Character profile: Win Ho-Yung

So, for a few blogs I think I’ve promised to go back to talking about some of the characters in planetfall. The last blog post was about updating the storyboard for book 2, which may need further updating after I wrote to the end of chapter 3 yesterday and found the story writing itself into an interesting place. It’s not the forward storyboard that will need updating, it’s what’s already been written: probably just needs a minor tweak here and there and some extra character development and scenes to make it feel complete. But I digress. Let’s get onto a character from the first planetfall book.

In this blogpost I want to talk about Win Ho-Yung, and from the perspective that (at the time of writing) the book isn’t yet available, and so you haven’t met him. Let’s consider this an introduction, then, and avoid any spoilers (sweetie).

The first thing I want to talk about here is the name, “Win Ho-Yung”. All the characters in planetfall book 1 have names that either cropped up naturally (cf: Kate Leland) or which I constructed to have a specific meaning (cf: Sophie Argus) or which are a nod to cultural issues outside the book (cf: Masjid Currie, named after Marie Curie). Not so for Win.

Win’s name I agonized over for a quite a while. It is a made up Chinese name; actually within the context of the book it is a Qin name, the evolution of the Chinese society, which allowed me to take some licence – I have no idea if “Win Ho-Yung” would be a real Chinese name, or indeed if the names are more suited to nearby Oriental language groups, like South Korea.

I struggled with the name because of its obvious English meaning, “to win”. What I didn’t want people to do was associate the name with that English meaning, to think that here was a character whose name predicated their role (there is some of that in planetfall, just not for this character).

The name “Win” first appears in my Moleskine notebooks on 25 May 2008, and I’ve copied in some of my preparatory and biographical notes below. You also have another picture of my atrocious drawings, you lucky people. I didn’t record where it came from or why it was the only name I considered. I only know and remember that after much thought (translation: staring into space) that this was the name that I came up with. It felt right.

So the name has no specific meaning, but it is the only name I ever considered. In my notes there is no alternative, which is different for Djembe (I will cover that in a separate blog) and Kate Leland, for whom I have already talked about wobbling between Karen and Kate for a while, knowing only that the name had to start with a hard k sound. It’s also different for Sophie Argus and Masjid Currie, who will also be discussed in future blogposts.

Well who is Win, then? Enough about the anxieties of the author, and more about the character. Here are some heavily edited notes, originally written on 25 May 2008 in Costa Coffee, Crouch End, London, UK

Name: Win Ho Yung (note, no hyphen at this stage)

Age: 42

Born: Habitat in the Orion I system.

Biog:

Win Ho Yung’s ancestors remained in Qin space (the area occupied by the former Qin Empire, itself a closed-border volume of space created by Chinese peoples fleeing Earth’s environmental collapse in the book’s history), venturing out just three generations previously (before the book’s start). This conservativeness remained in their son, who was unambitious, despite his great skills and understanding of environmental systems. He was a person very much of his background, born in a Habitat, between Qin space and the rest of the human settled space. A Habitat between systems, but comprised itself of interlocking systems, asteroid and metal and farming pods, carefully balanced and carefully maintained. He wished not to go back to his ancestors’ roots, but neither to venture forth on his own. He had no desire to imagine different futures for himself. More important was understanding what was around him. How his environment worked, fit together, was influenced and influenced in turn. Win was a person of the moment, his sense drawn around his immediate presence and wholly focused on it. That allowed him to sense when something changed, not because he was out looking for it, but because it stopped affecting him. And that was also his weakness. If it stopped affecting him, he effectively became blind to it.

With an initial understanding of his background, I then tried to represent this as a picture. The photo below shows some of this, with the necessary explanation below it:

Planetfall notes on Win

Initial attempt to capture Win's character

Let’s take this picture from top left, go across the page, then drop down briefly to the bottom.

On the top left is a little graphic. In the middle is a dark dot, which represents Win, and out of it come a number of arrows. The strong arrows pointing up & down represent Win’s character trait as described: “Win was a person of the moment, his sense drawn around his immediate presence”. He looks left and right, to his immediate surroundings. A faint dotted line arrow can be seen pointing to the right, representing his limited traits of being a far-sighted person or thinking strategically. You can also just about make out an arrow going backward, which represents Win’s use of scientific data – already established facts, or “knowns” as I phrased it in my notes on the right hand side of the picture.

What you can also see in the picture is that I got confused between Djembe and Win’s characters when I was trying to represent them graphically. The crossings-out at the top and very bottom of the picture show the names being swapped around so that the drawings better tied up with the character biographies I’d written immediately above. What can I say? Sometimes we don’t concentrate on our work as well as we should.

Setting up these early character notes and biographies helped me in understanding how Win would respond to a situation. For example, because he is tied into the moment and the surrounding environment, he is very aware of people’s emotions; it allows him to be a more empathic character. And because of this tendency to empathy and emotional awareness, Win was the first character in the book for whom I developed any conception of family. He is married and has a son (you find this out in the book, and it’s not a spoiler). And because of that, he was my first attempt at creating a character with a tangible emotional centre. My approach was, “If I can get the emotional content of this character right, then I can use the experience to develop the emotional life of the other characters”. I think because of that I formed an emotional attachment to Win, and in planetfall book 1 he’s my joint favourite character (along with Verigua, the Colony’s Artificial Intelligence).

In trying to work out the rest of Win’s character I didn’t have far to look. Having already blogged about the cultural references in planetfall, it will come as no surprise – given my teen years in the 80s – to find that Win is based on the character Data from the 1985 film, The Goonies, but grown up and now aged 42. (For those who need a prompt, Data was played by Ke Huy Quan, and carried about his body a number of ‘wacky’ scientific inventions.)

In planetfall Win’s role is as environmental analyst and general inventor-of-cool-tech-and-weird-virtual-reality-simulations. He gives a lightness to scenes and acts as a foil to Djembe, who is very much a straight laced person. The two play off each other, and while they are very different characters, they are shown to be good friends, both admiring the other’s skills. Because of Win’s character trait of looking to facts and knowns, he is also the major character for filling out the history of planetfall, and for bringing in plot devices by interacting with his environment (translation: he runs around and pokes stuff).

In proof reading, it is Win who is mentioned most often as people’s favourite character, which is very pleasing. Scroll back several paragraphs to where I said, “he was my first attempt at creating a character with a tangible emotional centre”, and you’ll understand why this is pleasing.

So there we have it. Here is another character biography. Was it what you wanted? Would you have preferred to understand how the character developed as I wrote the story? Or about other interactions? If you have any feedback, please use the options on the page to let me know.

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