Compelling characters make a story go. For a while now, I’ve written about and referenced Ursula Le Guin and “The War Against,” highlighting my desire to tell stories that focus on the evolution and make up of my characters as opposed to some war they have been fighting for ages. In my novel The Forger, my protagonist, Theailys An, is tasked with stopping a creature called the Darkener from releasing the Origin and ending the world.
Very stereotypical. A very well-worn trope. I finished my first draft of the novel little less than a year ago and was very pleased with it. I’ve been doing revisions on and off for the last several months, submitting my queries to agents, and playing the waiting game. What I’ve come to learn (even with queries still floating around in the nether) is that I was too hasty in my attempts to find representation for my work. The Forger is a story that is very important to me, and up until a few weeks ago I hadn’t realized just how much revising I had to do. The magic system needed a huge overhaul (which I’ve completed for the most part); I needed to get rid of the various ticking clocks I had in order to keep the story from stalling. But the most important of all was that I really need to define my antagonist; I needed to find out what made the Darkener tick.
When I first started the story, the Darkener’s endgame was simple: free the Origin and remake the world anew. But as I’ve gone through the story over the past few weeks, revising as necessary, I came to realize that my antagonist was simply not compelling. It was a character seen too often. So I thought to myself, why would a character this powerful be doing what it’s doing? What drives it, what’s its past? What are the limitations? One of the themes in The Forger is the idea that one’s blood does not cement their future. Choice before blood. Sinning gives into a sentient Darkness in one’s mind, allowing it to consume a them, whereas being altruistic and generous–virtuous–gives the Light voice. This concept is something the Darkener (in the new scenes I’ve written for it) ponders as it strives for humanity (something it had not in previous iterations), for freedom from the very Darkness it was made from. Because of a flawed logic and a connection to a phantom hive-mind, it cannot fully grasp the concept of choice before blood; it perverts the notion, which results in the Darkener doing horrible things to further its agenda, to reclaim humanity.
I still have a decent amount of revising to do on The Forger, but focusing on my antagonist’s humanity, or lack thereof and desire to obtain it, has taken a rather boring villain and transformed it into something I feel is far more terrifying. The question, I think, for the Darkener–for any antagonist, really–is what lengths does one go to in order to retain or preserve their humanity, their soul?
There are an endless amount of tropes in fantasy fiction (a decent amount of which appear in my novel), and as writers I believe it is our duty to our readers to flip those tropes around, make them as interesting as our skill allows us to, which I’m hoping I will have accomplished with the Darkener once all is said and done.