Names

Will Jonas keep his legs? Alphonse won’t give up so easily. In the meantime, let’s check out some names.

I choose names for my characters based on whatever feels right, and there’s no objective rule for that. Jonas. Alphonse. Naira Nightly. Mike Mann. I think these names are pretty nice to say. I can change ’em when I like.

More importantly, I think, they all start with different letters. Here are the named characters so far that I remember off the top of my head:

Bronson (Alphonse, Father, and Grandpa)
Champ
Craig
Danny, Debra
Georgie Masawa
Hermes
Jonas
Kevin
Mike Mann
Naira Nightly
Sandra
Whitney

I think that’s it? Other than that it’s anonymous men in leather and unnamed athletes. Hardly any characters have last names.

“Craig” and “Kevin” start with the same sound, as do “Jonas” and “Georgie,” but that’s okay. When I read I find myself not really pronouncing names in my head, just seeing them and moving on, so a C is different enough from a K and a J from a G to distinguish the characters’ names at a glance. Conversely, Champ and Craig start with the same letter, but they’re rarely mention together and the “Ch” is kind of a unique character on its own.

As for Naira Nightly and Mike Mann, alliterative names sound like comic-characters a la Peter Parker and Bruce Banner. I figure they take up less reader head-space that way. Georgie Masawa gets the odd-one-out non-alliterative name because he’s special and cool and important and maybe I’ll change it later I dunno.

Next time, let’s see if Alphonse can wring a positive public-image out of this mess.

The Aftermath
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After the Race

With just one chapter left in this race, Jonas is mere miles behind the horse. Will he keep his legs?

Well, yeah. It’s a story, and stories often have predictably happy endings. But the end of the race won’t be the end of the story as a whole; I think Alphonse needs a reckoning.

So here’s the plan: Alphonse’s media scrutiny will prompt a criminal trial and we’ll learn more about the Bronson-family’s finances. Alphonse will flee prosecution by holing up in his estate, attending his own trial by video-conference. Jonas, Whitney, Kevin, Hermes, and Sandra will have to combat Alphonse’s silver tongue before he manages to go the way of his grandfather and brush his dirty deeds under the rug.

Craig will initiate the end of his plan: he’s got Alphonse’s ten-thousand-dollar toothpick with a complete audio-recording of the race up to mile 75-ish, demonstrating the depth of Alphonse’s depravity. Alphonse is at Craig’s mercy and doesn’t even know it yet. We’ll see what Craig demands from him.

Man VS Horse doesn’t just relate to Jonas VS Champ. Superiority and social-structure are integral to this story. Is Alphonse a ‘man,’ who decides his own destiny, or is he a ‘horse,’ slave to impulse? Craig flies Alphonse’s helicopter—chauffeuring him, like a horse—but if Craig makes off with the Bronson fortune, then he was actually pretending to be a horse on his way to greatness, and Alphonse was a horse pretending to be a man.

Alphonse oversimplifies society, dividing people into ‘men,’ like him, and ‘horses,’ like Jonas, who are means to an end for men. But truthfully, there is no such division, and Alphonse’s delusions only harm himself and everyone around him.

Father Bronson was evil. I mean, he ground horses into glue and shot Georgie Masawa! But he was a subtler evil. He didn’t have a hundredth of the media-attention Alphonse will attract. I won’t say “a certain amount of evil is okay,” but at least Father Bronson controlled his evil, instead of being controlled by it. Maybe this fictional world would be better-off if bad-guys were all like Father Bronson, not Alphonse or his grand-dad.

Or maybe their world is better off with obvious evil, like Alphonse? At least now they know where to look.

Next time, let’s watch Jonas win his legs.

Last 10 Miles
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Cartoonish Villainy

The bad guy in Man VS Horse is eccentric billionaire Alphonse Bronson. Alphonse is cartoonishly evil.

We see Alphonse twirl his mustache at the end of the first ten miles, when he gives Jonas false hope before choosing the harder trail. Then we see Alphonse’s childhood, when his father teaches questionable lessons about winning and losing and business. After another ten miles, we see Alphonse make bets on disabled kids running in a charity race. In this chapter we see the almost hilarious extent of his wickedness: he shows his father a horrible competition where the losing horses are processed into glue.

