As my book, In Honor’s Shadow, gets closer to being complete I find I want to talk about it more and more. This is obviously something of a minefield since saying too much could easily spoil the story. After some thought I’ve decided that there isn’t anything wrong with me talking about the main characters of the story, provided I give myself some basic guidelines before doing so.
In this instance, I think the best course is to talk about how the characters evolved from their earlier conception to today. Considering how much the story changed, from the overall conflict and a jump to a new setting completely, it isn’t too surprising that the characters have changed radically.
To the right is some early concept art for the female lead of In Honor’s Shadow. Although there are some details I would change (most notably her armor lacks the Hayashi family mon, and I doubt it would be red), I feel this is an accurate depiction of who she is in the story. The way she turned out now feels so right to me that sometimes I forget just how different her character was originally.
Seiko started out as a princess named Katherine Flemming, and the name alone gives away just how much I revised her character over time. She and her brother were twins, with her being born first. Unlike Seiko, who yerns to be a warrior, Katherine Flemming was happy to stay firmly in the world of politics and considered warfare a distasteful business for men.
This isn’t to say that I changed the character to be more martial in some misguided attempt to make her stronger; I’ve never liked the implication that a female character must embrace traditionally masculine traits to be considered strong. Personally I consider both Seiko and Katherine Flemming strong, but in very different ways. These differences are, largely, driven by the setting itself and changes I made to the story to remove characters I felt were extraneous.
In the original story, Katherine Flemming’s main source of conflict was a succession dispute with her brother as their father neared the end of his life. Although Katherine was born first, the succession laws stated that the throne would pass to the eldest surviving male child first and only fall to a female child if there were no surviving male children. Katherine believed this was unfair and pressed her father to change the law before he died, but he was reluctant because changing succession law is a huge deal with the potential to destabilize the kingdom. Naturally, her brother views her efforts as an attempt to usurp his rightful inheritance, setting him up as her primary antagonist.
My plan was to have her father come up with a compromise before his death: rather than inherit based on gender or who was born first it would be done through an election where every noble had a vote. In the event of a tie, a vote cast by the King before he died would act as the tie breaker. As a result of this new election compromise Katherine would set out to show herself as the superior leader and politician, while her brother would attempt to impress the other nobles with his strength and capacity as a military leader.
I loved this concept so much that it was very difficult to abandon (in fact, I still have it tucked away to try again in its own story). The first reason I decided to make changes was my combining Katherine Flemming with a secondary character that was serving as her bodyguard. As a princess with aspirations to become queen, Katherine naturally needed protection and had a loyal knight that both ensured she remained safe while also acting as a combination confidant and agent. When I decided it was necessary to cut the number of characters in my book he was removed, and since everything he did was at Katherine’s bidding anyway some of his character got folded into hers.
Another major change was that her father is already dead at the start of In Honor’s Shadow and she never had aspirations to rule anyway. This greatly changed the nature of her relationship with her brother. Because of the jump in setting, with the cultural importance of bushido and the existence of the onna-bugeisha tradition, she feels the need to prove her worth in the eyes of her culture. Her motivation comes from the same place, namely the way she is disregarded due to her gender, but it ends up expressed in a completely different way.