A little about our lovable protagonist
Before Welcome to Wis’ Apothecary even had a title, when it was just a creative spark that was just some words on paper, Isabel Pirige wasn’t an apprentice, but a fully realized witch. (As a fun aside, I should mention the first story you read in Welcome to Wis’ Apothecary isn’t actually the first I wrote. Can you guess which was? I’ll reveal the answer in a later post.)
Isabel Pirige was born on Octoria 13th (the 31st would’ve been too on the nose), in the small town of Pommeseed. It’s a rural township in the Kingdom of Aramore. There, her family owns a fruit orchard, and in fact, Pirige means ”peach tree.” Growing up, her mother was quite sick, and that experience ultimately leads us to where we eventually find her, as an apprentice of Wis’ Apothecary.
(Some very light spoilers below, but nothing that should ruin the experience for a new reader.)
Illustration by Eduardo Abundis, check him out on Instagram: @abundisart
The story about an apprentice
At first, I didn’t even really have much of an idea for Isabel. I just knew that I wanted to write a story about a witch, and challenge myself by writing in first person — a style I’ve never done before. But I found the more I wrote, the more Isabel kind of… came to life on her own. It was really satisfying, because her voice just came so naturally. And I had my concerns, as an adult male writing for a teenage girl.
Isabel is a lens to tell other characters’ stories through. Isabel ends up being more involved in stories than I think I originally intended, but my first statement is still true. And for that reason, I think the fact that she’s an apprentice makes sense. She’s young and still growing as both a witch and a person, so she can learn a lot from other characters and the adventures that ensue.
Most of my stories in Wis’ Apothecary begin with a character idea. Like, what about an immortal vampire in the body of a child? Or two con artist twins who scam the apothecary? After that, it’s the matter of developing a plot and figuring out how Isabel can fit in.
So of course she’s a bit nosy, and tends to get herself involved in situations she doesn’t belong. But it all comes from a desire to help and do good, even if she ends up complicating things or creating trouble along the way.
A highly empathetic character
To expand on that, I also wanted to create a protagonist who was really empathetic. Someone who can laugh and have fun, but can also feel the, sometimes, very real pain of her customers. And isn’t an apothecary the perfect setting for someone like that?
But again, she‘s young and inexperienced. And as clever as she often is, this also means she’s a bit naive and gullible at times. She doesn’t want to become a hero and solve all the world’s problems, but she does want to help those in front of her. And I think this sets her apart from other protagonists or other stories that take place in such a fantastical setting.
At the beginning of book one, she’s 14. And still a bit of a crybaby, which of course she gets teased for from time to time. But there’s an innocence to that, which speaks to her empathetic and earnest nature.
She‘s also very much a teenager. A modern teenager too, which is a very intentional choice — despite the setting of our story, where I think teenagers would have been much more mature. Like most teens, she hates chores and homework, and will spend more energy trying to get out of work than actually doing it. But she also loves her cat, anything sweet and reading romance novels (no smartphone to scroll through). She also tends to be a bit self-conscious and spends maybe too much comparing herself to others, like her teacher (more on that later). She‘s impulsive, and kind of has this carefree attitude where she assumes things will just work out. Never is that actually the case. I hope, at least, she’s relatable for not just our young readers, but even the older audience too.
On one hand, she really admires her teacher, and has deep respect for Wis. But on the other hand, she can have a funny way of showing it at times. She can be rather quippy with Wis, and sarcastic. She’ll be offended for her teacher when the store gets scammed, but on the same beat sneak behind Wis’ back to try and fix the problem on her own. A little contradictory, no?
The original concept by @abundisart. Seriously, give this talented guy a follow!!
The Teacher-Student Relationship
As I mentioned previously, I think the relationship between Isabel is a little unique. It isn’t Dumbledore and Harry Potter, or Merlin and Arthur. It’s more… familial, like the one between a cool aunt and precocious niece.
Wisteria is her teacher, but she also loves Isabel very much. And that love is absolutely reciprocated — despite Isabel being terribly embarrassed whenever Wis tries to dote on her. This makes for some very cute, wholesome moments, and I adore writing the two of them together.
But Wis is still a mentor. And will always be there to offer some sage wisdom, or dig her apprentice out of trouble. For that reason, I especially like stories where Isabel can figure out the problem on her own, because it would be too easy to make Wis this constant “get-out-of-jail-free” card. I’m trying to tell real stories, and real stories have consequences.
Wis will, of course, get her own blog post at some point. I have a lot to say about her, and I’m quick to admit she’s my favorite character. But here’s the other interesting thing about their relationship: Isabel the protagonist isn’t the genius witch, her teacher is. In fact, in many ways they’re opposites.
Isabel is impulsive, energetic and clumsy. Meanwhile Wisteria Amberfinch is cool and collected, graceful and highly capable. This is again, very intentional, and I think not only creates tension at times, but is an excellent slate for storytelling.
I mean, Isabel has big shoes to fill. And she feels that pressure at times. It’s something I explore, and something you can count on seeing explored more in later books. But I think Wis learns just as much from Isabel, and is so patient with her reckless student because she sees something truly remarkable inside of her. Even if Isabel can’t recognize that herself.
So what do you think about the witch’s apprentice Isabel Pirige? Let me know in the comments below, and please share this with anyone you think might find some kinship with our lovable protag. Until next time, thanks for reading!