On Writing: Making Renault Believable

Wayward Son is progressing well, my friends–very well indeed. I’ve already finished up chapters 81 and 82, and I’ll get started on the final chapter soon. I hadn’t expected to make this much progress, which means I may end up posting a lot of my Wayward Son entries *after* I finish the series, not before. That’s a good problem to have! Sometimes it’s nice to have problems that stem from getting more stuff done rather than not enough! XD

It does mean I’ve shifted around my posting schedule for some of these entries, though. So today I’d like to talk about a little bit of specific characterization over the course of the entire story–namely, how and why I decided to portray Renault and his abilities the way I did.

My overarching philosophy with his character portrayal and development in Wayward Son stands mainly on the ground of his portrayal and status in Fire Emblem 7. As I’ve said before, in that game Renault enters the party almost at the very end and as a fairly mediocre unit. While his defense is good, his magic is very low–and since he’s a Bishop, that makes him nearly useless. Most people just take his equipment and forget about him.

On the other hand, his supports imply he used to be a fearsome warrior. In his conversations with Bartre, he knocks out the strong, muscular warrior with a single punch, and he mentions to Lucius that he killed the priest’s father, who was a famous mercenary. So I think it’s very strongly implied that Renault used to be quite deadly, and that he would be a much more powerful unit if he was a physical fighter rather than a Bishop. But he is what he is in-game, and thus, most people consider him someone with an interesting backstory, quite important to the plot, given his relationship with Nergal, but definitely not a particularly memorable unit to…most people except for me. XD

So, throughout the story I had a few main concerns. First, during the parts where Renault was a warrior, I wanted to make sure he was a strong and capable one, enough to be considered a definite threat. I also added in my own personal wishes, like having him be a Mercenary Lord (because a friend of mine thought that would be a cool name for a class :D). However, at no point–either in Renault’s warrior period or his novice/priest/Bishop period–could I allow him to become particularly powerful, either physically or magically, or allow him to make an unmistakable, *unmissable* impact on the larger world of FE6 and 7.

As the description I provided for him at the beginning of this piece might imply, one word that could fairly describe Renault would be “obscure.” He’s not the kind of guy most players of FE7 could envision saving the world, at least not in a dramatic fashion. It’s easy to see that for some of the stronger characters–great swordsmen with high statistics like Guy (a Swordmaster in FE7) or Raven (A Hero, who uses both sword and axe) to equip the best weapons in the game and score a killing blow on the last boss, Nergal. But Renault’s magic is so low, and he enters the game so late, that most folks, including me, really couldn’t imagine him becoming the Savior of Elibe in any sense–not only would it look goofy or tryhard for Renault to finish off Nergal, since so few people actually use him in the final battle, but it would also look equally bad if Renault was portrayed as responsible for saving the world in an earlier era, or being the direct cause of a prominent event in either of the games, or something like that. Since he’s such an obscure and ultimately forgettable character, I thought it was most important for him to have whatever influence he made on the world be very subtle and “behind the scenes.” That doesn’t mean he had no influence at all on larger events; in the game his supports make clear that he was crucial in Nergal’s rise to power, having helped the villain make his morphs. But I made sure all the influence Renault had over any plot point would be (mostly) unknown among other characters or the world at large (with a couple of exceptions, like the battle with the big dragon Barbarossa, to satiate my own appetite for fanservice 🙂 ).

Another reason for this was to avoid the “Marty Stu” effect. Now, Marty Stus (as male characters of this type are called, females are called Mary Sues) are defined as ludicrously important or overpowered original characters that more or less represent the author that are inserted into a piece of fanfiction to look really badass and generally upstage all the canon characters. Since Renault isn’t an ‘original character’ or a version of myself, that was less of a problem, but I still wanted to keep him from turning out too similar to those sorts of characters–but I also wanted to make sure he was interesting and not *too* weak.

Thus, all throughout the fic I made sure that Renault was never either: The “most powerful” warrior around (his companions or foes were always on his level or stronger), or a super famous/significant personage, nothing he did would either save or shatter the world *by itself,* though a lot of his ‘backstage’ work would be tremendously important. Let me give you some more concrete examples.

