“Do-Over”: Part Two, Character Creation

A summary of Part One follows.

  1. The inspiration for the story come from two widely-recognized sources: Rumiko Takahashi’s InuYasha and Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (“Yankee”).
  2. I want to explore many aspects of this type of story not explored in either work.
  3. Do-Over is a story about a man from modern times cast into a primitive (for him) past.
  4. That man is a 67-year-old physicist in the mold of Robert Heinlein’s “competent man” but not a Marty Stu; he’s a realistic character.
  5. A 67-year-old man may be too old for a love interest.

Regarding Number 4, both InuYasha and “Yankee” have primary characters that are close to Marty Stus. Hank is youngish for a lead engineer “with 2000 people under him”; InuYasha always learns a new attack just when he needs one (many Japanese manga have a deus ex machina aspect). But both have their weaknesses. That is the type of character I’m shooting for: someone who is a capable but believable, a hero who doesn’t always win. Conflict and struggle are interesting, and if Hank solves every problem or InuYasha beats every enemy on the first attempt they would be boring leads. At some point you have to worry if the hero will succeed or you yawn and put the book down.

Regarding Number 5, it is certainly possible to write an old person as a romantic lead; it’s been done, and done well, by several authors. Some of these older characters end up with a much younger person. But I want something a little more believable than the May-December romance. Thus comes one of the ideas I wanted to play with.

Some of you may have, at one time or another, thought to yourself, “What if I could start over, go back to high school (or whatever), with my current wisdom intact?” If you haven’t, try now. What would you do differently? What would you keep the same? Would you change your career direction? Your hobbies? Did you give up something you wished you still did? Would you make the same friends? Different friends? Different romances? What would you do over? (That was Maxwell’s Silver Hammer I just whacked you with; sorry.)

What am I getting at? I can address both questions by making my protagonist “de-age” when he gets transported to the past. He retains his memories, wisdom, and experience, but now that he’s physically young his romantic possibilities are much wider.

To offset that he discovers a large portion of what he thought was “wisdom” turns out to be a combination of factors ranging from hormonal changes to a general withdrawal from society as he aged. Immediately before being transported to the past JD, my protagonist, has no friends and no family other than his son and estranged daughter. He’s left with a stubborn and unwanted attachment to life that keeps him going. He goes on, existing rather than living, and although he might not want to die he clearly doesn’t want to live either.

And that becomes a point of growth for the character. He’s made young again (age 18-20) and given a chance, of a sort, to relive his life – and finds out he’s still the same person he’s always been. Experience and wisdom alone aren’t enough; he’s making the same mistakes he made when he was actually younger, and the only way to grow up is to, well, grow up.

But what if “growing up” isn’t enough of an option? Wait, don’t walk away. In InuYasha, one of the main conflicts is InuYasha’s inability to see that Kagome cares for him, even when it’s crystal clear to everyone else. The supporting characters frequently refer to InuYasha as “dense”. There are people who are like InuYasha, in a way: they can’t read social cues. People with ADHD or ASD (autism spectrum disorders) are often like that, albeit for differing reasons.

I find this an educational opportunity. Instead of characterizing JD as “dense” I let him show us what it’s like not to understand what typical people see. A typical person might get nervous when building a new relationship, be it a new friend or a potential romantic partner. Someone with ASD finds building relationships terrifying and/or confusing. What’s it like to think there’s a second, incomprehensible dialog going on when people talk to each other? What’s it like to hear words literally and completely miss a subtext everyone else apparently understands without effort? What does it feel like to have someone become angry over what, to you, is an innocent comment? I experience all of those situations frequently and I’m letting JD tell that story for me.

So what does JD “have”? Consider Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory. The writers deny Sheldon has any disorder; Jim Parsons (the actor playing him) uses various aspects from across the ASD spectrum to portray Sheldon. I’m treating JD in the same way: he has nothing specific, and that’s deliberate. My hope is that people reading Do-Over will see something in JD they find in themselves and get the feeling “Hey, he gets it!” – while at the same time not making JD a parodic or comedic character like Sheldon Cooper. Can I do that? I don’t know for sure; I think I have, but you’ll have to wait until it comes out to decide.

Now I have a lead character thrown into the past and given a chance for a do-over. In Part One I wrote how InuYasha and “Yankee” transport their protagonist to their own past, and writing that way requires only a good history text. Further, the character is aware it’s their own past; that means if their memory is good enough (and they read the same text) they can use that knowledge to their own advantage. InuYasha ignores the question; in “Yankee” Hank uses it to advance his own status. I want to use this situation as a plot point but not something JD can use to his advantage. Conflict is interesting, and if JD can say “I remember this happening” and act accordingly two “bad” things happen. The first, of course, is a Marty Stu situation: the protagonist knows everything and therefore there is no (or only weak) conflict. The second has a more interesting solution.

In “Yankee” Hank does not change his own history; none of the technology he introduced to Arthur remains. In InuYasha one thing changes, but it has no effect on Kagome’s future. However, you and I both know changes in past events will have ramifications to future events; the effects may be small but there will be effects. To avoid that there are two choices: future events cannot be changed (time inertia) or my protagonist is not only in another time but another place, a place where the future he knows does not exist. There’s my next modification to the general concept: the protagonist is sent to another universe.

That’s not new either; Terry Brooks’ Landover series and Stephen Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant both transport their protagonists to another universe, as do C. S. Lewis’ Narnia books. (The late Robert Asprin’s Myth series takes that concept to extremes; his protagonist travels to hundreds of different universes.) There is a lot of this type of literature around and I don’t want to duplicate it. But the idea is useful for something else: education. More on that in Part Three, Setting.

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