I read some comics during my youth. I never really got into them on account of the cost and the fact that I was one of those kids who did not really get an “allowance”. The reason I mention this is because I think a lot of people who find interest in the fantasy fiction genre kind of get their start with comic books.
For me, it was something else entirely. Right around the time High School began for me a collectible card game called Legend of the Five Rings came about. It’s a game about samurai and feudal civil war with a strong mix of the fantastic thrown in. Players take on the various factions and the decisions the players make over the course of the game’s life have ramifications on the characters within.
With some urging from a friend of mine, I took up the Crane Clan, a group based on politics and art…in a game where brutal military force was the best option early on. Well, the champion of this faction was a character named Doji Hoturi. He was a samurai of refinement, arrogance, culture, and ultimately…a force for good.
Because the majority of other players disliked the Crane and especially Hoturi, the game itself turned on him. Hoturi was cast down, vilified, and hunted. Those who represented the Crane knew that Hoturi was a character who was getting a bad shake.
For three years we watched and waited. The story and the game played out and still we waited. In that time we learned the reasons why this plot had been hatchet against him and it made the character and story all the more tragic. The truth of the matter was that he had been made to suffer for inadvertently killing his own son, whom he was entirely unaware of.
The end of Hoturi’s story results in his death, but not before accounts are settled, relationships reconciled, and his story is concluded.
It’s the difference for me. It’s the finalized story. The punctuation that makes the character relevant. I mentioned comics at the beginning of this. I actually loved the X-Men cartoon during middle school and later on during college I would eventually read all those comics I missed out on. In some ways they were very relevant still.
The difference is that those stories never really end. They drag on. They re-boot. They find a way to continue with the status quo and in doing so, nothing you read really has any lasting impact.
Hoturi’s story mattered to me. It stuck with me far longer than any other exploit of a character because it was final, real, and the time invested reading and following mattered for something.
I think this has been something of a guiding principal for me over the course of writing and creating my own characters and story. There has to be a willingness to let characters go, to fail, to die because that’s what makes them stay in your mind after they’re story is gone or done.