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Inside A Madman's Mind: I Ramble About My Stories

24 Oct 2007, 00:50

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.

Right?

(Next: Red Sky At Night - Characters That Had Appeared In The Story Appear Elsewhere)
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Re: Inside A Madman's Mind: I Ramble About My Stories

24 Oct 2007, 09:33

Ah, the different places writing roadblocks can take stories. For instance, I was originally writing Shun's story with the Joyous Student being the sole Abyssal showing up, but felt that no draft was satisfactory (I did this several occasions somewhat later than this time last year), and the charqacter torture not excruciating enough, so I added more Abyssals and moved around some of the bad things, altered a few Second Breath details and got the Cult of the Illuminated involved, based on a passage from the first Sidereals book about plots involving Solars typically being ideal tugs of war between Abyssals and Sidereals.

And before that, even, there was a veritable pinball game to determine the type of being the main antagonist would be. It actually started off as a rather oddly wacky way of explaining why tentacle monsters like pleated skirts, which was also dropped on account of the fact that a certain pair of Exalted showed themselves to be quite adept at breaking vast areas of land just by fighting with each other.

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Re: Inside A Madman's Mind: I Ramble About My Stories

26 Oct 2007, 15:04

Dinosaur: Man, I can hardly imagine Shun without the Cult around to screw with. Glad they made their way into your stories.

-----

When I started Red Sky At Night, it was the beginning of my personal metaplot. I didn't know where exactly it was going, but I decided I was going to do five stories, in a row. I was a ways into Red Sky before I decided on the last three - they were going to be, in order, The Dynasty's Shadowed Light, Dawn of the Dragons (the story of a Dawn Caste Exalt restoring Rathess), and an unnamed-story about a Zenith Caste member of the Cult of the Illuminated.

The metaplot changed a bit in the meantime.

Anyway, the main idea for me in Red Sky was to grab half the secondary characters from Twilight, the ones that I had enjoyed but not gotten a chance to do as much with, add an extra main character, and give them appropriate horrors to deal with. I was on a Dukantha kick at the time, so the Lintha became my primary antagonist pretty much by default.

This was a story where the primary cast stayed pretty consistant throughout the planning stages - Alina, Lodaris, Citrios, Steel, and Jasmine. Each had their own sort of goals. Alina was easy - she practically wrote herself, and and basically stayed as what I imagined her to be straight through. Lodaris got a lot of development in the role of Alina's new mentor; he's still got his certainty, but his arrogance is toned down two notches from Twilight due to his humbling experiences. I also ironed out his past, adding his old Solar brother and a Sidereal acquaintance that he didn't know he had (who then failed to appear). I kept waffling about Citrios, who I had stolen from a game I was running, but since I never got to delve into his backstory there, I figured it would happen here instead. It didn't. I imagine it will arrive later, during the Third Age. As for Steel, he also got some character development, as he honed his perceptive capabilities and got a taste of life in Creation. This basically let him become the best Abyssal ever, and I was kind of sorry to lose him - if only because it meant no scenes with Steel and his new master, Mnemon. But it was important for the long term plot.

Once again, though, the secondary cast got completely out of control. Dukantha worked out about right, but the other two Exalts of the piece did not. Mnalif Nganto, whom I added without reading over carefully, changed massively overnight when I realized, after a few test fights, that there was no frickken' way the main cast could beat Dukantha and the Lintha without a heavily stacked deck. Nganto got to be the fifth ace, delaying her horrible murder by two full chapters (in the first draft, she did get offed in the cave, rather than meeting Dukantha, and it was her that explained Dukantha to the group). The other Exalt who failed to die as planned was a Sidereal by the name of Thetram Nash.

Yes, that one.

What's that? You don't recall Thetram Nash being in the story at all? Well, that's because he sort of vanished. Completely. Without me noticing. To be honest, I have no idea what happened. In the original plot, Nash was responsible for sending Lodaris westwards and for the trumped-up charges against him. He did this to isolate Lodaris from the Immaculate Order after the disaster in the North, sending him to help deal with the Lintha attacking an island whose god Nash was friends with - Juriss. When the sea goddess mentions that she and Lodaris share a friend? It's Nash. Nash was supposed to appear properly at the end of Act II, meander in during Act III, and get killed by Dukantha in Act IV to prove the situation was serious. Only he never showed up, and the couple of vague mentions earlier went nowhere. Whoops.

