Character Building: Creating a Non-Traditional Hero

Most heroes in fantasy novels are one of many things. They’re either tall, handsome, have broad shoulders, have fair hair, eyes the color of one of the many elements in nature and come of age to learn of their fighting prowess due to one of many events, particularly the loss of a family member or a friend. Most importantly, however, most of them are human. I knew from the moment I once again started working on my fantasy novel Blood, the first in the Brotherhood Saga, in 2009, that I wanted my hero to be different, so that’s what I did–made a nontraditional hero. I created Odin Karussa, who enters the novel within the first hour he’s born, with the intent of making him unique — different, per se, than the normal heroes you often see.

What makes Odin different, you might be wondering, and what sets him apart from the heroes we are so often used to seeing in fantasy? To start, he’s short. At five-foot-six at the height of his young adulthood, he’s quite often dwarfed by his fellow companions. Along with his height, he’s skinny–a stick, some could call it–until about a quarter of the way through the book, when vigorous training eventually sculpts him into a stocky-but-muscular character, and his eyes are red not by albinism, but a distinguishing birth trait that no one seems to know about.

You might be thinking–what? A short, stocky, red-eyed character? This sounds ridiculous! I want my tall, fair-haired, pretty-eyed hero whose face draws the eyes of most everyone! That is something Odin is not. Though attractive, humanity shuns him. Called a ‘demon child’ at birth, isolation ruled his life and continues to do so up until a breaking point in the beginning of the novel, creating within him a sense of agoraphobia that causes him to be wary of most everyone around him.

Most people don’t expect to read about a hero like Odin. He isn’t perfect or exceptionally strong. He may hold an advantage over others in the slowly-dying world of magic, but he is by no means a god within his kingdom. He struggles with many things different children grow up with. Bullying, isolation, confusion, a lack of place within the world–all are prevalent within his early childhood and up until the point where he is conscripted into the royal military and all play a healthy role in shaping Odin’s character. It isn’t until he’s freed from a royally-imposed isolation that the wealth of his problems begin to fall into place.

Was it difficult writing a nontraditional hero? No. Not particularly. I like to write stories about people or things that are different than what many expect. Odin Karussa, in particular, is a character that’s stuck with me for some six years now, and choosing to revisit his story was and is something that continues to excite me every time I look at The Brotherhood saga. It follows a character who, through the course of the series, progressively begins to fall to his own personal demons. Yes–they are trials, there are conquests and there are uplifting outcomes, but I don’t think the story lends itself to a happy ending. With an untraditional character, I think that’s what makes it all the more rewarding.

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