Now book three of my Inheritance Trilogy, Abendau's Legacy, is wending its way through ARC readers and the like, I wanted to do a couple of blogs about some of the themes I was trying to address over the trilogy.
(I’m not even sure it’s a good idea to do ‘themes’ – I worry do they stymie the story or make things a little false. Nonetheless, good little writer me had a few things in mind to achieve with the trilogy. One of those themes was trauma and the nature of it.)
Why write about such a big, emotive subject? Well, I’ve mentioned it before but one of the things I find extremely unsatisfying in a great many stories is the sense of invincible characters. You know, the type who can face any horror and still remain strong and unchanged. Sure, the writer might pay a bit of homage to the ordeal but to see a character truly changed is, for my taste, too rare. (Not that I’m obsessed with duffing my characters up – though I’m probably hard pressed to find one that something doesn’t happen to, somewhere….)
Why do I find it unsatisfying? Well, after 18 months of reviews and 5 years of various readers, editors and critique circles the one thing that shines through is that my characters feel real, which is what I was aiming for (either that, or I just got lucky. In four books. In multiple worlds.) To make a character feel real to a reader, they have to feel completely real to the writer. Not in the 'list your character’s favourite colour and things to eat' way, but in the living-breathing, 'I could meet the person on the street' way.
Now, I know very few people in real life who are invincible. I know brave people and the not-so-brave. I know adventurers and then I know me. I know damaged people and others who have faced horrific things and remain sunny-natured. What I don’t know is anyone who doesn’t changed when faced with big, life-changing events.
If I had to sum up my ambition for Abendau it was to write a very human superhuman. That was it. But, along the way, that main character (who errs rather more to the human than the superhuman, bless him. Still, we tried.) acquired friends and family and they gained voices of their own, and it wasn’t just Kare I was writing about any longer.
Which meant, when I came to describe the (very) traumatic events of book one they had more far-reaching consequences than I ever imagined. Because trauma doesn’t just affect the victim – or, rather, the victim is not the only person facing trauma.
Now, at this stage, the logical person for me to talk about would be Kare, the eponymous human superhuman. His ordeal in book one is horrific (and, yes, I know many read it behind their hands, or found it too dark and full on, but I make no apology for that – to understand the breadth of the damage done, it was necessary for the reader to face that trauma. Believe me, if it hadn’t been essential, the torture would have been edited the hell out of the book, and I trusted my editor, and beta readers, implicitly on the balance achieved. It has given me sleepless nights since, waiting for reviews.)
I don’t think anyone would have to stretch to understand Kare’s trauma. He has something akin to a breakdown (although the term is clinically meaningless) and is left with a deep seated, entirely justified Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder.
In fact, I will briefly digress. PTSD is used by so many writers as a way of giving the reader a nicely tormented hero. It’s a great source of internal conflict. It can also be one of the laziest tropes I’ve read and I did think twice before using it, but after the events of book one many people in Kare’s position would lean towards some degree of PTSD – to show no such effect would have been to totally negate what I hoped to achieve.
What I wanted to look at in more details today, is a different character with an entirely different trauma, and that’s Sonly, Kare’s wife.
Will the reader like the Sonly of book three? She divides opinion. One of my beta readers detested her (Em, I’m looking at you.) Others found her a more convincing hero than Kare. (And make no mistake, book three is a shared narrative with any one of a number of characters able to be the hero at given times.)
WARNING, HERE BE SPOILERS FOR BOOK ONE. READ ON AT YOUR PERIL…
In book three Sonly will take decisions that may seem harsh. She has become a different person than I wrote in book one (I fought the good fight from time to time, but Sonly is one determined character.)
Let’s stop and think about Sonly. She lost her mother as a teenager and never talks about her, rarely thinks about her or refers to her. She talks about her father, a lot, and sees him as a mentor, but never her mother. Why not?
It was deliberate. It was not that her mother didn’t matter but that she mattered too much. The only nurturing figure that the le Paynes had was lost to them. Her brother, Eevan, was about as kind as a snake, her father had too many other things to juggle and Lichio was younger and needed protected from his own loss.
She then lost her husband and baby, in one single event. She was left for months not knowing what had happened to either of them and when Kare came back, it was worse than she imagined – and she’d imagined a lot. And then he rejected her. On every level – emotionally, sexually, as a husband. All that was left was a tattered friendship buried in a professional relationship.
Now, just for one second, let’s go back to my Human Superhuman ideal – that goes for all the characters, not just my ‘chosen one’. That being the case, put yourself in Sonly’s shoes. What would you do? Be unchanged? Harden yourself so you can’t be hurt again? Find something that you can control and use it to keep your sanity intact? Give up? They’re all possible. Sonly chose to focus on her career and control events there.
Her relationship with Kerra is scarred by Sonly's history, irrevocably. She loves her daughter, very much, but I don’t think she was a good enough mother to her. She puts her hopes and dreams on Kerra and gives her little room for her own growth. She constrains instead of nurturing – whilst still, always, loving her. I’m not saying she is in any way dysfunctional as a mother, or cruel, but it is evident Kerra gets much of her nurturing from Kare.
As to Sonly's relationship with Kare. That’s the most complex heart of the story, a love that faces everything that can be thrown at it, and that is brittle enough to break. In fact, the only relationship she copes with easily is with Lichio, the younger brother just as damaged as she is by their history, who supports her pretty much unwaveringly and who seems, on an emotional level, to be the only person she can give as much to as she wants.
That was not the woman of book one. It took the second trauma, of losing her security for a second time, to embed the trauma within her. Hers is not a showy trauma. It’s not nightmares and memories, or anxiety and fears. Hers is a character-changing response to events and it is, in many ways, sadder than anyone else’s.
So, there you go. Trauma. Why it mattered. And why it’s important to think about such matters as you write, in order to make your character come alive.
More about me and my books can be found at http://jozebedee.com/
It’s probably time you were Abendau’d, if you haven’t already been.