Character creation, part 2: Zahnia
While she hasn’t played a large role thus far, Zahnia is the chronicler in the fantasy novel I started back in November for NaNoWriMo. She begins the story as a nine-year-old and one of many young orphans who are being used for illegal arcane experimentation. While it hasn’t been revealed officially in the story, the illegal researchers implant our tiny protagonist with a magic stone that prevents her from aging—just to see how the device affects children. Upon her rescue from this plight Zahnia becomes a student, adventurer, and historian, eventually becoming the official chronicler for Queen Viarraluca, traveling with the queen and writing about the great monarch’s exploits. Each chapter opens with an epigram from one of Zahnia’s publications (a deliberate nod to Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, and their particular generation of science fiction writers).
Zahnia is a challenging character to write for a number of reasons. Her age is the most obvious, but her situation complicates matters further. As a child and a prisoner, just how much does she understand about her situation and what is happening to her and the other orphans? How much of her childish innocence does she retain in this prison where her fellow orphans are taken away, many never to return, and those who do return come back with strangely colored hair or extra appendages? Too, how much of that ‘little girl’ demeanor do I keep on and how much does Zahnia mature as the story progresses? True, she doesn’t age physically, but I would assume that she matures mentally and emotionally as she studies and travels. I’m constantly re-thinking how much her personality will change during her travels versus how much she retains because of her nine-year-old’s body and hormones. I can tell already that her character is going to test not only the limits of my writing, but my understanding of child psychology as well.
The following is an excerpt from the current draft chapter 1, where Zahnia attempts to escape her prison:
Then came the day when the guards came for Zahnia. The little girl was asleep in the corner of her cell when she heard the door opening. She looked up with a start as the bald man stooped through the cell doorway. Deciding she didn’t want to die or end up with wings or extra arms, the frightened orphan decided to make a break for it. She stood up and yelled at the bald man. Having never been challenged by a captive, the bald man blinked in surprise. Emboldened by his hesitation, the girl charged forward, screaming another challenge. As the bald man reached down to grab her, she kicked him between the legs—in that place where she’d heard boys were sensitive to being kicked. She dodged around him and out the door as he doubled over behind her.
She didn’t get far. The man with the curly hair was just outside the cell as Zahnia escaped. He had her scooped off the ground and over his left shoulder before she could react. The man said something that Zahnia guessed was a joke at the bald man’s expense, then turned and packed her off. She heard the bald man utter what sounded like a curse as the curly man carried her away.
Angry and terrified, Zahnia squirmed, bit, scratched, punched, and kicked as fiercely as her small body was capable of. She could hear the other orphans yelling and cheering as the curly-haired man fought to get control of her. Grabbing the man by the hair, she chomped down as hard as she could on his left ear and kneed him in the throat. Zahnia felt his fingers grip her hair as he jerked her away, throwing her hard to the ground. She hit and lay stunned for a long moment, seeing stars and tasting curly-hair’s blood in her mouth. She could hear curly-hair screaming and cursing.
Baldy managed to get ahold of the rebellious girl before she could get back up. He held both of Zahnia’s arms and screamed a string of profanities she didn’t understand in her face. She spat a chunk of curly-man’s ear into the bald man’s face and kicked him in the guts as fast as she could swing her little legs.
Fed up, the bald man turned and slammed her into the nearest wall. Zahnia felt her back hit first, whipping her head into the rock wall less than an instant later.