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 Midshipman or Established Officer? 
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Post Midshipman or Established Officer?
Charity's comment in the Kent/BOB thread made me wonder about how readers feel about the development of a character in a series. Is the potential of a youthful, inexperienced midshipman who isn't quite the hero (yet) enough to hook readers into a new series? Or is it safer to start a series with a character who is more of an established officer?

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Fri Oct 28, 2005 2:07 am
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As I have said in another thread, I started reading the genre seriously with Kent's Stand into Danger, which, I believe, is where he started the series, and eventually filled in with a few books earlier in Bolitho's career. So, in consideration, I suppose starting the series with the central character as an established officer cannot be a bad place to begin. It left with me an urge to find the rest of the books, and then I read chronologically.

Of course, it works, as in the case of O'Brian, where I think I am correct in saying that he wrote Master & Commander first and then continued on. His retrospective insight into the young midshipman Jack Aubrey also worked for me. I didn't feel I'd missed anything of Jack's earlier life.

Some of the other series I have read chronologically and have no idea how those series evolved.

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Fri Oct 28, 2005 9:10 am
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AK started the Bolithos with To Glory We Steer. He didn't write Stand Into Danger until many years and books later.

Likewise CSF's first Hornblower was Beat to Quarters (aka The Happy Return). He didn't write Mr. Midshipman Hornblower until about 15 years later.

I believe that you're bang on regarding Aubrey.

The point is that most modern AoS fiction tends to start the main character as a Captain and only goes back to the hero's earlier years later.

And of course the supporting characters are there to show the other stages of an officer's career. In Bolitho for example we got a chance to see Keen as a Midshipman and Lieutenant long before we saw him as Captain and then Admiral. In my own Uncommon Valour we see young Stephen Mason as a starry-eyed boy who will grow into his responsibilities as a King's Officer with his brother Will and Sinclair as examples to follow just as Keen had Dick Bolitho as his example.

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Last edited by Dr. Fred on Sat Oct 29, 2005 3:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Sat Oct 29, 2005 12:30 pm
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Hi John!


Dr. Fred wrote:


The point is that most modern AoS fiction tends to start the main character as a Captain and only goes back to the hero's earlier years later.




Ah, but is that the case? I'm thinking of Stockwin's Kydd (pressed man), Lunn's Killigrew (lieutenant), Thomas' Jerrold (lieutenant), and finally, Donachie's Pearce (pressed man); several of them into an established series of several books.

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Sat Oct 29, 2005 1:20 pm
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Mil Goose wrote:
Hi John!


Dr. Fred wrote:


The point is that most modern AoS fiction tends to start the main character as a Captain and only goes back to the hero's earlier years later.




Ah, but is that the case? I'm thinking of Stockwin's Kydd (pressed man), Lunn's Killigrew (lieutenant), Thomas' Jerrold (lieutenant), and finally, Donachie's Pearce (pressed man); several of them into an established series of several books.


Hi Mil, :)

Well nothing's ever absolute, of course, but I'd say it goes that way more often than not. The current trend not withstanding. Even if the Hero isn't the captain the writer will often contrive a way to make him one by putting him in charge somehow, at least part of the time, so that the story can be about his descisions.

With lieutenants this is easy as there are always cutting out expeditions, attacks over land and so forth to lead. And of course that assignment as prizemaster that never seems to go smoothly, whenever the hero is assigned as prizemaster it's a given that some kind of trouble is on the way. :lol:

With ordinary seamen on the other hand it's difficult to do more than a couple of times without beginning to look very contrived.

Still, your point is well taken.

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Sat Oct 29, 2005 4:24 pm
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Post Established?
There's more dramatic tension to independant command. The ploy is to hook readers during the life time line when the hero is subject to the most dramatic tension, and then toss the reader flashbacks to formative days when they've been hooked.

By the way, a midshipman is an officer albeit not a commissioned officer.

It would some day be interesting to see a series revolve around a "before the mast" character. The research would be all the harder however since many were either illiterate or there was no good place for them to stash writing implements through most of their careers, and no one to write to. Quartermasters or gunners or boatswains rose to warrant officer status and I'm sure in many cases made THE critical decisions.

Dana and Melville could do a cruise or so, because they returned to land and their recollections were recent. Models like Cochrane were literate and left a written trail.

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Tue Nov 01, 2005 6:56 pm
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Post Re: Established?
CAPTCaltrop wrote:
By the way, a midshipman is an officer albeit not a commissioned officer.

I have been following this thread closely and have read some really good thoughts about the subject of starting with an established officer (and flashbacks or prequels like the Midshipman Bolitho books) to cover the earlier period in a character's life. Stockwin's Kydd series seems to work also. I guess it comes down to how do you make the character and his situation interesting enough to keep the reader eager for the next books in the pipeline.

I also have been intrigued with the exact status of midshipmen in the Age of Sail. Saying a midshipman of that era is an "officer, just not a commissioned one," seems to be a more modern view. It seems to me much more nebulous especially from Pepys through Nelson. Michael Lewis' "A Social History of the Navy 1793 - 1815" uses a descriptive term of "potential officer." It even talks about some midshipmen, but not all, being petty officers (master's mates) which is a position given by the ship's captain, not the Admiralty.

Lewis had some problems with the exact status of midshipmen such that he divided the ship's personnel into "quarterdeck" and "below deck" groups. Doing it this way, midshipmen (although not yet officers) clearly fell into the "quarterdeck" group.

Thus, there are several degrees (shades of gray maybe) of midshipmen in a ship -- including some midshipmen that everyone in the ship knows will never pass the exam for lieutenant. It seems to me that there were many ways of looking at the status of midshipmen including the strong force of naval tradition and the leadership skills of the midshipman. I wonder if there was ever a court martial of a sailor who disobeyed an order issued by a midshipman. Especially, if the midshipman was some nine year old who had just joined the ship. I realize that most times such a situation would be handled by the captain before reaching a court martial, but I just wonder.....

I suspect that if a "snotty" ever gave an order that would jeopardize the ship or its crew and a sailor refused to obey, the "young gentleman" would be "kissing the gunner's daughter" rather than the sailor being in trouble. Contrast that with an order from a senior midshipman and master's mate, already passed, awaiting his first assignment as a commissioned officer.

Don


Tue Nov 01, 2005 8:52 pm
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