their heroism than others. I am familiar with various mythic traditions and did weave ideas that appealed to me into various characters. Before now, however, I never tried to formally define the various types of heroism and how they applied to specific characters.

The formal concept of the hero can be traced to Greek mythology. The word hero originally meant the person was a demigod; the offspring of a mortal and a deity. At this point the word does not imply any moral virtue, merely parentage.

Looking back, I realize now that this idea influenced the development of my protagonist, Damon Roth, and his relationship to my antagonist, Demiurge.

An important step in Damon’s true quest is to become the God Among Men. To achieve this goal, Damon must form a bond with Demiurge, a god-like being. The relationship Damon seeks with Demiurge is not dissimilar to that of a grown child with an aged, ailing, parent. Symbolically, Damon becomes Demiurge’s child and in so doing become a demigod and hence a hero; at least by the criteria of classic Greek mythology. By becoming a hero, Damon steps closer to his true goal: redemption for his past sins and the salvation of his soul.

In later mythology, the concept of the hero became associated with other characteristics. Courage, self-sacrifice for the greater good, the willingness the face danger and almost certain death, and various moral qualities. The moral qualities become especially important. A hero in later works is often defined by the lines they will not cross, the acts they will not commit, even when everyone else says the acts are necessary or even required. A hero in later mythology is the person who risks all, including the safety of those closest to them, because their moral center demands it of them.

By this standard for heroism, Damon fails to become a modern hero. Yes, he has courage and will face danger and certain death. But he is also the ultimate pragmatist. If the surest way for him to achieve a goal is a dark deed, then he will cross that line with little hesitation. And, while he will ultimately sacrifice himself, it is not so much for the greater good but to complete his redemption. Mankind as a whole will benefit, but Damon’s reason is a selfish one designed to benefit himself. To be a modern hero the end result is not sufficient; the means you use and the reasons behind your actions matter.

Damon wants to be a hero, but never can be. He can become a demigod, he can be a protagonist that provides the story with a direction and a plot, but his own moral failings keep him from being more.

In Gods Among Men the role of classical hero falls upon Morel Rihtwis, a man willing to sacrifice the world rather than let innocents suffer. A man of destiny who wants power solely so he can help others. He actively pursues greatness and seizes his destiny. He regrets the personal sacrifices he must make, but never seriously considers not making those sacrifices.

A more modern version of the hero is embodied by his daughter, Tara. She wants to follow in her father’s footsteps, until she sees the cost she must bear to do so. At this point she would turn aside, except she comes to realize how many would suffer if she did so. She accepts her personal sacrifices for the betterment of all. Greatness is thrust upon her, her destiny is set by forces out of her control.

I will revisit this exploration of the concepts surrounding heroes and heroism in later posts. I plan on focusing more upon Morel and Tara and delving deeper into my motivations for how I have developed their characters. After that I will look also at other variants of heroes including Byronic heroes and antiheroes. After that I will turn my attention to the villains and antivillains in Gods Among Men and the mythic roots behind their characters.

Analysis of My Opening Paragraph: Part 2

This is a continuation of my personal analysis of my opening paragraph. The idea being to put into words what I see when I read it and explain why I am so reluctant to modify this one paragraph, despite advice to the contrary.

For ease of reference, here again is the paragraph in question:

Damon Roth built a grand house. An extensive foundation supported mighty oak limbs that reached skyward, unwavering in their duty, holding soaring gables aloft through the centuries. Wide windows were the manor’s great eyes, searching in all directions from behind a gothic countenance. Color-stained eyes framed the world in a kaleidoscope of possibilities. Clear eyes actualized only one: a well-maintained garden of flowers and shrubs, a manicured lawn sloping gently away, and a resplendent thicket of trees that concealed the mansion from the world. Only the central tower, covered in a spider-web of vines, was tall enough to break the barricade of trees. From there Wizard Roth changed himself by changing the world.

In Part 1 of this analysis, I focused upon the symmetrical relationship between the opening and closing lines. i.e.

Damon Roth built a grand house. … From there Wizard Roth changed himself by changing the world.

I summarized this relationship as follows:

With just the opening and closing sentences, the reader has been told this is an epic fantasy whose central character is willing and capable of challenging the established order to achieve a personal goal.

The opening and closing lines of this paragraph are symmetrical in that they focus upon a central theme. Who is Damon Roth? What is he planning? When is he going to act? Where is he at? Why is he doing the things he does? How far will he go to achieve his goals? The rest of a story is to answer these questions.

I will now focus on the second line and the next to last line. Here they are together.

An extensive foundation supported mighty oak limbs that reached skyward, unwavering in their duty, holding soaring gables aloft through the centuries. … Only the central tower, covered in a spider-web of vines, was tall enough to break the barricade of trees.

In the paragraph’s first sentence I introduced Damon Roth and his house and established the house as a statement about Damon’s nature. In the second line I begin to flesh out the metaphor. I also start to establish a relationship to older literary genres. This connection to the other genres culminates in the next to last sentence.

In the paragraph’s first sentence, I establish that Damon built the house. With the first words of the second sentence, “An extensive foundation”, I establish, subtly I hope, that Damon works on a large scale. That his plans are “extensive” and have a strong “foundation”.

