Back to Heath of Fire now, where we have reached Hodge, and one of the greatest fantasy plot devices of all time: the triangle.
Think Harry Potter. God forbid, think Twilight. Think Lord of the Rings. Think The Wind Singer. And, pray tell, what do all these novels have in common? That’s right! All of our heroes are bunched in groups of threes, or the magic three, or what I like to call the fantasy triangle.
(Note: we are coming into a realm of my own theories on plot and writing. Bear with it. It makes a disturbing amount of sense.)
Harry Potter has Ron and Hermione. Bella Swan has some dudes. Frodo has Sam and Smeagol. Kestrel has Bowman and Mumpo. Yup. Everyone has one. The question is: why?
The answer is relatively simple, and comes in many parts. Probably the easiest reason is to help the writer. Threes are easy to handle. Any number higher than three main characters and we start to get into a pickle. Even if there are a hundred side-characters, if we bump up the mains, we start to lose our concentration and drop threads all over the place. It’s even quite easy to pick up a three if you have, say, only one or two main characters – like Delphi in Against the Elements, who picks up partners and foils as easily as falling off a log. Three is especially easy to manage in romantic plots, as a love triangle is always a sure-fire way to fill your novel with suspense and intrigue and heartbreak (think The Hunger Games). And threes are great because they manage to combine everything your main needs. There is usually a leader, a follower, and a conflict.
Leader Follower Conflict
Harry Potter Hermione Granger Ron Weasley
Edward Cullen Bella Swan Jacob Black
Frodo Baggins Samwise Gamgee Smeagol
Bowman Mumpo Kestral
Katniss Peeta Gale
Adeline Hodge Heath
Some of these aren’t apparent at first glance. For example, people probably wouldn’t put Ron under conflict, unless you consider the way he behaves in the latter Potter books. Anyone familiar to The Wind Singer might cry out in horror that I’ve placed Kestral not as leader, but as conflict. Then we reach Heath of Fire, where I have happily placed Adeline as leader, Hodge as follower, and Heath, surprisingly, as conflict.
Heath is our conflict corner of the fantasy triangle because of his unpredictable nature. He is a wild-card, therefore he cannot be trusted to be a real follower, like our newest character, the mild-mannered, ever-helpful, endlessly-loveable Hodge.
Hodge arrives mid chapter 11. He is the step-son of a horrible travelling trader, and half-brother to the sneaky Jinx who will do anything for money and power. Hodge is almost a slave to his half-family. He wants nothing more than leave to somewhere quiet, peaceful, where he can live his life as he chooses. His meeting with Adeline is chance, but quite instantly he trusts her and agrees to help her. Heath, meanwhile, is otherwise indisposed. Part of Hodge’s function is to save Heath.
And that’s where Hodge’s life becomes tricky. Heath is more than a little upset that Adeline has found another man to help her (alpha male syndrome) and rejects Hodge’s help at every turn. As the story progresses, Heath’s insistance to reject Hodge makes everything begin to slowly unravel – and Adeline’s equal insistance to keep Hodge along aggrivates Heath further. I deliberately didn’t want to make this a romance plot, a love triangle. For one, I don’t really believe Heath is capable of love as we know it. For two, Adeline isn’t looking for love: she’s looking for acceptance. Hodge’s dynamic in the friendship of the pair borders on the conflict side, but it isn’t him looking for a fight – it’s Heath.
Of course, in the fantasy triangle characters can border conflict, or follower, or even step up as leader when they choose. If we look at Circle, my novel about Hell, we can see it as:
Leader, Ace; Follower; Christian; Conflict, Oz.
But really, Christian is the conflict – the outsider, unwelcome, alone, ruffling everyone’s feathers. Oz, then, would be the true follower, as a believer and devotee of Ace. But for plot purposes, Christian is following Ace in order to escape his fate, making Oz into the conflict character.
For Son of Songs, nothing quite fits the bill. There are almost seven main characters. Let’s attempt to categorise them in the fantasy triangle.
Leader Follower Conflict
Blake / Ryx Miki / Clara / Keil Jace / Poena
How interesting! The triangle can split into sub-groups! Fancy that! (Okay, that’s enough of my shock surprise). That’s the other great thing about the fantasy triangle. Your characters can split off into any group of three they choose and still take on a role in the triangle. Simplifies plots, relationships, and dramas. Blake often goes off with Keil and Jace. Ryx becomes leader when Blake takes sick, and leads all followers and clashes with Jace. It helps to have people to step up and be counted.
But as well as being useful for writers, it’s helpful for readers too. Imagine trying to hold onto the dramas and issues of twelve main characters! You’d get bored really quickly, and probably ditch the book. Three is manageable on every level.
Three: it’s the magic number.