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The Lowly Protagonist

 

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As is wont to happen, an idea for a new story floated through my head the other day. In my defense, at least this one is related to the Griffins & Gunpowder Universe. I haven’t decided if I’m going to make this concept into a series of short stories, weave it in with one of the other planned storylines set on Zaria, or turn it into a full-fledged series of novel.

The main body of the idea was easy enough, but when I got to my protagonist, I realized something: my main character was going to be different than every other Protag I have ever created. My MC is going to be a lowly soldier.

It was then that I realized that this is a common theme in both the Sci-Fi and Fantasy that I’ve read. So maybe I’m just not well read enough, but a lot of main characters are not lowly soldiers. The closest a great deal of MCs get is to be a lower ranked officer.

There are a lot of sub-genres of Sci-Fi and Fantasy that really don’t have this problem, but military themed fantasy definitely does. The closest that a lot of the stories I have read comes to having a “lowly” protagonist is a lower-ranked officer.

So why is it so rare to have a private, or even a corporal, as a protagonist in a story. What challenges does this create? Are there any advantages to have a “grunt” as an MC?

One of the biggest problems that you run into when you write an MC as a lowly soldier is that the character has very little initiative in their activities and no control of their setting. If your story is centered around a conflict, your Main Character is going to spend most of his/her time marching/camping/digging trenches and then there’s the occasional battle. Unless you add in some personal drama, you’re going to run into the problem of having a rather boring.

Another problem is that if you limit yourself to a single character, you’re going to have a limited strategic account of the rest of the campaign. Depending on your setting, news could still be conveyed by general announcements, newspapers, or good-old-scuttlebutt, but you’re not going to be able to convey an accurate picture of the campaign without breaking some rules.

On the other hand, there are some advantages to having a protagonist that doesn’t have as much control.

You can increase the amount of tension with a lowly soldier. The character isn’t going to know what’s going on with the rest of the campaign, they’ll be nervous as they march into battle.

I think that the reason that so few writers have lowly main characters is because it’s a more difficult approach to writing, especially military fiction. Of course, I could just need to read more =D

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The Different Faces of Gunpowder Fantasy

Like every genre, Gunpowder Fantasy is a category with a lot of variation. From the level of technology, to the existence and power of the magic, every author will have his or her own take on Gunpowder Fantasy.

But like other sub-genre’s, Gunpowder Fantasy can be divided into a few simple groups: Flintlock Fantasy, Muskets and Magic, and Rifles and Railroads. As with anything, there will be some variation, but for the most part I think that these three categories can be based primarily on the level of technology used and secondarily on the amount of magic involved.

 

Flintlock Fantasy

Flintlock Fantasy covers worlds created with early gunpowder era technology: flintlock rifles, no steam power or telegraphs. These stories will also tend to use less magic or no magic at all.

Muskets and Magic

While not necessarily jumping far ahead of Flintlock Fantasy in their use of technology, worlds built of Muskets and Magic will tend to have a greater focus on the magical aspects of their worlds.

Rifles and Railroads

Rifles and Railroad novels fall on the higher end of the technology tree. Railroads are common, steam ships may be introduced and rifles are the primary weapon of choice. In some cases, repeating or revolving weapons will be used.

Obviously these sub-categories are only my interpretation of how Gunpowder Fantasy has developed, but I think it’s definitely a start to classifying this increasingly popular new area of fiction.

The Gunpowder Fantasy Review

In an effort to help raise awareness of other Gunpowder Fantasy/Muskets and Magic/Flintlock Fantasy authors, I’ll be reviewing their works and posting them here.

To facilitate the process, I’ll be using the following definition:

Gunpowder Fantasy: an alternate world story set in a world that uses gunpowder firearms (up to and including revolvers, but excluding magazine fed small arms or belt fed weapons), steam power (limited to rail transport and limited sea-going vessels) while also maintaining essential elements including some of the following elements: a fully-alternate world setting,  magic, a feudal or semi-feudal setting, alternate races (including, but not limited to elves, dwarves, orc and other “traditional” fantasy races), and/or a broad-scale conflict.

Alternate History stories may be considered if they are of a sufficiently “alternate” nature and will be considered on a case by case basis.

Steampunk will not be considered for review.

I’m currently working up a list of stories to be featured, so if you have any suggestions please hit up the Contact link.

Point of View – Why 3rd (Limited)

Which Point of View method an author decides to use when writing his/her book is often based on what story the author wants to tell and which POV will allow the author to do that in the best way.

For my works, I almost exclusively gravitate toward 3rd Person (Limited); that is: a story told from an outside point of view but where the information conveyed is limited to the knowledge of the target character.

I think that my fondness for this format springs from the fact that I’m very heavily read in 3rd(Limited). David Weber and George RR Martin make heavy use of 3rd(Limited) and I have more books by Weber than any single author.

It isn’t that I find anything wrong with 1st person POV, I’ve just found it very difficult to finish first person novels lately. I have decided to at least try to write a novella or a novel in the first person but for now I think I’ll avoid that.

For The Cerberus Rebellion, I decided to take a page from George RR Martin and use a multiple character approach to the 3rd(L) POV.

I went with this approach because I knew that the story I wanted to tell would need more than one approach. With a single POV story, I tend to run into the problem that the antagonist is one-dimensional. You typically only see that character from the protagonist side of the story

With a multi-pov I’m able to give my antagonist a voice and shown why he does what he does.

I chose the Limited rather than the Omniscient (wherein the author “head-hops” into the mind of various involved characters) because it helps maintain some mystery to the events that are taking place.

I think that many stories would be far less interesting if we were able to read the thoughts of every character involved.

What is your take on pov?

Brave New World

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve decided to go ahead with my plans of writing my new work-in-progress as a “Gunpowder Fantasy.”

One of the problems that I’ve come across already is the lack of previous work in this area. There are a handful of books that have used this sub-genre title and I’m sure that there are other previous works that have integrated gunpowder into a typical fantasy setting.

The problem of course is finding those works.

So in writing my Gunpowder Fantasy, I’ve had very little in the way of other work to compare mine too.

I think this will probably work to my advantage as I will have a completely clean slate to work against. I don’t have many preconceived ways to integrate the magical elements of my world with the rest of my world.

On Genre

I’ve always liked to read both Science Fiction and Fantasy. And as a younger author, I tended to switch back and forth between the two.

A few years back, however, I stopped dabbling in Fantasy and have predominantly worked on Science Fiction, particularly the Space Opera and Military Sci-Fi sub-genres. I just liked the idea of writing massive space epics that spanned hundreds of light years.

But recently, I’ve started to go back to the Fantasy genre. It started when my younger brother was over and he mentioned that he had this idea for a story set in a Fantasy world. He’s a song writer, though, so he passed the basics of the idea on to me. I wrote up a basic 2 page idea and have it on file ready to go when I have a chance.

The seed was planted.

I started to develop a new world, which I have named “Zaria” though that is likely to change, and have been working on that world more recently. I had started it as a gunpowder era world, think the late 1700s to early 1800s. I wanted to use some historical situations as a baseline.

Then one day I decided to add elves, and magic was close behind. I realized that my world didn’t really fit into any current sub-genres. It’s not quite Steampunk, as I’ve decided to leave steam power out for now (I may start to introduce it much later in the development of this world). But it’s definitely not High Fantasy.

I spent a couple of days trying to decide how to adjust this world to more easily fit into an established sub-genre and then I realized that I didn’t need to. Sub-genres have to start somewhere, so maybe this will be the start of one.

Special Shoutout to: @cultauthor for helping me decide to just go where the story takes me