Friday, July 24, 2009

Hero, Part 3: A Closer Look At Tara Rihtwis

This is part of my continuing exploration on the nature of heroism in literature, and of the role of the hero in my epic fantasy, Gods Among Men. Here are links to parts one and two, and a link to the post that started this overall series about the various roles characters play in literature.

Today I am going into more detail on Tara Rihtwis, daughter of More Rihtwis. Tara's history is unique in my story in that She is the one major character who did not exist in my mind even as a concept when I first started writing Gods Among Men.

In the beginning I knew I wanted a wizard, who rather quickly became my protagonist Damon Roth; a knight/prince, who became one of my heroes, Morel; an archer/tracker/ranger, who became the antihero, Artemis Arrowsmith; an undead wizard, who became my antagonist, Demiurge; the evil warrior, who became my villain, Maelgar; and so on. I had defined roles that needed to be filled, and developed characters that met that need.

Tara was developed in a series of fits and starts. First I realized I needed someone innocent and inexperienced, someone who needed things explained to them. All of my initial major characters were worldly with many experiences involving dangerous and magical situations. As I wrote their scenes I often had times when something happened that would be obvious to them, but not to the reader. I needed someone the experienced characters had to explain things to so I, the writer, would have a reason to explain what was happening to the reader.

With that thought in mind, I created Morel's son, Tomas, and began developing his character. This brought my story to a screeching halt. Try as I might, I could not make Tomas into a character that worked as Morel's son. He was pedantic, two-dimensional, and wholly unbelievable. Worse yet, his interactions with Morel and others was boring to write and worse to read.

As I was struggling with this, and many other issues, I asked my girlfriend at the time to read over what I had written. After doing so, she had various good comments including, "You don't have any female characters."

This is an example of the blindness that can afflict a writer. I had thought of the characters before then just as what role they filled in the plot, not as to how their gender might affect their development. I had made all the characters male because I was a man and it made them easier for me to relate to.

Armed now with the knowledge that I was being stupid and sexist, I began looking for which major characters I could change from male to female.

I first changed Artemis Arrowsmith, my archer/tracker/ranger character, into a woman. She immediately became much more interesting and a slew of story lines opened up for her. I will detail those changes in a later post.

Casting about for another character to change, I spied dull, boring Tomas. I tried switching his sex like I had on Artemis. This did not work. The personal qualities I had given him were too deeply flawed for a gender change alone to salvage the situation. Tomas had to go.

Feeling sorry for Tomas, as writers will do for characters they have put a fair amount of time and effort into, I gave him some minor ability with magic and shuttled him off to become one of Damon's assistants. There, much to my surprise, surrounded by magic and books and all things arcana, he blossomed. The poor kid was never cut out to be a hero, he was a nerd. Who'd have thunk.

I was still stuck with needing an inexperienced character, and having one as a child of Morel still made sense, so I began crafting a daughter for him from scratch. I called her Tara as a shorthand note to myself.

Tara was the name of Scarlett O'Hara's plantation in Gone With The Wind. Scarlett was a willful, spoiled, debutante. The daughter of a rich, powerful, landowner who will do anything to keep her land and get what she wants. Whenever I read the name Tara I thought of Scarlett, which kept reminding me of some of the characteristics I wanted my new character to have when the reader first meets her.

Tara's impact on the other characters was felt almost at once. Morel developed a sense of humor and loved to tease her. Artemis became Tara's surrogate big sister, protector, and trainer. Maelgar, when he discovers who she is, see her as a way to trap or hurt Morel. Damon sees her as the hope of the future and tries to guide her toward the knowledge and experience she will need to succeed.

Tara became a character unlike the others in that she is not prepared for what is about to happen, but thinks she is. She boldly charges into dangerous situations that are far above her abilities to handle. Situations where she should die, but somehow survives through luck and skill and the intervention of those more powerful than herself. She discovers what it means to feel fear, and how to control it. She suffers, but does not falter. She learns the difference between being foolhardy and courageous.

In short, Tara starts out as an innocent and becomes a hero, though of a different mold than her father. Morel is a classical hero, but Tara is a more modern style of hero. As such she represents the changes that are happening in the world around her better than Morel, or anyone else, does.

In a later post I will delve more into the differences between her heroic model and Morel's. Until then, have fun.


  1. Nice running commentary on your characters. I like the evolution of Tara from a simple pretty teenager to a fully realized character in her own right. As a woman, I appreciate the effort you put into fleshing her out.

  2. Thank you. I'm glad you like Tara's journey from minor add-on to major character. I hope I made her as appealing to women in general as she is to me.