Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Narrative Mode #10: Heinlein's Three-stage character

Though examining what Panshin coined as the Heinlein individual (see Heinlein in Dimension by Alexei Panshin) is largely a discussion of character development, the process of the development is a narrative mode that one can use to design a novel around.  So to start, I'll list the features of this three-stage character of Heinlein's.
  •  Young Innocent
  1. Stage one is the young but competent innocent. He doesn't know his way around the situation he is in, but that is mere youth and inexperience.  He frequently is taken advantage of and abused before he gets angry enough to respond.  
  2. It is at that time that he meets his mentor, who is an elder who recognizes in this upstart a youthful version of himself.  So Young Innocent gains a mentor who is non-too-gentle in his teaching practices.  "Life is not patient, so why should I be?" is the philosophy.  And life isn't patient, giving Young Innocent plenty of further knock and nicks which Mentor then trains him to respond to properly.  Young Innocent is known to ignore the early lessons but soon comes to appreciate the efforts of his taskmaster.
  3. Young innocent still has rather naive views, but he is learning and values Mentor's guidance, even comes to depend, respect and love Mentor.
  • Grown up and sporting thick skin and questioning mind
  1. Stage 2 is the now experienced, ready-to-take-on-anything loner who has gotten over the loss of his mentor (everybody has to go sometime) though it nearly broke him when the loss was fresh.  But he is beyond that now, capable, quick in the moment, has the world by the string and is swinging it gaily while wrestling alligators and counting his loose change.  
  2. Most books end with this stage as the finished product.  Some let him grow old enough to find his own Young Innocent to foster.
  • The elder statesmen of the Heinlein Individual
  1. This is the quick-handed, quick-tempered elder we will see at the early part of the book as the mentor for Young Innocent.  
  2. He is highly knowledgeable, understands the society he lives in and how to manipulate it to fit his needs and has a world view that is highly cynical.  
  3. That world view alters when he finds the young innocent, an emotional connection he has managed to avoid for a long time.  But time is limited, and he needs entertainment for his remaining days, which have been rather charmed and therefore boring. 
  4. And so the circle is closed.
This now brings us to examples.  Heinlein's Orphans in the Sky and Citizen of the Galaxy are good plots to examine.  But I am going to be quick about it. In Orphans Hugh Hoyland finds himself in the upper levels of a lost-in-space generation ship that has long ago also lost sight of its purpose, and he is now in the clutches of undesirables.  Hugh is our Young Innocent, and the main undesirable is Joe/Jim the soon to be Mentor for Hugh.  He teaches Hugh the truth behind the mysteries, in his very cynical way, and in time becomes attached to Hugh, which means he needs to stop playing king of the hill and nanny to Hugh and make change.  And the circle is closed (yup, don't want to completely give away a good story).

As for Citizen, Thorby is Young Innocent, a slave boy that is purchased by a normally disinterested bystander who has been doing fine on his own for years, one Baslim the beggar.  On this new planet, Thorby has no protector, no experience and no value.  So Baslim provides these things, but at a cost: Thorby must accept training.  Baslim has now taken on not only the care and feeding of an innocent, but he no longer can just natter about with no concern about anyone but himself.  Then society gets itchy and .... the circle is closed.

 The Little Handbook of Narrative Frameworks available on Smashwords and Amazon.

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