The heart of stories are the characters. Growing characters is a fun, complex, sometimes confusing, sometimes exhilarating, always challenging process.
Jaysin in The Last Wizard Saga is a fascinating character. He first appears in Tamesan’s Song as Tam’s little brother, a child a few years younger than the older son, Chasse, and at least five years behind Tam.
In a family, a gap between siblings can exist for many reasons – a lost pregnancy between, an unplanned addition, family upheavals or displacements, and so on. The age gap presents a range of challenges for the family and the child at the end of the gap. So, too, does birth order. In the ‘real’ world, third child syndrome is a legitimate study. The third child becomes the ‘distant’ child, the one everyone knows what will happen to him/her, the one that finds parents don’t panic when awkward things happen to them or celebrate their first steps or growth moments. Light internet reading, if you’re truly bored, reveals the following views on third child syndrome:
Jaysin is introduced into the first book as a misfit, an unusual child. He doesn’t display the typical male characteristics expected in his world – playfulness, vigour, interested in wrestling and tussling for alpha dominance. Instead, he withdraws from the other children, partly because he has little interest in their games and partly because the other children recognise his difference and ostracise him. Jaysin’s disinterest in ‘manly’ pursuits aggravates his father and the relationship deteriorates as Kevan expresses his disappointment in his son. Ironically, when Kevan faces Trask in a fight for leadership, Jaysin leaps to his father’s defence, futile as such an act would be for a nine-year-old. In having him do this, I sow the seed that, despite his estrangement from his father, he loves him.
Jaysin does show interest in the natural world, much like his sister, and he explores the mountain and studies the animals. He is very much a loner. Later in the story, Eric the Herbal Man tells Tam that Jaysin will become someone special, because of his curiosity and innate intelligence. So, in Tamesan’s Song, I foreshadow that Jaysin will come into his own. That first book, published in 1995, was always meant to be a stand-alone novel, but now that it is growing into a four-book saga the seeds I planted for Jaysin are flourishing.
I add more foreshadowing to Jaysin’s prophesied future in the second book, Chasse’s Song. While the second book is Chasse’s coming of age story as he comes to terms with his purpose in the scheme of the world, Jaysin’s growth continues as a side plot. Here, I ensure Jaysin becomes an avid reader and a natural acquirer and generator of magic, exactly as Eric foretold in the first book. The quiet, studious and distant child reveals his affinity for animals, especially wolves, and demonstrates that he not only wants to learn spells but wants to modify, synthesise and expand them.
By the time we reach the current project, Jaysin’s Song, at fifteen, Jaysin is developing into a fledgling sorcerer, capable of manipulating the latent energy in all matter to create light and heat, heal, move through materials, translocate and fool the minds of others through illusion.
Being the third child, Jaysin is both in awe of his sibling’s abilities – Chasse the warrior, Tam the wizard and dragon partner – and intensely jealous of them. His jealousy drives him to want to become as powerful as they are, even more so, because, in their ways they have received the attention and the accolades of others while he has sat in their shadows as the ‘odd’ child, the little brother. He does love them – will willingly risk his life for them – but, in the end, he wants to rise above them and be known for his talent.
Thus, writing book three involves creating Jaysin consistently and believably as the third child, the youngest brother who wants recognition and love and to be appreciated in exactly the same way as his siblings. As he did for his father, he will go out of his way to save his brother and sister. As Eric predicted, he will pursue magic and become unique. As foreshadowed from the outset, his curiosity will drive him to search for knowledge and magic beyond the basics. While he is forced to interact with others, even enlist their assistance, he is ultimately a loner still, an individual who believes he can only become who wants to become by his efforts and risks and commitment.
Character development drives my writing. I used to tell writing workshop participants that, while I made notes and plans for characters, I only come to know my characters as their story unfolds and they often surprise me by revealing an aspect of their personality I hadn’t planned or considered. This experience is endured and loved by writers all over the world. It’s true. We learn as we write.
Passing 50,000 words is the halfway mark in the current writing project, a milestone that gives me the imperative to get cracking.
Worldbuilding sits behind fantasy writing – creating credible, logical environments for the characters’ journeys. Jaysin has come from the Harbin dragonwarrior world, lived for three years in the Machutzkan city, and now ventures into the Kermakkian Empire. The three societies have different languages, culture, beliefs, practices. I have made the Machutzkan and Kermakkian languages similarly aligned in that Machutzka is a city of refugees from the Kermakkian Empire whose language has become a working dialect over time.
