I was thinking about writing heroes the other day. Those writers who inspired a love of reading in me when I was a kid and also, I suppose, have inspired me to write later in life as well. Here are the writers that I would classify as my heroes.
J.R.R. Tolkien Michael Moorcock Robert A. Heinlein Douglas Reeman Alastair MacLean W. E. Johns (creator of Biggles) Terry Pratchett
I also read a few works by the following when I was a kid and loved them more and more as I got older:
Jack Vance Gene Wolfe
I would also have give an honourable mention to comics as well. Particularly 2000 AD and Warlord.
Heroes now? There are a lot of writers I admire nowadays, but I’m not sure I would describe them as heroes in the same way. Perhaps hero-worship is something that is more in keeping with childhood?
This is the start of a regular series of posts about favourite characters from fiction. First up one of the vividly realised characters at the centre of Joe Abercrombie‘s First Law Trilogy.
Logen Ninefingers (aka the Bloody Nine) is a mercenary and ex Northmen military leader. He’s a berserker with a brain, and as his name suggests is missing one of pinkies. Abercrombie seems to have a thing for physical impairment (see the next instalment in this series – answers on a postcard if you can guess who it might be!). Perhaps it’s a symbol of his characters being damaged goods psychologically as well as physically. Logen starts the trilogy as an outcast from the North and also from the mercenary band that he used to lead, but he ends up a hero and reunited with his old comrades that he used to lead. For me there are three classic Logen moments – one at the beginning of The Blade Itself, where he looks like he’s a gonner – disappearing down a muddy slope if memory serves me right, the second is a Helms Deep style affair where he and his old comrades and a small makeshift army defend a wall at the end of a mountain valley against superior numbers – very Gemmell this I think? Then lastly he fights the demonic champion of the new king of the north, and goes into a berserk killing frenzy as he does so.
I like him because he’s a classic hero – brave and strong and good at what he does. But he’s not cheesy and predictable – he is hated by his former comrades and he is very much an unwilling hero as well at the beginning of the trilogy.
I, Claudius is well-known to the modern reader for its evocation of ancient Rome and its terrible cruelty and vice. Brought to a wide audience by the BBC mini-series, the book is the most famous historical novel dealing with the period. The book is meticulously researched and conjures up a picture of Rome and its principal characters that at once seems real and allows the modern reader to understand. The author Robert Graves was an expert in the ancient world. Principally Graves was a poet, but he also excelled as a scholar of myth, Greek myth in particular. His research of the historical period and its culture appears to the lay-reader to be first class.
The book deals with the murderous family history of the Claudians and their relatives which gave Rome its first emperors starting with Augustus through to Claudius himself and his nephew Nero. The degree of cruelty and vice is almost incomprehensible to the modern reader especially as the book was written before the horrors of the second world war. The main character is the narrator Claudius who is also positioned as the writer of the book, having wished to leave a testament of his times to the readers of the future, in perhaps nineteen hundred years time. The unlikely hero narrates the story of the rulers of Rome from his grand-uncle Augustus down to the end of his mad nephew Caligula’s reign. The style is very much as if the book were a work of history with only the occasional descriptive passage of events witnessed by Caligula or dialogue that involves him. In an early commentary on this style Claudius compares the history writing of Livy, who was fond of creating speeches for his historical characters, and Pollio who would only recount the facts. Claudius’s method is to follow Pollio in style.
As a reader this was not what I expected. I had vague memories of the TV drama and was expecting an exciting and in-depth novelisation of the times rather than a faux-history. The book lacked immediacy for me because of the narrative construct, although I can’t fault Graves’s commitment to historical veracity (although he pushes hard his speculation that Livia, Claudius’s grandmother, was the power behind the throne for most of this period). As a novel the book didn’t stand-up well.
I have now reached the character building stage of my current writing project. Having built up a good head of steam on the world building side, with languages, history, mythology and some cultural/society bits sketched out, I decided to move onto some of the main characters of my book. I know that I will be going back to the world building as inevitably working on characters and plot will bring up questions I hadn’t previously thought about on the world background side of things.
So I started off by using a tool from a great book, Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress. In this book she has included something called a Character Intelligence Dossier. A form that asks you, the writer, questions about your character. Such as what age are they, who’s their father, what people do they hang out with, what speech mannerisms do they have, what do they wear. In fact several pages of questions that one might imagine are not altogether necessary. However, although I am only a couple of pages into the intelligence dossier for my story’s main character, I have already found that one of these seemingly inconsequential questions has given birth to what maybe some great sub-plots and new minor characters that I hope will enrich my story. For me the question was who does the character hang around with after work. This got me thinking and stirred up some interesting ideas about who might latch onto my story’s hero and try to influence him.
I’m looking forward to answering more questions over the next few days and weeks!