For the first sixty chapters or so of Wayward Son, Renault is a warrior. He’s an inexperienced warrior at the beginning, so I wanted to show a slow, gradual transformation from that into a powerful one–since if I just kept him incompetent throughout the story, no-one would believe he could kill Lucius’ father, but if he was amazing at the start, it might make him seem too awesome. So I was careful to portray him as a novice who made a lot of mistakes early on, then (over the course of several years) grow into competence, and only after triumphing over incredibly odds (only with the help of his best friend, Braddock) finally earning a class promotion and coming into his own as a badass.

And speaking of Braddock, I made sure that his best friend’s development kept pace with him every step of the way. As powerful as Renault gets, even when he’s strong enough to triumph over his former mentor, Braddock is always portrayed as growing stronger right alongside him, and is always a match for him. In most scenes where Renault does something very impressive, aside from one on one duels, he only pulls off victories with the help of Braddock and his other friends. So that’s how I kept Renault from ‘stealing the show,’ so to speak, which is a Marty Stu-ish sort of thing. I’m grateful I managed to avoid that 😀

The other thing I did to keep Renault grounded was to have him suffer severe defeats–in some cases, severe humiliations–several times over the course of the story. If he did nothing but win and have successes, it wouldn’t really be believable, especially since a major part of his character in FE7 was failure, and how he dealt with his (I refer to Renault’s failure to bring Braddock back, no matter how hard he tried). For all his impressive prowess in battle, Renault suffered some big losses! First, he and his friends fail to rescue the hostages at the Citadel of Despair, and indeed are blamed for killing them all (it was actually Trunicht who did the evil deed). Then several of Renault’s friends die, including Braddock. After that, there are three big humiliations.

First, it’s when he’s betrayed by Nergal. When Nergal “revives” Braddock as a mindless puppet, Renault is obviously and understandably enraged. He lunges at Nergal with all his strength…but then is trapped and held in midair by Nergal’s dark sorcery. The whole scene illustrates that despite how skilled Renault has grown with the blade and how physically strong he is, he’s still absolutely no match for a master of Dark magic–Nergal holds him in the air and essentially toys with him, driving home how powerless he is. Nergal could have killed him, but decides to leave him alive since he could never be a real threat, deepening his humiliation. Nergal then disappears, allowing the now inhuman Renault (who was given unnaturally long life as a result of Nergal’s experimentation) to wander the continent for another two hundred years, which leads to…

The second big humiliation is his fight with Lucian, Lucius’ father. Though the duel is intense and actually very close, Lucian comes out on top fair and square, pinning Renault to the wall of a cave by driving a huge Silver Blade straight through Renault’s shoulder and into the cave wall. He couldn’t kill Renault (that Blade was Lucian’s main weapon), but it was enough for him to get away. Renault manages to extricate himself, nearly losing his arm and having to heal with a powerful potion, and spends the next eight years hunting Lucian down. He finally succeeds, and this time kills Lucian, but only because the master swordsman had grown older (while Renault still did not age). Thus, Renault still comes out looking like the weaker fighter. Still, he gets what he wants–a map leading to the abode of the Archdruid, Bramimond. And there is his greatest and most important humiliation.

When he finds Bramimond, Renault tries to convince the living legend to revive Braddock from the dead. Bramimond, of course, refuses. Renault then gets enraged and attacks the man, and is promptly defeated very easily. Just as easily, in fact, as Nergal had defeated him; Bramimond teleports away from his attacks and he can’t even land one, and then lifts him up and suspends him in the air via magic. Bramimond then goes even further and shows Renault how foolish he has acted over the years: He transports Renault’s consciousness back in time to the moment of Braddock’s death, revealing that Braddock’s last words–which Renault didn’t hear–were an admonition for him to live a peaceful life. Thus, Renault has to face the reality that he had been dishonoring his friend’s memory in his futile quest to bring Braddock back.

Not only is this humongously humiliating in and of itself, proving Renault’s powerlessness *again* despite everything he’s learned but it’s *so* humiliating that it forces Renault to essentially construct a new personality for himself, as I’ve said before. So I think Renault’s final great defeat was one of those scenes which worked really well in my overarching story plans. It proved that Renault’s physical strength, his ability to kill, was meaningless, which was a big theme I tried to get across in Wayward Son–all the power and skill in the world can’t bring back those you love, and no matter how much strength you have, there are somethings you must simply accept, because that’s what makes one a mature human being. A strong child is still a child, and Bramimond taught Renault the harsh lesson that up to that point, even after centuries, Renault still thought and acted as a child.

