Saturday 16th May 2020
It used to be that I’d rewrite chapters time and time again, trying to get the tone right. I’m pretty sure that The Four Realms’ first chapter was rewritten 50+ times from scratch.
I have a problem with this book’s second chapter, and in trying to rewrite it I’m very much reminded of that old habit of mine for rewriting endlessly.
I’d like to think I’m a little more experienced now and better at identifying what’s not working.
This chapter is the promise to the reader. If chapter 1 is the James Bond pre-title credits action sequence that reintroduces the world and protagonist to us, then chapter 2 is the establishing of the conflict, and creating the circumstances that propel the protagonist forwards.
And I think that’s where the problems lay. I think I’m pretty good at a story that goes from A to B to C but something I’m becoming better at is creating a story where A causes B causes C. It’s not exactly that character motivation isn’t there, it’s just I always give my protagonist a choice.
Something I’ve learnt in recent years is to set up stories where the protagonist is more forced along a path than chooses to go along it. It creates greater character agency and a more compelling story.
And I think that’s what’s missing here.
In this chapter we’re laying the groundwork for the Bruce Wayne vs Batman argument. I think there’s probably quite a few reasons why Bruce Wayne makes more sense than Batman. I think there’s even a few arguments for neither.
So this chapter, if it has just one job, is to set up the situation so that not only that the argument exists but that it’s not even a choice for the protagonist.
At the moment, all that exists with this chapter is dialogue. I like a lot of the dialogue but I wonder if it’s driving to a conclusion. I’ve got some lovely lore, but I question whether it serves the purpose of the chapter.
If you’d asked me a few days ago I would have said that the purpose of this chapter was to set up the events that will happen in 3 or so chapters time. Now, I would say that it’s setting up the character decision, and by that I mean, make it the only decision this character can make.
Things like that used to bother me. I used to be a partial pantser (I’d know key milestones in my story including the end but would pants my way between those milestones). It would often result in a character turning right when I needed them to turn left. Now I’m much more a planner, I’m getting better at manipulating my characters into making the decision I need. A couple of years ago, I’d make it so it was a choice they made – a choice that a reader could then argue with. Now I’m getting to a stage where they have no choice but to take the path I want them to take.
Doing that effectively and without it seeming forced is a challenge, and like now, it’s something I can sometimes struggle with. But I’m getting better at making my characters do what I need them to do whilst making it seem like a choice.
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