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.

Naming in a Created World: Brant’s Version.

A little while back Kathryn posted Naming in a Created World, in which she discussed the ways she has for coming up with names in her world. I found this article interesting in and of itself, but also because of the differences between her approach and mine.

I developed my story in fits and starts over a very long time. Sometimes years would go by with no actual writing taking place, just random ruminations. I am a spotty note taker, and I realized after a few years I was in danger of forgetting key elements of my story. What role did certain characters play? How did they fit into the plot? Who were they in opposition to? What was their story arc? What is this place? Why is it important? What does this doo-dad actually do?

I decided to address these issues in two ways: 1) The language used when I wrote scenes for the first time, and 2) The names I choose.

With regards to the names of characters, I tried to choose names that crystallized the character for me personally. I named one central character after Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting, forests and hills, child birth, virginity, fertility. A huntress carrying a bow and arrows. With the name Artemis I captured the image of my character and defined much of her personality.

Another character I named Morel Rihtwis. This is a joining of the medieval words for moral, right, and wise. Again, when I read the name I know this character instantly. There is no doubt about how I should write his scenes.

My biggest exception to this scheme for naming characters is my protagonist, Damon Roth. I named him because I like the sound of the name as it rolled off my tongue. It was only later that I discovered it derived from the Greek story of Damon and Pythias, a story symbolizing trust, loyalty, and true friendship. Damon as a name means constant one. I fell in love with the symbolism, at how well it dovetailed with my thoughts about the character. I began using the ideas to frame much of Damon’s character arc.

For me, names of people, places, and things became placeholders. Post-it notes within the story to remind me what I was thinking when I jotted down a quick thought. It is a technique which has served me well.

Naming in a Created World

I have this great world all planned in my head, and have written a great deal of it down. The only problem is that they all have strangely Earthen names, like Sarah, Robert, Jeff. I want the names to be as unique to the story and the world as they are to the character, and run-of-the-mill names just won’t do. So I try my hand at creating names from scratch. Problem is, I am not a linguist, and names that look cool typed aren’t always easy to pronounce. How memorable can the characters be if their names are unpronounceable? Cases in point: Cedrixaz, Inzinnene, and Borieatla (real names from the current story I am working on, I’m afraid).

I have found a few ways to deal with this. The first is to look to the baby naming books, a standby for any writer that doesn’t write non-fiction. I can find one or two names for a hard to fit character that are real names, but are unusual or exotic enough to be worth keeping. Two of my secondary characters were renamed like this: Cirsara was renamed Cashil (which means spy), and the unnamed brother has now become Derien (a city in Georgia).

Another way to deal with the unpronounceable is to make them semi-unusual. Take a name that is easy to pronounce, and simply add a suffix or prefix to it. That way, if the reader (or even characters in the story) don’t want to use their whole name, they can still pronounce it. You can sometimes even get away with just adding an extra letter, usually a vowel, to the name to make it sound more other-worldly. Three of my characters have this feature: Diagna (Diana with a G), Saramants (Sara with –mants), and Verahadraad (Vera with –hadraad).

If the character is actually foreign to your world, it is okay to leave that hard to pronounce name attached, as many on the world may also have a problem with it. Again, two of my characters are from off-world originally, and therefore have names strange to the planet. However, they also have more common sounding names that people use everyday. Vico and Starimin were transplanted to this world when theirs collided with its moon. On their world, their names not only were hard to spell, but elongated the older they got. Starimin’s full name is Starimin Cedrixaz-en’toupo-degritions-en’for-delawn’sha’ysee. Her father Vico’s name is even longer, and he almost never gets to use it.

As for the naming of a place, I relied on two sources that were full of names to pull from. Many of the place names on the surface of my world were pulled from Biblical place names. Examples are Bethel Bara and En-Hakkore. In the watery underworld of my planet, most of the place names were pulled from scientific names of whales and dolphins, like Physeter (former genus for sperm whale) and Novaeangliae (specific epithet for humpback whale). Cool names, and I already have a list available to choose from.

Realistically, you can pull names from anywhere. I even read a book once where the character’s names were license plates, like Z3435R. If you can pull that off, more power to you. Me, I will continue to use what I know to fill in the gaps of what I want to know, all while making sure that future readers won’t get stuck on something silly like pronunciation.