It all works out for the best, though, since as I also said in the previous entry, it’s the kick in the ass Renault needed to finally cast off his childish rage and resentment and work on truly improving himself. Looking for a new purpose in life, he befriends an Eliminean hermit named Varek, who teaches him about the religion. Renault finds this so convincing he converts, thinking that even if he’s not sure God exists, the Eliminean religious vocation will allow him to live a good, peaceful life, just as Braddock wanted.

After this point, it wasn’t really hard to portray Renault in a suitably understated manner. Most of the chapters following 60 were “slice of life” type stories. Though united by an overall plot arc (Renault and Varek trying to find a man named Juge), for the most part, until chapter 76, Renault just sort of wanders around Elibe learning more about both his new religion and how people live in various countries. So Renault doesn’t do anything exceptional or heroic that would make him famous in those chapters (keeping with his understated, obscure, and un-heroic portrayal in the game) while allowing the reader to see a great deal more of the society and history I’ve created for the countries of Elibe. A win-win I say 😀

Now, by chapter 76 he comes to the island of Valor, which is where he can be recruited by your army in Fire Emblem 7. So on the one hand, I was glad to have finally gotten to the point where my fic intersects directly with Fire Emblem 7. On the other hand, this had some problems of its own. As I said in the beginning of this essay, most people don’t have Renault fight Nergal because in FE7, Renault is such a comparatively weak magic user. However, Nergal has a battle conversation with Renault I wanted to incorporate, and besides, it would be lazy and weird to just have Renault sit around doing nothing during the final battle. How to resolve these issues?

As it happened, in the final battle of FE7, there are enemy reinforcements coming up from behind your units if you take too long to kill Nergal. Not very many reinforcements, but a few. So that gave me an idea: What if Nergal had a lot of servants waiting as reserves, but only a handful of them managed to show up to annoy you in the last stage? That would imply that something was keeping the rest of them from showing up. Thus, I thought that Renault–and all the other weak characters nobody brought to the final battle (in Fire Emblem 7, as in most games, you can recruit like 50 characters total in your army but can only bring about 12 to the final battle)–would be assigned to guard the team that actually was sent in, and keep as many of Nergal’s reserve soldiers from breaking in to the last arena as possible. They succeeded for the most part, as only about 6 extra reinforcement Generals along with some other units show up in the last stage 😀

So now I had a perfect setup for chapter 76! If Renault was too weak to participate in the last battle, I could at least have him participate in a “rearguard action” that would keep most of Nergal’s reinforcements (aside from a handful that managed to break through) from overwhelming his friends who were doing the real fighting. I incorporated his battle conversation with Nergal by having a phantom of Nergal show up to mock him, and managed to get in his support conversations with Wallace (another weak character) as well! So I think my approach here worked out very well in all respects. I included some important characterization conversations while giving Renault something to do that wasn’t overwhelming. The “rearguard defense,” while important, wasn’t as dramatic as the actual battle with Nergal itself (which wasn’t portrayed in my fic), which fit perfectly into the depiction of Renault as someone significant to Elibe’s larger story, but not powerful enough to make a big name for himself, so his primary responsibilities lie mainly in the ‘background,’ so to speak.

Well, it was all a success, and the elite team sent in to fight Nergal defeats him. The world is saved! But Renault’s story isn’t quite over yet. For the next few chapters, up to chapter 80, I had him go through his support conversations with other characters, as described in this entry. But as the story neared its end, I reached one more conundrum.

Renault had done some very terrible things in his life, and while he had learned from his mistakes and become a better person, I still felt he hadn’t done enough to truly repent. That is to say, truly make amends for his crimes and do enough good to make up for all the evil he had done. But I still didn’t want him to do anything super dramatic like a “save the world singlehandedly” sort of adventure. So what to do?

