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Hi, I'm Leng!

Writer of fantasy-adventure web stories.

Character at a Glance: Anina

Today I want to talk about one of my protagonists, Anina.

It's a little strange to sit down and decide, "Yes, it's time to talk about a character," because a part of me feels like it's still premature. Although my story had already gone through multiple drafts, sometimes I feel like I'm still at that early stage where at any moment, my story can crumble to pieces, and I'd have to make yet another major revision.

But I do think that it's time reveal more about my story. Many of you have been with me since the inception of this blog, and I have been posting about my writing process since late 2016. Since then, I have ranted about the woes of writing, blogged about NaNoWriMo challenges, and shared all the artwork I made related to this novel.

Yet in all that time, I never talked about the components of my story in detail. I've dropped character names, but who are they really? Why should you care about them? What kind of world do they live in? Why do I feel like spending years and years crafting their story?

I'm hoping that in this new series of posts, I can share with you more information about the different pieces of my story and what inspired them.

A black and white sketch of Anina holding her staffs

Anina is a sixteen-year-old girl who is looking for a way to gain magic. She has been searching for a few years, but nobody has been able to give her an answer. One day she hears of a reclusive mage up in the mountains who dabbles in illegal magic. Hoping that this person can help her, Anina decides to seek her out.

Unfortunately for Anina, when she arrives at the Hermit Mage's house, the mage herself is nowhere in sight. Even worse, she finds the king's warriors trying to arrest the mage's son, Sano. Without meaning to, Anina gets caught up in the conflict, and ends up fleeing the scene as an accomplice of a fugitive.

The jacket cover for Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi

When I was beginning to toy with the idea of a Filipino-inspired fantasy, I already knew I was going to have two protagonists. A girl and a boy. I had a vague idea that the boy would grow up isolated, and the girl would have a role in releasing him into the world.

It wasn't until I read Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi and saw the anime version, that Anina's character became clearer in my head. I was greatly inspired by Balsa, the 30-year-old protagonist of Moribito. I was most enamored by this idea of a wandering bodyguard-for-hire. I thought that was such a neat profession.

Another thing that I really liked about Balsa is that she took the Action Girl trope, and gave it a little twist. Balsa may expertly wield a spear, may successfully defeat a group of trained warriors, and may have been shaped by a painful past, but she was not a cold person. She took care of a young boy who had been entrusted to her. She helps those who are in need, and has a kind attitude.

That balancing act between a fierce fighter and a kind woman became the main starting point of my ideation for Anina.

A sketchdump of Anina with her fightings staffs and her pet tarsier

The Anina I came up with at first is a little different from the Anina of my latest draft. She had this mirror-like quality to her personality, where she was capable of great kindness if shown kindness, but was also capable of great cruelty if she was mistreated.

Eventually, I found it difficult to write her so polarized without losing consistency. Furthermore, as I fleshed out the setting and dove deeper into Anina's goal and motivation, I found out that this personality didn't make sense for her anymore.

At the beginning, I also gave Anina a pet tarsier. Many of my earlier artworks of her feature this pet. I decided to cut the tarsier from the story, because it just didn't serve any purpose. I wanted it to be a symbol of how lonely Anina was, that her only companion was a tarsier. But I was able to demonstrate her loneliness better when she really was in fact alone.

Anina in my latest draft is more subdued. She has a narrower range of personality, which I hope gives her more consistency and really roots her actions to a solid motivation.

Anina craves stability, and shies away from anything that might disrupt her carefully-laid plans. She fears authority, and avoids people that cannot help her even if they're trying to be nice to her. But at the same time, she's not doing it to be deliberately mean. She's just too caught up with her own problems. I think that's the part of her I relate to the most, and I hope other people would too. Many of us don't choose to be mean-spirited, but we're so concerned with our own issues, that we become passive when it comes to problems other people face.

I love writing Anina, because she has this slightly jaded perspective that is so easy to slip into when I come home tired from work. I know that sounds a little sad, but in my defense, Sano is excited all the time, and that eagerness is harder to capture when you're low on energy.

In my upcoming rewrite, I am hoping to make Anina's character arc more pronounced. There's something cathartic about seeing a character you empathize with overcome their own flaws. It gives you hope that maybe you can overcome yours too. (It's cheating a little bit when you're the author and you know how you've manufactured the story exactly to support the character development... but let's leave on a hopeful note!)

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