“Oh what significance are the things you can forget”
– Henry David Thoreu
When I first found my protagonist for the Dragon Calling series, he was without memory. At first, I wasn’t even sure why this was so. I deliberated. Is it an enchantment – if so, how did it happen, and why did it happen to him specifically? Is it an injury of some kind – had he been struck on the head? If so, was it an accident, or was it deliberate? Or did he force himself to forget something, and his need was so intense, his mind shut down and closed off all past recollections? If so, what was it he was trying to forget? Was it something he saw, something he discovered … or something he did?
Some could consider that an obvious trope to use, in order to make it easy the describe to readers things in a fictional world which they would not initially know about, but in a way that would not make the writing too narrative, or separate from what is going on in the plot and moment of the story. If the main character doesn’t remember it, the reader can receive the explanation at the same time as he/ she, and the enlightenment won’t seem forced for either party. Right? In some cases, yes, in others, not necessarily. In a lot of stories, the memory loss plays a key part in the story-line, and is not simply some alternate launch to make things more mysterious.
Some people are quick to dub certain plots and devices as clichéd. But clichés by definition are “stereotyped and trite”, or in other words, boring. A device used to launch particular plots could very well be used often, considered classic to its genre, or perhaps can be easily placed in a specific category – but that does not mean that it will end up being a cliché.
When I discovered my main character (whose substitute name is Laeka’Draeon – pronounced LAIKA DRAI-yon) suffered memory loss, I did consider the possibility it could be dubbed an “oh so traditional” plot device, but to be honest, that is how I found him. I did not shove that disability onto him because I needed to launch a desired plot direction. Actually, I struggled with his impediment. It would have made things so much easier if I could start the first book with the character having a more directional purpose. But that was not the case – and I did not want to change it to my preferences just for the sake of making things easier for myself as a first-time writer.
Some things a writer is meant to alter or shift in order to better the flow of the story and/or the characters, but others are there to be expanded upon; to be the foundation, or a part of the root system. Sometimes, things appear in the story and no matter how you try to work around them, they persist in their defined presence. When that happens, you know it is meant to be, and from there you simply have to take the journey yourself – sometimes right alongside your characters, in equal ignorance – and work out how it ends up fitting in.
Such events or happenings should not be trifled with. They come from somewhere deep inside the stirring of the imagination, and hold a significance and meaning that the wielder (writer) may initially have no idea how to use. When they appear, whether small or great, they should be set into place to begin shifting with the rest of the turning wheels. If no place can be immediately found, they should be set aside in a significant sense, to be used when the right time presents itself (like a difficult-to-place puzzle piece).
For a long time I continued to question the reasons behind Laeka’Draeon’s memory loss. There were many times I thought I had discovered it, only to realise a little further down the story-line that such hypothesis’ could not possibly be the case.
Everything about what he cannot do or cannot remember holds significance. When I truly realised that, I followed the trail distinctly and discovered something quite astonishing; something I actually would not have guessed at all, when I first met him and first wondered over his missing past.
Those of you who do not delve in the art of story-writing may be confused by my descriptions. You may wonder why I write as though I do not know what is going on in my own creation. You may be asking: As the creator, should you not know every little detail about your characters – their motives, their personalities, their hopes and fears?
In some cases, characters can come before their makers and stand there as transparent as glass – revealing everything there is to know about them, past, present and even future. Other times, they are the exact opposite. They look at you with a smile, or scowl or dark, distant eyes and give little to no hint of what it is they are thinking. Or perhaps they do say what they think, and teasingly step back a give you a glimpse of some moments in their past, but then they quickly close off, and leave you to wonder about the rest of what it is that makes them as they are. There are various depths to every character in a story. And the writer does not always get a say when it comes to knowing anything or everything.
At least not to begin with.
Honestly, it is a difficult concept to describe, but once they are born from the mind, characters become their own being. Sometimes you know right away why they act they way they do, or why they dress a certain way, or talk a certain way, or interact with other characters a certain way. Other times, you just know their behaviour and a little of their motives, but you are left to discover the hows, whys and whens, as you progress through the story.
It is fascinating, challenging, wonderous and rewarding. It is a journey within the journey itself.
As for my protagonist, Laeka’Draeon, I was faced with a very specific and immediate challenge. His memory. I could feel his frustration, his sense of loss and confusion. I wondered what it would be like to wake up somewhere strange, and not remember how I got there, or why. I saw the sickening expression in his eyes when he realised he could not remember who or what he was, and I found myself gladdened that he has such an ingrained determination and curiosity.
Did I give those traits to him? Sure. But he made them his own – and actually used them differently that I originally anticipated. They end up being the catalysts for every action and decision he makes in the first book. They are qualities in him that begin with a significant amount of drive, subconsciously enhanced to compensate for other instincts that were sealed away with his memory.
Both traits are stronger than any hopelessness left by the void in his mind. In fact, his curiosity is an appetite not commonly associated with dragons at all. The reason or this? … well that is something left to be discovered, as are many other things about Laeka’Draeon; some things that even I am still learning about, even after all these years of writing his story.
I shall end this post on a note of what I find is an encouragement for all my characters – and is actually a good encouragement for us all.
“Our dreams must be stronger than our memories. We must be pulled by our dreams, rather than pushed by our memories.”
– Jesse Jackson