Recently, I was editing the chapter in which Zara first turns up in When the Clock Broke, and it occurred to me of the differences between the idea I once had of her, the shape of mechanic beauty, and the elfin, boyish features I have written for her now. She’s changed into a different sort of visual character to the one I first created, though I have no problem with that.
She was always different, but now she’s a different kind of different. A gaminic girl.
Characters that come to mind are those played by Audrey Hepburn, for her sprightly (or, perhaps, spritely) leaping around our screens, as well as her wistful appearance, and the character (or, at least the depiction of hard on my copy of the book) of Holly Blue in the Faerie Wars Chronicles.
But, as the title suggests, Zara is more about a modern society, a – dare I say it? – dystopian woman, who, although she is given more roles and more freedom, would rather be a man. This is what makes her so much of Aidelle’s foil as well as her companion.
However, this may be where Zara’s symbolic presence ends. Of course, as I did with all of my characters, I did not create Zara as a specific charactorial archetype; unlike the other characters, she has not so much shaped her way into an archetype as Peter or Aidelle or Rion have. Then again, she has her own stories with which to deal.
If any symbolism occurs, it is in Zara’s participation as a secondary character – she is there to help, to introduce Aidelle into the world of a frozen time-stream and a broken future, but also to grow as her own person. From the rude, somewhat lonely girl who’s willing to risk her life, she unconsciously transforms into the one who’s more family-centred.
Yet, it is for family that she has acted anyway. (You can see where my puzzlement at her character comes. I wouldn’t say she doesn’t grow, but she is more enigmatic than the simple changed character; she has more secretive pockets than the others, and, because of the exact nature of her character, she changes and changes back.)
In a way, Zara’s lack of symbolism makes her one of the most ‘normal’ of characters; she reminds me of other teenage girls in other books.
Thinking that, however, her mysterious side gives her some kind of symbolism – she is the product of her parents, and, although they, as adults, are very nearly insignificant in the trilogy, their – or rather, her mother’s – genes are vital:
Zara is some kind of conglomerate of other characters; she even has some resemblance to the villain because he is her uncle.
Things I’ve found useful about Zara, applicable to general Supporting Characters:
- She acts as a trigger towards the MC, an introduction into the new, ‘special’ world of the novel. SCs are helpful for writers in this way, in that they can divulge information to the lost head of the MC.
- She’s a foil, and thus gives variety to the cast. Having characters of the same mind can be dull for a reader, so it’s useful to have someone with whom the MC can constructively disagree.
- Conversely, the SC provides a “you go, MC!” when the MC is feeling down. They can act as someone to glare at the villain beside the MC, and, often, a reader may empathise more with a Supporting Character than a Main Character, simply because they cast the same support onto the MC that the SC does.
- Thus, SCs provide a level head to a fiery one and a flair character to a plain-headed one.
But, in this case, what stands out to me is, to sum up this post, that Zara is a visual element of the novel, as opposed to a meta-visual one. For all her ‘symbolic’ parts, she’s a character first and foremost.
Sadly, her part as a main character in the last two books adds to my issue that they lack the symbolism and great ‘thinking’ (if I may say…) of the first.
What do you think? Do all characters need an archetype or a symbolic background, or are they better with no relevance even in their name? Writers: how have your characters’ symbolic sides come out in various drafts?
2 thoughts on “WTCB September: Zara, More Substance than Symbol”
Thanks for sharing – interesting to see the deliberate thought you put into your supporting characters. I don’t think all characters need an archetype or symbolic background, although that can make for some great layers in fiction. For me, I just want my SC to be fully fleshed, to feel like characters in their own right with their own goals and motivations. I want the reader to believe these supporting characters are off doing their own thing when they’re not on the page with the MC.
Ah, thank you. As I was saying, I don’t think I’ve put as much thought as I could into the Supporting Characters, though.
That’s true: better for characters to be good characters than good symbols – with a life outside of the stories, as you said.
Thanks for commenting! much appreciated!