I don't know about you, but when I was in the middle grades, unicorns and mermaids were all we needed! If you or someone you know feel the same, check out this excerpt from The Mermaid and the Unicorns by LT Getty. You can also read her thoughts on making her character Daphne both flawed and likeable. Be sure to let her know what you think in the comments as you follow the tour for more! Best of luck entering the giveaway!
Daphne’s a typical mermaid, and at least according to her, that’s a problem. She’s courageous and has a beautiful singing voice, but lacks the power of an elemental, the ability to command water with the sound of her voice. Jealous of her best friend, she makes a deal with a sea-witch, only to be betrayed, in place of her beautiful tail and flukes Daphne’s left beached with a pair of human legs. The spell keeping Daphne looking human will become permanent, unless Daphne can hunt down and bring the scheming Lorelei a unicorn horn before the next full moon.
Unable to reach her friends and family for help, Daphne doesn’t know how to walk, much less where to find a unicorn or how to catch one. Even if she’s successful, Daphne’s still not sure if she can trust Lorelei and her pint-sized kraken to keep their end of the bargain and let her return to the sea.
"You'll see lots as you travel from place to place," Daphne told the small dolphin. "Come, your mother won't forgive me if I let you roam from the pod."
Why hurry? Echor asked as he swam, spinning around different plants and sponges that grew along the rocks, before focusing in on a vibrant snail. It was not a very old reef, though it was well inhabited by many vividly-colored, small fish. The young dolphin seemed to take pleasure in disturbing them and watching them scurry into their small hiding crevices and among the anemones. You're so lucky that you get to stay in your town all the time. This part of the sea is so beautiful!
"I think it would be neat to see so much of the ocean," Daphne said, thinking of her small town of Thranda. Unlike the dolphins, who often travelled long distances in a single day, most merfolk lived in towns unless they left their communities to hunt or travel to another community. She had known members of his family since she was a little mermaid, and only got to see them a few times a year when they passed through her home to feed in a nearby bay. She heard a series of warnings behind her—the other dolphins had detected something with their echolocation. Unless it was something exceptionally large, they should have been safe within the pod, but Echor was very young. "Echor, let's return to your family." The young dolphin had wandered off while Daphne had turned her head, chasing a seal that had left her bob, trying to swim away from Echor.
"Echor!" Daphne called, swimming after him. She caught up to him, then looked over her shoulder as she heard a familiar sound. An orca! Daphne suppressed a shudder. It was large, but far enough away for her to find a hiding space. Still, killer whales almost always travelled in groups. The killer whale dove when he spotted her. She knew the others would want to help, but they were no match for an orca. He swam quickly towards her and Echor. Daphne knew she would be hard pressed to out-swim the large creature.
Hide! the orca told her.
Daphne then saw the immense shadow and wooden keel of a ship following the orca. The killer whale dove deep, though the water was too clear and shallow to truly hide his massive form. A harpoon followed him, missed, and was quickly pulled back to the surface by a rope. Another harpoon plunged into the water, and then another. The rough waters churned green and grey in the ship's wake, and Echor's warning chatter only told her that there was another human vessel. It came from Daphne's left, and it dragged a net behind it.
I started writing young, and to be honest, when I was making characters they were little more than extensions of myself and they played in a story like a video game. This wasn’t just for heroes, but for villains and side characters. Sure, they had superficial attributes, but unless I spent any length of time with them they generally didn’t develop any depth. The problem was their flaws and personality were an after thought, as opposed to intrinsically considered while I was drafting the story. I’m not saying I set out knowing the characters now, but I usually consider the theme and what makes them unique and interesting and make their actions in the story feel organic as opposed to forced.
For Daphne, the idea was about telling a story about a character who isn’t The Chosen One and doesn’t have the rare power. I also wanted Daphne to be someone who the readers would root for. Rather than shove, “she’s jealous, here’s why” I wanted to make her relatable to a young audience but have something in it for older readers as well.
We’re introduced to Daphne and her best friend another mermaid named Oshiera jumping in the rolling waves with young dolphins, and the story point blank tells the audience Daphne hated to lose to anyone. She’s competitive; not a bad thing but I’m sure we’ve all heard of Sore Losers, there’s also such a thing as being a Lousy Winner or The Person Who Takes Competition Too Far. Before I made it obvious that this was a flaw I showed she was a brave character. Within the first few pages, she leaves the safety of the pod and go after a wayward young dolphin, and even answer the distress call of a young orca under the pursuit of whalers, and she’s rightfully afraid of the killer whale. She’s not training in the ways of the warrior class or a princess skipping out on her duties, and she’s only interacting with humans to save the orca, not maliciously trying to hurt anyone or inadvertently causing them trouble out of misplaced curiosity. She’s adventurous and brave, but within the first pages of meeting her, the reader knows she’ll help someone in trouble if it’s in her power to do so. Mostly positive stuff.