The relationship to older literary genres begins with “supported mighty oak limbs”. It was quite common in older genres to indulge in personification, i.e. an ontological metaphor where an inanimate object is presented as if it were a person. The object in the metaphor becomes a statement about the person.

“Mighty oak limbs” directly refers to the timbers Damon used to build his house, but indirectly indicate that Damon is a person of great strength, vitality, and power. “oak”, in particular, is a symbol of strength, durability, protection, longevity, and re-birth. All characteristics I will associate with Damon throughout the story.

With “reach skyward” I imply several things, again with subtle intent, about Damon. Directly I and still talking about the beams and timbers used to build the house. Indirectly I am saying Damon is reaching for something, that he is looking up to some lofty goal. The word “skyward’ itself carries several implications. His plans reach beyond the earth to encompass the whole of creation. Damon is reaching toward heaven, thus implying either a desire to be good, or to be God, or both. It carries the hint of his intent to become (partially) divine by becoming the God Among Men.

The phrase “unwavering in their duty” is simple. The house is still standing, and Damon will not falter in his quest, no matter the cost or burden he must bear.

The phrase “holding soaring gables” gives a physical image of the house. It implies a style of architecture that began in European countries and establishes cultural image of a Medieval/Renaissance/Victorian type of society. This is quite common in modern fantasy and gives the reader a touchstone of what to expect as more details of the society and culture are presented.

With “aloft through the centuries” I establish, for the first time, that this is not a new house. That it is very old and has withstood the test of time. It has successfully survived storms and resisted decay. Since the house is a metaphor for Damon, he too is centuries old and has survived adversity and resisted decay.

Skipping down to the next to last sentence, we begin by concluding the description of the house started in the second sentence. “Only the central tower,” again underscores the image of a European style manor or castle, one with at least two wings, and a tall tower in the center. Since the metaphor, and the entire paragraph, is about Damon, the “central tower” must be “central” to Damon’s personality and plans. The tower is a reflection of him in a fundamental way.

With that thought in mind, consider the phrase “covered in a spider-web of vines,”. A spider-web symbolizes so much it is hard to list them all. Damon is the spider, at the center of the web, sensing the slightest tremor that effects his plans. He ensnares the unwary. In much of literature the spider carries an evil connotation, but it is the spider that traps and kills many of the insects that plague mankind and carry deadly diseases. The spider is cunning, patient, hardworking, skillful, and a lethal foe that poses no harm to those that it cannot consume and do not threaten it. All characteristics I want the reader to see in Damon.

I connect again to older genres with the phrase “was tall enough to break the barricade of trees.” The “barricade of trees” refers to the forest surrounding Damon’s house that was established in a previous sentence. Forests, particularly in Medieval and Renaissance literature, were often used as a metaphor for the world or mankind as a whole. Therefore this sentence establishes Damon’s relationship to the world and the rest of humanity. This image is joined with the tower which is a reflection of Damon.

The tower is taller than everything around it, just as Damon is a larger character than all those who will surround him throughout the story. The image of the tower breaking the barricade of trees expresses his desire to be larger than humanity as a whole. To transcend his own humanity and become the God Among Men.

I spent a long time thinking about each word in this paragraph. I struggled with how it fit into literary traditions, and what it said about my world and my protagonist. Perhaps it is foppish arrogance to see all this in my own work, but I am trying to write something I hope touches on greatness. I do not claim to have achieved greatness, but it is the goal I set for myself. If I fall short it is because of a lack of talent, not a lack of desire or effort.

In my next post I will continue dissecting my personal views of the remainder of the paragraph. I will try to be briefer next time, but my own verbosity will no doubt assert itself as it did this time. Until next time, have fun.

A Flash of Inspirtation

I have heard that it can happen. That you can get so involved in the writing process that before you know it, you actually write a lot in a single sitting. But it never really happened to me until last night.

We had a mini-monsoon yesterday here, which apparently knocked down power lines and screwed up our Charter bundled stuff. Since we were without cable or the internet, and I wasn’t sleepy, I decided to watch a DVD. I choose one of my favorites, Mystery Science Theater 3000 presents Werewolf. Then I remembered that I had a werewolf story brewing in my head. As the cheese-fest continued to play, I started getting a great idea on how to start the story in my head.

Luckily, I was in my office, at my computer, watching this DVD. So I started to write everything down as it entered the conscious part of my brain. In the span of an hour and some change, I wrote the first draft of the first chapter of this story. When I was done I was absolutely amazed! I had never in my life written a whole chapter in one sitting, let alone be happy with the concepts I put to ‘paper.’

As I read over it, I was incredibly happy with two things. First, although somewhat inspired by the movie I was listening to, it in no way resembled its plot. The last thing I want is to write a story worthy of only copywright lawsuits and bad jokes. Second, I had managed to start the story off with action and introduce the key characters in the span of about fourteen pages or so.

I am well aware that I skipped an awful lot of description, and the character development is rudimentary, but I believe that it is a solid start. Best of all, it got me re-energized about my writing abilities, and I also wrote an additional 12 pages this morning for my main story. Now if I can just parlay this writing streak into a finished product…