NaNo 2011: Deconstruction II – The Good

Again, this post will contain spoilers

So in my last post, I gave a broad overview of my goals for the novel, my “planning process” (if you can even call it that), and some insight into the first few chapters of the story. In this post, I want to talk about a few of the things that I thought went particularly well. I don’t really have much else to say by way of introduction, so let’s dive in!

The overall tone and themes: I really liked how this came out in this story. The story is dark-ish, but it’s not without hope. I view the primary theme of the story as being about death: how do we respond and deal with the death of loved ones, friends, or even complete strangers? We see Josiah’s reaction to Evelyn’s death and his mother’s death, and we are slightly repulsed, but I think we can also understand this reaction. We also see Cameron’s reaction to Evelyn’s death — it is similar to Josiah’s, but subtly different; instead of becoming fixated on bringing her back to life, he slumps into despair. In effect, building himself a cage, even though he’s spent his whole life trying to be free of cages (or at least, that was part of the symbolism I was trying to build into his character. Maybe it didn’t come out well).

We also see the White King; I tried to leave it somewhat ambiguous as to his motivations in the story. I don’t know if this came across particularly well, but in my mind, yes, he’s a power-hungry monster who is killing his citizens to become a Dragon, but at the same time, I believe he cared about the very people he was trying to rule. He wanted to protect them from the Chimerae, and he wanted to understand why the grey reavers went insane and prevent that from happening again. In a revision to the story, I would try to emphasize these aspects of the King more, because I think it adds a lot of interest to his character.

At the same time that I’m dealing with a fairly heavy subject, I try to maintain a bit of light-heartedness in the story. This was primarily Percival’s role, and except for maybe the one chapter where Evelyn is slave-driving him, I think that he plays his part perfectly. I’m not quite sure if the balance between light-heartedness and darkness was right; some of my readers thought that it was too dark, but I was actually pretty happy with the balance. Any thoughts?

The Characters: I alluded to this a bit in my last post, but I was really trying to focus hard on character development in this story. I didn’t do it perfectly (and we’ll discuss why more in my next post), but I think it wasn’t bad, and some of my characters I thought were particularly engaging. Percival was definitely a fan favourite, and he was by far the most fun character to write. I think that shines through in his sections (in fact, one of my original ideas for NaNo was to write a story about a family of trolls; this is where the idea for Percival came from. I think, if I ever write another story in this universe, it will be about trolls).

Another character that was surprisingly deep was Ser Robert. In my initial plan, I had intended him to be the primary villain of the story, as Josiah was struggling to get revenge against him for what he did at Tao’lin. But as the story evolved, this made less and less sense, and it was very interesting to see his sense of loyalty and duty to the White King come into a very sharp conflict with his care and compassion for his old friends. Unfortunately for me, I went and killed him off relatively early in the story, so I didn’t really get to explore that to the depth that would have been good. In a revision to the story, I think that Ser Robert probably would not have died, at least not that early on, for this very reason.

My third favourite character was Cameron. He was a hard character to write, because he is a very, very broken man; at the same time, I think he has an inner strength that not very many of the other characters have. I wasn’t entirely happy with how his story ended up — it was too abrupt and unbelievable — but I think it could be fleshed out. In my hypothetical future revision, I think that he would still fall from being a “good guy”, but would be built up and explained a bit more. It is unclear whether he would redeem himself or not — if he does redeem himself, it gives his character a bit of hope that he doesn’t have otherwise, but it is harder to make that believable.

Josiah was an interesting character as well — I really enjoyed his early appearances, but I had a hard time making the transition into the latter half of the story. I don’t know exactly what will happen to his character in my hypothetical revision.

Idriys… well, Idriys was intended to be very stoic and unchanging, but ended up being boring and unbelievable. So we’ll talk about him tomorrow :)

The Setting: I really liked the setting of this story. I tried to write a very non-traditional fantasy world without elves and dwarves and Gandalfs and so forth; I also really wanted to present magic in a complementary light to science. So you see things like magic being done in laboratories with beakers and scales and other scientific implements, and I try to present it as something that magicians know something about. In most other magical fantasy, magic is either an unknown force that people just happen to be able to take advantage of, or it’s supernatural (caused by gods or demons), or it’s not explained at all. I wanted magic to be a physical force in the world that Warlock-scientists were trying to understand. This didn’t really have a direct impact on any of the chapters, but it sortof provided guidance for my writing, and I think you can see that influence in several of the chapters.

Several of the locations were also very iconic — I have a very neat image in my head of Castle Whitefall, nestled at the base of a giant mountain range, with a big lake off in the distance and a quaint little Middle-Ages style town not too far away, with fields and fields of Tao all around (Tao, by the way, looks like a banana plant in my head. I purposefully didn’t describe the plant in any great detail in the story, however, so that you could form your own image of it).

Rook Island (the place where Josiah’s ghostly mother is trapped for eternity) is also one of the really iconic, interesting places of the story. I mentioned this in my last post, but I’d really like to do more there. I think Chapter 2, where we meet Josiah’s mother, is possibly my favourite chapter from the story, precisely because of the lonely, forbidding penguin nesting ground called Rook Island.

All in all, I think that the first 15 or so chapters are probably the best part of the story. I really like the build-up in these chapters, and they were the most fun for me to write. I think this probably is apparent. The last 4-5 chapters are not bad — they do a pretty good job of wrapping up the story, given the foundation they have to work with. It’s the middle bit (chapters 16, 17, 18, and 19) where it all kindof falls apart; so in my next post, we’ll talk a bit about why it fell apart here, and what I might do to fix it.

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