Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fiction appreciation – The transformative moment of a character

When I read fiction I like to be swept away by the dramatic difficulties faced by the characters. I want to empathize with them and understand them. I want to be hit by the full force of the changes sweeping their lives.

Good fiction is full of transformative moments for one or more characters. In such transitions, a character realizes something new. Perhaps a cherished belief is swept away. Maybe the character realizes that he or she has lost something precious forever. Betrayal, loss, accomplishment, physical challenge, and other creative events trigger these transformations within characters when they begin to understand and believe new things and act in new ways.

A well known example of a transformative moment occurs in the 1930s blockbuster novel Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. The heroine Scarlett O’Hara after a great struggle reaches her family’s plantation after General Sherman’s army has laid waste to Georgia, and Scarlett fully realizes that her wealth, privilege, and prestige have been eradicated. As she scrounges for root vegetables in the garden with hunger stabbing at her stomach, she vows that she will do whatever it takes, even lying and stealing, to regain what she has lost. The time when Scarlett can bat her eyelashes and be a charming Southern Bell and get what she wants has ended. It’s time for her to get a lot tougher with the world, regardless of how others might judge her.

As a novelist, I work to build such moments into the lives of my main characters. These are the dramatic highs in which the story becomes intense and hopefully readers are completely wrapped up in the feelings of the character.

To illustrate a transformative moment, I am presenting a short excerpt from one of my fantasy novels Rys Rising: Book I. In this scene, the rys Dacian who has always valued obedience to the ruling order is confronted by the reality that the tabre who lord over the rys will use brutality to keep them in their place.

Breymer said, “Long centuries ago, before tabre had fully come to master and appreciate the orderly joys of civilization, harsh methods were employed to teach us discipline. I have decided that the use of the phlia-mel has become necessary again because the rys are a young breed and, as this female has shown, have need of discipline.”

No one among the hundreds of rys said anything, but Dacian could feel the collective protest caged all around him. He felt he should say something. Ask for mercy at least, but so many things held him back. Was he wrong to question his elders? Did he want to jeopardize his future as a Nebakarz? Did he have any reason to risk himself on account of this female who ignored the law?

“Begin,” was all the Daykash said, and the two priests who had escorted Onja earlier swiftly grabbed her again and pushed her to her knees. Angpar walked around the trio and regarded his subject. He shook the phlia-mel once so that all could see the spring in the rod, and then he reached down and yanked off her cloak and whipped it aside. He seemed eager to have at her.

Onja’s clothing was meager. She wore only a small vest and shorts and her lower back was already properly exposed. Dacian could see the muscles in her back tense in anticipation of the abuse, but she did not look over her shoulder at her punisher.

Angpar raised the phlia-mel, but his eagerness faded for a moment, and he contemplated his next action as if he suddenly realized that the world would change when he lowered his arm. Then his self righteousness returned and he swung at the rys female hard. The crystal barbs flashed with white light when they struck Onja’s blue skin and her cry mixed with the meaty thwap of the rod hitting her. She lunged forward automatically but her handlers yanked her back in place.

Many rys cried out or gasped, and some turned away, and before anyone could recover from their disgust, Angpar hit her again. The Daykash fixed an emotionless gaze on Onja. Dacian could not see her face but he imagined her grimace.

Dacian looked at Halor urgently. His lips trembled with outrage. “Stop this,” he begged.

“It will be over soon,” Halor said woodenly. His eyes insisted on obedience.

When the third blow fell, Onja’s cry was louder. Dacian heard her take a deep breath to brace herself for the next stroke. As she filled her lungs with this painful gasp, Dacian felt all his rational reasons for standing by collapse like a hillside soaked by torrential rain. He looked at the tabre priests and acolytes lined up on both sides of him. They watched the punishment raptly. Where was their compassion for her suffering? They were all civilized creatures, but Dacian realized that their values did not entirely extend to their much-maligned rys cousins. They would watch Onja endure eight strokes from the phlia-mel and agree with the Daykash that it was necessary and proper. Civilization required order but was brutality the only path to that end?

Angpar gave Onja her fourth stroke. Her sentence was half complete.

“Stop!” Dacian shouted. He rushed forward and felt Halor grab him but he shook him off and moved toward Angpar.
This scene illustrates the transformation when Dacian decided to cast away his comfortable life of obedience and save another rys from harm. He does not know what the consequences will be, but his life henceforward will be very different from the life he had planned to live.

I invite readers to join in the dramatic journeys of the many characters I create in the epic fantasies I write. You can download the free ebook version of Rys Rising: Book I. Formats for Kindle, Nook, iPad, Sony, and most any computer or reading device are available. Rys Rising is a hard-hitting fantasy epic told from many angles.