All good things come to an end, and so does this series on world building, based on Janeen Ippolito’s excellent blog post.
The fifth question to pose my protagonist is:
Who or what would she die for? Why? If no one or nothing, why not?
This is a question that reveals Iskra’s character arc in interesting ways.
When the novel opens, Iskra is very much a product of her society. They do not believe in any kind of afterlife, so death marks the end of existence. They are told that they will live on in the contributions that they have made to the creation of a peaceful, safe and fair society, paving the way for prosperity for future generations. These descendants will praise and honor the memory of those who sacrificed for their good.
Iskra believed all that, and tried to be a model citizen. As such, she wanted to believe that she would be willing to lay down her life for the cause of safety and fairness.
However, because the idea of preserving safety had been elevated to almost an object of worship, Iskra felt a little inner conflict. To die for safety and fairness would mean she had taken some kind of risk or put herself in some kind of danger. In other words, she would have done something she spent her whole life trying to avoid.
So in the abstract, it’s difficult to know what she would do.
If it came down to dying to preserve someone else’s safety, she would like to think she would die for her mother or her friends, or even one of the village leaders, like Kaberco, the Ephor, who had been kind to her throughout her life.
However, when tested, she wasn’t even able to face ridicule to save a friend. This event caused Iskra no small amount of pain.
She had to face that she selfish and cowardly, prizing her own good name above the safety and well-being of her friend.
Little did she know that the same values that had been instilled in her had been instilled in most of the rest of the population. Risking self for another was a value that all claimed to hold, but in reality, it was overshadowed by their obsessive need for safety.
While some societies would honor martyrs, this would not be the case in Tlefas. Anyone dying for the cause would be held up as an example of someone who may have meant well, but did not follow standard rules of safety. Had they done so, they might have lived.
This thinking also has implications for the King’s Guard, the combination military and police force. Risk taking was never rewarded, so the men charged with protecting the population fought only according to rules and protocols, and were quick to save themselves. Not the kind of people most of us would want protecting us!
By the end of the book, Iskra learns to value other things besides safety. She makes some hard choices based on her personal growth, showing that she’s learned the lesson that safety isn’t the highest good.
This is one group of questions I’ll be sure to come back to. Other characters need to answer them, not just Iskra. The answers I came up for her will affect her actions and speech, making her more of a real person than a fictional creation.
In fact, I’m so impressed that I bought Janeen’s book World Building from the Inside Out. When I’m finished with it, I’ll post my review.