Jilly: Searching for Niol

I don’t know about you, but I’m digging in for the long haul. It would be lovely to think the world was starting to return to normal, but I’m not making any plans that involve spending significant time in the wider world. Fingers crossed for next year.

Luckily I have a new writing project to keep me busy. I just finished up the developmental edits on The Seeds of Exile and sent it off for copy editing. Yay! Now I need to get to work on the next Elan Intrigues book, The Seeds of Destiny. I have a pretty good idea of the central story (more on that later), but I’ve acquired an important secondary character and right now I know next to nothing about him.

The Seeds of Exile is about the relationship between twenty-six-year-old Daire Edevald, crown prince and ruler of the wealthy city state of Caldermor, and Warrick Edevald, his twenty-one year old brother and heir. As I wrote the novella, I discovered a third brother, eighteen-year-old Niol. He doesn’t appear in the book, but he features strongly in the battle between the brothers and at the end of the novella Daire sends a message to call Niol home.

Salient details about Niol: he was sent away aged eight, to be raised at a friendly court on a remote peninsula four days’ ride away from Caldermor. That was a decade ago and he hasn’t been back since, though he’s always known he might be recalled. His political value is as backup to Warrick, just as Warrick is backup for Daire.

I was talking through my edit report with Karen, my developmental editor. She said “So, Niol. What’s he been doing and what’s he like?” Er. Good question. Better figure that out.

All the Edevald boys have been brought up to do their duty, no matter the personal cost, but they have very different styles and personalities. Daire is showy and theatrical, totally OTT, with a talent for political maneuvring and a big heart. Warrick is scholarly, introverted, idealistic, a touch pedantic. So what is Niol? Physically he’s like his brothers– tall and whippy, with masses of curly hair and a cute smile. As a character he can be almost anything I want him to be except an out-and-out villain.

I’d like him to be very different from the other two sons, and since he was raised in a different country I can easily justify that.

Is he happy or resentful that he was sent away?

How does he feel about the family and/or tutors who were given the responsibility of raising him? Does he feel more loyal to them than to Caldermor?

What’s his personality like? What skills has he learned in the last decade?

How does he feel about being recalled? I think he could have visited over the years but has chosen not to, which suggests to me he doesn’t see Caldermor as his home. He has no reason to feel brotherly love for Daire or Warrick.

I’d like Niol to be fun to write, and to read about. What kind of young man do you think he’d be?

19 thoughts on “Jilly: Searching for Niol

  1. I think Niol would be adventurous. Since he’s out of the kingdom and area he’d have had more freedom to move around, so he would. Chances are he was sent away for a reason, so people wouldn’t generally know who he was. So…he would be more among the people and of the people. He’d be smart by training and experience. And from his position (more working class with the people) he might be more biased against monarchies and have more of the people’s view of them- less trust and belief, more distrust and suspicion. Does he know who he is and that he could be recalled, or is that something that only his caretakers know about- he’d probably be a free spirit and more a leader of rebellion against the monarchy and their policies or actions (I think this would be true knew who he was or not… I think he would be a leader, but from the other side.) this would make him antagonistic, but not a villain… part of the conflict is he doesn’t see some of the bigger picture of the whys behind somethings from his vantage point, but by the same token, his brothers would not be as in touch with the people, their views, and needs, as he would be.

    • Adventurous. Antagonistic, but not a villain. Challenging the established regime. I like this a lot. And if he knows he could be recalled at any time, he’d have been unable to wander as far and wide as he wants. Kept on a short leash waiting for a call that might never come. He’d have plans. Hmm…

      Thanks, Penny 😀

  2. Also, Niol, being from the neighboring country, could be the key to resolving whatever issues might be going on between the kingdoms. Chances are, he would also probably end up falling for a girl from that other kingdom…and you could ratchet it up to possibly a love affair with a royal girl from that neighboring kingdom.

  3. I suspect that he would find it hard to show his feelings, as he’s been living amongst people he may not trust for most of his life. He’d have an excellent poker face 🙂

    I also suspect that, depending on the environment where he was raised, he may easily be resentful of being sent away, when his brothers got to stay with their parents. Now what he decides to do with any resentment is another thing altogether. Of course, there’s also the possibility that he had a much freer upbringing, depending on the level of formality in the other court. He may also have had a different education, because that other court may have different values – science/engineering or art/music may be valued over skills with weapons, for example. A trained engineer looks at things differently to a general.

