Bare with me for this one, my inner Lit student has been acting up lately. (It’s all those school-related advertisements.) I would also like to issue a warning to those of you reading my Twilight of the Spirit World story. This post is about Lia’s character so yes, there will be spoilers. I will try to keep them to a minimum but if you don’t like them you might want to stop when you reach about halfway down the post.
As with most characters I’ve written (at least the central ones) Lia started as pretty much a self-insert. Big shocker, I know. While I was working on her character, before I even started writing Spirit of Fire, she began deviating more and more from, well, me and became her own person so to speak. By the time I had finished the first few chapters the only things we had in common was our tempers and love for all things fiery (just ask my mother; if I could climb inside the fireplace, you bet I would!). Initially I didn’t mean for her to become instrumental to the plot. She was more of a plot device for pushing Zuko towards the direction I wanted him, which is why her background remained very sketchy in the first chapters. That changed by the time Past of a Spirit rolled around since I couldn’t really justify her attachment to Zuko without going into her past and actually giving a reason. In retrospect the reason was a little contrived but hey, at least it was less cliche than the “reincarnated lovers” trope, which, for the record, was NEVER an option in my mind.
Nevertheless, Lia remained a mentor-type character through the first two parts of Spirit of Fire, since I still wanted to focus on the human characters (I was still figuring out how to juggle multiple storylines). So what changed in the third part? For one I had taken a break from the story in real life due to schoolwork. When I returned to it with fresh ideas I realised that if I wanted this to be an alternate version of the canon show I needed to devote equal attention to all characters (because let’s face it, Bryke developed all the recurring characters, not just the main group). Besides I had gone over my fear making the story about Lia and was confident I could include her more without disrupting the flow of the plot. Hence Lia suddenly getting more “screentime” not just in the actual story but also in the background notes I was making at the time. You have no idea how many versions the dual Fire Spirit subplot had before I wrote it… Inevitably, this led to more and more of the past being hinted at. I toyed with the idea of exploring it within the canon timeline but couldn’t quite fit it in. So instead of doing a detour, I decided to leave it to hints that would eventually culminated to an original sequel (way before Korra was released).
The relationship between Lia and Agni was actually the last piece of the mosaic to be added. It went from mortal enemies to enemies due to circumstances to the mentor-turns-evil trope and eventually resulted in their love-hate thing. These two take the “It’s complicated” to a whole new level, partially because I wasn’t certain if I wanted Lia to become a love interest character in the sequel or leave the potential open. In Agni’s case (mostly because he only appears in the end) I could get away with leaving it open-ended. The I wrote Love Song Requiem and any chance for ambiguity on his part was blown away…
SPOILERS STARTING RIGHT ABOUT NOW!
I’ve often noticed that in stories structured in three parts (see original Star Wars etc.) the first part is usually devoted to the plucky, star-eyed young protagonist going on his/her first quest, the second tends to be the dark, gritty, things-go-to-Hell part and the last is usually the resolution. In Lia’s case it sorta goes like this although (funnily enough) I didn’t realise it at the time. In Spirit of Fire Lia is the eldest in the gaang both in actual age and apparent age, meaning that she not only acts as mentor to Zuko at first and the entire group later but also that she is held a little apart because she is more experienced than them. It’s usually not very highlighted, which is why when she actually uses her powers to their full extent it is met with shock from the group. Regardless, and because in part of the almost road-trip like story, she is essentially one of the kids. Had this been set in the real world, she’d probably be the cool older sister who’s at university and owns a car.
This had to change at the sequel. The gaang is all grown up to begin with, with Aang and Toph (who are the youngest) being sixteena and the rest being in the early twenties. Lia is on a more equal ground to them and that is why when more of her past is revealed one way or another, it is not in the form of private musings. It also meant that I could have the freedom to move her from a mentor-character to someone who can make mistakes and that is why she perhaps appears younger. Spirit of Fire was in part written from the POV of Zuko and the others and their perception of Lia affected the tone of her scenes. Not anymore in Twilight of the Spirit World.
Lia is in part at war with herself in Twilight of the Spirit World. She is old and experienced enough to be able to compartmentalize her experiences but, due to her passionate nature she cannot “forgive and forget” both her own mistakes and those of others (namely Agni). Moreover, her ability to see visions of the future haunts her. What was a help before is now a hindrance as the recurring vision of the final battle makes her more and more paranoid. One might say that Twilight of the Spirit World is her self-discovery or at least self-healing story. And yes, there is romance involved but not at a central focus. After all I couldn’t leave unresolved feelings of any kind hanging again…
You could say Lia grew up with me… I first came up with her when I was fifteen and now that I am twenty-two I am still developing her, seeing her from different perspectives and learning how to put them to words. It’s a process I go through with every character I invent, which is why I have had stories in the back-burner for years and they will remain there until I am confident in my understanding of their characters and worlds to actually put on paper. It’s a long and arduous experience but let me tell you, I’ve learnt more about myself through them than through anything else. After all, they are reflections of me at different stages and for a person who cannot draw or has the patience to take pictures, this is invaluable.