With that out-of-the-way, let’s dive right in.
- Category Archives World Building
Additional background information about my stories. Spoiler free!
In my last post I covered what Sigilism is and provided some background behind it before briefly laying out the three foundational principles that govern the magic’s behavior. Here I shall go into the first foundational principle, Harmony, in greater detail.
For my coming novella I wanted to try my hand at a story quite different from the Honor’s Path series. This comes with a shift to a setting that is inspired by a combination of Feudal France and the Byzantine Empire. It also means that I’ve decided to try my hand at writing a story with magic. Not going for high fantasy here, so don’t expect mages slinging absurdly powerful spells. Continue reading
Oops, got so involved with what is going on in my life that I missed a week. I’ll try to make it up sometime in the future, but for now I’m just going to continue on with my plan writing about Character Building.
Last Time I wrote about the primary motivation most characters should have: staying alive. I believe it is very important to be aware that most characters in a story will want to focus on keeping themselves alive, and what it means when that isn’t the case, however while that provides a solid base it isn’t terribly informative. Realistically, it won’t come up that often, and even if it did anything that is common to 99.9% of the population isn’t terribly interesting.
Secondary motivations are where things begin to get more interesting. Here it becomes possible to look at a character and start to infer things about who they are, and how they will behave in a given situation. Also, the importance a character gives to each of these goals tells the reader something about your character. Their character development is ultimately driven by things which cause them to reorder their priorities, or by how achieving or failing to meet their goals causes them to reevaluate themselves and what they are doing.
One thing to keep in mind is that characters may not be aware of all their secondary motivations, and they may also incorrectly define which ones are most important to them. For example, a businessman may tell you his goals involve moving up in the company hierarchy, but what he actually cares about most is providing for his family. Culturally, his caring for his family is simply assumed. Alternately, an athlete may say that winning the big championship game is the only thing he cares about, but when presented with the opportunity to win by cheating he may turn his nose up at it. He discovers that while he wants to win, he isn’t willing to do so unfairly.
Protagonist goals tend to be different from those of the characters around them. Most characters in a story will have primarily mundane goals, or if they have fantastic goals will give them a low priority (due to their impossibility). Obviously this doesn’t have to be true of all secondary characters and minor characters, a minor or secondary character that is trying to accomplish something seemingly impossible could be someone to help give the protagonist a boost when they need it most, but in general most people keep their main goals down to earth.
Protagonists, however, like to reach. They don’t want to get that next promotion, but rather intend to eventually become the company president. When that village child said that he wanted to become a knight, he really meant it. And that little boy wants a puppy more than anything else in the world.
One thing to remember is that the goal doesn’t have to necessarily seem that impressive. Where The Red Fern Grows is set in motion by a boy and his dream of owning two coon hunting dogs.This may sound like a minor thing, but the key here is that the goal was so vitally important to the character, and his situation called into question his ability to achieve it. This was something he needed to seriously work at to accomplish.
Antagonist goals can be vastly more varied, often depending on the type of story you intend to tell and the type of antagonist that best suits your story. If you want an antagonist that mirrors the protagonist, it may be good to give them a lofty goal as well (often one that conflicts with that of the main characters). In this case, giving the goal twist to make the antagonist unlikable is a common too. For example, perhaps both characters want to win the championship, but the antagonist wants to do it to become rich and famous while the protagonist wants to do it because they love the game and feel this need to prove they are the best.
A conflict with the antagonist’s goals is almost always a given, but that doesn’t mean they have to be inherently malicious. Perhaps a kid has trouble getting support of his father because he wants to go to college, but his father believes that is a waste of time and money for someone who is destined to take over the family farm. Or, on the other side of the coin, perhaps there is a child whose mother is pushing them to enroll in an ivy league college despite their love for animals and desire to become a veterinarian.
The most important thing is to know why the conflict exists. Taking the example of the mother trying to push her kids to get an ivy league education as an example, it is entirely possible she sees how smart her children are and wants to make sure they get the best future possible. Maybe she got pregnant early in life and felt that she had to give up such opportunities for herself to take care of her children, and thus wants to make sure her kids get the life she never had. Ultimately what she wants is for her children to grow up to lead happy, fulfilling lives, however she defines that in a particular way which isn’t necessarily what everyone wants. Knowing this lets you better understand the clashes that happen, driving the story forward in a way that is consistent while suggesting potential outcomes.
So, since the house sale fell through it’s back to trying to sell the house. But by now I figure everyone is sick of hearing about that, so time to move on to a new topic.
I’m going to talk about character building. In fact, that is what I’m going to be doing for the next few posts—all dealing with character motivation.
This post will be the same deal as my last one on Hayashi Seiko. For those that aren’t interested in looking at the last post, here are the rules I’ve set for myself.
The point of this post isn’t to talk about the character as they currently exist in the story, but rather to touch on how my concept of the character changed over time as a result of the setting switch and other decisions I made over the course of writing. No plot details about In Honor’s Shadow will be revealed, so you don’t have to worry about spoilers, however I will mention story points from earlier conceptions of the story that were ultimately cut for various reasons.
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.
At some point while working on In Honor’s Shadow I began TAKING notes in a 70 page spiral notebook. The first 15 pages are filled with notes about Japanese swords, their cultural significance, and my own ideas of how I wanted to have that reflected in my setting. There are details on everything from the etiquette involved with swords, to the process of their construction, to the societal rules that revolve around them.
Keep in mind that what follows applies to my setting only and should not be used as an example of Japanese culture. Much of what I present here is simply made up an intended to emphasize various details that come up with traditional Japanese weapons.
One thing I love about World Building is how as things flesh out new questions naturally begin to arise. When I first fleshed out the social structure that surrounds my story I based it off of what I had read about feudal Japanese society. If you look to social pyramid to the right you will notice it looks very much like what I laid out in my last world building post.
Although I already knew why merchants were considered the bottom of the social order historically, I found myself intrigued by the idea. How do these people survive when they are mostly viewed as a necessary evil?
What challenges do they face? Are the stated reasons for their place in society the same as the real reasons? Are shop owners considered merchants if they sell goods they haven’t produced themselves? For that matter, with so much stigma how many merchants exist and how successful are they?
This is a lot of important information for me to know. True, my story focuses on the nobility, however knowing at least the basics of the empire’s economy is a good idea. At the very least I need to know who makes what, and how goods get distributed. Perhaps I have no immediate plans to use the information, but by virtue of having it at my disposal I now have more tools for future stories should I need them.
So, as a fun exercise, I’ve decided to do a very basic outline about how I think things work and post the result of this early work. Things won’t be set in stone at such an early stage, and I may decide to revisit this at a later time. If so I’ll likely share the changes I make as well.