Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Genesis of a Djinni

For tomorrow, I am preparing a roaring blog dripped with righteous (and hopefully interesting) writerly rage and, even though I know I’m pretty much just talking to myself on this this, I don’t really want this blog to turn into one of those 24/7 negativity centers, even if I have been in an angry mood lately.

So today I’m going to talk about something I find interesting: the genesis of a character.

I like looking back on a finished work and figuring out where a character came from, why he or she came from there, and how they’ve managed to change throughout the course of the story. Sure, for novels I’ll often make a character sheet before starting off on the project itself, but it’s usually more of a guideline than some sort of rule book. You only get to know a character as you write them, after all.

As an example, take Asoresis, the djinni protagonist from my short story “Ala ad-Din.” (Available for free now at Dante’s Heart, so if you haven’t read it, go on and do that. I’ll wait.)


(Back now? Okay.)

Asoresis’s name came first, and out of a random generator of all things. I was looking for a name to fill in the backstory of a Dungeons & Dragons character, so I went to a fantasy name generator and found one that I liked. With that done, the name floated in my mind for a while, as I really was fond of it.

A few months later I got into the Bartimaeus trilogy for the second time in my life, having introduced it to my brother. The Bartimaeus books are, for the record of all time, fantastic. They’re some of the most creative and interesting fantasy novels out there, set in a world where magicians keep their aristocratic power over normal people by enslaving spirits, such as djinnis, to their will.

Asoresis wandered into my mind as a fan character for this series, a sesquipedalian loquacious djinni more suited to running his master’s household as a butler than say, building monuments and stealing stuff as Bartimaeus did. Over time he developed the backstory that his usually appeared as a cat, but that his preferred human form was that of a former master’s son, which he’d kept in memory of the old man he’d care for.

Eventually I realized that was a much more interesting original story than it could ever be as a fan fic, so I ditched the Bartimaeus world for its own setting. In this setting he lost his nature as a long-winded know-it-all and became the nearly silent, stoic companion he is today. And I got to play around with some Islamic-Christian symbolism, which is always fun.

So you see, he changed a lot from his first incarnation to his final form. And as happy as I am with how he turned out, it’s interesting to look back at where he came from, and how that shaped the things in “Ala ad-Din” that others aren’t likely to understand.

Like I said, this idea of tracing a character’s origins interests me. Some don’t have such a complicated genesis, but when they do, it’s almost a story in and of itself.

Anyone else care to share yours?

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