I’m not sure how much of a horse actually goes into glue, but it doesn’t matter. The feasibility of a horse-to-glue pipeline isn’t important. What’s important is that the image of turning horses into glue is potent. Horses are romantic animals. If you’ve ever seen a horse in person you know they’re sorta smelly and not that bright, but in stories, horses are beautiful majestic creatures. Ponies and unicorns are staple cutesy icons. Processing them into glue is exactly the laughably heinous act I’d expect from the Snidely Whiplash type.

And that’s good. Storytelling is the place for such abstract symbology. In real life, bad guys are usually more subtly devious. Alphonse will be more up-front in his disregard for the value of nature and living things.

I want to compare how Alphonse treats horses to how he treats humans. He’s willing to gamble on racehorses, and even turn the losers into glue. Given the chance, he gambles on disabled children and has no sympathy for the defeated. Humans and horses are both living beings, but it’s socially acceptable to make horses perform labor without pay. Humans expect a certain standard of living, and aren’t satisfied with just a barn to sleep in and alfalfa to eat. Yet, the way Alphonse treats horses is unnecessarily cruel, and he’s not much more kind to humans—his morality will decay over time. The way Alphonse gradually treats humans more and more like he treats horses highlights the inhumanity of treating any animal poorly.

I’ve heard you can get an impression of someone’s character by seeing how they treat the wait-staff at a restaurant. Someone who’s nice to you but rude to whoever takes their drink-order isn’t a nice person. Similarly, Alphonse’s treatment of horses is emblematic of his fundamentally twisted worldview. Although that worldview manifests more clearly when he processes horses into glue, it affects his every action, and he’ll get worse at hiding it.

Let’s see how bad this gets.

Next 10 miles
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Running and Memory

If you can’t tell from this story I’m writing, I like running. It’s a uniquely human activity; no other animal runs quite like us. We’re good at it, too—depending on who you ask, humans might have evolved to run prey to death. In Man VS Horse I want to make readers feel the mental states and thought-processes behind running a hundred miles, based on my own experience running marathons and reading about ultra-marathoners.

Stories need characters. It might seem difficult to squeeze a character out of a purely physical challenge like racing against a horse, but thankfully, there’s a huge mental component to running. You might think the biggest bottleneck is strength or endurance, but even if you know you’re capable of running twenty miles, getting out of bed to do so is still tricky. Jonas’ train of thought during the run will be a window into his character and a source of conflict throughout the narrative.

When I’m running, my train of thought goes in weird directions, and I want Jonas to show that. For the first ten miles, Alphonse kept Jonas company, but now that Alphonse has taken the lead, Jonas is left alone with his mind.

I take advantage of this to introduce the reader to Whitney, Jonas’ running partner and ghostwriter. If you’re sensitive to spoilers, close your eyes: Whitney will show up later, around mile 50, I think. Introducing her now lets me set the stage for her arrival.

I think Jonas reminiscing about Whitney is an accurate portrayal of the running mindset. I often find myself recalling the past during long runs. It’s a chance for me to review and reinterpret my history. A long run is the perfect opportunity to reduce a character to their base elements.

I also play dumb games with myself on long runs, like Jonas explaining modern items to a caveman. If you’ve got a dumb endurance-sport mental-game, let me know! I’d love to hear.

Next 10 Miles
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Story Structure

A race has a beginning and an end. A story has a beginning and an end. But races are linear—you go step by step. Stories might loop around and have flashbacks and other chronological anomalies.

My first idea for Man VS Horse would have been more like a race. We’d start at the starting line and end at the finish. We’d learn about our characters’ backstories through dialog or narration during the race. I even wanted the length of the text for each mile of the race to reflect the protagonist’s mile-times: a ten-minute mile would take a page, while a five-minute mile would take half a page, and a twenty-minute mile would take two pages. I still like this idea. I know movies bother me when a character says, “the bomb’s going off in ten seconds!” and you count to thirty before they defuse it with a second left.

