Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Ways of the World: A Hero's Social Network

Last time on WOTW, I discussed the first five points of David Eddings's list of fantasy novel elements. His list starts with the bigger picture and works its way into the finer details, so the first choice you need to make for your fantasy novel, or most genre fiction, is theology. In fantasy, this is attached to religion, but even in mainstream fiction there is an inherent belief system behind the structure and theme of the plot, whether the author is conscious of it or not.

Number two is the proverbial Quest. In fantasy and a lot of sci-fi, you are searching for the magical thingamagig. In other genre fiction the quest could be for a killer, a long lost relative, some sort of material item, or even for the souls of the characters themselves. What your protagonist hero seeks out is element number three.

Number four is the hero himself, explicated as four major types. If they're clueless and the world is shown through their discovery of it, you have an Innocent hero. If they go gallivanting around trying to burn all evil to the ground, your Champion has arrived centerstage. If your hero perseveres through said evil with the help of moral character and strength of will, a Righteous hero you have, and the Loyal hero is trying to save those he holds dear. Any of these heroes will be brought into the fold of the story by a wizard, fantasy element number five. In other genre fiction, this character could be a professor, partner, or older relative of the protagonist. Whoever guides the Quest.

Which brings us to the other half of the list, which includes the heroine, the villain, the hero's companions, their lady friends, and the outer social structure of the world: kings, queens, government officials, inn keeps and co-workers. All the kings horses and men. These are the characters our hero surrounds himself with, his social network, if you will.

If you think about a Facebook profile (I've been forcing myself to learn it), the most prominent connection on your page is the one to your partner. It has its own little link right under your relationship status. In a story, this is the heroine to a hero, or in reverse-there are many fine female protagonists in literature, and in those books the main male character takes on this role. In stories that lack a certain romanticism, there could be two heroes or two heroines, with one taking the main hero role and the other their partner. This is one of the dynamics of Sam and Frodo's relationship in Lord of the Rings.

But who's the heroine in that partnership, hmm?

All joking aside, the majority of protagonists have a partner in crime. Or top friend. Or partner. They also need a villain to go up against. Fantasy authors are big on dark gods as villains, although it will often be some scion of this beast who does the real dirty work. This is the drama queen or troll of our hero's social network, that ex-friend that you blocked from all your messengers and your wall. We WANT drama in our novels, so no matter how annoying their net counterparts are, villains are essential to a story.

Next comes the gaggle of companions. As far as Eddings's Belgariad goes, this is where his characterization skills shine. The archetypes of Jung are there if you scratch the surface of his supporting cast, and, well, Mandorallen doesn't have a surface, so his portrayal of the quintessential Champion of all things right parades across the scenes for everyone to see. The hero of the Belgariad is an ignorant teenage boy though, so a right proper champion was a given. This gaggle of companions is your top friends list, the ones in your circle that you want to have easy, one click access to, much like the Fellowship of the Ring has easy access to Frodo for awhile.

All these close friends of our protagonist/hero/heroine have their own partners that have a quick link under relationship status. As you build out a social circle for your hero, these partners must be included. In a well developed story, they compliment and explicate the personalities of the hero's main companions. Mandorallen has a partner in the second series of books. She is a quiet, self sacrificing counterpart to his brash athleticism. Eddings uses the addition of female companions to help explain what happened in the 10 or so years between the Belgariad and Mallorean. Most of the lovely ladies appear in the first series, but only in a few scenes; providers of a bit of depth to each of the big strong men that accompany Garion on his journey. The amount of page time any of these partners receives is up to you, but their existence is an important tool to help flesh out your supporting cast, just as the heroine and companions assist in fleshing out your hero's history and character.

The final requirement on Eddings's list of fantasy elements is the inclusion of the outer circle of the hero's social network. In Facebook terms, these would be the celebrities on your fan list, the people you follow but don't know in a personal way. In an epic novel, these are the members of the clergy, kings, queens, and innkeepers, the characters that are the backbone of your story's settings. Their personalities must be distinct, even if they are just filling a needed role. All of Eddings's kings and queens have their own quirks. This helps his world seem more real to the reader. For every celebrity that joins a social networking site, the relevance of that site to everyone increases. These are the ways of the world.

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