As a once-avid D&D player, the language barriers broken by the implementation of a Common language in the game sometimes irritated me, although in DM roles I made certain language barriers were commonplace. Where a common language does transfer across cultures – as in the case of English in this world – it is almost always by necessity for commerce/trade. For the world I am creating in The Last Wizard saga, I am also creating potentially up to six languages (if I include dragon) and that means not only generating sound combinations and words but also grammar – “Not easy it is” (said in Yoda-ese) – as we know is true for the differences between Romance languages and Germanic languages and so on. Jaysin, adept and intelligent, can learn languages with reasonable ease, but he learns also that language has dialects and nuances that a mere memorisation of words and phrases and grammar does not capture in everyday communication, and that can lead to misunderstandings.
A long time ago, when I first read Feist’s Magician, before I ever read Tolkien’s books, the cultural gaps created between two worlds revealed to me that I need to be aware of the same gaps when I write.
Yesterday and today, for example, I had to work back through the manuscript to establish a religious practice in the Kermakkian Empire that Jaysin slowly comes to recognise as he searched for his brother. The Kermakkian population, totally misogynistic in religious practices, are Men of the Faith, following One True God – He Who Cannot be Named – and they perform a prayer ritual twice a day at sunrise and sunset. Once a ‘week’, the men spend a day in prayer, called Shebaal, and that is the only day women and children can be on the streets and in the markets. That’s a quick example of building culture in a society for the story. There’s a lot more going on.
To keep track of the cultural build, I keep notes. Some notes are developed before writing, but many are built as the story demands. Political structures I often build before I begin because they dictate possibilities. Trade and commercial infrastructure, travel and transport all have to be noted and accounted for as the tale builds.
The snapshots with this blog are quick examples of notes and sketches I complete as I build the world and the story. Sadly, much of the information seldom makes it into the final novel, or is created to ensure a paragraph or character comment is not contradicted at another point. But it is essential, nevertheless.
So, the above is a little ramble about what goes on in the background of writing a fantasy story.
A quick update this week…
Bridging chapters – it’s a term I use for chapters that connect one set of important events to the next. For example, a character may have been captured and imprisoned in a chapter on the way to completing an important mission. In order to connect the imprisonment with a return to the mission, a bridging chapter – the escape – is necessary.
This past week has been devoted to completing a bridging chapter in Jaysin’s Song. In trying to reach his brother, Chasse, who it seems has been captured by the Kermakkians, Jaysin is also caught and sold into slavery. In order to find his brother, first he has to escape.
Bridging chapters often introduce new minor characters who provide ‘help’ to the main character. These characters can have once-off appearances in the story, or may later reappear because of the relationship they briefly establish with the main character. Bridging chapters also provide opportunities to have the central character reflect on why he/she is doing what he/she is doing. The trap with bridging chapters is they can become mundane if they keep the reader too far from the main plot or the main character is too ‘trapped’ in their situation.
This particular chapter presented several challenges. The first was how to enable Jaysin to free his hands in order to escape. The second was how to enable Jaysin to escape a town overrun by the enemy. The third was how to deal with certain injuries Jaysin receives in trying to escape. Creating the moments in such a way as to allow logic to be present is always satisfying when they come together believably (within a fantasy context at least). I think I’ve managed that.
Completing this bridging chapter brings the project to 45,000 words, and moves events back onto the main plotline.
On a different note, this week provided two inspiring moments for me. One was finding four of my novels sitting at the front of a second-hand book shop – nice promotion. The second were two emails; a complimentary one from a country student who has just finished reading Caught in the Headlights – the second from a reader of the Amber Quatrology who wanted to share how much she enjoyed the series. In recent years, I’ve seen myself as a ‘forgotten writer’ because it’s been so long since I published in mainstream, so the occasional fan mail reminds me that what I’ve written has entertained or touched people. That is the nicest feeling. It’s been a good week.
Writing is my passion. Ideas, opinions, beliefs, experiences expressed through language - through words and images - pervade and create my life. Writing is my voice, my soul, my self. My dream is one day writing will sustain my life...