    And now for my pet hate – I really hope you haven’t used the ugly non-word ‘coronated’. It has recently popped up (ok, maybe the last 10 years?) in fantasy written by US authors. The word is ‘crowned’, a far simpler and accurate word. Just had to get that off my chest… 🙂

    • Those are all great points. Perhaps he starts out resentful about being sent away, but once he’s faced with the reality of political life in Caldermor he comes to appreciate his greater freedom. I’d definitely like him to have an interesting skillset and ambitions that don’t include hanging around Caldermor for years as some kind of human stopgap.

      And ‘coronated’? Good grief. Not in my books, ever.

  4. Hmmm. Well, you know I like a giddy character very much. Niol is the spare to the spare of the heir . . . very much unnecessary to the requirements of the kingdom unless something terrible happens.

    I’d like to think he’s the sort of person who doesn’t think something terrible will happen. He’s away from his own court’s intrigues, and he’s also outside of his new country’s intrigues — and interested observer, maybe. (Unless there’s a princess that he might marry. But for the sake of simpleness, let’s imagine there isn’t.) Maybe he delights in gossip and pranks, because there’s not a lot at stake for him. He’s at a remove from it all, and can watch things in motion, and has a good idea of what makes them tick . . . and he thinks humans are hilarious (much like Elizabeth Bennet’s father, but without as much experience at people-watching).

    So, big brother is the Showman, middle brother is the Scholar . . . maybe Niol is the psychologist, who knows people. But he never lets himself get drawn in too deep because he never knows when he will be pulled away from this place (or any place). A Trickster, who enjoys the joys of the present moment . . . he needs to discover his sense of duty and deeper connections.

    Well, if I were writing him, I might go in that direction.

    • Ooh, some good stuff here. So maybe he’s a bit of an adrenaline junkie. He’s the spare to the spare, so if he thinks nothing bad’s going to happen and he’s not important to either his home country or his adopted one, he could be a serial risk taker who lives entirely in the present.

      This is fun. I’m glad I asked the question!

      • This discussion reminds me of one of my friends. Back in the day she refused a big promotion because her company’s policies regarding senior executives with risky hobbies would have required her to give up her pilot’s licence and at that time she wasn’t ready to stop flying.

        • (-: It seems like there would be some fun things you could do plotwise with such a personality. Quality of life is sometimes more important than promotions and more money. My dad loved flying, too, and made some life choices that didn’t make a lot of sense to his family, but we got through OK.

          Maybe Niol also has a steam-punky hobby that’s pretty dangerous? Ooooh!

  5. I thought about this last night when I read your post, and thought about it some more while laying awake in the wee hours of the morning (our bed sucks…I can’t sleep anymore), and I like the suggestions some have made, but to me, I think you need a dose of sinister. Not everyone can be good. And there are good reasons for being bad.

    So, breaking this kid down, as others have done, he was sent away when he was young. There’s good reason for resentment, or at a minimum, not understanding the importance of keeping this family secret/pledge. Maybe he was teased/tortured/made fun of where he was raised, giving him a chip on his shoulder? Perhaps he’s a bit narcissistic? How would that play into the decisions he makes or the actions he takes? If he doesn’t see a direct benefit to doing something, then why would he want to do it? How could he be compelled? What other lures would those trying to protect Caldermor have to throw out to gain his cooperation?

    I think, not having read your prequel nor knowing what the second story holds, you have one very strong antagonist so far. But you could make things much more interesting if you had two, or at least one antagonist and one pain in the ass, particularly if they weren’t working together. Giving Niol a bit of a darker side makes for much more conflict. No one wants to read a story where everyone is great and gets along well. I’m not necessarily advocating for him to be BAD, just not cooperative. More selfish. More interested in himself. And then consequently the actions that go along with it. Particularly if we don’t understand what they are at the get-go and think perhaps he IS working against his brothers.

    Anyhow, my two pence. Hope it resonates!

    • Thanks for this, Justine. Yes, it resonates!

      Niol can’t be an out-and-out villain because I know how the story ends and he’s an important/critical piece of the puzzle, for this story and more importantly for future books. That said, he can definitely have a darker side, and I agree that would be entirely natural. He can be angry, bitter, resentful, difficult and every kind of pain in the bum. That totally makes sense and might add a fun dimension to the book. I don’t think there would be any juice in making him a good little puppet.

      Thanks again…your uncomfortable bed is my gain 😉 !

