Thursday, July 19, 2012

Inspired Writing

Killing a main character

Sabine's father, Magnus

Sometimes in the course of 
creating characters your 
readers will love, you have 
to get a little extreme....

Sabine Mellde is one of my favorite characters. 

She's tough, outspoken and doesn't take shit from anyone. She's also 15-years-old, and has been for a thousand years. 

Sabine, you see, is dead.

As a writer it is your job to make your hero as interesting as possible. 

In the case of Sabine, she is not only the underdog, but she also has a rather tragic history. 

Tragic histories and underdogs are good characteristics to have in your main character...because they generate sympathy. Sympathy will make it very hard for a reader to put your book down.

This is a good thing.

Below is Chapter 43 from Tip of the Spear. Sabine is talking to you, the reader, and her companion Vanessa Zhou.

I would like you to take two things from this chapter. 

One: The reader begins to understand Sabine and her motivations more here because of the way she was treated by her own flesh and blood. It's kept simple and short.

Two: Front-loading character development into the beginning of your book is not always a good thing. Spread out your hero's back-story, with teasers thrown in so the reader wants to find out more.


Chapter 43

   Isle of Gotland
   988 A.D.

   The summer sun was bright at the Aldeigjuborg trading station, which my father owned, but a storm could be seen rolling in from the sea. The Tofta Strand was a lovely place when it was warm, the air was fresh from the ocean and a clear stream ran through the center of the village. In winter everything changed, and it was a struggle just to survive.
   The Aldeigjuborg was the center of the village, made up of modest thatched-roof wooden homes with pens for animals. The Haakon lodge stood next door to the trading station, a huge bustling domicile full of servants and guests.
   The smell of bread being baked filled the air, as did the hogs roasting on a massive spit. The lawn around the lodge was dotted with tables and chairs, people milled about, children screaming and running with abandon. The kids were excited, someone was getting married and that was always a good reason for a celebration.
   Everyone wore their best clothing for the event. For the women, this meant a homespun long brace skirt held up with suspenders, a linen shift, and a sweater. All of the women wore heavy gold necklaces on which a small dagger in a sheath was hung.
   The men, who were far vainer, wore brightly colored pantaloons, elaborate fur-trimmed shirts with leather armor and soft deerskin boots. Over their clothing the warrior men wore a single-piece mail dress, slit up the side to keep one hand free. Every warrior was armed with an axe and knife; they never left their weapons behind by tradition. Their headgear and helmets were lightweight and functional, horned helmets being a myth.
   Despite the threatening clouds that were gathering overhead, the weather was glorious for a summer wedding.
   Unfortunately, I was the bride.
   Usually I wore trousers and men’s shirts, riding warhorses was a filthy business. I wasn’t allowed to train with weapons like the boys my age, because it was considered unladylike. Sometimes I would sneak out with my father’s sword and punish trees, pretending they were Uppland bandits.
   Today, though, I wore a pretty blue silk dirndl embroidered with real gold thread. The dress had come by ship from France and I should have been thrilled.
   I wasn’t.
   My mother, Lady Altrie Kraka Haakon, was standing beside me, overlooking the ceremonial grounds and dance floor that had been built on the grass. She alone knew that I had no desire to be married, especially at such a young age. The same thing had happened to her when she was fifteen, an arranged marriage to a tyrant twice as old. Good ole Magnus.
   My mother removed her silver necklace and draped it around my neck, closing the hasp. I took a moment to examine the gilded dagger that came with it. The fighting knife was gold, encrusted with jewels. The first thought that entered my mind was that gold was a soft metal, and would probably bend when striking bone.
   “You look beautiful, Sabine. Can’t you manage a smile?”
   I gazed at her glumly. “Not today, Mother.”
   Several carriages were on the drive, and a great many warhorses were tied up to trees that surrounded the village. My father and the groom, Haden, were waiting for me on the lower lawn.
   Marriage to Haden Vlisten made good sense. His family was wealthy and would be an excellent ally - our union would make my father even more formidable than he already was. Speaking of which, my father, tall as a palm tree and strong as an ox, was dressed in his finest clothes and sporting two swords. Since he was on home ground, the axe stayed in the lodge, but he had three sharp daggers stuffed into his belt. My husband-to-be was the polar opposite.
   Haden was in his mid 30s and an effeminate ginger. I should explain that in Sweden a ginger was a redhead, which was not normally a crime against humanity.
   To me though, the term ginger denoted incompetence, as I had never met one that could think their way out of a wet paper bag. Haden wasn’t helping himself with his sense of style, which left a lot to be desired. Fur boots, leather pants and a bright orange ¾ length linen wrap imported from England. Please.
   I turned to my mother. “Why are you letting this happen? Don’t you want me to be happy?”
   “Happy? Have I ever been happy? This is what you do to survive, Sabine. You know very well that your father wanted a boy – which I failed to give him.”
   “Blah, blah. I’m just a kid – you know that, right?”
   Mother sniffed. “The age of consent in Gotland is fourteen.”
   “What?” I said. “Is Gotland the Alabama of Europe? What are we going to do on our honeymoon - lie low and avoid the Amber Alert?”
   “Quit sniveling - just do your duty as your father’s daughter and marry Haden, with a smile on your ungrateful face.”
   I made a quick decision that turned out to be fateful. “Not today, mother.”
   At the edge of the village were several warhorses belonging to family members from Visby. I hitched my dress and ran for the horses, my mother screaming behind me. I found a friendly mare and jumped on her back with a Tarzan yell, swatting her butt and encouraging the horse to leap headfirst into the heavy brush.              
   The chestnut mare was longing for some excitement, it seemed, bolting for the Strand at high speed. The storm clouds finally broke, delivering a deluge of rain. I could barely see three feet, but soldiered on relentlessly.
   I could hear my father bellowing orders, and men scrambling to comply, but I had a good head start, catching everyone by surprise. 
   Soon, they were well behind as the mare and I crashed through trees and brambles.
   The terrain was rugged; I was heading down hill toward a ravine, where I planned to do a switchback and steal for the coast, intent on finding a boat. I backtracked, not taking into account that the warriors chasing me were much better at this than I was.
   Twenty horsemen - my father in the lead, burst through the trees only a few meters behind me. I whacked my stead on the butt, trying to get as much speed as possible out of the young horse.
   The coastline came into view, too little, too late.
   I was a good rider, but my father’s men were experts and overtook me with ease. My plan had been to steal a fishing boat, that wasn’t going to happen. The men surrounded me on the rocks high above the beach.
   I dismounted and ran for the edge of the cliff, frantically looking for a path down the rocks. There was no path, only sharp wet rocks and a steep fall.
   I know what you may be thinking, because in most stories the tale has been romanticized. That I tragically fell on the slippery rocks and died attempting to escape an unfair marriage. Or maybe I’d thrown myself from the cliff - with one last look at my cruel father and sneering unwanted groom.
   Nope. Sorry to burst your bubble.
   “I’m not marrying him,” I yelled over the wind, “I’ll die first.”
   “You’re right.” Magnus Haakon caught me by the arm, dragging me back to the group of horsemen.   
   “You’ve embarrassed me for the last time, Sabine.”
   The men looked on grimly as my father started to hit me, then he got serious and proceeded to beat me to death.
   Of course I fought back, but his rage was a tidal wave.
   The lights went out when my neck snapped.

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