NaNo 2011: Deconstruction III – The Bad

More spoilers abound

Ok, so last time I talked about the things that I really liked about the novel; this time around, it’s time to discuss the things that didn’t work. There were a lot of little things that didn’t work especially well, but given the amount of output I was producing and the timeframe in which I was doing it, I think that’s to be expected. However, there were two major, gaping, glaring problems with the story that need to be addressed. I believe that about 85% of the novel would be fixed if I fixed these two problems. So, let’s jump in and see:

Major Glaring Problem #1: The relationship between Idriys, Cameron, Josiah, and the Chimerae is incredibly poorly-defined. It makes no sense. Here are 7 major questions that never get answered over the course of the story:

1) Why does Idriys decide that the proper response to finding out that the White King is killing his own citizens for power is to enlist the help of other vicious creatures who have been killing the White King’s citizens for revenge?
2) Once Idriys decided this, how did he break free from the Imperial Catechism? For that matter, what is the Imperial Catechism?
3) Why does Josiah want to meet with the Chimerae? (It’s hinted that he wants their help raising Evelyn from the dead, but it’s clear that the Chimerae know that she’s already come back and don’t like it, so there’s no reason for them to agree to help Josiah).
4) What do Josiah and Idriys have to offer the Chimerae that would get them to agree to some sort of crazy deal?
5) Why do the Chimerae betray Josiah, Idriys, and Cameron, to get them thrown into prison? (Ostensibly this is to “lure the White King out of his fortress”, but how do they know he will come?)
6) Why do the Chimerae then proceed to rescue Josiah, Idriys and Cameron from prison?
7) Speaking of Cameron, what the heck did he have to do with any of this to begin with?

The whole thing is completely nonsensical. Idriys betrays the White King for no reason and the Chimerae agree to help him for no reason, but then betray him for a (very weak) reason, and then rescue him for no reason. Can it really even be called a betrayal if the betrayer is an inept moron who confessed to the fact of his treason in his private journal?

Ok, yes, I know, that’s maybe a little harsh. I (think) I was able to hang a few lampshades on some of these issues, and sweep some others under the rug, and rely on the fact that I had to force people to wait a while between chapters so that you would forget about things that happened earlier. But really, if you think hard about it, you’ll realize that the core plot is nonsense.

The reason for this, I think, really stems from my initial plans (or lack thereof). When I am running a role-playing game, I tend to be very good about getting myself out of holes that I’ve written into the story, and I was thinking I would be able to draw upon those skills to eventually tie all my loose ends together. Unfortunately, they’re different mediums, and the role-playing medium is a lot more forgiving than the written word.

Why is this? Well, in role-playing, the players have many days between sessions (sometimes several weeks), and stuff gets forgotten. In fact, even the DM will forget things that happened in the past, and make something else up. There are lots of miscommunications that happen because the players and the DM are thinking different things, and compromises occur so that the players still have fun. The end result is that a lot of the possible incongruities get explained away in the players’ minds so that they think the story is a lot more cohesive than it actually is. Unfortunately, in writing, these incongruities are much harder to ignore, which I don’t think I realized until about three-quarters of the way through my story, when I said, “Oh, crap, I have no way of making any of this make sense.”

So that’s possibly the biggest thing that would need to be addressed in any future revision — the relationships and motivations of the main characters with each other and the Chimerae needs to be very solid. Unfortunately, I think this would involve re-writing a substantial portion of the last half of the book, because it’s pretty flimsy right now.

Major Glaring Problem #2: It is unclear exactly what sorts of things Tao can and cannot do. This was actually somewhat intentional, but it was poorly-executed. I wanted the Tao to be somewhat mysterious, and obviously quite powerful, but the relationship between level of power and the unfortunate after-effects are never really defined. We know that Tao-sickness is unpleasant; but is Josiah’s case after fighting the King’s Warlocks a particularly bad case? Why did he never really suffer from it when he was at Tao’lin?

Even more importantly, the Chimerae are described as being very powerful Tao-wielders, supposedly much more powerful than any human. Some of this can be described as exaggeration, but when the only two human Tao users we see (Josiah and the White King) are clearly at least as powerful as the Chimerae, we begin to wonder what’s going on. Are they just special? Are they pushing themselves extra hard? Are the Chimerae just weaklings? Why are people in the Kingdom so afraid of them?

This is not nearly as big of a problem as the first problem, and I think it could be addressed more easily than the first problem; I think I can still keep it mysterious, but I need to show more usage of it by other people to place its power in context. I also need to show the after-effects of using Tao more often, so that people understand at least roughly that the amount of power you can gain from the Tao is in rough proportion to how bad the sickness is afterwards.

I think that addressing this second problem will help ground the story more. It will be easier to be impressed when the Chimerae do something awesome, and as long as it’s explained well, it will be especially impressive when Josiah or the White King does something awesome like sprout angel wings or turn into a dragon.

So yup — there you have it. Fix those two problems, and the story will be much, much better, I think. There were a few other minor things that I didn’t like about the story.

For example, Cameron’s seizures and attacks — I had originally intended to use those as a device to get them out of prison, but then I couldn’t come up with a way to make that work believably. So then at the last minute, I decided it would be a symptom of Tao-sensitivity, which is why he and the White King were able to get their powers from other people. I think this is fine, but it needs some setup earlier in the story, maybe about how the White King also suffered from such attacks.

There were some other minor issues with the character arcs and development. For instance, it was never really clear why Josiah decided to suddenly not completely hate Cameron, and it was also never really clear why Cameron decided to join up with the White King. I think these issues could be addressed with a few paragraphs of extra exposition here and there, however. Idriys’s character was the weakest, for two reasons — his motivations were nonsensical, and his character arc was fairly flat. The latter was intentional, but when combined with the former, it made him have very little depth. I think in a revision, he would need to have some more of an arc, as well as motivations that make sense.

So anyways, this just about wraps up my series of deconstruction posts. My final post in the next day or so will primarily be talking about my inspiration (aka, where I stole all my totally sweet ideas from).

2 Comments

  • Robert Morrison wrote:

    Your analysis here is very good, and points out what I consider the biggest flaw with the NANO “write a lot of words” concept: really great stories are a result of editing and rewrites. Success is, say, 10% writing the story, and 90% reworking it until it really coheres… Kind of like writing really great computer games is 10% working model and 90% hashing out the GUI, bugs, etc…

  • Thanks for the comment. I think the point of NaNo is not necessarily to create a finished product in a month; I think most people treat it more as one of two things, either a) a purely personal writing exercise (which it’s very good at — putting out that volume of writing every day is hard!), or b) a jumping-off point from which they can start the revising/editing process.

    At least for me, if I were to revise and edit the story, it’s extremely helpful to have a completed base to start from. I still might have to throw out the last half of the story, but just having something “complete” is helpful, I think.

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