For the next several blog posts, I want to focus my discussion on the development of my current Work(s) in Progress. And what better place to start than with the progression of my main character, from initial conception to current incarnation. Along with the main character himself, this is a great opportunity to talk about the nature and tone of the stories, specifically as they relate to, and are affected by, the nature of the main character.
It’s interesting to watch a character change and grow as you develop your story – almost like a child growing up and figuring out who they really are. My main character started with the character I’m currently playing in my weekly Dungeons & Dragons game. For those who know 4th Edition D&D, my character is a two-sword style ranger with a cross-class feat that gives me the thieving skills of a rogue (if you’re not into D&D, I realize this probably doesn’t mean much).
My concept for the character is that he is a bounty hunter (which works well with his combination of ranger and thief skills). But the big twist to the character is his race – he is a Shade. In D&D, a Shade is a human who, through a complex and very dangerous mystical ritual, gave up part of their soul to the Shadow Realm, in exchange for dark powers from this realm (mostly related to stealth).
The final background theme I gave my character is one called Haunted Blade – essentially, having committed a cold-blooded, violent act with a bladed weapon (in my character’s case, a pair of scimitars), the character becomes cursed with the dark power of fear. When combined together, these various aspects make for a very fun character to play – dark, mysterious, an anti-hero the other players are never certain just how far they can trust.
So when my first attempt at a novel stumbled to a creative halt and I came to the conclusion that I needed to start fresh, I immediately latched onto my D&D character as a great place to start. Of course, the first thing I would need to do is make him a little less blatantly Dungeons & Dragons (partly because I didn’t want my story to feel like an obvious D&D rip-off, and partly because you never know just what game elements Wizards of the Coast might want to enforce their copyright on).
So the first thing to go was my character being a Shade – that specifically felt very D&D (at least to me). I did, however, want to keep the Haunted Blade concept. And so I made the cursed swords a very big part of his back story. And of course I kept him as the dark, mysterious bounty hunter. With this basic character concept in place, the next step was to decide what sort of story to feature him in.
I started by thinking about bounty hunters in general, and what sort of fiction you generally find them in, and two obvious sources came to mind – Westerns, and Star Wars. Star Wars, of course, was immediately out (not that I have anything against Star Wars, but firstly I wasn’t interested in writing fan fiction, and secondly I was more looking at a fantasy setting than a scifi one). Which left Westerns, and this very much intrigued me. What if I were to develop the story – the plot, the tone, the characters, all of it – as if I were writing a western, but set it in an ancient fantasy world?
And so that’s where I started. At first the ideas were coming together really well, and I was very happy with the direction of the story. Then I hit a snag. The problem I was facing was in the nature of the curse my main character suffered from. I don’t want to reveal too many details here (want to save those for the actual story), but essentially as a result of his curse, my main character does not draw his swords unless he absolutely has to.
The problem with this is that Westerns, as a rule, feature quite a bit of combat. And when your main character avoids combat whenever he can, that tends to complicate the story (and not in a good way). Also, as I plan to (hopefully) make my story part of a series of stories, the idea of a bounty hunter character was starting to feel limited – too many of the story ideas I had didn’t really strictly fit with the role of a bounty hunter, and I didn’t want every story to be about him chasing down his latest bounty. And so changes needed to be made.
The first change was to my character himself. Instead of a bounty hunter, he became an “adventurer for hire”. I felt this opened up the possibilities for jobs/adventures that he could become involved in, but still included the possibility of bounty hunting type missions, which meant I could do everything with him I’d planned out already, but now had more latitude to do much more besides.
The next change that I made was to the theme/concept of the story. Instead of being inspired by Westerns (although there will likely still be some influences from the Western genre), I decided that swashbuckling, action/adventure themed stories would work better with the character (think of stories featuring characters such as Allan Quatermain, Tarzan, or Indiana Jones, for example). The idea is to focus on scenes of action and adrenaline that don’t necessarily feature combat. This way, when my main character does draw his swords, it is only for significant moments in the story when he was little other choice.
Now I fully admit this is probably a bit of a risky choice, as it seems like a large number of fantasy stories really focus on battles and combat and monster killing, so writing fantasy stories that tend to minimize these things could potentially not go over well with fantasy readers. But if nothing else, I’ll be able to say I’m writing something different. I guess only time will tell if that ends up being different good, or different bad.
And there you have it – the transition of my Shade ranger D&D character to the cursed action/adventure hero who is the main character of my future novel series. Hopefully this little discussion gave you some insight into how a character can change and grow as you develop him or her, and how a story changes as the characters who inhabit that story change. Tune in next week, when I’ll be talking about some of the other characters who inhabit my stories (and more specifically, the fun-filled process of coming up with names for my characters).