Shortly thereafter the jealousy rears its ugly head, and the story kicks off. Oshiera is confirmed as being the very rare elemental; she can command water with her voice, and her life changes overnight, and she hates it. Daphne is inches from greatness, and she knows it.
She doesn’t even want it. Why isn’t it me?
So we have a brave, mostly capable young heroine with a competitive streak that can manifest in jealousy. I use this as the catalyst for being manipulated by the sea witch and next thing Daphne knows, she’s learning to count piggies and told she must retrieve a unicorn horn if she ever wants to go home again.
Daphne’s quest is for the horn, but her real problem is that she was manipulated, and even though she’s not a bad person, the trait of wanting to be the best over everyone else rears up throughout her journey to the unicorns.
Daphne’s jealousy ultimately stems from being insecure. She doesn’t come across as insecure at all – a little proud maybe, but when her self-perceived identity is shattered – anything you can do I can do better – her insecurity manifests. She compares her singing voice to Esperanza’s, the first time stating “It’s better for that song. Mine’s still better” and then later on blurting out Esperanza does have the better voice. Even though it’s obvious to everyone but Espy, knowing Sean has a crush on Esperanza still asks if he thinks she (Daphne) is pretty and then asks him about fessing up to Espy. Daphne soon does find the individual with the best voice she’s ever heard (not the person she expected) and she doesn’t ‘steal’ Sean from Esperanza, in the story she matures and realizes that she doesn’t have to be the best at everything or everyone’s first choice to do what’s right even when it seems like it’s not in her best interest or is even dangerous to do so. Daphne’s value is intrinsic; whether or not she’s pretty, has a beautiful singing voice, or has a tail or a pair of legs, what matters is doing the right thing and helping others when it’s in her power to do so. She abandons her friends and sets out for the horn alone, because part of her knows what she’s doing is wrong, even if she doesn’t know why.
The co-heroine was designed to help highlight Daphne’s flaws. Esperanza is a human with a very different back story. Daphne meets her selling eggs and milk in the town square, and Esperanza instantly is dismissive of her because Daphne’s working at the bakery, and the baker is implied to be taking advantage of her family.
Esperanza’s family is on hard times; their father was arrested on a false charge and the family is being slowly squeezed to force them to sell their farm. Esperanza’s brother takes pity on Daphne and they take her home for some supper and somewhere safe to sleep. Daphne and Esperanza bond over the course of the next day, Esperanza helping Daphne get work (and do the work) and Daphne pushing Espy out of her comfort zone.
Superficially, Esperanza comes across as the more mature, selfless one. She doesn’t like her fate but accepts it dutifully.
Esperanza’s problem doesn’t stem from a lack of money, and it’s implied that there’s no way she could earn enough as a maid to help her family out of their predicament, so much as allow them to keep treading water. Singing the song that should have won her the local contest would never have really helped her situation – but singing and jigging to a popular, rowdy song with Daphne where the crowd threw money in the pot did give her family enough cash to fix a superficial issue and get them on their feet again. Her stopping being dutiful for duties’ sake seems a little foolish and selfish, but led her to not only adventure, but a means to save her father, and finding out why the local gentry wanted the farm so much anyway.
A beginner’s mistake about being selfless is the idea of self-sacrifice for other people seems good, but often times there’s no amount of sacrifice most of us can make that will help change the bigger issues at hand. Esperanza is also insecure, thinking she has to do something to try to solve problems bigger than her. Really, it’s still all about Esperanza and her singing and her family and can’t everyone see how self-sacrificing she is? Helping Daphne initially hurts her, but it’s in Esperanza’s power to do so. What’s not in her power is what’s going on with her family – she’s a fourteen year old girl and they’re scheming nobles and wizards. But genuinely helping another person, with no expectation or reward, was the mechanism that allowed her family to save the farm.
There’s more to the story and once I get these major characters designed and acting, it’s actually pretty easy to fill in the blanks about what they’re like and why they are that way. For instance, throughout the novel it is very clear that Daphne is not a morning person, while Espy is always up and cheerful. Esperanza grew up on a farm with chickens, while Daphne lived under the sea, she’s not used to getting up at the crack of dawn. Little details like this don’t need to be explained to your reader – and can often be a little treat for readers revisiting that same novel later.
About the author:
L.T. Getty is a rural paramedic from Manitoba. She enjoys writing science fiction and fantasy and generally being creative.
My Blog https://ltgetty.ca/
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