Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Writing Considerations: A Character Without A Name

Among the many, many story ideas I would like to write, I would like to write a novel for Dungeons and Dragons. It wouldn't be for the Forgotten Realms, since I don't think I could fit the story I want to tell into that setting, but would take place in a somewhat similar setting of my own. The main character is a half-orc barbarian living along the border where the human settlements brush up against the wild hills where the orc tribes live.

I originally conceived of the character back in third edition; looking at him again through the lens of fifth edition brings some interesting changes -- some helpful (no penalties to ability scores) and some troublesome. (What do I do with Primal Paths for a character who didn't originally have one? And wait, orcs aren't troubled by sunlight now?) Moreover, orcs in fifth edition have a fairly specific set of physical, cultural, and theological qualities, and for the setting-and-story that I want to explore, I pretty much have to assume that everything said about them in Monster Manual and Volo's Guide To Monsters is, well, wildly racist human propaganda.

But none of that is really a problem. It's interesting to consider, but this is my story and my setting and if I decide that the orcs are territorial tribes who hold strength of arms in high regard and consider arcane magic to be cheating, well... so it is. Working with a somewhat different approach to barbarians as a class isn't so hard, especially if I assume that all the characters involved are low-level and just starting out on their journeys.

No, the real issue that I'm running into is the same issue that seem to run into fairly frequently: I can't seem to write an opening scene that works. And usually when that happens, it's because I'm trying to do too much.

Case in point: our halfbreed barbarian.

For starters, I'd intended to have him speak in very simple, broken sentences. "Orcs ahead. Go back." "No trouble. I leave." "You want me help you?" Which, y'know, can be done fairly easily for a supporting character, but it's a bit trickier for a POV character -- especially if he's going to be your primary, and only, point of view. (I think that's 3rd person singular, if you care about such things.) I could switch to a first person POV, but I don't want to create a disparity between complex, nuanced descriptions in the narration and simple speech patterns in the dialogue.

Secondarily, I'd like to have him be nameless. He's left his tribe; he's given up his name. Which is a damned difficult trick to pull off if he's going to be the primary POV character -- you have to call him something, and repeating "the nameless halfbreed" starts to feel really awkward fairly quickly. (I've actually tried this with my current DnD character in Duendewood, and it hasn't really worked the way I intended it to; his default pseudonym has become his de facto name.)

So, yeah: trying to do too much. Don't let it happen to you.

Also? Get sleep. Deep sleep, with lots of rapid eye movements. It's amazing how absolutely necessary that is.

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