Before I wrote my Essence of Galenia series, I wanted to be clear of what it was I wanted to achieve. What did I want to say or do that hadn’t been done many, many times before? It started with a list. I wrote down the names of stories that I loved, stories I was disappointed in and one’s that were in my genre. I then proceeded to jot down all the things I liked about them and what my pet peeves were. There were some interesting patterns that began to emerge and it gave me a way to make clear goals for what I wanted to achieve with my story; ways to make it unique and to avoid falling into the same patterns as many fantasy stories do.
Likeable villains; Good guys with flaws
- Sauron, Voldemort, The White Witch: all iconic villains. And they are all the epitome of evil. They are the embodiment of all things dark and sinister; there is no doubt that they need to be destroyed. Yet, having doubt of whether or not someone really is evil or if they have a chance at redemption can make for an interesting or even likable villain. There are many tales of how the protagonist becomes a hero—in my story I wanted to include a believable journey of the villain; the tale of a normal character’s descent into darkness.
- On the flip side, I wanted ‘good guys’ who weren’t so polished. Every well-written protagonist has some flaws that they struggle with or fears they must overcome, but typically you know that they are the heroes. I wasn’t interested in flipping everything and everyone on their heads, but I did want to create characters that caused the reader to question the very concept of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. In RL people are both; even ‘nice guys’ can say or do things that are unpleasant. One of my favorite lines from the Harry Potter series is a quote from Sirius Black:
- “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”
My Goal: To blur the lines between good and evil; even the characters don't know what path they are truly on.
Being Heroic Without having to Kill
- Even in beloved children stories the heroes kill. From Snowwhite and Hansel and Gretal to The Harry Potter Series and The Hunger Games, killing is key. It is true that in some of these stories the hero indirectly gets the villain killed, but it seemed to me that in so many stories there is this unwritten theme of ‘bad guys’ killing = murder, ‘good guys’ killing = heroic. Very rarely do heroes have repercussions for their actions – usually because the story ends. In some fantasy books the heroes are constantly in battles and the death count on their hands is impressive —orc or not that’s got to get to you…While death and killing is not a theme nor the goal in my series, when the issue comes up I try to deal with it in a realistic manner and there are always consequences.
My Goal: Not every story ends with a war. You can be a hero without having to kill.
Consequences of Choices
- Another theme I found was the chosen hero. It is their destiny to be a savoir. Their coming has been prophesied—they will save the day. One of the things I loved about Lord of the Rings was that Frodo made the choice to be a ring bearer; Aragon chose to become King. To me, having choice makes the characters all the more heroic. The consequences of these choices—for better or worse—have a greater impact on who the character is. It is the difference between being told what to do and doing something of your own free will and, therefore, you are not only responsible for your actions, but accountable for the outcome.
- I also wanted this kind of accountability for my protagonists. I love the Harry Potter stories, but again I will use Voldemort as an example. Tom Riddle (later to be named Voldemort) came from the Slytherin lineage (the only founder of Hogwarts to get kicked out for his controversial and morally unacceptable views). Tom was abandoned by his father, had a somewhat psychotic mother, was raised in an orphanage where he was bullied, and pretty much never knew love. What choice did he have but to become a villain? Seriously, if you saw the movie, meeting young Tom Riddle through the aide of the pensive, the whole thing screams ‘I’m going to be a villain!!’ He tortured animals and people. Now you may say that Harry had also lost his parents, was raised by bullies, but he chose to be a nice guy, and I agree, he could have absolutely been a jerk. Had it not been for his friends and his good genes, then it’s likely he would have been Voldemort’s sidekick. My point is that Tom was pretty much denied that choice; he had nothing in his favor.
My Goal: To create heroes and villains with equal choices and opportunities. They are not destined to be saviors or corrupters they chose their path.
The logic of Science vs the convenience of Magic
- Magic is easy. At least when you are writing about it. It can get you out of any circumstance. And many times when writers use magic they don’t even give themselves parameters. Need to get somewhere? Enchant a carpet. Don’t like someone? Turn them into stone. The trouble with magic is that the rules can be very unclear to authors and readers alike. YouTube has great tributes to these undeclared limits to powers. Why not just use the time turner to kill Tom Riddle before it all happened? Why not send the eagles in to mount doom to begin with? Of course, the point is not the magic, it is the journey of our protagonist. But if these powers come with some sort of limit or clear-cut rules then we wouldn’t have to quietly suspend all plausibility when losing ourselves in the story.
- Now I’m not suggesting it all has to be explained. Too much of that and not only do you take the fun out of it, but it would leave little left for the imagination. I’m also not suggesting that there is a right way or wrong way to add wizardry into a tale. Alice shrinking to the size of a mushroom or Percy Jackson having the ability to control water are wondrous, magical scenes that would lose their appeal if the writers gave us a full account of how it all happened. All I’m suggesting is that whatever guidelines, whatever limits these powers have, it’s important that the readers can come to understand them and that we as writers don’t abuse those powers.
- So what has this got to do with science? Ancient people believed in magic. It was all around them. Fire, the Aurora Borealis, I’m sure even caterpillars becoming butterflies was miraculous. And of course it was. It was also explainable, they just didn’t have the knowledge or tools to work it out. When writing a story the readers can be swept away by the magic as much as they want, if the writer sets rules and parameters for these miracles and reveals them to the reader as needed then a trust can be built: the unwritten promise of being consistent.
My Goal: To apply the logic of Science to the Essence in my story.
End on hope
- I read the whole Hunger Games Trilogy just hoping and waiting for a rewarding victory—something that made all the darkness that I waded through to be worth it in the end. To say I was disappointed was an understatement. I was mad. Okay, the book is about kids having to kill each other, what did I expect really? A Star Wars ending I suppose. I expected Lord Vader to redeem himself, the Emperor to die and the Han Solo to get the princess. Regardless of all the crap that the heroes had to endure, it would be worth it in the end. Without that, why would I even want to read the book? Life is full of disappointment, failures, deaths and misery that is out of our control. Stories can point that maybe we don’t have it so bad. They can also give us the encouragement to keep moving forward for the hope that it is worth it in the end. Of course, The Hunger Games is meant to be a tragedy and knowing that going in you know it just won’t end well. This realization made it clear that this was not the type of story I wanted to write.
My Goal: Victory or not, each book ends on hope, no matter how slight.