Well, I'm currently gearing up to start Age of Blood and Bone, and I'm a little bit intimidated. I don't know for sure that I have what it takes to pull off what I'm planning.
As I was lying down, thinking about it, I got to meandering through my memories of how the story got to this point, so that I could plan for the next point. And then I thought, hey, I should probably write this down, if only because I haven't written anything today and this sort of qualifies.
At best, it's a look into how my thought processes work. At worst, it's something that you can easily skip over. Either way, feel free to tell me how you feel. This is sort of a diary in forum-post form, so I won't feel insulted if it is meaningless for everyone who is not me.
Basically, this is going to be a four-part monologue, each within this thread. I begin immediately with Twilight Of The Second Age.
TWILIGHT OF THE SECOND AGE: THE SEEDS OF MADNESS ARE SOWED
The story that would become Twilight (that sounds horribly pretentious somehow, but it basically works) was not my first foray into the wild world of Exalted fanfiction. No, the first attempt was Paper Tiger. Which is on my wiki page, if you're really curious, but don't bother. It lasted two pages. It had exactly one good moment, which I never got to writing. My second attempt, the Trials of Calin, made it somewhat further, only to collapse entirely around page 30, just as it was getting good. It had about three good ideas, one of which was stolen wholesale and dropped bodily into In Which.
Anyway, in April of 2006, I decided that the third time was the Charm, so to speak. I had two scenes in my head. The first was a young man, barely more than a boy, deep underground, his sudden Exaltation sending out flares of light that drove away the shadow-creatures surrounding him. The second was an arrogant Dragon-Blood, about to deliver the final blow to a Solar Exalt, getting suddenly tackled and knocked off a cliff by one of the Solar's mortal allies.
From these two scenes, I started working on Kieran's Tale. (Kieran's Tale actually made it to Part 4 before it got the fancier title Twilight of the Second Age.) At this point, I certainly had no plans for it to be more than the story of a Solar establishing himself. In the first draft, it was going to be Kieran and the three mortals he rescued, each Exalting in turn to form a Solar circle. Then I scrapped that, and went with mortals and how being around a Solar changed them. Then I realized that I actually needed a plot, and drafted some Abyssals as throwaway villains.
More on the throwaway nature of said Abyssals in a bit.
I needed a reason for a pair of Abyssals to be after Kieran, so I said, "Uh... they want one of his companions. Yeah! Because they dropped him or her down the pit to hold them." At which point it became... well, why didn't they keep the person in a Deathlord's keep, if they were that bloody important? Well... maybe the person knows something. Something that makes it dangerous for them to be near the Deathlord. How to kill them! Brilliant!
No, wait. Not brilliant. Because then the Deathlord would have had them killed. Suddenly, almost before the story started, I had a problem. My Deathknights, apparantly, were idiots.
I could have scrapped the whole thing, but I was stubborn, and I started looking for reasons to keep them alive. As it happened, while wandering through my books looking for something to design an area around for my actual Exalted game, I came across Mokrelus, the Many-Handed. And my plan was set. If a Splinter of Mokrelus were prevented from communicating with him, they could have that knowledge, and no one would dare kill them. Perfect.
Kieran didn't really change much from that point. Neither did Elena, his adopted mother, aside from me shifting her path towards "elemental" instead of "Zenith Caste". At the time of the story, I imagined that the ultimate end-point of her story was possibly becoming an Elemental Dragon, of the censor variety, and being a strong supporter of Kieran in Heaven centuries to come. That may or may not happen given the rest of the story.
Nia and Khory, on the other hand, changed a lot, if only because I knew nothing about them in my head. Nia was entirely defined by her abuse, and as she recovered from it, I wasn't sure who she was turning into. Ultimately, she wound up being braver than I had imagined at first, and less of a jackass. Khory, on the other hand, got more talkative. His first draft was stoic, brave, and saying very little - but every word would count. He was the party Eclipse, set to Exalt during the battle against Mokrelus. That also didn't happen.
It was the side characters who changed the most. Does anyone remember Ragara Juani? Yeah, that's what I thought. The third member of the three Dragon-Blooded who came after Kieran was going to be a love-triangle interest for him, after he refrained from killing her. Cathak Lodaris, devout yet sometimes lacking in understanding, would continue to pursue, and Mirron would just die for being such a terrible person (random fun fact: Mirron was the name and character of an actual Dragon-Blood in a game I ran. He featured the flaws Disturbing and Derangement: Sociopath. The rest of the party spent as much time trying to insulate society from him as they did actually advancing the plot. It was awesome.)
Instead, the opposite happened. Lodaris's experiences shot a giant dose of humility into his chest, and when he learned that the myth he had been supporting so strongly was false as well, it was his own faith that cracked. When I wrote Chapter 2, I hadn't expected that, but every time I sat down for Chapter 3 it was the only result that made sense - and it made me increasingly curious about the source of Lodaris's original obsessive zeal, which I had originally included just for the ignoring mortals scene. Juani... she just sort of faded out. I don't think she appeared after the interlude that confirmed her survival. She may return in Blood and Bone. Who knows. Mirron, at least, knew his part, and played it to the hilt. Which ended up buried in his chest.
The Celestials here also swapped roles when I wasn't looking. Sirrim was set up to travel with Kieran, and join in his adventures. Instead, he took on a more subtle role, befiting his own nature. I still like him a lot, for all that I don't use him much, and he'll probably be making a return appearance some time if I can fit him in. Thetram Nash, on the other hand, was a bit of an in-joke. Every campaign I run for Exalted has a Thetram Nash. He's always a bad guy. He's always dead inside of four sessions, generally at the players' hands. He's been a gang boss, a mercenary leader, a Bronze Faction assasin and a ghost. That was his role here - walk on, get beaten up to show that Sirrim is badass, give chase, get killed by the Abyssals in the last act.
And then the last act didn't happen. The Abyssals got a much better walk-on, and Nash's appearance vanished entirely. And I didn't even notice. To my shame, I completely forgot that he existed. And so, against all odds, he survived to live another day. Sneaky Sidereal bastard.
Finally, there were the throwaway Deathknights. Oh, my disposable Abyssals. In the first draft, they were the Ebon Guardian and the Alabaster Mask, a pair of Abyssal NPCs I'd used in the past. They were going to die in the "big reveal" scene, victims of Celestial Circle Sorcery - this would lead in to Mokrelus as the Big Bad. However, I ran into two problems. The first was that Celestial Circle Sorcery can't kill two halfway decent Abyssals. The scenarios I concocted just got more and more ludicrous. The second was that I didn't like those two. That was the original point, they were disposable. Instead, on the spur of the moment, I created Twice-Forged Steel. Corpse Scented With Jasmine just grew up on the spot as a natural foil for him, and the two started their madcap quest. And they were so bloody awesome that I abanonded the disposable idea entirely and let them live (sort of).
And all in all, it worked. Brilliantly, in fact. It took until my third page to get my first comment. It took until the forth to get my first generous compliment from Ephiphany. And as it really got rolling, I got swept up in it. I sort of regretted that it would end, and I would never do anything with the characters again.
Because that was the plan. Twilight was a stand-alone story - I certainly didn't know where it might head next. I sort of mucked it up by handing them a world-changing plot device right at the end, the secret to the destruction of the Deathlords, but it didn't really matter, because none of the characters that had appeared in the story would appear elsewhere.
(Next: Red Sky At Night - Characters That Had Appeared In The Story Appear Elsewhere)