I figured that seeing as I’m heading into a chaotic month or two as we move 3k-odd miles across the country, it might be wise to do a ‘series’ of blog posts.
So, for a few weeks, I’m going to focus on some of the characters I am currently writing, who they are, why they are the way they are, and what inspired them.
And I’m going to start with my favorite character, Anka, one of the main characters in my ‘Meaning of Power’ Trilogy.
As the title of this post suggests, I consider her to have an Adventurer personality, so here’s some wittering on writing that kind of character, as I have experienced it!
Being an Adventurer
Anka has an awful lot of my own mentality in her, and my own interests and likes. Growing up, I loved all sorts of movies and stories where the main characters got into fantastical situations and had to be brave or clever to get back out again.
As an 80’s kid, these always involved things like Sarah coming of age in Labyrinth, the Gelflings overcoming the (terrifying!) Skesis in Dark Crystal, Indiana Jones coping with snakes to give the Nazi’s the boot, and Luke Skywalker realizing his destiny to thwomp the Empire in the teeth.
A lot of the movies I watched were made by people who grew up watching Western adventures, and so the tropes and cliches roll joyously downhill, inspiring generation after generation, but in a good way. All these ideas and stories are about girding oneself up to be more than you were, even when you’re scared or alone or feel helpless, and coming out of it better.
Maybe the world was saved, or the galaxy, but even if all you walked away with was your life and a new perspective on the world, that was still a success. And it certainly beat only watching Disney movies and being told one day my Prince would come if I was pure enough and loved animals.
See, I don’t normally drop into politics or current issues, but it’s impossible to deny that sometimes, the world is different if you are a boy or a girl.
I’m not going to hash out the injustices on both sides (and assuredly, there are problems on both sides of the coin and I’m not trying to make out I grew up in hell just cos I would one day get boobs), I’m just going to recognise that the world is rarely entirely equal and that can affect your thoughts and influences as you mature.
I remember Tomb Raider coming out. And while Lara Croft might indeed be the worlds very worst archaeologist (though Nathan Drake is trying to even that gender gap with every passing year, you go, Mr. Drake, you do you,) and eye candy in many regards… she was a female adventurer and action hero who just kicked ass.
I still remember my absolute joyous wonder they first time I encountered that bloody T-rex, and graduating from pretending to be variously animated heroines on the school playground to pretend-shooting everything with the boys, and I’ll let you guess which was more fun.
I grew up wanting to have adventures, is what I’m saying. My family has always been all about traveling and seeing the world and other cultures, and I was blessed to be the eldest grandchild, so I got to have more adventures than most growing up.
My grandparents took me camping regularly, we went surfing every year, we had foreign exchange students stay with us, and my mum always made sure we did something different every summer, from sports camps to visiting historic houses.
The upshot of this was learning that you don’t have to go far, or be rich, to have an adventure. Mudding in the local stream can turn excessively adventurous depending on your expectations, especially if you fall in.
Piddling around in caves, climbing hills and trees, having wheelchair races down the lawn of a stately home being pushed by my grandfather… I did a lot growing up, and even rainy days at home were spent watching action heroes disarm traps and traverse exotic locations.
It’s probably no surprise then that despite my anxieties and social awkwardness, I ended up moving to another continent and sticking it out with minimal difficulty, despite how bad the first six months are supposed to be.
Writing an Adventurer
So, with my own background and thoughts on exploring and investigating the world around me, I was always going to end up writing a character who did just that.
It feels to me like a lot of modern media tries really hard to justify it’s action heroes these days, and everything has a sheen of the grim and dark about it. It’s no longer enough for someone to just have super powers and go on mad adventures, they have to be persecuted, disowned, depressed or otherwise brought right back down to earth with some form of trauma to be considered relevant.
And I think I’m really guilty of that myself. I can’t help but look at movies these days and think to myself ‘that isn’t how that works. That’s not remotely plausible. No way would anyone speak like that’. I don’t know when, or how, but pure escapism for its own sake has slipped past me, and our culture at large, and that’s a real shame.
Despite this, when I sat down to start writing my trilogy, Anka immediately started having adventures. Big, high minded adventures. Sneaking about in secret passages, disarming centuries old traps, climbing mountains and disobeying her father to take an airship trip…
I didn’t deliberately set out to meet some set of ideals with her. I never said ‘I will challenge the cultural perception of women by having a strong independent badass, who don’t need no help!’, or ‘I will write a story with action like that I saw in movies growing up!’ or ‘I will challenge this grim-dark reality of fantasy works!’.
I just wrote what was interesting to me. What I would want to see her do. Out of all my work, since I started writing, Anka has been the most spontaneous and enjoyable of the lot. I took no advice on her, what she was doing or why I just wrote what I wanted to read and let her have adventures I wish I could have.
And I think she is doing great. The first book in the trilogy is so much fun (to me, anyway), because there is no ‘agenda’. I didn’t sit down to worry about themes and plots and counterplots and messages… I just wrote. This isn’t to say she doesnt have an end goal or there is no plot to the book, just that I didn’t pre-plan it to within an inch of its life before I started.
Never has writing been more fun than when I was trying to devise an old trap that could still have some relevance years later when Anka finds it, and make it a suitable challenge for her to show off her intellect and prowess. I did a ton of research to find something that worked, and I’m still happy as a clam about what I eventually cooked up.
Anka is strong, determined, fun and adventurous. She gets scared but doesn’t let herself be ruled by that, and she uses the ‘superpower’ I gave her without any real remorse for it.
By the third book, this all catches up with her a little and does bring things back down to earth with some of that popular personal loss and baggage, but that’s why she needed a sidekick. Someone to share the story with, across most of its length.
Adventurers should come in Pairs
‘Should’ in this case is just a personal preference. There are assured works out there of individuals having an adventure without a buddy, and I’m not disparaging them.
But I like a duo or trio. Adventure is so much fun to share and to later reminisce about. ‘Remember that time when…’ is a sentence that nearly always ends in me making the person I say it to smile as we both recall some daft thing we did when I was younger.
‘Remember that time when we drove up a mountain?’. ‘Remember that time I got stuck up a tree and you had to help me down?’, ‘Remember that time we all ran around campus with nerf guns?’.
Plus, a buddy allows for more adventure. It’s a lot easier to explore a sinkhole if you have a buddy to feed you rope as you descend. It’s a lot more reassuring to go into a dark lava tube if you have a second person and second flashlight with you. Two people can carry a much larger picnic to eat at the top of the hill, if nothing else, and surfboards are easier to carry if you have one person carry the noses, while the other holds the tails.
Buddies make for great additions to real-life adventures, and in books, they can provide an excellent dialogue and thought vehicle. They can also highlight how they and the other character have each grown, or how a single experience can affect people in different ways.
Ultimately, I think The Meaning of Power will eventually be my best work I ever produce. It came out of a place of pure interest, unhindered by goals or targets or demographics or deliberate messages.
It’s the story of an adventure to save a Kingdom and see its characters find themselves, filled with old-school exploration of forgotten ruins, exotic locales, colorful characters and dramatic changes in fortune.
It’ll never rival juggernauts like Indiana Jones, Star Wars or The Lord of The Rings, but it doesn’t have to. It just has to be the sort of thing I would enjoy reading, and it will have served its purpose.
Anything else is a bonus.