Character Profile: Janna

JannaThis character has given me the most trouble, which might be why I’ve saved her for last. Not that she’s the last character I’ll ever profile, but she’s the last of those with a pov from Book one. OMG I need a title so bad!

All the trouble I’ve had really isn’t poor Janna’s fault. She’s by far the sweetest of my characters and very easy to get along with. It’s figuring out exactly what to do with her that’s the problem.

From the beginnings of this story’s conception, it was always very important to me to have the commonfolk represented in some way. This turned out to be easier said than done. It’s relatively easy to write characters that have a measure of control over their own destinies. People like Kendryk and Teodora control not only their own lives, but the lives of thousands besides. Even Braeden and Arian are to a great extent in charge of their own destinies. This was not true of the vast majority of people during the Thirty Yeas War, or throughout history, for that matter. And while the war did wreak havoc among the aristocracy and soldiers were sacrificed by the thousands without a second thought, it was the average person who paid the heaviest price. Something like a half to three-quarters of the population of Central Europe died of starvation, exposure, plague and war-related violence in that thirty-year period.

Janna is the average person. A Kaleva shopkeeper’s daughter, she had a happy and uneventful childhood. At seventeen, she marries Dimir Kronek, a prosperous merchant recently widowed looking for a mother for his two young children. Though nearly twenty years older, Dimir is considered a good prospect and Janna can’t come up with any good reasons not to marry him. She quickly bonds with the two children, four-year-old Anton and baby Anyezka, and gets along well with Dimir. She never does fall in love with him, but he treats her well and she learns to feel safe and comfortable with him.

When Teodora comes to power, Dimir joins a political faction that supports her cousin as successor to the recently deceased Emperor. The faction succeeds in taking over Kaleva’s local government and immediately declares its independence from the Empire. Teodora responds quickly and brutally, and that’s where our story begins.

Like most people in her position, Janna is completely unprepared to deal with war and its consequences. She has no personal or political power and is ultimately, completely defenseless.  She’s fundamentally decent, but not particularly clever or resourceful or feisty or any of those things that make characters fun to write. She’s just a victim. Which I hate. She’s feels realistic simply by virtue of being completely uncool and is probably the most like me of all my characters  She does develop as a person, but a lot of that is simply reaction to trauma and a deep-seated survival instinct.

Of all the characters in this story, I’ve changed Janna’s arc the most- several times, in fact. I very nearly scrapped the character altogether out of sheer frustration. What saved her was reading Sarah Micklem’s gorgeous literary fantasy Firethorn, which chronicles the life of a lowly camp follower. Even though Firethorn is far cooler and more resourceful than Janna, she doesn’t have much agency and it keeps her in constant peril. I loved the book and it made me realize that it was indeed possible to write a good, interesting story about a common wench who at no point magically transforms into a ninja and/or fantasy bimbo.

I’ve posted a few snippets from Janna’s pov so far, here and here.

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15 thoughts on “Character Profile: Janna

  1. Fantasy bimbo… Never heard that before! Every time I read about your characters I realize the depth of not just your writing, but your research. There is so much promise here. Along the lines of “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon. Have you read it? I can see why she’d be an interesting character. Everyone wants to write about a heroine, but taking on Nancy Normal is much more challenging. Like Virginia Woolf did with “Mrs. Dalloway.”

    1. I made up fantasy bimbo myself, though I’m probably not the first. I think it was in reaction to Arianne Martell in A Feast for Crows, I think it’s mostly men who write that type anyway, lol. You know, she’s a sword-wielding badass, but her armor is extremely revealing and impractical while her mermaid hair flows down her back. 🙂

      I really like Outlander- the first book far more than the rest. I’m curious about the show, but it will be a while before I get a chance to see it.

      For the most part I really like the fantasy trend of creating powerful female characters, but they can’t all be uniformly awesome at everything, or that would be boring, as well as highly improbable. I also love women who are powerful while remaining very feminine, and that can be a bit harder to pull off.

      1. Oh good! Something to look forward to. We don’t have cable but we have a tv and dvd player, so we have to wait for tv shows to be released that way. Every year I suffer agonies trying to keep my husband spoiler-free for Game of Thrones!

  2. Is she likeable in some other way? I dunno if this is just me, but I tend to find it hard to empathise with that particular trope of epic fantasy “a dutiful wife unprepared for war” if they have no other redeeming features. I always hope they’re going to be funny, or cute, or eccentric, or haughty, or BIG-and-unapologetic, or dorky, or something GOOD to go with the beige-ness. Otherwise I’m just going to be like blah blah blah, skip back to the awesome characters killing each other.

    Perfect example of this – Sansa Stark, from a Song of Ice and Fire. She is boring. I’ve almost chewed off pages at how boring she is. She has no glimmer of personality beyond being a “princess”. I almost want her to be wed to a monster and then immediately beheaded publicly in the next book SO I DON’T HAVE TO READ ABOUT HER ANYMORE.

    Phew, rant over. My apologies.

    1. Hm… That’s a good question. What’s her strong point or points, Christina. I wouldn’t have thought about that except that DRS is SO right about Sansa Stark. In the books she is just so whiny with no personality at all. At least that’s a good example of what you want to avoid? (I wonder how GRRM would feel about that comment! LOL)

      1. So why does it feel so important to you that you have a strong representation of the common folk in the story? Other than just that so many were affected by the war, I mean. What is it that draws you to them as a whole? She has a lot of responsibility for the story if she’s going to represent them.

      2. I feel that since most of my characters are from the ruling class, the suffering of the common people was mostly an abstraction, if they cared at all.

        Even someone like Braeden, who sees it all firsthand, isn’t affected by it quite so negatively, since war is his job, after all. So, even though the upper classes created a fair amount of suffering for themselves, it just wasn’t of the same magnitude.

        Future books will have more commoners- i hope-so Janna only has that particular job to do in the first book. I’m already looking forward to my first peasant revolt. 🙂

    2. That is a very good question! I think she’s one of those characters who will be frustrating to readers (and to me, already) at first because she doesn’t really believe she’s capable of anything. As she learns this isn’t actually the case, her character will grow quite a bit, but she’s never going to become an awesome sword-wielding girl. A lot of her evolution is going to be internal, so readers who are looking for non-stop action will probably find her boring.

      I’ll have to think about this some more. I’m pretty resistant to turning her into anything too amazing because I’m trying really hard to have at least one character who can accurately represent the common people. But yes, at the same time she does need to have some quality that makes you root for her.

      I am in fact, one of the five people on the planet who is a Sansa Stark partisan. I do understand why most people hate her, but I could identify with her pretty strongly, having once been an 11-year-old girly girl with unrealistic ideas about what life was like. And much as we’d all have liked to see her get feisty with Cersei and Joffrey, that would have been the quickest way to the beheading you crave. Oh hey, Sansa problem solved!

      The way you feel about Sansa is the way I feel about Daenerys right now. Her storyline has become so incredibly boring that I hope she is immediately beheaded by Khal Whats-his-name at the beginning of the next book so someone competent can take over dragon care and training and we can finally get this show on the road. Oh look, now I’ve ranted too. We’re even. 🙂

  3. I missed this post. You kind of answered my question in a way. It doesn’t matter that Janna’s not going to turn into superwoman then. Her character is going to become deeper. There’s sure nothing wrong with that. I think every book needs a few reflective, sensitive people around. Poor Sansa… She can’t seem to catch a break, can she? I agree about Daenerys, btw. I’m bored to death with that tangent.

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