Tuesday 2nd March 2021
Among my various writing projects I have an idea for an epic fantasy. Weirdly, this is one where I know the plot, but I don’t know the story. Or is it the other way round? Basically I know what happens but I don’t know who the characters are or what they do.
Maybe that’s not strictly true. I have two characters. One a smart talking badass (think Han Solo, the cowboy trope, etc), and other other who is a mage. Other than the plot / story and these two characters the only real idea I have is of the mage shapeshifted into bird form battling the snow. They land and what they transform into is very much Ken Brannagh as he looked in the film Dunkirk.
I’m not someone who particularly casts their books. This is where someone will imagine actors as their various characters to aid description or certain characteristics. For me, that’s a fun exercise after the book is written, where I could imagine a number of actors playing any of my characters.
But as is the way with ideas, they come when you don’t expect them. I’m not particularly thinking about this project at the moment. It still needs a lot of work so I’m happy for it to sit in my back brain and pop into my head whenever it likes.
And it has, with a radical change to the mage. Instead of a clear cut, officer-like mage in the form of Ken Brannagh, instead he’s a necromancer. He’s partially fed off his own lifeforce over the years and as a result is decayed and twisted. Instead of being this formal character, he’s much more bitter. He doesn’t like anyone. He’s a bit of an arsehole.
I think he’ll be a fun character to write, and in my head he’s more like my undead warlock character from Warcraft. Joe Abercrombie’s Glokta character reminded me of that Warcraft character a bit, but I’ve never really written him as I see him in my head.
Something I picked up along the way about these sorts of unlikable characters is that they need to have one redeeming feature. There needs to be something that the audience can admire in the character. But what is there to admire in a necromancer that feeds off the life force of himself and others?
For that I went back to my original character, the one ‘played’ by Ken Brannagh. What if that’s who that character was, and this is rotting broken man is who they now are? What would drive someone to become that?
It’s that image of Ken Brannagh in Dunkirk that I go back to. He’s an officer in that film, dressed in uniform. The answer is service. Patriotism often gets muddied by the modern day Trumpism we see, but back during times of war, there was a softer patriotism that was without the jingoism. It was a form of service, of loyalty. What if this mage’s service has meant having to make such sacrifice that this is what he’s become?
Out of this spins an idea of a magic system and a way to connect characters together. I now also have the beginnings of a side-kick / companion for my sharpshooter, and it’s through them that the characters are connected. My roster is a little male-heavy at the moment. I have a vague idea that the baddie in this story is female and I know their connection to the mage. I’ve also started mentally dipping into the plot and have an idea of another female character. It’s a start.
There’s still a lot of work to do, but this story is starting to take shape. The idea is to let it live in the back of my brain and grow naturally. I may take it out from time to time to do a bit more concentrated work on elements, but this is one that’s going to be years before anyone sees it. I think I do better work when I let ideas breathe so the longer it can sit there the better.
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