As most of you know by now, at the end of The Search part 1, Zuko finds a letter from his father that suggests he may not be Ozai’s son after all.
This cliffhanger seemed to leave people either excited or angry. Like I wrote about in this post when The Search was released, the expectations for this story were such that no matter what happened, I figured more than a few people would be upset with the way it all played out.
But that was just the first of a three part story. (Part 2 is out now, part 3 released in November.) And a story’s job is to throw a wrench into the character’s and the reader’s experience. The reader stands in Zuko’s shoes when he finds that letter and is left to wonder along with him, “Is Zuko’s whole life a lie?”
This question won’t be answered until part 3, but I love that it brings up so many emotions and questions for people (and for our characters). As part 2 begins, even Aang is upset and, echoing many of you out there, says: “It can’t be true. Or at least, it shouldn’t be!”
I find it fascinating when readers or viewers are upset by an unexpected turn of events in a story, because this is the very reason we like to read them — to be surprised, to find out what happens next, to have a vicarious experience through another’s eyes. When stories don’t deviate from the expected, they become boring. And no one likes a boring story.
What I love about the revelation at the end of part 1, is that Zuko finds a sense of freedom in his new knowledge. If he’s not Ozai’s son, that means he’ll be unburdened from his past and all the horrible things that happened to him. He thinks he can start fresh. In fact, Zuko seems to be the most relieved of his friends to find out this news — they’re all looking at the big picture and wondering what it means for the world if Zuko isn’t the rightful Fire Lord. Meanwhile, Zuko just smiles and says he feels hopeful.
This story is not just about the external plot of Zuko searching for his mother, but also his internal search for who he is (or who he thinks he is). And that’s what makes this particular chapter in the Avatar saga much more than just a mystery to be solved.
From a storytelling perspective, the facts of Ursa’s whereabouts was never as interesting to me as what this search means for Zuko.
When stories balance a hero’s external quest with his or her internal one, the tale resonates. I love trying to find that balance in storytelling. I enjoy coming up with plot, action, and the “what happens next” of it all, but if the character’s emotional needs and wants are missing, the story falls flat.
Bryan and I have been asked many times how much of the Avatar world we knew when we started. Did we already have the idea for Korra when we were making The Last Airbender? (No.) Did we always know where Zuko’s mom was, and were we just keeping that juicy information to ourselves? (Again, no.)
The truth is, there would be no way we could’ve known every detail or character in the Avatar world. When we pitched the series, we laid out a lot of the groundwork for books 1-3 of A:TLA, but characters like Zuko, Zhao, and most of Aang’s adventures had yet to be created.
As J.R.R. Tolkein said in the foreword to Lord of the Rings, “This tale grew in the telling.” Even the godfather (grandfather?) of fantasy didn’t know everything about his own creation.
In developing each book of Korra and the Avatar comics, I have advocated creating the mythology to suit the story and its characters, rather than conform a character’s story to some pre-determined mythological encyclopedia.
When I look at sites like Avatar.wikia, I’m amazed at the volume of characters, places, and creatures that now exist in the Avatar universe. And to be honest, I’ve had to consult it now and then to fact check. Bryan and I may have established the building blocks, but many other writers and artists have helped us construct this growing, living mythology.
The Avatar tale has grown so much in the telling, and I hope will continue to grow for many years to come.