This is part two of a series I started on Thursday about character development, and how my characters both are and aren’t myself and people that I know. If you want to read part one, it’s here.
For a quick recap, on Thursday I wrote about the oddities that ensue when writers draw characters from real life experience. I concluded that, personally, I don’t believe that writers can ever produce a character that isn’t drawn from their own experiences and biases, in large part because that’s ultimately the only well we have to draw from when creating stories. I then went on to impart a story of how one of my villains came to be, and the real-life circumstances he was drawn from.
As therapeutic as turning my frustrations with a former crush into a villain may have been, I have had far more powerful experiences with some of my protagonists. Three protagonists in particular stand out in my mind as having helped me work through major life changes.
The first is Nemra, from my second published short story, Beyond Nemra. At the time I wrote this story, I was in the process of letting go of my relationship with my first real love, and falling in love with the man who eventually became my husband. My relationship with my ex boyfriend had been very difficult at the end, devoid of affection, and full of secrets. I found at the end, that he was telling things to friends of ours that I should have been told, and was only ever told after the fact. He wanted to railroad me into marriage by trying to convince me that I wasn’t getting any younger (at 23, ha) and yet he clearly didn’t feel any affection for me anymore. I was scared to break it off because we lived together and had joined our resources, but eventually, after many tries to reconcile and make him open up again, I realized that it was over.
After I broke up with him, I was left with a lot of resentment and unanswered questions as to why he went cold on me. I started dating again, but I still had a lot of grief and rage bottled up inside over what I saw as him ruining a good thing. I felt, often, like I had a fire caged up in my chest, trying to explode outward, I was so filled with emotion. My new love for Robin and my old resentment of my ex warred with each other for dominance within me. Then, in my quiet moments on the way back from a writers’ retreat that summer, my feelings took human form in Nemra, the girl with a fiery enchantment trapped inside her that she will either release, or die.
Despondent after being abandoned by her wizard lover, Nemra swallows one of his talismans and throws herself into the world as an adventurer for hire, hoping to die quickly by the sword, or slowly by the enchantment trapped within her. Then, she meets Kerimar, a man who convinces her, through a series of trials, that she may yet love again. Nemra releases the talisman just as she and Kerimar are surrounded by enemies, and the enchantment flies up out of her mouth into the clouds, and comes back down as burning blue hail that fells their enemies and leaves the two of them free to love again. Writing this story exorcised the last of my resentment toward my ex, and allowed me to love again, too.
The next character that helped me work through a lot of life stuff is Ravoth Yonfarion. Ravoth, unfortunately, will never see print, because he is part of a license novel that I wrote that will never see the light of day. I can’t talk much about what the project was about, but I can still tell this character’s individual tale without getting into too much hot soup. Ravoth is nearly immortal, and very, very old, but he can only survive by receiving immortality treatments from his best friend, a terrible dictator whose former ideals have sunken into a lust for power and order at any cost. When Ravoth learns that something he and his friend created long ago that could unite the land and bring peace and understanding has not died, but merely lain dormant waiting for a time to grow, he must choose whether he will kill his creation and live, or take a stand for his ideals, protect his creation, and die.
When I wrote Ravoth, I had just left my home and come to animation school. I was older than just about everyone around me, because it had taken me time to gather the courage and maturity I needed to take a stand and own my love for art. I felt lonely, and like I’d been fighting for years just to make it as far as I had, and still I had a long fight ahead of me. Ravoth, the old soldier alive beyond his years and homesick for a time long gone, comforted me with the thought that no matter how long you’ve spent going down the wrong path, it’s never too late to tap into your inner fire. I still love him, and wish others could have ‘met’ him too.
The third, and most recent character on this list is Denny, short for Felicia Dennigan. Denny is a strong, independent woman struggling to survive without much support from her family, in a decayed Ontario where the dead have started rising from the grave and tormenting the living after dark. Denny lives outside the zone affected by the monsters, but she is quickly drawn into a wilderness adventure of epic proportions when she discovers that her missing father is one of them. She faces many dangers along her journey, but the hardest challenge for her by far is learning to trust others.
At the time I wrote Denny, I was very lonely. Many of the friends I’d had for years were dropping away from me, one by one, and people at school gave me a wide berth, for reasons I’m still not sure of. I spent most of my days feeling isolated and a bit abandoned, all while having to achieve high marks and spend a lot of time on schoolwork. Denny helped me work through the things I was doing to push people away, and the trust issues I had that contributed to my loneliness. As I wrote her, I started to see the same traits in myself, and learn how to push back against them. I used my new-found realizations to find community outside of school, and became much happier and less isolated.
And now, it’s time for the question of the week:
Has a fictional character ever helped you work through something big in your life? I’d love to hear the story. Comment, or better yet, blog it!