Today, Dither and I were discussing a story I want to write in order to remove myself from my foggy doldrums. The last thing snagging me before starting is the first (possibly only) viewpoint character and her backstory. I was going to start at a later point in her history, but then I thought that it’d be more interesting to begin before she came into a position of power.
This required me to come up with a more extensive and rather different backstory for her than I had initially. The problem with that is that her new beginning is rife with pitfalls that I complain about when I read them. All the time. Not that I would do something that annoys me and then play an outright hypocrite (although this is totally a human thing to do) but I might fall into one and then get lost trying to fix an inherently crap or dead-horse trope and end up wasting a lot of time and even more energy.
The biggest one is what I’ll call the orphan trap. Fiction of all genres are absolutely teeming with orphans, and they carry with them some dreadfully tired tropes. Such as (because I love lists lately):
- Orphan’s Ordeal
- Rags to Royalty
- Orphan’s Plot Trinket
- Street Urchin
- Guardian abuse
- Other children ostracising, teasing, beating up, or otherwise abusing her
I said I’d give her some surrogate parents while beginning this topic, and then realised that this would solve almost all of the problems I had begun to consider. Mary Sue avoidance immediately worried me less. Then I decided to give her a (-n also surrogate) brother, and said as much. Well, first I said brothers, then edited it down to just one brother, aloud.
Dither thought on this for a moment and then told me that I should be sure to keep it down to one. Simply because of a tendency in works of fiction for multiple siblings of the same gender to become victims of amalgamisation. Or rather, of being lumped into a collective that serves the same function as a single character, but somehow receives less depth. (his point and my words, he’s not as flouncy and spendthrift with his word choice as I am)
To illustrate his point, he mentioned the three younger brothers in Brave. They are practically an animal mascot. (never mind the plot, they are presented in this manner from beginning to end) No dialogue. No individual character. They are a single character with three bodies. I compared this to Sokka, in that he is a single brother–and although flanderised, an individual character and legitimate member of the main cast.
Given that, it’s better to have one brother-character hanging about. The better to affect the plot. He also wouldn’t have to compete with anyone for the reader’s attention. He could go on to become a major player, or simply fade away as the adventure sparks. That’s up to me and how things go. I have less to worry about now.