But while restrictions can breed creativity, those rules produced something subpar. I’m glad I tried it, but this time I’ll allow myself some more creative liberty.

Longer miles will still take up more text, I hope; I think that should have an effect on the reader, making them exhausted alongside our protagonist.

But I’ll allow myself some flashbacks at the end of every ten miles. If our billionaire is going to claim the protagonist’s legs, we gotta explore his history and figure out why he thinks that’s a remotely reasonable option.

You’ll notice in commentaries I’ll often call the characters ‘the billionare’ or ‘the protagonist.’ I haven’t settled on names for the characters yet. I just chose ‘Alphonse’ and ‘Jonas’ because they came to mind. Maybe I’ll get attached to those names and decide to keep them, or change them to something more thematic. This is a living document; I reread and make edits every so often.

I hope you have fun reading!

Next 10 miles
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Stories about politics

In Homer Vs the Sphinx everyone’s favorite minotaur beats a sphinx at the board-game which shapes nations, table-war. The sphinx can’t help but present her own weakness with a riddle, and Homer, the perfect protagonist, solves it on his third try.

What does it mean for a story to contain politics? As a tabletop RPG-player, to me a story with ‘politics’ is one which focuses on feuds between competing factions. Since The Minotaur’s Board-Game is inspired by tabletop war-games like Warhammer 40K, it’s natural to have themed groups in constant conflict.

I don’t write a lot of these ‘political’ stories. The Minotaur’s Board-Game is sort of my first try. But, hey, write what you don’t know! Let me retroactively justify my thought process focusing on Aria Twine, the character at the center of our wheel of virtue.

Aria Twine starts as a homeless orphan child and becomes queen of humanity. On the face of it, this is an inspirational tale, sort of a rags-to-riches story. In reality, Aria’s been exploited for her talent every step of the way, and she didn’t even want to be queen. How can a street-urchin like Aria refuse the exploitation which feeds her? Anthrapas roped in her disciple for decades.

In this light it’s easy to pity Aria, but Aria also exploits Homer. If Anthrapas’ exploitation of Aria justifies Aria’s exploitation of Homer, is Anthrapas excused by her own inescapable duty to protect humanity? My view of a political story has every character subject to something: Stephanie and Madam Victoria are under the elven queen, who fears dwarven war; the dwarfs work under the mysterious Mountain Swallower. The ancient memory of war motivates characters whether they like it or not.

The sphinx doesn’t want to serve anyone. She says she’s under nothing but her own nature. Her nature is her strength, by giving her invulnerability and imposing size, but her nature is her weakness, by freezing her in shade and compelling her to reveal that through riddles. I hope this links the sphinx’s riddle to political themes without seeming convoluted and janky. She literally can’t stand being in someone’s shadow. She’s a walking power-vacuum struggling to stay free.

In Red Mountain DanJay I compared all life to colossal anime robots piloted by thousands of people. The Minotaur’s Board-Game goes the opposite direction by comparing war to miniature board-games, making battles look like skirmishes between white blood cells and invading bacteria.

And in The Circular Pangolin the protagonist’s peculiar guide says

“The cactus is like all organisms: it transmutes foreign substances into its own flesh.”

From every cell’s semipermeable membrane to every cactus retaining moisture, and from every pilot of a giant anime robot to every fantasy race securing their borders, the nature of ‘politics’ and reality itself is a decomposition of phenomena into groups.

Homer the minotaur doesn’t fit easily into any group. Half man, half beast, he’s only allowed to fight for humanity because of his utility. But this utility makes Homer indispensable, giving him a rare upper hand against humanity’s queen: when he says his victory should count for animals everywhere, Anthrapas immediately concedes. Anthrapas knows Homer is the best option to protect humanity—and everything else—from dwarves. On her deathbed, she seems to tell Aria that protecting humanity is worth accepting the fantasy world’s diverse population.

