Yesterday I was chatting with Lauren about The Dying of the Light (NaNo ’15-JuNo ’16). I’d recently made a loose chart with three categories: white, grey, and black. Then I listed each character in one of the categories, with arrows pointing to other categories, indicating if they changed from antagonist to protagonist, or protagonist to antagonist. There were quite a few people in the ‘white’ area, but quite a few people in the ‘grey’ as well. And yet, there were a bunch of arrows drifting from ‘grey’ to ‘white.’ (I recognize nobody is purely good or purely bad, but this chart was for simplification + plotting purposes.)
I pondered the chart while I wrote the next chapter. Lauren jokingly remarked how every character in the book was currently ticked at Saizou (the main character) for various reasons, even though he’s trying extremely hard to do the right thing as he knows it. Then she mentioned Hiro (the Will Scarlet character) and how he’s still technically in the ‘grey’ area, although he becomes one of The Gang later on.
I said, “You know one of the things that really annoys me is the whole ‘maybe there are no good guys’ mindset that’s so prevalent in tv shows and books and whatever and it’s just NOT TRUE and I want to write this book as kind of the ANTI-that.”
Lauren responded, “It gives people hope. I mean what’s this gang going to consist of? A couple of PTSD veterans with blood on their hands and scars on their hearts, an explosive kid who’s tough to hide his loneliness, an abused assassin, a mafia boss, an ex-mercenary seeking redemption…these aren’t heroes. They’re a mess. But they become the heroes and that’s what’s so hopeful about it.”
I thought about it, and was suddenly struck with the realization she’d hit the nail on the head. I’ve had the plot structure and themes in my head the entire time, but Lauren dug up the heart of the novel and held it up so I could see it. It’s what the entire novel is about – and, in fact, it’s the bent most of my novels have taken over the last year.
We need broken, flawed characters who make mistakes, who get kicked down and stand back up, as many times as it takes. Heroes who are interesting and conflicted and who wonder if it’s worth it. Heroes who continue to fight for what they believe in.
The Last Legion, a fantastic historical retelling of King Arthur, ends with this line –
“We need heroes, don’t we?”
And what I hope for my novels is that they answer yes. Yes, we do.