Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Battle of Raven Kill (Author's Commentary)

I have no way of posting this side by side with the opening scene so you have a little work to do. (Like opening my blog in two windows.) Here's what I was thinking when writing this passage.

For the introduction of the story I wanted to start in full despair mode. I wanted to capture the hopelessness of the situation. I also wanted to hint at things to come by referring to the rocks in the river like 'knuckles of the Earth.' I liked that first line so much it became the only thing in this scene that survived.

Now we have the first of many extraneous characters make an appearance. I used the scout character to bring the readers up to speed on what sort of odds the clan is facing.

The medicine woman comes next and I really liked her as a character. She was intended to be my method of hinting at what Oth was capable of. The first simile I came up with for her medicine bags was 'hanging off her like dead rats' but after some thought I came up with the pine cones. Not everything's a gem in the rough draft.

The exchange with Oth about being empty and searching for something useful was another way to illustrate the bad situation they were all in. At the same time I wanted to show her as a capable healer and valuable member of the clan, respected by the men who are clearly in charge. Serle's wound exists for no other reason than that.

Then we get to the line I stole from Terminator 2. The scout needed to show the reader that things were bad and getting worse. Without still knowing the full reason for the clan to be on the run, what could be worse than the number of enemy pursuers to be 'all of them?' I think it says "We're in deep kimche" better than "Oh, about a hundred or so." It also tells the reader something about the relentless nature of the bad guys which becomes important later on.

While this is not specifically a Christian tale, I can't seem to keep references to God out of my writing. At this point I am layering on the despair by having a character claim to be forsaken by God. I wasn't exactly sure of the type of God I wanted in this story and it took a few passes and some great advice by a sharp eyed beta reader for me to zero in on it.

This argument between the man and the chieftain points out one of the growing problems I was having with this opening. None of the characters except Oth and the scout have names yet. I tried it but names kept leading to descriptions and descriptions kept leading to histories and I wasn't getting to the story I wanted to tell.

Then I have Oth finally announce the plot. He stays and fights. Everyone else, move along. Simple. That was supposed to be the whole story but as I started writing I just kept including things to set up the situation and the characters. Also here, I was trying to establish that Oth is quite confident that he can hold off the bad guys but it might be difficult for him.

The crafty, unnamed medicine woman knows instantly what Oth is going to do. She's in on it. This was just a device to clue the reader into something special happening.

The unnamed chieftain gets his longest speech at this point as a way of establishing Oth's street cred. The name 'Othren Four-Scars' did not survive the final draft because it was actually an idea I had for a different story of a character with ritual scars from personal duels to the death. I simply threw it in here because I needed a full and important sounding name at the moment and didn't want to stop typing long enough to think of one.

By this point I was realizing that I was really struggling with getting the clan on the road and letting Oth unleash on the Pechts. It was a time where these stupid characters kept arguing and strategizing and I'm flat running out of pages that I can devote to them. Oth also foreshadows his own doom, which is necessary.

So the rough draft of this section had a couple more arguments back and forth but in my first attempt to salvage these pages I cut them and replaced them with the chieftain holding up his hand and essentially saying, 'shut up, let's go.' And then everyone leaves. It was the only way I could get them to just move along but I didn't like it.

Even as I was hastily ushering the clan off stage right I knew that Oth would have no one else to talk to for the rest of the story. That becomes a problem for writers everywhere because important plot points now have to be thought by the protagonist and they usually ring hollow. So I have the crafty medicine woman, still unnamed, come right out and admit that Oth has some kind of secret. I'm doing a tap dance here and hoping that the reader won't call me on it.

I also take a little time to hint at the value of steel and therefore the value of steel spear points later on.

All these discussions of Oth's chances at victory are designed to plant the seeds of doubt in the reader. No matter how big and strong your protagonist is, the story's just not interesting if there isn't the real chance for him to fail.

The unnamed man who stops at the very tail end of the clan to wish him well serves two purposes. First, I loved the line 'frayed to the last twist' and was trying desperately to work it into this passage. Second, Oth needed a shield and I still hadn't figured out where it would come from.

Then Oth gives an Arnold Schwarzenegger line and we're done.

So that was it. Four pages of delay and set up before Oth gets down to business. As it is the story still has a couple of pages before the Pechts begin to show up. After cutting this scene I decided to bring in an idea that had been rolling around inside my head. Oth's daughter. She, in just a few sentences, sums up the despair of the clan and the mysterious secret that Oth holds. In order to avoid all the questions about family and wives and such, I made her adopted.

But to find out the full extent of her role in the story... You'll have to buy the book.


Bryan Hitchcock said...

Very interesting commentary. I will link to it when I review your story tonight. Little details like the "knuckles of the earth" really worked for me and gave the story a more polished feel.

I will add you to my blog roll. You have a nice one here.


Scriptorius Rex said...

Many thanks! Hope you enjoy it.