Over at ConceptArt.org, where I tend to follow the CHOW (CHaracter Of the Week) themed art challenges, they recently had a one-off "Team Chow" throwdown where several of the Chowdowners teamed up to produce a group portrait of six characters, based on short character descriptions.
The descriptions were purposely written to be vague on world and society background, so the teams could produce works widely varied in genre: fantasy, space opera, historical, Old West, cross-over ("Viking Steampunk" was brought up as a possibile interpretation), etc.
The drawback to this idea, from my point of view, is that the competition essentially produced a series of "snapshots" of the characters at a frozen point in time. The story, the dramatic narrative and background behind those snapshots, is largely unrevealed.
So I've decided to take those character descriptions and approach them from a writer's point of view, to try and springboard off them to develop a story arc and an accompanying world and background, and a set of antagonists for the characters to interact with.
How far I'll be able to push this, I don't know. Partially, this is to try and jumpstart myself into working on fiction again. I've never been able to finish any attempts at novels over the years, and it's been more than two years since I even finished a short story. (And that story will probably never be marketed.)
In the meantime, let's see what sort of general brainstorming I can develop as a beginning effort. Here are the character descriptions:
The Hero- Female, between 20 - 30. Has no memory of anything beyond a year
- Stubborn to a fault, but unswervingly loyal to those she cares about,
convinced that she could lose her memory of them at any time she makes the most
of every moment.
- Has a tendency to say things before she thinks about them.
- Rumoured to have a second personality that can remember everything from
before, a 'dark' side, as it were, with totally different personality traits.
- A quick learner, but unlikely to pay attention unless something
immediately catches her interest.
- Searching for her past but ultimately easily caught up in the present and
the worries of others, tending to think of other people before herself.
- Found (to her horror) that she is more than capable of handling
herself in a fight, and likely capable of killing.
The Shadow- Male, between 20 - 30 (should be around Hero's age).
- The only person that the hero has any memory of, beyond the last year
(though she can only remember his face), and the only person who might know who
she is. He pretends he doesn't know, or refuses to say.
- Seemingly self-absorbed but actually self-destructive, has a tendency to
take out his insecurities as malicious remarks on other people.
- Isn't well liked, but doesn't care, or pretends he doesn't.
- Doesn't seem to have any friends except the hero, who he would do
anything for, though of course he would never say that. However, though he seems
to actively despise the rest of her friends, he cares for them more than he
- Whether he is helping the hero find her memory, or actively hindering
her, is unclear. She believes he is helping her. He doesn't necessarily believe
that it would help her to find it.
- Often disappears for long periods.
The Protector- Male or Female, between 25 - 50, well-built
- Found the Hero directly after she had lost her memory, and managed to
piece her back together.
- Strong and loyal, but prone to worry. Decided to take hero under wing,
and began to notice the very strange energies* and events that surrounded
- Completely distrusts the Shadow and the Sage and believes they are
actively working against the Hero's interests, but defer's to the Hero's opinion
and trust of them.
- Strengths lie in activities done with the hands - higher concepts either
are not a concern, or are too hard to think about in depth.
- Honest and blunt, so sometimes seems unkind, but never means it.
- Sometimes wonders if accidently stepped in way too deep into something
never meant to be approached.
The Sage- Male or Female, any age
- Does not come from the same country as hero. Came from far away to find
something, and claims that the hero will lead her to it, though will not say
what it is - even whether it is a physical object* or a higher plane*.
- Often seems to be looking through the person that he/she is
speaking to, and just as frequently stares off into space.
- Seems to disappear whenever trouble starts, but has saved the hero and
her companion multiple times to threats that they were completely
- Eats very little and sleeps less, and makes very little noise when he/she
The Technician*- Female, 18 - 28
- Completely in tune with anything mechanical. Takes things apart /
dissects things with disturbing regularity, and while can usually put them back
together again sometimes forgets to do so, to the dismay of her friends whose
objects* she 'borrows'.
- Fascinated by all methods of transport, and has an amazingly large
memory for all vehicles and machines but not for people or places (they are
just not important!)
- Initially hired for one-off job by the Hero and the Protector, but took
an instant liking to them and convinced them of her usefullness.
- Not very good in rough situations like fights, prefers cold logic of
puzzles, as her size tends to work against her. However, pressed into a corner,
she can make her technical* knowledge work to her advantage in place of physical
- wears her heart on her sleeve and is often very cheerful, but takes some
blows very hard (a friend getting hurt, etc). Sometimes flighty.
The Rabble Rouser - Male, 20 - 30 (should be around Hero's age)
- Met Hero + crew rather accidently and they helped out of a bit of trouble
(which he had gotten himself into and was almost entirely his fault).
- Developed instant infatuation with Hero + told her that he would help her
find her memory. Infatuation may or may not be sincere. Hero does not return
- Tends to bring trouble with him, or create it when he gets there, as he
grates people's nerves.
- Charming and seemingly hollow, but in select instances with the Shadow
has shown that he's invested more in the quest than one would think - though
perhaps not for the apparent reasons.
- Has good luck with gambling to match his bad luck with people, and never
is wont for money - it tends to find him as easily as he finds it.
- Has an excellent memory for faces as well as for numbers.- Well groomed,
but not as flamboyant as one might expect - unless it is on purpose as part of a
Okay, where do we start?
First of all, whose story is this going to be? At first glance, one would think it would be the Hero. She's lost something (her memory) and has to find out who she was and where she came from, and why.
But I think the best choice for a main Point-Of-View character would be... the Protector.
