Experiences of Writing

Character Focus: The Idealist

Carrying on with the plan of looking at various character ‘types’ in my current work.

On Monday, I talked about the female lead of my trilogy in progress, Anka, and her predominant trait in the first book – adventuring.
Today, I’m going to ruminate a little on her male counterpart, Sarus. While he appears briefly in the first book, book two sees him take center stage in his own right and progress through the most significant series of changes to who he is and what he stands for. He is an Idealist.


Being an Idealist

I would like to make it clear that when I use the term in this post, I’m not referring to the religious or thought-experiment variants of the word.
While Sarus certainly has the capacity to conceptualize the world as being nothing more than a mental construct, he is not the kind to find much time for philosophy, if only because there’s normally someone trying to kill him.

In the case of Sarus, we are talking about the most simple meaning of the word Idealist – someone who is guided by his or her perceived ideals, often irrespective of practical consideration or circumstance.
In this, there is certainly something of myself in Sarus, and I think a little of everyone.

While perhaps this doesn’t apply to everyone, I feel like a lot of us have an idealist phase as we grow up.
We spend so much time in school and around guiding elders who help us to learn empathy, consideration, what is socially acceptable and what is not, there must logically be a time where you understand all this teaching on principle, and expect the world to therefore adhere to those rules.
This was especially so for myself, growing up in a family who have mostly embodied the ideals they were trying to impart, alongside my teachers.
Work hard, use manners, be fair to others, think about how you will make someone feel before speaking, show love, respect and celebrate differences.

When I took my first tentative steps into the wider world as a young adult, it was certainly something of a shock to me just how awful people can be over the most ridiculous things.
All it took was a year or two of retail to learn that not all people are kind, patient, polite or willing to put themselves in your shoes, and then most of my care jobs after soon taught me that life is anything but fair, and respect is only given if you are in a position of higher authority.

A bit bleak, perhaps, but I can only speak on my own experience, and I certainly had my idealism tempered on the anvil of real life throughout my twenties.
I’m pleased to say, however, that I never gave my ideals up. I may be cynical and jaded at times, but that’s only because I can be a realist when sensible to be so. I have never stopped wishing for a fairer, brighter world though, and I do try to be the change I would see in others.
As my mother always says… manners cost only the time it takes to use them, and kindness looks good on everybody.
The world isn’t fair, I still think it should be though… but I have learned to harden myself to the injustices thrown at me, and to let things go. Some battles aren’t worth fighting, better to save your energy for the really important ones. (Like racism, homophobia, gender stereotypes, weight shaming…)

And that’s where Sarus differs from me.

grayscale photo of man in zip up jacket

Writing an Idealist

Sarus isn’t human, at least in terms of our own world. A great-great-great grand descendant to the umpteenth time of a subspecies of hominid, he belongs to one of several species of Nagu – magically inclined humanoids with animal-like attributes.

In the case of Sarus, and every other Kiyonagu on Hevna, this shows itself in snake-like features such as a venomous bite and heat-sensing pits in his nose, among other things.
All Nagu are also longer lived than the race of men, averaging nearly two centuries lifespan, and a much slower development rate as a consequence.

This means that while Sarus is in his thirties in the books, with enough time alive to know what to expect from people, his mind still works very much like that of a teenager as he is still forming those critical connections that allow us to transition from puberty to adulthood.
And as I said above, I believe many people in that late teenage-early adult bracket are idealists, or at least as ideological as they will ever be, while transitioning from being taught and coached, to first-hand experience and real-world application.

When I sat down to first start writing him, I already knew the character arc I wanted him to go through, at least in terms of transitioning from one set of beliefs, to the exact opposite.
He would go from despising the race of men for all they had done to persecute his people and ‘ruin’ his homeland, to the realization that sometimes ones’ enemy turns out to be your friend. This would not be a change he would come to willingly, and it would take the smarts of other characters in the story to bring him around before he would go on to shine with his own conviction.

In the very first and roughest draft of the story, before I knew it needed breaking into a trilogy, I handled the transition event quickly, loosely and with the focus on a different character entirely (This was before I realized the story would be better with more than one point of view, or ‘voice’.)
Needless to say, it fell somewhat flat when read back, and I am very thankful for the diplomatic counsel of my writing buddy Lucas for making me aware of this when I was still too focused on getting the gist of the story out to see my own failings.

Since then, and with the majority of the tale at least on ‘paper’ save the end of book three, there have been many revisions and changes. Most of them have been around Sarus.
Once I knew he would effectively get his own book to explain his ideals and stance in a sensible and believable fashion, it became almost easy to write him.
I put myself back to my own teenage years, how I used to feel when unfair things happened. Despite it being about half my lifetime ago now, I still remember the simultaneous feeling of absolute livid rage and crushing sadness anytime I was hauled over the coals by a middle manager for something that was neither my fault nor in my power to fix, and the resultant days of stress that could bring. Having worked retail, as I’m sure many of us have, I still recall how it felt to be demeaned by a customer for some arbitrary reason as if I were less than human.

At the start of the book, this is Sarus. A pit of boiling, seething emotions he doesn’t know how to express, reconcile or use effectively, all based in some very real and legitimate persecution in a world that is now changing.
He is angry, short-sighted, difficult… but it all comes from a place of great pain, and great hope. His anger is born from wanting the world to be better, fairer and happier, to be able to find his own peace.
And it is exactly this which gets him into trouble, and thus leads him to a complete change in his life.


Evolving the Character

Some people remain committed to ideals for their whole life, I’m sure, but I know I evolved as I grew into who I am now, and I’m sure in another ten years I will be different again from how I am at present. It was very important Sarus had this transition also, to signify both his own growth and as part of the underlying theme of the trilogy – it’s called The Meaning of Power for a reason, after all!

Anka will always have an adventurous spirit, it is the sort of thing that remains with one for life if you are so inclined to it (at least in my opinion).
With an idealist, though, it’s a little harder. Especially one who goes through such large events as those Sarus is exposed to throughout both the course of his own book and the closing novel after. It would not be unbelievable for him to become extremely cynical and bitter, considering.

Yet, I didn’t want him to lose his nature. As I grew and experienced and learned, I never gave up my core beliefs, I simply became more realistic in my pursuits of things, and better able to let go of my anger and my sadness. Having good people around me certainly helped, and that was something Sarus gained on his journey.

I gave Sarus a specific problem and embodiment of those things he finds most abhorrent in the world and allowed that plot element to resolve itself alongside his final steps to maturation. By the time he overcomes that particular thorn in his side, he has become more grounded, realistic and focused. His ideals have gone nowhere, but he no longer pursues them irrespective of the world he has to work within.
He knows the world is not as he thinks it should be, and likely never will be, but that shouldn’t stop him from trying and doing the best he can in the time he has allotted to him.
Part realist, part idealist, I like to think he becomes simply a force for change by the end of things, and the sort of person I would like to have as a friend.

Hopefully, that will one day come out in my writing, and others may agree 🙂

5 thoughts on “Character Focus: The Idealist”

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