Happy November, y’all! I hope you had a safe and fun October 31 and that you’ve transitioned to the “Dark at 4:00pm” season well. Our pets show no signs of full adjustment yet… Meanwhile, I am staying highly caffeinated, because at 54, “extra hours” of sleep are just not a thing.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the side characters of The Taurin Chronicles and the tropes they exemplify. I did not set out to write specific tropes; my side characters grew up rather organically in the process, and only now am I looking at them in a more analytical way. I want to eventually offer some tips about how to construct a good side character, but this week, I’m starting out by talking about some of my favorites in my own work.
The Lovable Rogue: Brody Reid
Brody is a semi-recent addition, though in my head, he has been hovering in Connor’s backstory for quite a while. I think that Connor and Brody had quite a few NSFW adventures in their misspent youth. It’s kind of a miracle that Brody has managed to make it to adulthood, to be candid; he’s not the warrior that Connor is, and his gambling could have easily led him into scrapes that were impossible to resolve without bloodshed.
But he managed to survive his troubled youth, and though he still has an affinity for women, ale, and dice, the events of Unquickened convinced him that it was time to put away childish things and fulfill at least a few obligations to his name, his estate, and his country.
I introduced Brody in part to be the hotheaded-but-lovable Rogue that Connor used to be. With Connor progressing along his redemptive arc to become an old married man with duties and obligations, I wanted to still have a character who can say and do all the things others can’t. As a side character, Brody doesn’t need a strong redemptive arc; it’s okay if he finishes the series still essentially the same as he began.
I think this kind of character can also be valuable to the protagonist as a reminder of what he used to be and a foil for what he’s slowly becoming. In his deepest moments of introspection, I think Connor wonders if he’s capable of regressing to the man he once was. Watching Brody up close can help reassure him that he doesn’t want or need to go back to that life.
The Best Friend: Letha Catspaw
To me, Letha sort of represents the cohort of people around Mairead who are taking on a lot of her duties so that she can be the leader she’s supposed to be. This is an important function of side characters that I think sometimes gets ignored–they do all the things your protagonist doesn’t have time or bandwidth to do.
Every protagonist is bound by the world-consistent rules of time and space, and when we start to get into people who are commanding armies and running governments, we have to have people around them to help with their work. Kings, queens, dukes, army commanders–they need staff.
As to why I chose Letha Catspaw to represent the staff here, there are two reasons. First, I think it’s more interesting to show someone like Mairead learn how to delegate and ask for help than someone like Connor, Braedan, or Igraine who grew up with servants and staff to do stuff for them. Mairead grew up serving others. She needs to learn how to be on the other side–how to accept help, delegate authority, and trust advisors and staff members to do their jobs. Letha can coach her and help her become that leader.
The second reason is that Letha is Mairead’s BFF–the woman who has her girlfriend’s back at all times. We all need a bestie, and Letha would take an arrow for Mairead–and vice versa. Mairead loves Connor and has important connections with the other main characters, but her bond with Letha is special. Best friends don’t come along often, and these ladies need each other.
The Confidante: Sayana Tirzah
I haven’t said much about Tirzah yet, and I need to write a full profile on her, but I’ve been developing her as I’ve been working on Soultainted, and she is quickly becoming a favorite of mine.
If you’ve read my books thus far, you know that Minerva has been struggling to find her place all the way through. Every time she thinks she’s figured it out, something changes–she’s shunned, someone important dies, or she hears a prophecy that shakes her worldview. Torn between cultures and different religious perspectives, Minerva doesn’t really have anyone to process all these ideas with.
I realized in working on Soultainted that Minerva needed an honest confidante, and Tirzah fit the bill nicely. Yes, she’s a sayana, and she’s loyal to the kirok in Aliom, but she’s also intellectually curious and not particularly dogmatic. She’s also has latent (or not so latent) feminist leanings, and she’s struggled to find her own place in a male-dominated world. Finally, Tirzah is outgoing and a little bit obnoxious when necessary, which Minerva is not.
What purpose does Tirzah serve? She’s Minerva’s conscience and sounding board. She shares Minerva’s faith, but she’s more grounded in it. At the same time, Tirzah’s curiosity and intellectual honesty allows her to take an honest look at Minerva and her experiences and see how they fit into the truth. She doesn’t reflexively shun Minerva because Minerva’s experiences don’t fit neatly into what Tirzah knows is true.
But although Tirzah is a guide for one character, she’s not really the wizard of the story. That title belongs to someone else.
The Wizard Guide: Phinneas the Steward
As with so many of my characters, I really didn’t know until I got far into this series how important Phinneas would be to the overall arc of The Taurin Chronicles. The more I write, however, the more I realize–he’s the one with the ancient and/or prophetic keys to everything that’s happening.
This is not to say there aren’t others. Rhiannon has her own prophetic gifts, and the schism in Logan’s mind and body is causing ancient knowledge of the earliest days of humanity to bubble up and insert itself into the story. Soultainted introduces more of the lore stored in Logan’s brain and also a new character whose goal is to divine clues about Mairead and Connor from “lost” texts.
However, I think Phinneas has the most knowledge tucked away, in part because he’s so old and in part because he has devoted his life to study and to driving prophecy forward where he can.
The Guide is a pretty familiar trope in fantasy, as I mentioned in the previous example, but I think there are different kinds of guides. Where Tirzah is more of a “therapist” guide, Phinneas is a literal guide. He drops clues that only he knows when it’s appropriate and then claims his presence is required elsewhere. He’s clearly the Wizard-type, and while he’s affixed himself to Connor for the time being, who knows how long that will last…
These four types certainly overlap with each other and with other characters in the books, but for the moment, they’re four of the key side characters that I want to explore in more depth. It may not be next week, though, as we are heading out for a little time away. I’m hoping to spend some time reading, writing, and planning the future, so a blog post may not happen till the week of Thanksgiving.
Have a good week, y’all!