  6. My mother was one of 10 children who lived through the Depression. Her father was a traveling preacher who was paid with okra and beans and sometimes a stewed chicken, and he abandoned the family when my mother, the youngest, was three, moving halfway across the country to be rid of them, leaving my immigrant grandmother to raise these kids by herself. She wound up giving away the youngest boy to a farm family some miles away, although she didn’t fully abandon him. He continued to see the family, although I’m not sure how often.

    So the parallels to your character are not exactly the same. But how this affected my uncle: he deeply resented his father, whom he saw as the instigator of his separation, and deeply worshipped his mother, whom he thought was a saint for making hard choices and doing what she could to keep 10 kids from starving. He became a scholar, and while he was interested in politics and social justice issues, these interests were always at a distance. He’d write letters to the editor, but he never went to a meeting or chaired a committee or went to a demonstration. He liked to float above a discussion and then drop a conversational fireball into the mix to see what would happen, but not to participate or engage or analyze. He seemed kind enough, but it always felt like an intellectual kindness, like he had good manners. Kindness didn’t seem to come from the heart; it was distant and unemotional. I think he cared about his nuclear family, his wife and children, but he was also deeply misogynist, although I’m not sure that was because of the separation. And I’m not sure if his reserve was an innate quality or acquired by being given away, but I can see how a person would learn to keep their feelings close to their chest if they were lonely and afraid and resentful about their situation, while still needing to make good in it.

    Good luck with your character! It sounds like you have a lot to go on. 🙂

    • WOW, Kay, your uncle isn’t wrong that your grandmother must have been one heck of a woman. An immigrant, abandoned by her husband, ten kids, in the Depression. Do you remember her? I bet she must have been a tough cookie (or had to become one). What a choice.

      Thank you for sharing the insights about your uncle. That gives me some excellent food for thought in building Niol, and in fact the whole Edevald family. And you’re right. I have lots to go on for this book. I hope I can find a way to juggle all the pieces 🙂

      • One of the things that was interesting about us cousins was that when we compared family stories, they differed by a lot, depending on what the siblings’ history was. My mother, as the youngest, had a completely different take on family dynamics than my uncle who’d been given away, for example. My grandmother ultimately found out where my grandfather had split to, and she tracked him down with the five youngest, leaving the five eldest children behind with the oldest child, a daughter, in charge of them. And that eldest daughter’s take on the family dynamic was different still. Family gatherings often felt like a retelling of the Rashomon story! Since I wrote this, I tried to discover how old that oldest daughter was, and I wasn’t able to discover it so far. But maybe one of us cousins will know. 🙂

  7. All this input is really fascinating–there are so many ways you can go with Nioll. I think the biggest takeaway I see is, “How did being separated from his family at such a young age affect him?”

    Because I have read both of your previous books, I have to think that being away from Irmine’s influence can only be for the good. On the other hand, being torn from his brother, who I imagine he worshiped, has to have been traumatic. Because he was so young, he might not have realized there was nothing either of them could have done to prevent it.

    And while we’re on the subject of Irmine, I’m wondering what was the purpose of sending the second spare out her her sphere of influence. It seems like an un-Irmine-like thing for her to do, especially since the family health history makes it clear that both spares might be needed.

    Of course, it’s possible she had a rare positive moment and sent him away hoping he wouldn’t get caught up in the family curse. Or that Daire somehow managed that at age 16.

    Even though the backstory doesn’t go into the actual book, it’s always so fascinating figuring out why characters are the way they are.

    • I know! This has been such an interesting thread. I’m very glad I asked the question.

      You’re totally right that Niol is lucky he was raised away from Irmine’s vicious sphere of influence, but he probably doesn’t know that. Returning to Caldermor will be an eye-opener for him and *might* change some of his opinions. Irmine’s actions in sending him away were not benign (surprise, surprise). She pretty much discarded him–though it’s also a kind of catastrophe insurance to keep one of your backup heirs off-site, as it were. She expected Daire to marry and have children in his early twenties (he should have survived another twenty years or so after that). In five hundred years the crown has passed unbroken from father to son, not even to the ‘spare’, so the chances of needing the second spare are pretty remote.

      I spent quite a bit of yesterday thinking about Niol and the answers to this thread. I think I’ve decided how he’s going to react in The Seeds of Destiny (obviously I have to work out the details), but I think he might return and develop quite a bit in the main series 🙂 .

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