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Which side are you on?

There are loads of things that are awesome about being an author. I get to work from home and I don’t need to justify it to my boss, because, well, that’s me. Also, I get to work my own hours and that basically means I work way more than I ever did in the past, because, I really love my boss…who is me. There are some downers on this journey too – tight pay-cheque months mean I get to complain to my boss, and you guessed it – that’s still me.

But one of my favourite things to do is to talk about all things magical and fantastical, fictional quandaries, conundrums of character and plot, and all in all, the kind of pointless things that keep me up at night, when every self-respecting brain cell is edging off to slumberland.

My latest query is the role that the tussle between chaos and order, entropy and structure, play in story dynamics. In TV Future, my dystopian detective-noir sci-fi, the hero represents order, but he in himself is a destructive, trigger happy, depressive. The government’s forces of order side with the corporations that are lead by the worst iterations of tyrannical, capitalist scumbags. In each major player in the novel, the forces of order and chaos combine in differing quantities – enough order that they can fulfil their assigned roles in the narrative, but enough chaos so that they can break the rules they need to and still surprise the reader.

In Black Hand – an epic fantasy novel of mine that is 80 000 words in, the lead character fulfills many roles over his journey – innkeeper to assassin, to executioner, thief, mercenary, soldier, treasure hunter. But in the end, it’s him telling the story, and so even the truth as its conveyed to us is tainted by his particular perspective. Here, the roles of chaos and order are combined in a character who underpins the entire story narrative, and such represents good, order and the forces of structure. But as his narrative is challenged and is seen to be increasingly unreliable, he begins to carry chaos and all the things that go with it. The interplay of both forces make Millar, the Black Hand, one of my most interesting (and loveable) characters.

A last example from my work, if I may – is Odelia. Odelia, the Bulldog in the Rules of Magic series, turns into a were-bulldog due to being infected by a Naagloshi, a shape shifter from Navajo myth. With some magical aid, she is able to control her shape-shifting curse and turns into a giant bulldog-version of herself, over 500 pounds of pure, magically-enhanced destruction. She is tough, nigh indestructible, and has the attitude of a bulldog who knows it. She represents The Family – a group of mages who uphold order in the magical world, but she is the most destructive out of every monster we encounter in the series! She has popped more heads and ripped off more limbs than a meth-driven Florida alligator let loose in the local municipal swimming pool.

She has her own opinions, rarely follows orders well, and is a force of wanton destruction – but she does destroy who she needs to, and is causing destruction for the right side, and so ultimately upholds the force of order.

My takeaways from this is that there needs to be enough order that basic story structure and narrative processes can be fulfilled, but also enough chaos to keep it fresh, interesting and juicy. This could be likened to the folly of the rigid Dwarves in The Lord of the Rings, or Gandalf going missing for stretches of plot where the characters are needed to fend for themselves. Even Sauron requires structure, or else he couldn’t keephis evil armies prepared to assault middle earth. My favourite ‘anti-hero’ form a slew of Awesome movies I watched as a child – take Snake Plisskin form the 1981 ‘Escape form New York’. He fought authority at every turn, but ultimately fought to uphold it against the forces of absolute chaos. I get the feeling that when it comes to heroes, a little bit of chaos goes a long way! While we’re talking about 80’s chaotic anti-heroes, is there anyone more qualified for the title than Detective John McClain? Loose cannon, wise-cracking, but ultimately, he is the good guy!

If we go back to the growth of early fantasy literature, what about Conan, or Kull the Conqueror, or Fafnhr and the Grey mouser? Heroes, I think, largely because their perspective entertained us and held our sympathy, but not necessarily icons of virtue! Certainly, a fair amount of chaos mixed in liberally with the order.

I hope I got you thinking about the interplay of order and chaos in your favourite characters. I know I enjoy writing protagonists that are morally grey, but entirely convinced of their goodness. Some of my bad guys, too, in fact. At the end of it, it’s another example of how fantasy literature allows us to deal with complex topics, because no person is a caricature and in real life our heroes have feet of clay. At the end of the day, they’re all just human – the same as us! I suppose it’s their ability to overcome, despite them having the same failings as us – or maybe even because of it – that makes them our heroes!

Until next week – Keep well, keep reading.
(Lance ’call me Snake’ Horsman)

Image Credit: Dave Nestler 

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