The Wheel of Virtue

In Homer and the Griffon Aria sells her dragonling to humanity’s royal beast-master and meets Queen Anthrapas, ruler of the human race. She’s escorted by Sir Jameson, a military recruiter.

A military recruiter doesn’t do much in this fantasy world where war is replaced with board-games. Jameson just dresses up in armor to inspire people to register as game-pieces. A new recruit has gnomes take their notes, then leaves knowing he’s done his civic duty. His avatar might be fighting for humanity even while he’s asleep!

In my first draft, I wasn’t quite sure what Sir Jameson’s purpose was. I added him because I thought Aria needed another character to bounce off; Homer doesn’t talk at all, and gnomes are sorta robotic. I actually added two characters in my first draft, but now I’ve elided them together into Jameson.

Currently, I think Jameson is a Watson-type character. Sherlock Holmes is a genius, so the reader needs Watson for Sherlock to explain things to in layman’s terms. While Aria, Homer, and the gnomes understand table-war, Jameson doesn’t, so the other characters have a reason to explain things to him, and, simultaneously, the reader.

I’ve heard amnesia is a common trope in fiction for the same reason. If the main character doesn’t remember anything, then they know exactly as much as the reader! Homer, the total newcomer to this strange world, fills that niche.

Still, I don’t want Jameson to be a boring tag-along. I already mentioned YuGiOh is a tongue-in-cheek inspiration for The Minotaur’s Board-Game, and while I’m glad to write about a fantasy-world revolving around geeky hobbies, I don’t want useless, annoying cheerleader characters like those who follow Yugi all day.

A third-wheel character like Jameson can benefit from the Wheel of Virtue. I’m absolutely butchering this idea, but the way I understand it, the Wheel of Virtue a helpful way for me to think about how characters should act. Says Noel Carroll, “some… art can function and is designed to function as a source of moral purposes,” specifically a delineation between vice and virtue. If a novel is meant to convey a message about a particular virtue, it’s helpful to have a cast of characters which accounts for a spectrum of possibilities along the gradient from virtue to vice. A story whose message is “Greed is bad, charity is good” could benefit from characters who are very greedy, a little greedy, a little charitable, and very charitable.

If the novel explores multiple virtues, we can imagine a Cartesian plot of characters on the axes of virtue and vice. If you want your book to convey a theme about virtue X versus virtue Y, say for example, “greed is bad, charitably is good, and also Star Wars is better than Star Trek“, each character should express a unique combination of greediness/charitably and fandom affiliation. This lets the text show the reader how these qualities intermingle.

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Says Carroll, “In literary fiction… these comparisons and contrasts… prompt the audience to apply concepts of virtue and vice to the characters, thus exercising and sharpening their ability to recognize instances of these otherwise often vaguely defined or highly abstract concepts.”

In The Minotaur’s Board-Game I think the relevant “virtues” are physical strength, intelligence, and political power. These three attributes separate characters nicely: some characters are strong (Homer, Jameson), some characters are weaker (Aria, Anthrapas, gnomes, elves). Many characters are intelligent (Homer, Aria, Anthrapas, Stephanie, gnomes) because the story demands it, but they showcase different kinds of intelligence (Homer is mute, Aria is manipulative, gnomes are mechanical). But neither strength nor intelligence make someone politically relevant. These feel like linearly independent attributes.

So Sir Jameson should occupy an untouched area of the virtue-wheel. Let’s make him strong, and not terribly intelligent, but his patriotism for humanity gives him just enough political clout for Aria to leverage. In that respect he’s sort of a human version of Homer. I think that gives him a great vantage-point to be the perfect Tristan: a third-wheel character who just gawks while the real protagonist, Homer, wins table-war.

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The act of actually plotting characters on a virtue-wheel might be a little anal-retentive, but the idea itself is a handy device for conceptualizing what kinds of characters are necessary to complete a narrative and convey a theme. If nothing else, I hope it helps me keep from accidentally populating my work with duplicate characters; if any two characters occupy the same role, it’s often easy to smush them together into one franken-character and maintain thematic integrity.

I hope you enjoyed reading my weirdly analytical thoughts on fiction-writing! I sure enjoyed writing it.

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PS. Another applicable virtue might be Age, or Experience. Anthrapas is sort of Aria’s “evolved form,” so to speak.

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