But the seafolk figured out “togetherness” centuries ago. Emperor Shobai is a clam with crab legs married to a seahorse with a tentacled lobster-nephew. Unlike the surface world, where humans, elves, and dwarfs segregate themselves, the sea is a mishmash of incongruity, and it works. While landlubbers force their oddballs into the ‘wild wastes’ and then capture the best to exploit, the seafolk are unified oddballs, like the centaur, harpy, and sphinx. Maybe Namako ejected his intestines on purpose because seafolk see kindred spirits in the ostracized monsters.

Next chapter, Homer must confront the dwarven table-war robot, and Aria will take her place as humanity’s queen. Follow me if you’d like to catch it!

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Why Table-War, Why Minotaurs

In The Elf vs The Dwarf Homer the minotaur watches the mysterious dwarven champion beat an elf at a board-game, claiming land on the border of the two races. This is actually the first time we’ve seen land trade hands because of a table-war, but supposedly this happens pretty often. Table-war makes battle abstract, so nations have no reason to avoid conflict. I hope this reflects the futility of war in general and war in the age of computers in particular.

When I started writing what would become The Minotaur’s Board-Game I thought I’d make the minotaur play chess. I gave up because anyone who actually enjoyed chess would see I was talking out my butt. Chess has strategies and a history I couldn’t do justice without loads of research, and research is hard. Plus, even if including chess made the story popular among chess-fans, it would simultaneously limit the audience to mostly chess-fans.

For the same reasons, I wouldn’t include any real game. If I used Poker I’d have to study up or else skilled readers would think “that’s a dumb move” with every play.

One of my inspirations for this story is the anime YuGiOh, in which teens play children’s card-games to save the world. I can appreciate the cheesiness of a card-game ballooning to such high stakes. Unfortunately, while the card-game actually exists in the real world—we call it YuGiOh—the anime TV-show doesn’t follow the real rules. Rules are ignored or invented on the spot to increase tension and let the hero win. The anime invented its own game and still can’t get it quite right.

My solution to these problems is to make a game without stated rules. Table-war is supposed to be a perfectly accurate replacement for war, and war doesn’t have ‘rules’ beyond the laws of physics, so I can put war on a table and it’ll turn out okay.

The good news is I can still make up rules whenever it’s convenient for me. Do I need Homer to look clever? Let him paint his figurines; no rule against that. Do I need Aria to accidentally screw herself over? She can—by adding new rules for one match. I can always retrace my steps and fiddle with rules as I go.

The really good news—for me, not for my characters—is that dwarfs can use the war-simulation to their advantage. In a real war, dwarfs could be outsmarted; the dwarfs called upon demons to win their last war, and it didn’t even work. In table-war the dwarven robot is indomitable, and without real war, there’s nothing any other nation can do about it.

The bad news is that war isn’t always interesting. So far, most table-wars have been won before the match even started: commanders imagine how their opponents will play, and whoever thinks farther ahead wins. A game of chess can flow back and forth; a game of poker can have a twist; most of my table-wars are one-sided. Sometimes table-wars can showcase counter-play, but still, I hope my one-turn matches can be compelling. Two characters go in, the reader is on-edge because of the stakes, and the better commander wins.

At the same time, the “one-turn war” isn’t necessarily unrealistic. War, like life, can be nasty, brutish, and short. Said Dwight D. Eiserhower, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” So wars and plans for wars must be indispensable for the point of my story.

Computers can beat humans at chess. In the long run, I’ll bet computers can beat humans at Poker. If computers haven’t already taken war, it’s just a matter of time. The dwarven champion—a bunch of gnome-brains wired together—is a war-computer. When Homer eventually fights the machine, he’ll need to prove humanity (and elves, and seafolk, and monsters, and life in general) is more important than pure mechanical efficiency.

I figure table-war is the best place to prove that. If Homer won a game of chess, he’d just prove he’s better at chess. If Homer won a game of Poker, he’d just prove he’s lucky and steel-eyed. When Homer wins table-war, he’ll prove life has value.

