Oct 9, 2012


In this second week of my Locked Within Focus Month, I'm taking a look at two of the major elements of my book.

Reincarnation is a popular trope in all forms of fantasy. Typically the young, untested protagonist is the reincarnation of a legendary hero, destined to save the world from the forced of evil. The idea that a person can be worthy enough that even death cannot keep their soul has been a compelling element of storytelling.

I'm specifically talking about a character dying and their soul returning in a new body. This isn't a character dying and then returning from death. That's resurrection, and a far more common trope in all forms of fiction.

Different belief systems have had differing takes on reincarnation, but most religions throughout human history have either included it as an integral part of their beliefs or had particular groups within them which include it in their teachings. The belief goes as far back as the Iron Age, possibly originating in Greek and Indian philosophy. Deriving from Latin, the word "reincarnation" literally means "entering the flesh again," and the concept survives today in New Age mysticism, druidic teachings, Buddhism and Hinduism, among others.

No two religions or mythologies seem to agree on how reincarnation works. Hindus believe the soul always returns in human form. Jainism teaches that, upon death, the soul travels through four states - animal, hell-being, human, and divine - based on karma. Among the Ancient Greeks, it was believed that the dead drank from the Rive Lethe in the Underworld, which erased their memories. Only after this was done could they be reborn into life. The Celts believed that they would be reborn a set amount of time after dying, and used this belief to instil great courage into their warriors, as they knew death was not an end.

Which such a varied range of sources, it struck me as unusual that the main examples of reincarnation in fiction were so limited. Stories tend to feature either the long lost mythic hero reborn into a new age, or the star-crossed lovers who could not rest after death separated them and return to new life to find each other once again. Tyically, reincarnation is treated as an unusual thing. A sign of the Chosen One in fantasy, or a paranormal element added to a mystery or romance.

Before I knew what form Locked Within would take, I knew I wanted it to be about reincarnation. And not just the Chosen One model. I wanted to create a world where reincarnation was almost the rule, rather than the exception. This created its own challenges, such as finding a way to balance my protagonist's inexperience with the fact he had lifetimes of memories to draw on, or keeping tension in the threat of death.

From this I decided that memories came to people in dreams or brief moments of inspiration. The reborn aren't born with their previous memories intact. They have to wait for them to return. Often the catalyst would be a similar emotional or physical stimulus as they experienced in one of their memories. Even that would not be enough. If they didn't have the strength of will to hang on to the memory, it would pass, and they might be none the wiser about their true nature.

The other element I decided on was how one's past lives would affect a current incarnation. I played with the psychological concepts of nature vs nurture, and decided that someone who was a warrior or an artist in a past life would have an easier time re-learning those skills and find themselves drawn to a lifestyle that allowed them to use that knowledge.

While thinking about this, I realised that, for the sake of tension and a sense of consequence, there needed to be factors which influenced the way a person would be reborn. If a person hurt you in a past life, you would have the impression of that on your soul in this life. If you died in pain or fear, your soul might be thrown into the afterlife unprepared, and take longer to find its way back. These factors would, in essence, scar the soul, requiring time to heal before a person could realise their true potential.

What scars Nathan Shepherd's soul bears, and how they will challenge him in his adventures, I leave you to discover when you read the book.

Next time, I answer, conclusively, the question of why I chose New York as the setting for Locked Within.

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