The Protector is the one who first finds the lost and damaged Hero, and takes her in. We know from the character descriptions that these two characters have been together for at least a year. What happens during that year?
The Protector is a cautious type, but he takes the risk of taking in this unknown quantity of a person and helping her build a new life. We don't know, yet, why he took that risk. (Which will eventually become even more dangerous than even he expected.)
That new life for the Hero, what will that be like? Well, what's it like for the Protector?
So this is when we have to take our first baby steps towards building a world and society in which this story will take place.
First thoughts: A society with distinct class levels. A wealthy upper class, with the most power and access to the best resources and technology. A middle class that mans and provides the infrastructure supporting that wealthy upper class. And a lower class, with depleted or unaffordable resources, whose members struggle every day.
Let's take "upper class" and make it literal: A planetary ring around the earth, where the wealthy and powerful live. The middle class are those whose maintain and support that mini-Ringworld.
For varying values of "mini". Even a planetary ring is uber-huge, possibly containing tens of thousand of square miles, or even magnitudes more if the construct is built in multiple levels.
(Here's a thought: What if that planetary ring is NOT a human construct? Surmise: Enigmatic aliens entered our solar system at some point and, rather than directly colonize the planets, built planetary rings to occupy. Further surmise: They're not oxygen breathers, so had no reason to occupy Earth's surface. The Earth ring is, from their POV, essentially an outpost; the important rings are those built around the gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn. They did, however, strip out a lot of Earth's resources, and offhandedly destroyed a lot of human civilization in the process of contructing their ring. Humanity and their concerns are essentially irrelevant to them. The vast majority of the ring belongs to the aliens, and is forbidden to humans. That upper-class, wealthy society is only a relatively thin strip - -but still huge by human standards -- built on the exterior of the aliens' ring; why they allowed it to be built is still unknown.) (All this paragraph is very tentative and speculative at this point. It might be used; it might be completely discarded. For the moment, we'll give it a spot on the Maybe Shelf.)
Back to our human characters: The Protector would be a member of that middle-class.
Initially, the Hero, freshly amnesial, would be fairly child-like. The Protector would be more of a father-figure to her, as she learns, grows, and begins to fit into the Protector's sector of society. (Thought: Has the Protector lost his own family -- wife & child, perhaps? Is that why he takes the risk of taking in the Hero?) This relationship may change as she becomes more knowledgable, more able to function as an individual. (Would they become lovers? Possibly.)
Time to lob a few hand grenades into the story: Something happens to trigger the Hero's fighting abilities. Holy shit, who IS this dangerous woman?
Next hand-grenade, the Shadow shows up. (Perhaps as a result of the story of the Hero's kick-ass abilities spreading?) The Hero recognizes the Shadow's face, but only his face. Who is this guy? What's his connection to the Hero's past? (A connection he denies.) Does he have connections to that wealthy upper-class? And if he does, what does that imply about the hero's past? And does that make him a threat to the Protector, and the Protector's relationship with the Hero? (This is why I like the Protector as POV character; he has something to lose.)
Let's take our aliens back off the Maybe Shelf and throw in one more hand grenade: The Hero finds her amnesia is not the result of injury. Rather, it was something that was deliberately imposed on her brain. And not by human technology, but by alien technology.
And could that mean that the Shadow not only has connections to the human upper-class, but to the aliens? Is that even possible?
How about our other three characters?
The Sage: Perhaps the Sage is a member of a church that believes the aliens were sent by God. Word of a human affected by alien tech might bring her onto the scene. She may also have connections and resources available across all the human classes.
The Rabble-Rouser and the Technician would, I think, start out as background characters. They become more important when the Rabble-Rouser screws up, and gets the authorities (who essentially work for the upper-class) coming down on the Hero and other characters. The hero and Protector have to go on the run. Rabble-Rouser, feeling guilt, helps them in their escape. (So does the Sage. The Shadow? Perhaps he offers an alternate escape route, one the Hero and Protector are not willing to trust.)
It's the Technician who can provide the vehicle that will let them travel from the Ring down to Earthside in search of sanctuary. (Perhaps literally, provided by the Sage's church?)
But that sanctuary needs to fail. At some point, I see mountain-ripping alien ships in the skies of Earth again. Will they finish off humanity completely this time?
The Hero has to go from the defensive to the offensive. She has to find out who she was, why she was so important, and what she has to do to save her friends and the world.
Stuff happens. Bang! Boom! Wowie and zowie. Stuff blows up real good. Unexpected alliances and tragic betrayals. (Yeah, this part is a little vague at this point.)
Some things to remember: 1) Everyone has a past. 2) Everyone has an agenda. 3) Not everybody lives happily ever after.
I think we have a rough story arc at this point:
- Hero, sick and lost, is taken in by the Protector. Things go smoothly for a while.
- Complications arise. The Hero's fighting abilities are triggered. The Shadow comes on the scene, with a possible connection to the Hero's past. The Protector's chance at happiness is threatened.
- The Technician discovers the alien technology in the Hero's brain. The Sage arrives.
- The Rabble-Rouser knocks over the applecart. Everyone has to go on the run to planetside, with the Technician's assistance. The Sage provides a hiding place on Earth.
- Things go to hell. Not only is the group in jeopardy, but humanity is in jeopardy. The Hero has to go on the offensive.
- Boom, bang, wowie, zowie, et cetera. The Hero discovers and confronts her past. Revelations and resolutions. Not everyone lives happily ever after. The End.
I'll leave things at this point, but I'll try and do a "Six Characters In Search Of A Plot, Part II", developing things in a bit more detail, sometime soon.