Points of Light: Avatar

One question every author gets asked is:  what advice can you give to young writers?  I say there are only two things that young authors can do.  One of them is simply to write. Writing is a skill like any other, and no one develops a skill or talent without extensive practice and fine tuning.  But there is another practice, that I must put before all others: READ!  Because as much as writing is a skill, it’s also something that requires an understanding before you can start.  Just like you wouldn’t start constructing a building without learning how, you can’t start writing a story about vampires without first reading vampire stories and understanding the rules and just how the genre works (unless your name is Stephanie Meyers).

But while you should always read if you plan to write, there are many ways to see a story progress and learn from it.  Lightrider was born out of books, TV, film, and even video games, so you should be no means limit yourself to one medium or genre.  As such, I’ve decided to start a series on this blog about some of the influences that went into the making of Lightrider and how they left their mark on the book (I may also start a series on the reverse).  But also, I want to hopefully show how to pick up on themes and concepts from bodies of work in order to really get something that you can use out of it.  And with that said, I’d like to begin with a TV series that taught me not only about the mechanics of Lightrider, but also a tremendous amount on character and morality, Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Points of Light: Avatar: The Last Airbender

The Concept

Avatar dealt with a medieval Asian world, split into four separate countries.  Each country had power over a different element (Water, Earth, Fire, and Air), with one person, the Avatar, controlling all four and maintaining balance in the world.  However, the disappearance of the Avatar allows the Fire Nation to begin a century long conflict that destroys the Air Nomads and is slowly decimating the other nations.  However, two Water Tribe members find the Avatar, a twelve year old Airbender frozen in a storm over a hundred years ago.  They must then travel the world, teaching the Airbender the other elements while fighting the Fire Nation and working to bring balance back into the world.

What I Learned: Mechanics and Character

Avatar, Air Bender, fiction, inspiration, Lightrider Journals, Erich Nierstedt, animation, story, writing, reading

Avatar appealed to me since Lightrider also features elemental powers and the concept of balance.  However, I can safely say that Lightrider would never have come to being if not for Avatar.  The show provided me with an excellent example of many things, chief among them how elemental powers would work.  While it’s easy to imagine someone shooting fire or lightning out of their hands, Avatar took it a step further.  Each style of bending (elemental control), was based on a different martial art style.  Therefore, when I watched the characters fight, there was an incredible sense of style to their movements.  Every move they made had a purpose, there was no wasted motion.  If an Earthbender took a stance, you knew they were prepping themselves to lift rock.  If a Firebender took a breath, he was preparing to create fire.  It was an amazing style of poetry in motion, and I wanted to make sure my characters had the same sense of movement and style when they used their powers, because it added to their sense of mastery and made them far more imposing.

Beyond mechanics, though, Avatar was perhaps the greatest TV medium I’ve seen to portray real, honest characters.  Fans from all over the world loved these characters, largely because they always seemed like real people.  Aang, the titular Avatar, for all his power and grand destiny, was still a twelve year old boy that wanted to have fun and play, despite knowing his mission and what it entailed.  His friends were no different.  Sokka, the ‘normal’ Water Tribesman, filled the comic relief role, but was also valuable for his ability to plan and think on his feet, and became vital despite having no ‘power.’  His sister Katara, a novice Waterbender, was sweet and motherly, but also determined and stubborn, putting the group in danger at one point to advance her skills.  But it added to her realism, as even the best of us can make selfish decisions.  But perhaps the greatest character was the villain turned hero Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation.  Deposed from his home and scarred for arguing against the sacrifice of innocent troops, Zuko began as an obsessed villain, but slowly revealed signs of an honorable nature, learning to think of others beside himself and being tolerant of innocent people.  He constantly battled his desire to go home and earn his father’s approval with the realization of what the Fire Nation had done and his own feelings that it was wrong.  His progression throughout the show arguably made him the most three-dimensional character, and fueled much of the inner turmoil that Joe goes through in Lightrider.

What You Can Learn

If you aren’t working on a fantasy, then certain aspects of Avatar won’t be of help to you.  But if you are trying to create real, resonant characters, then this is a perfect show to watch.  Every character progresses as the show goes on, and with a few exceptions, it all feels natural.  Even minor characters go through emotional arcs that resonate- we see war survivors wiling to harm the innocent to get revenge, villains that end up being wise, caring, and worthy of respect, villains that seem devoid of humanity yet earn a glimmer of pity from the viewer, and heroes that can succumb to their base urges and ignore their better impulses.  All in all, the show is a great tool for developing not only powers with real form and rules, but also how to create living, breathing characters on the printed page.

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Posted on February 27, 2013, in Inspiration and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Although I have not read Lightrider yet, I see your wisdom in character development that I had not thought of before. As I am hoping to start writing again I will definitely keep following your blog for these tips of the trade as I need all the help I can get 😀 Thanks!

    • I do hope you keep following, Heidi!

      Can I ask you what’s holding you back from writing? I’m looking to help aspiring writers in any way I can – is there something specific you’re struggling with? We’ve all been there and I’m happy to write a blog discussing my solutions!

  2. Excellent article 🙂 This is why I have no problem spending my time watching television or playing a game — they have so much to offer, and you can learn so much from them!!!

    • Exactly! Television and games (especially today) can be truly beautiful artistic endeavors, and the story lines are just as developed (often more so, because of the medium) than many movies and even books!

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