Bad Character, Stop That!

I finally realized why the WIP feels like I’m pulling my own teeth, besides the recurrence of a medical thing that is annoying me. Ewoud is not a teenager. But he’s not an adult yet, at least not in his own mind. And a lot of me is saying “write him as an 18-year-old guy,” meaning modern. That would be relatively easy, given Day Job.

But that’s not Ewoud. He’s an 18-year-old medieval man with both parents still living. Very different world, and a very different character.

Ewoud defers. He defers to his father because his father has life-and-death power over him and the other children, and because he greatly respects his parents. He defers to his mother because, well, anyone with an ounce of sense defers to Gerta Galnaar, even her husband (sometimes). Ewoud defers to the master traders and craft masters because he is not one of them yet. He defers to the priests, but so does everyone. He defers to a corrupt journeyman and dang near causes a diplomatic disaster in the process, at least until his own preservation instincts kick in almost too late.

Tycho has a very good reason to prefer staying in the background. He’s also a grown man with a lot of judgment and survival skills. His reticence is situational and a survival trait that he can drop when needed. Ewoud… I’m tempted to put a barrel of gunpowder under him just to get him to move! In some ways he’s been too sheltered.

Which is what young men were supposed to be like back then. Yes, the stories of young men getting into trouble, of apprentices and journeymen causing riots, of scholars waging battles against the townsfolk (the original town vs. gown wars) are well-known. But most younger people deferred to their elders, kept low profiles, and then came to the forefront only after they became full adults.

Which makes for a hard character to write, especially now that he’s back at home and can tuck himself into his father’s shadow. Except… Except the Great Northern Emperor specifically requested Ewoud’s presence. And there’s a master trader who is out for Ewoud’s fortune, and his blood if he can get it.

6 thoughts on “Bad Character, Stop That!

  1. Having to portray a protagonist that’s deferential without making them seem passive and unable to protag… hard one!

    • Yeah. I’m re-reading some of Ozment’s books about late medieval families to see if I can get some nuances I’ve missed that would make the character more workable for writer and reader both.

  2. Some of the deferential can be solved by private scenes with parents or a Master, on the lines of Father, Mother, Master, there is a problem we can forestall; an opportunity for new trade item or venue; etc. Defer to authority in public, but begin making reasoned points in private. This might work.

    On his own, he’ll need to make decisions or act, but always dreading the explanation at home. Would Mother ask him to resurrect, just so she could get the last word in?

  3. Good luck with that! Thankfully you have the historical bent and have read enough to adjust him to the ‘correct’ attitude… đŸ˜€

  4. In principle, it shouldn’t be too difficult. (Of course, in principle, flying is merely throwing yourself at the ground and missing.)

    But I was thinking about all the epic fantasies where the callow youth is a pawn of prophecy, and there’s an awful lot of actual deference going on by the protagonist in such stories. Any defiance towards mentors is almost entirely limited to (rare) internal thoughts, and decisions are pretty strictly limited to “am I going to live up to the expectations of my mentors or not?”
    There’s a lot of formula involved, but anybody reading a fantasy novel is almost certain to be reasonably familiar with the beats and tropes involved, so there’s not a lot of justification necessary.
    I think the model could be subverted to serve a young man who will be assuming more prosaic responsibilities than saving the world with only cosmetic tweaks.
    Of course, the huge, nasty catch is that doing so will almost certainly change the focus of the story.
    This may not be what you want to do.
    And if you don’t go that route, all of those fantasy tropes supporting the archtype become potential pitfalls for the readers who are used to traveling in those ruts.

    đŸ˜‰ And I hope I’ve just made your job easier instead of harder.

    • Ewoud’s difficulty is that he doesn’t trust himself to not mess up – or to be certain that his judgment is correct. So when his gut screams “run away, run and get help!!” the first time he second-guesses, thus leading to near disaster. That will change, now that he has physical reminders that he needs to trust his gut.

      The hard part is balancing deference, growing independence, and period-semi-accurate manners. Without me going bonkers because the book and character “feel” slower than they actually are.

      It’s strange—but so was Merchant and Magic.

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