Looking at history gave me a few ideas. I wanted to have Renault end up in Bern by the end of the story so he could have a bit of influence on the beginning of Fire Emblem 6, so I had him catch wind of the beginnings of the Black Death in Bern’s capitol. Historically, the Black Death, scientifically called bubonic plague, was spread by rats. People didn’t know that in the Middle Ages, however, so it ended up killing a third of Europe’s population in a terrible epidemic that only stopped when it burnt itself out. In my fic, I had the disease be called “Bramimond’s Warts,” and had Renault arrive in Bern just in time to use a bit of detective work and figure out what caused the disease. Though Renault never figures out that it’s caused by a bacteria (I didn’t think the Elibe at this time period knew about germ theory XD), he does conclude that the disease started appearing when new black rats (rather than old brown rats) started showing up, and that they were therefore the carriers of the disease (technically it’s the fleas on the rats who carry the disease, but he didn’t know that either). So he encourages the government of Bern to embark on a rat extermination campaign, which succeeds in halting the plague and possibly saving millions of lives.

He himself receives no credit or recognition for this. Renault, wanting no more attention than necessary, puts someone else’s name (Bishop Gilbert, who died just as he arrived in Bern and who actually made some of the observations Renault built on) on the report he submits to the Bernese king, meaning he would be as obscure after the plague subsided as he was when it started.

I think that was a really effective way of having Renault finally make up for all his past sins. He took many, many lives in the past, yes, but through his work in stopping the plague in Bern before it could spread massively (like it did IRL), he saved many more, far more than he took, all things considered. But since he never got any credit or attention for doing so, and his actual method of doing so was pretty mundane (the same sort of epidemiology ordinary doctors do IRL), Renault didn’t come across as a “Marty Stu” kind of character upstaging all the others, and stayed true to his subdued, obscure portrayal in the game.

Now, at the end of chapter 80, the Prince of Bern, Zephiel, figures out that Renault had more than a bit of a hand in the “Gilbert Report.” This doesn’t lead to Renault getting any fame or recognition either, but it does impress Zephiel, who thinks (correctly) Renault knows a lot about a lot of stuff. So, the Prince offers Renault a job as his tutor, which Renault promptly accepts! This is yet another fairly innocuous appointment (most rulers throughout history have had many tutors, and aside from famous ones like Aristotle, most are nowhere near as well known as the kings they taught), keeping again with Renault’s subdued nature. However, as we all know, Zephiel is the one who starts the war portrayed in FE6 twenty years later, so Renault’s new status will give him a direct witness to the conflict that will unfold. He’ll also play something of a role in it. I haven’t released those chapters yet so I won’t give too much away, but suffice it to say that in FE6, Guinevere steals a magic artifact known as the Fire Emblem (the seal of the Bernese kingdom, which gives the game its name). It’s never described, though, how exactly she gets a hold of it. Let’s just say I plan for Renault to give her a little bit of help–actions which, of course, he explicitly asks not to be credited for and carries out in obscurity. You’ll see how it all turns out as the fic ends ;D

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4 comments

  1. cormagravenstaff · · Reply

    I think you did the best job with Renault’s battle skills. Each fight is always enough of a struggle that I was on the edge of my seat in suspense, while at the same time containing him pulling off badass moves. I agree, he never got too powerful (Henken/Paptimus helped overshadow him). It was good to have Braddock kill the big bad guy at the end too. I doubt Renault could have performed as well as Braddock in that situation!

    1. Thanks, friend 😀 I also wanted Braddock to fight the big bad because, as you know from Braddock’s backstory, the fight was *extra* personal for him, even more so than for all the other characters 😀

  2. Rachel Smith Cobleigh · · Reply

    I really like this discussion: it’s a great example of how to guard against your character becoming a Mary Sue / Marty Stu, but it’s also a great example of how to weave an original story from a few clues given in canon. You think critically about canon, you find interesting and plausible insights, and you use that to depict an underrated character and the world he inhabits in a fascinating and engaging way. Writing this kind of fanfiction is not an easy task, but when it’s done well, it feels to me like the concept of “fanfiction” distilled to its greatest strength. A long, detailed, fantastic story that relies intrinsically upon canon (i.e., you cannot “file off the serial numbers” and still fully retain the story’s punch), but it forges an independent, compelling identity for itself.

    1. Thanks very much, glad you liked it 😀

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