Why is Homer the minotaur going to stop the dwarfs? The elvish queen seemed to think elves deserved the honor because elves and dwarfs are enemies, but I think a minotaur is the perfect symbol for life’s value in the face of machinery. Minotaurs are classically trapped in labyrinths; like an allegory for all sentient beings, they wake in the dark and stumble through an unhelpful world. Maybe minotaurs could be replaced with robots that walk aimlessly through mazes, but “one must imagine Sisyphus happy” and one must imagine minotaurs explore mazes with intent. Homer’s endless trials, in and out of his labyrinth, have shaped him and made him more than a maze-walker. He’ll never be free, because the outside world is a political labyrinth with no exit, but minotaurs can handle labyrinths.

In myth, Ariadne helped Theseus navigate the minotaur’s maze with a roll of thread. In The Minotaur’s Board-Game, Aria Twine ignores possible pupils like Thaddeus to lead her minotaur by the nose. Then, Aria realizes she herself has been led by the nose by Queen Anthrapas. In my next commentary maybe I’ll talk more about Twine’s role in the story, but so far I’m happy with how I’ve repurposed mythical figures.

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Expansion, Contraction, and Failing Faster

In Homer VS the Sea-Thing our up-and-coming minotaur wins his first match of the tournament. Maybe Homer will fight the dwarven champion to keep dwarfs bound to the treaty that limits bloodshed to table-war.

This chapter used to be 9,000 words long, and now it’s half that. Taking the effort to cut it in half hopefully improved the clarity and pacing. I can’t speak for every writer, but I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of having a High-School professor setting a page-limit (“between five and six pages” or something like that), and having trouble condensing all our ideas into so much text. I would argue this issue is fundamental to writing and, in general, creativity itself.

At UC Santa Barbara, I was a mathematician in the College of Creative Studies. I took the College’s first actual class on creativity where we learned how the creative process often follows a pattern of expansion and contraction. In the first phase of solving a problem, we connect disparate ideas to produce a variety of solutions. In the second phase, we examine those solutions and choose the best to consider further. We repeat until satisfied, alternating periods of generative spit-balling and selective reconsideration.

You can’t shoot down a bad idea unless you have the idea first. You can’t delete text until you have text to delete. First write it down, then get it right. It’s a lot easier to say “this scene didn’t turn out like I wanted” than “how should this scene go.” Fail faster.

For example, I’d like to recall the process of writing and rewriting this chapter.

First I expanded: I wrote 206 pages about a minotaur who plays war games. I never knew what would happen next in the plot, but I hit a nice rhythm and let plot points surprise me.

Then, in the process of rewriting, I arrived at this chapter. I copy-pasted 9000 words from the original file into a new file. I skimmed the chapter as it was, and, with the benefit of hindsight, it was easy to notice plot points which were never important to the story, or scenes which could be cut. The table-war between Homer and Ebi Anago was near-fatally convoluted (I didn’t know how I wanted Homer to win, so I included everything I could think of), and I surgically extracted hundreds of words to save it. In total I contracted the text by a third.

Then I expanded again. I knew eventually Centaurs would be important to the plot, so I added a scene where the gang passes through inspection entering the wild wastes.

Then I contracted again. I read the section more thoroughly and cut unneeded words and sentences. Sometimes I switched sentence order to ease the transitions from subject to subject.

This is really just a pretentious way of saying that when you edit text it can only get longer or shorter, but I still appreciate the notion of expansion and contraction. It’s a license to put words on the page even if they’re not perfect right away, knowing that you’ll circle back to beat them into shape later. It’s a license to cut anything with impunity, knowing if you’re overzealous you can fill in the gaps on the next reread.

Anyway, I hope your NaNoWriMo goes well, if you’re into that. Fail faster, fix it later!

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The Point

In Homer Vs the Human our minotaur protagonist wins a seat in an upcoming tournament by beating Queen Anthrapas’ champion commander, Harvey.

In my last commentary I talked about the “virtue wheel,” a method of charting a story’s characters to make sure they’re varied. If you want your story to have a point, character variety helps communicate that point.

But do stories need points? Or “themes” or “meanings” or whatever?

Nah. I didn’t write the first draft of The Minotaur’s Board-Game with a point in mind; I just liked minotaurs and board-games and writing. People can write stuff for a reason, or for no reason, or without even considering reason.

