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.


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.


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.