Rob’s Ramblings: Character Origins

Todd Searls mentioned that he liked seeing under the hood yesterday, and when I thought about his comment, I realized I love that from my favorite creators too.

One of my basic principles is to be the author I want be a fan of. Write the stuff I want to read and interact the way I want to be interacted with. So I’ll do some more of these posts, especially now while None Call Me Mother is new and fresh in my mind. In this one I’ll discuss some of the things I thought of while designing a few characters.

Irina Ivanovna

Irina Ivanovna is probably the most important character I’ve ever designed, not simply because she is the key to this story, but also because she shaped the entirety of Periaslavl and hence, much of the entire world.

I love Star Wars, but as I’ve gotten older, the Luke Skywalker character gets really boring. It’s a common fantasy trope, of course, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. How could I create a character than had all that “destiny” but knew a ton, yet didn’t know anything? That’s a thought exercise, let me tell you.

What if the character’s been sheltered? What if their limitation is that they’ve been focused on something else, not living in the world. And that led to the idea of the velikomat, or Great Mother, of Periaslavl. I won’t get into some of the reasons behind why Periaslavl made sense for this because it’d be a spoiler, but I had here a vehicle to make sure that the Great Mothers lived for a looooong time.

During the events in None Call Me Mother, Irina is 140 years old but her body is still that of a teenager. M-a-a-a-gic. If it’s a fantasy world, I should darn well use it.

Making her a ruler with all this experience and power meant she knew all sorts of top-end things. How much food an oblast would need to make it through the winter. How many troops Periaslavl could support. What was the Empire going to do? Or Svellheim. And so on.

Yet, of course, she’s never really been a person. She was chosen at 16 to be the Great Daughter, and for 124 years her life has been nothing but ruling Periaslavl. It’s a great set of experiences for a character, but it’s also a great set of non-experiences. I had a ton of fun playing with those things she never experienced or, more importantly for one kinetic reason, didn’t remember.

So there’s my callow character of “destiny.” I really have a problem doing the easy thing, don’t I?

One last note about Irina. My mom’s mom’s name was Irene. Yeah, I’m shallow, but I loved making that connection as the “Great Mother.” You should all expect this, by the way, because my mom’s dad’s name is Edward.

Eleonore Drechsler

The second character I’m going to look at is Eleonore Drechsler. I’ll start with her name. I use a random generator on Behind the Names. It’s a fantastic site, one of the most useful on the internet. I had to laugh at this name when it came up, because one of my favorite basketball players ever is Clyde Drexler. Ha! I slay myself.

Anyway, in many ways she draws from the same sort of fallen paladin ideas I often love. In some ways, she’s a hard-edged version of Edward. Sometimes it’s fun to write a good guy doing bad things. Really bad things.

Eleonore had to be a great warrior. More important, a skilled leader. I needed to inject a bit of skill into the cesspool that is the Kreisens anyway, and Demmenkreisen, as one of the largest and most powerful Kreisens was a good place for it. That it was in the exact right place (thank you, Adam, which I might touch on in a different post), was a bonus.

Part of the reason that it was important to me that she was a leader is that I needed that to be able to break her down. She has to take a path, not an easy path, but the one that seems easiest for someone who’s enraged. I think most people get enraged not on their own behalf, but on behalf of those close to them.

Her character arc, then, is to screw up but then spend the rest of the series overcoming her mistake. In many ways, this is my favorite arc because it’s something we all do. Her part of the epic battle is perhaps the most subtle, as she cannot win her fight. She can, however, slow the magic that’s attacking her and thereby give the others a chance to win. I probably make this too subtle in the book, because as a set of actions it’s not terribly active, but I, at least, know what battle she faced, and it’s one that I rather enjoyed.

Etain Muirghein

Many of you know the story behind a bunch of characters that appeared in Brief Is My Flame. These were a bunch of redshirts as part of a fundraiser for a great guy who had some health issues.

Obviously, I won’t go into these characters’ origins, because if you know the person redshirted, you’ll catch the references and if you don’t, you won’t care. However, I did want to touch on a few ways these redshirts helped shape Shijuren and the story.

Etain Muirghein was a character I mentioned briefly in I Am a Wondrous Thing. As the Thalassocrat of the Western Isles, she had a part to play in the political maneuvering between realms. However, I didn’t say anything else about her at the time.

Then I was asked to redshirt someone I really respect who helped shape Calontir. Etain suddenly became a great vehicle for that, and so I put in all of her I could. Feisty, tough, awesome. I even added her dog, sort of. It’s named Madra Te in the books, which is a great pun for those who know her.

Anyway, that meant I had to put Etain into some of the action. I hadn’t anticipated that I’d do anything really involving the Western Isles or anything on that end of the Kreisens, but in the end it became a fantastic vector to get to the end.

Plus, I got to write fantasy ship battles using another redshirt, and have both die gloriously. Man, that worked out well, and it’s all because I had to fit this redshirt somewhere and Etain was the absolute right place.

So there you go. A bit of a sketch behind three of the most important characters in the series. There was some serendipity involved in these characters, but at least I was smart enough to recognize it when it hit me upside the head. Serendipity’s got a punch, let me tell you.

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