But, a point can make a story directed and streamlined. A point helps me, as an author, cut unnecessary prose. Since I believe stories should be as short as possible, a tool to help me trim is always welcome. So, the second draft of my story needs a point.

What’s the point of The Minotaur’s Board-Game?

I’m not sure yet. My opinion about the point will change by the end. But I found clues in my virtue wheel, so let’s start there! Three “virtues” which separate the characters in The Minotaur’s Board-Game are

  • Physical Strength
  • Intelligence
  • Political Power

I’d like to use these “virtues” to make a point about leadership and loyalty.

Board-games suddenly have symbolic meaning. The intelligent characters reduce the strong characters into game-pieces to control their physical forms. Meanwhile those intelligent characters are controlled by characters with political power, as if the real world is a board-game controlled by kings and queens. This makes the conflicts between individuals, nations, and races more abstract, distancing characters from the implications of their actions (is it okay to take a griffon from its natural habitat just to use its physical characteristics for a game-piece?). Even without real war, this isn’t exactly a Utopian environment.

The main characters, Homer and Aria, have a flawed relationship. Homer’s a sentient animal-biped who admires and trusts Aria, but she sees him as a pack-animal she can ride to greatness. Homer is stronger than Aria, and maybe smarter in terms of pure table-war talent, but Aria exploits him. Did Homer really want to fight Harvey? Would Homer prefer living in a labyrinth? Aria doesn’t care. She hardly seems to understand him.

The most powerful person we’ve met is Queen Anthrapas. She’s old and frail, but as queen of humanity, Anthrapas is imposingly unquestionable. Is it okay for her to manipulate her subjects to protect humanity from the threat of war? If so, does that mean Aria can justify exploiting Homer because she misses being a royal commander?

The human answer to this question won’t be the same as the elven answer. I want my elves to be weird and original; they’re insect-like, with a height-based social-system, lace wings, and pheromone-based communication. Their queen enforces loyalty and leadership chemically. They even lay eggs!

Homer will play table-war with seafolk next. Whatever’s up with them, you know their society will present a different commentary on leadership.

If you’ve ever read The Once and Future King, Merlin turns a young King Arthur into animals to show him different political ideologies. I recall ants, birds, and fish among others. Similarly, I hope meeting elves, seafolk, and dwarfs will teach Homer and the reader about different possibilities for the relationship between leaders and the people they lead.

To that end, I think each board-game should present a unique challenge related to the society proposing it. Homer must invent solutions reflecting his maturing ideology.

In his first match, Homer overcame dwarven siege weapons by setting skeletons on fire and flinging them with a trebuchet, immediately after Aria told him that using skeletons at all was a faux pas. As an animal, he’s naturally shameless, and in that particular scenario, shamelessness was enough to win.

In Homer’s second match, Harvey shows humanity’s tendency to exploit strength when he replaces his falcons with the griffon. Homer punishes him by understanding the deeper connections between animals. Maybe Aria taught Homer some sympathy for other species.

In Homer’s next match, what will the seafolk teach him? Follow to find out!

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PS. In The Minotaur’s Board-Game, animals impact their environment. Scales the ice-dragon makes its surroundings chilly. Homer the minotaur makes mazes when he’s anxious. Humans seem to live in an infinite field of rolling hills, and it’s not clear whether they live there because it’s like that, or if it’s like that because they live there. Dwarfs eat mountains from under their own feet.

I think that’s another major aspect of the point. When two individuals play table-war, they represent their nation and their race. Whole world-views are in combat, and when land is ceded, it’s assimilated into the opponent’s mode of being. The infinite field of rolling hills represents humanity’s stability. If the elves conquered some hills, I’m sure forests would grow there and soon you could hardly tell it was ever human territory at all. Understanding how we shape our environment is instrumental to understanding ourselves.

Nations/races are almost characters in themselves. They’re like amoebas with political borders as their cell-walls, whose interiors are homogeneous terrain. In this view, Queen Anthrapas isn’t a mastermind playing games with subordinates; she’s subject to the national over-mind. The scattered weapons left from the war against demons are the only true symbols of power, representing violence which can smite civilizations. Before them, an individual’s strength, intelligence, and political power are meaningless.

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.