View Full Version : Main character's knowledge
February 5th, 2005, 05:22 AM
Several places I've seen the advice that the main character should learn "together with" the reader (like for example in magic, he/she should not know much about it when the story begins, but learn as the story goes on so the reader can learn what the rules of magic is, and so on). Also, in many books I've read, the people who know a lot about these things is almost never the main character.
Does this mean that it is very unwise of me to use a main character that already is one of the most powerful sorceresses in that world and know what there is to know about magic? And if that is not a very good idea, is there a way to solve it without changing the main character?
Also, I originally planned to write the story about how she gained power and gained unnaturally long life, but now I'm writing what happened 250 years later. Should I go back and write the original story (which I gave up because I didn't find a good plot and lost inspiration) or should I just go on with the new one even though many important events won't be in it?
Hope anyone has any suggestions...
February 5th, 2005, 06:15 AM
Nothing wrong with a powerful main character. A few ideas for the presentation:
1. Make for a hard to read book and let the reader figure everything out from observation only.
2. Go for a 3rd person omniscient narrator who intervenes with helpful information where necessary.
3. Tell the story from an outsider's point of view (your Dr. Watson to your Sherlock Holmes).
4. Have the main character face situations where he has to question all he knows; this usually involves a back to basics approach.
5. Tell the story you want to, with the "how I came to be a buff mage" in flashbacks.
There must be thousands of ways to tackle the problem, but this is all I could come up with in five minutes.
February 5th, 2005, 08:27 AM
What if the main character has to explain what they're doing to an apprentice or a non-magic companion?
Or maybe whatever the problem is won't be solved by magic?
February 5th, 2005, 10:19 AM
Maybe the character could learn things about her world or herself throughout the story instead. Just because she's a master magic user doesn't mean that she knows everything that there is to know.
I agree that the main character should grow or change in some way over the course of the story. HAving a character who is practically perfect at the beginning of the story doesn't entice the reader to continue on. Give your sorceress some flaws that she must improve on, or some lack of knowledge that she must remedy.
As for explaining to the reader how magic works, there are many ways to do this. As Expendable pointed out you could have her explain what she is doing to an apprentice. Or you could have her reading out loud from a text, or remembering back to when she first learned magic...I'm sure you'll think of something!
February 5th, 2005, 10:58 AM
I say go for it and I cheer you on all the way. Fantasy Land already crawls with hapless orphans who find an Incredibly Powerful Wizard helping them against the Incredibly Powerful Dark Lord. Sometimes I wonder why those wizards don't do the job themselves instead of teaching their students how to explode glass jars, sour the milk, or mess up ancient prophecies. At least that would shorten many boring books.
Anyway, yes, I think a magic-knowledgeable protagonist can work, but I'm biased because I tried to write one myself. I don't know if I succeeded, but maybe some of my suggestions might help you.
-- show your heroine using her magic early on, preferably in the first chapter, and don't be afraid of blowing things up in block-buster proportions. If your heroine is a weather magician, she could stop a hurricane threatening her town. If she's a healer, she might fight against a fantasy version of the bubonic plague. Or maybe she's the warrior mage type, then throw her on the battlefield and and let mayhem ensue. If you have a powerful heroine, you at least don't have to worry about a hook for your novel.
--make sure the first chapters lay down the ground rules of your magic system. Don't forget to show the limits and any drawbacks, which your heroine suffers from (over-) using her magic. The easiest way to accomplish this: something goes wrong during her magic. Your heroine gets distracted, or she faces overwhelming odds, or she can't concentrate because of her hangover from yesterday's party. Pick an obstacle and make her deal with it.
--your heroine should learn new things. Just because she's already trained in magic, doesn't mean she has to know everything about it. Even if she does, she can still discover different cultures, encounter strange philosophies, or unravel otherworldly secrets. Not to mention she will puzzle over the eternal mysteries of her relationships with other characters, just like anyone else.
--your heroine needs a worthy foe. Her antagonist could be an equally powerful sorcerer but also a normal person. For example my villain doesn't have any magic of his own, however he's extremely intelligent, ruthless, and passionate. He commands an army, centuries of tradition back him up, and almost the entire society believes him justified in everything he does. In other words, a little magical hand waving does not stop him.
-- resist the temptation to rely on magic for every problem. Your heroine has a brain, too. It's more fun when she outwits her enemies than any magic fight can ever be.
February 5th, 2005, 06:31 PM
A number of writers -- Michael Morcock, R.A. Salvatore, Terry Pratchett, etc. have powerful protagonists who start out very knowledgable. A number of others use the Holmes-Watson set-up with a clueless sidekick who is often a narrator and who is schooled by the knowledgable pal.
The young, unschooled person who learns magic is popular in epic fantasy and to a lesser extent in other types of fantasy for the same reason that first person viewpoint formats are popular in murder mysteries -- it makes things easier. The young clueless student for the reason that you note, because it gives an easy way to convey information to the readers; the first person in murder mystery because then the readers are limited only to the detective character's pov and can only know what the detective knows and learns. It's effective, but if it's not the sort of story you wish to tell, you certainly don't have to use that approach. In fact, it might be a much more boring story that way. A story about a super powerful sorceress sounds good to me.
February 5th, 2005, 11:31 PM
I once wrote a story about a guy who was a very good spy and political assassin. Then he decided to quit (which is of course against the rules). You don't have to start at the beginning of a character's story, start where his/her story gets interesting.
The point is, if your character is in college, don't go back to grade school with them. Let them move forward, and do whatever is needed to have the reader join them where they are. --my opinion, of course.
February 6th, 2005, 03:14 PM
Something to keep in mind if the story is meant to be epic fantasy:
The current clime is thus: the publishers are flooded with inventory, the shelves are overflowing with epic fantasy titles, many titles are not selling well, there are so many authors doing epic fantasy series that fan readers can't try out so many new authors, and publishers are not looking so much for good solid stories as they are for books that they think have major breakout material. In such an environment, a well-written story that is distinctive, that is not copying everyone else and contains interesting elements that help the story stand out, has a much better chance of attracting publisher attention than one that sounds exactly like everyone else's. Risks can pay off.
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