Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Memorable characters

With the release of David Weber's Storm from the Shadows this month, I found myself drawn back into the Honor Harrington Universe. Much as I'd like to grab this book, it's $60 Aussie bucks I don't have.

But, Baen has a website to torture fans of the series and other Baen authors. Collected Driblets serves as a kind of testing ground for Baen authors where readers can make comments on the work posted.

I finished the significant excerpt and decided to revisit the beginning of the series, On Basilisk Station (I need a new copy; the one I have is falling apart).

Of course, once read, I had to carry on with For the Honor of the Queen, The Short, Victorious War and currently, Field of Dishonor. I can't help myself. These initial books are brilliant; the latter books get a little mired in politics, diplomacy and info-dumps rather than epic space battles and wholesale slaughter.

The question is, why is Honor Harrington such a compelling character? What makes her so attractive that Weber has sold over three million books in this series, two spin off series and other series? Me, I'd like to shrug and say 'dunno', but there is something about the character that draws readers in.

Honor Harrington is a commoner (which scores highly in a country founded by convicts and commoners under the yoke of British Imperialism). She fights her way to a peerage whether she wants it or not. She has a cast of villians who hate her because of what she is; and that is someone who will do her duty regardless of the consequences. She does, in fact, demonstrate how corrupt certain parts of the government truly are.

But don't make the mistake that she's a Mary-Sue (unlike another character I could name). Doing her duty gets thousands killed when a temporary tactical withdrawal would have lost a system but cost less in lives and equipment to regain. She also has a barely-contained violent streak that rears it's head every now and then with nasty consequences for at least three characters.

The character grows - not just in professional stature - but in personality; from shy, gawky teenager (told in back story) to woman confident enough to take on a whole new society, and win.

At the core is an indestructible morality of integrity and self-belief. A core wrapped in duty to the Queen, the people and the crews of the ships she regularly gets shot up. And that's the clue: to keep a solid, unbreakable core to a character. For Honor Harrington, it's 'to do my duty, regardless'. Another example of this is S.L. Viehl's Cherijo, it's 'do no harm, regardless'. Even romance has it's core: 'follow your heart'.

If your character has this... 'stability', then you can throw everything at them, torture them, even kill them, but they'll always be memorable.

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