Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Übermädchen: Character Ensembles

Marie Kroyer and Anna Ancher on the Beach at Skagen
Peder Severin Kroyer, 1893*

New year, new project. I said I'd get back into the habit of writing about my WIPs, and so I will. This is the first of probably two or three posts that will document for myself and posterity how I have chosen, this time, to begin a new project and what things I consider in building a story. Time will determine how effective my methods are.

My current WIP is what will end up a novel/la, with the working title Übermädchen. The name is produced by combining Nietzsche's concept of the Ubermensch with the word Mädchen, or girl. Why? Because:

Premise: Five girls (mädchen) illegally trained in magic (uber), while evading the Austrian secret police, stumble upon a plot to use a powerful magical artifact to upset the balance of power in Europe during the 1840s.

*Half a century too late, but I like this picture, so it stays. The title will have to go, however, since Nietzsche is also after the novel's time.


What comes first for me, in practically every project I've started (and finished), are the characters. Most of the time my characters come to me individually. For Ubermadchen, however, the character ensemble came first and the individuals after, because I chose to use the Five Man Band to build in cast balance.

For those who aren't familiar with tropes (and if you're a busy person, I suggest you don't familiarize yourself with them), here is a summary of the Five Man Band:
  1. Leader
  2. Lancer (what I think of as the foil)
  3. Smart Guy
  4. Big Guy (what I think of as the tank)
  5. Chick (we can go into the gender politics of using this term to refer to a weak character later)

One of the benefits of using a structure like this one to organize your characters is that the character traits are to some degree set for you, they are for the most part flexible, with the result that the interactions remain wide open.

I chose this structure mainly because I was getting tired of the hodgepodge rambling groups in The Utopia Project. Writing Orsolya reinforced my desire to have a differentiated cast, since the main ensemble has too little diversity of thought (Vin and Orsolya are both my Doppelgangers).

Also, after reading a lot of Theodora Goss stories featuring groups of girls going around having adventures with magic together, I was inspired. See: The Mad Scientist's Daughter and the hiatused serial.

Side note: I may also have been influenced by watching too many mahou shoujo anime in my youth--shows where, generally, schoolgirls transform into magical forms to fight monsters in teams.

Referring to the Five Man Band structure above, the Ubermadchen characters fall into these roles:

Flower Seller
Alexej Harlamoff
  1. Leader - Josefina Zoraida de los Arboles - Romani (gypsy), short with wavy black hair (looks approximately like the girl above, just a few years older), fire magic
  2. Foil/Lieutenant - Marilla Rieux - French, average shape/size with long brown hair, water magic
  3. Smart Guy - Terez Steinbrecher - Hungarian Jew, tall and skinny with short hair, earth magic
  4. Tank - Ekaterina "Katya" Volkov - Russian/Ukrainian, tall and strong-looking with long dark blonde hair, metal magic
  5. Chick - Suzanne Christophers - English/Welsh, soft-looking, curly caramel-colored hair (looks approximately like the girl below), nature/plant magic

It may be that I went overboard in balancing out my characters. However, though I've gone command-economy style on their nationalities/ethnicities, general appearance (I haven't gotten beyond shape and hairstyle yet, and interesting how those are what I've subconsciously perceived as most relevant to character), and elemental magic specialty (notice: Eastern elements), I fully expect that during writing they'll manifest traits that I hadn't expected.

After all, gene expression is a combination of inherited DNA and environmental factors. The character templates I've laid out here will change as the girls move through the plot. About which more on Friday (unless I decide to write about worldbuilding, which may well happen).


Lorde's music suits this project really well. For one, a lot of her songs remind me of the French Revolution ("Royals" especially, but the title of "Tennis Court" can't have been chosen arbitrarily), which is the single biggest event that shaped the world of Ubermadchen**.

For another, her songs seem to use the "we" pronoun a lot, which makes them feel as though they refer to relationships among friends, which is Ubermadchen's main point***.

I rather like this song:

Team - Lorde


**French revolution: outpouring of liberal thought. After Napoleon's defeat, the Quadruple Alliance of Austria, Prussia, Russia, and the UK, in reaction, committed to conservatism, with authoritarian governments putting down rebellions and repressing liberal/nationalist thought.

***I resent, while acknowledging as almost justified, the opinion that YA books should have love interests because hormones exist. Yes, I am already planning on including one love interest; however, I'm pretty sure he'll be the only one that lasts, and I don't see the relationship taking up a lot of pages.

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