Writing Forlorn Characters in Dark Fantasy
The word forlorn is awesome. It is just one of those words that conveys such a deep furrow of mood texture but within a very specific field of context. And if there were ever a genre of fiction that could lay claim to the word as its own, I would submit that dark fantasy deserves the honor. I am not so much talking about using the actual word in a description of a character, although that might be impactful, but to actually create a character that embodies the the essence of the word. But who exaclty is a forlorn character and why are they well suited to the dark fantasy character pallette?
When I think of a forlorn character I think firstly of memorable characters such as Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melniboné, the sickly, albino elf emporer whose sword, despite his efforts, kills everyone he loves; well and pretty much everyone else too. In this case, forlorn is meant in the way that the character is doomed to fail at the task or be cursed to pay such a high price to succeed that it is not worth it in the end. This type of character could be very active; upbeat even. Yet, they never seem to get the prize or they just make their situation worse. Writing this kind of character can fit squarely and properly into a dark fantasy setting.
Anna from Richard Matheson's What Dreams May Come is an example of a character whose forlorn-ness could be characterized as mournful. She is so grieved by the death of her husband that she slips into an endless spiral finding her taking her own life and continuing to punish herself even in hell. Now, that particular work is not dark fantasy per se, as it is classified as more Bangsian fantasy, but such a character cerntainly has a place within dark fantasy. This person is completely absorbed by some trauma or another to the point that life for them becomes meaningless.
This is a character who, for one reason or another, remains faithfully devoted to a person, situation, organization, oath or concept even though it is destroying them. This is separate from martyrdom, which can happen quickly and feels somewhat different as the sacrifice involved typically bears fruit in some way or strengthens a cause. Not so much for the dutiful, forlorn character. Usually this type of character becomes forlorn over a long period of time, slowly being stripped of their identity. This character quietly suffers and fully expects to be swallowed up by the object of their attachment, believing that is their sole purpose. An example that comes to mind is Misa Amane from Toshiki Inoue's Death Note manga and anime series. She allowed herself to have her lifespan halved twice by a shinigami demon in order to help her lover learn the names of his victims, which he could kill by writing their names in a book. She also had this power, but relinquished it to him. Time after time, she sacrificed for him and deferred to him to no avail. He mistreated her and she allowed it, being trapped by her feelings and being resigned to what she saw as her reason for existing.
This forlorn character is wretched. They are worthy of little more than pity but not quite sympathy. They usually dwell in emotional or physical squalor, having been meant for something else only to end up in such a bad state. They are not safe but neither are they a true threat. Such characters will disgust other characters and have a presence that is off-putting. An examaple that pops into my head is Gollum from J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings stories. A barely recognizable shell of his former self, Gollum lives underground, eats raw fish from the lake and talks to himself. The main characters go through phases of feeling sorry for him, hating him, then kind of liking him, then pitying him again, etc.
One of the reasons why forlorn characters work well in dark fantasy works is because of the idea of solitude. This ties all of the types of forlorn characters together into the genre. Dark fantasy most often contains a very palpable element of solitude in either the setting or within the thoughts and feelings of characters. Many times, dark fantasy characters are in an environment of physical or emotional isolation or they are feeling lonely. A character in solitude (even in a crowd of others) is introspective and works to define their experience as meaning something, though they may fear it does not.
With the idea of solitude and isolation in mind, place one of the above subtypes over it and the character really starts to develop in the mind. This could very well be mental isolation or physical isolation but either way, there is a dynamic where the character is alone with their own intellect. This makes writing internal dialogue relatively easy. So regardless of the point of view, a forlorn character can readily have conversations or thoughts about very serious issues, even in a matter-of-fact way. Add a little atmosphere and you have all the makings of a gloomy environment that people will remember.