But aside from Nash reprising his inability to be written dead, the plot went beautifully. Dukantha gave me a framework for the major villain of the Third Age - the Conduits of the Yozi. The Conduits also explained why a host of high-Essence Exalts didn't just show up and curbstomp the Infernal bastard. In addition, Citrios and Alina became a connection point for the next story on the list, the Dynasty's Shadowed Light.
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Re: Inside A Madman's Mind: I Ramble About My Stories

26 Oct 2007, 15:30

Dynasty's Shadowed Light was designed to be the Creation's Plot linking story for the rest of the stories, which were much more personal. In order to implement the sweeping changes I'd made to the setting for the Third Age, I needed them to happen organically. This meant that the Dynasty story wound up having the largest cast of characters, the most cutaways, the highest death tolls, and the lowest focus on the actual main character.

For all that, the second chapter of Dynasty is basically my second-favorite thing in the entire Tales of the Second Age. There's just something about Fokuf as a mortal, that mix between a desire to help and a feeling of utter hopelessness, that struck home with me when I wrote it.

The Tepet Fokuf I created was based on a discussion in the White Wolf forums, of Fokuf being a masterful manipulator. As someone pointed out, in the Realm, it's almost impossible to go without enemies. Yet that is something specifically mentioned about the Regent. So for all his apparant passivity, he's good at getting people onside. From there, the whole story spun itself out. He would need a Sidereal advisor, one that the Bronze wouldn't mistrust. And thus Damien was born (and accidentally named after a different forum-poster before I changed it). He would need allies - and Nagazzer entered the picture, along with Arada eventually. He had powerful enemies - Mnemon, Iselsi Thelos, Perfected Tears. And, of course, Master Harakken Cyrus, the Big Bad. All that was left was to figure out exactly how the plot developed. Very early on, I worked out Cyrus and Thelos as allies, working to destroy the Sidereals and the Dragon-Blooded in preparation for the Competition. All that I needed was some idiot patsy, a Sidereal who would get horribly murdered by Cyrus and set off a chain of events culminate in the near-fall of the Realm. There was only one logical person for the job of sacrificial goat.

If you guessed Thetram Nash, you see where this is going.

Yes, I was planning to introduce Nash at the opening of the Second Chapter. His loyalty to the Bronze as he tried to cover up his actions with Lodaris would lead to a string of hilarious near-uncoverings of Fokuf, and then he would be offed, not for his many flaws, but for his one shining successes - discovering the truth about the Iselsi. Giant irony. Very awesome. Of course, by that point I'd decided not to have Dukantha kill him, but there he was, ready to use. Except that he was sort of too mean. As I plotted him out, I began to worry that Cyrus killing him would just make people cheer. So instead I went the other way. I designed a Sidereal who was innocent and naive, a little bit silly, someone who even Cyrus himself would feel like a real ass for killing. And thus poor Twice-Breathing Millia, She of the Ironic Name, was introduced into the story, for the sole purpose of making people like her so that her death would be that much more awful. My only concern was that I would either give her too much screentime or too little. I solved that eventually (but more on that in the In Which thread, where Millia really got to shine).

So, once again, Thetram Nash didn't die. Goddamn Sidereals. A lot of other people did, though. With such a large secondary cast, a lot of people wandered onscreen, got killed, and then vanished. Others, like Arada or V'Neef, just popped up at the end. Ditto for Cathak Tyr, another character who mostly shined during In Which. Ultimately, the story worked its purpose - it kept Creation moving towards Calibration, while dissolving the Factions and damaging the Dynasty.

Fun fact: Dynasty's Shadowed Light added two members to the Solar Circle I had been planning, essentially negating the stories Dawn of the Dragons and Cult's Sun Rises (or whatever the hell I would have called it). Those two were Draniel, who joined in the Scourging in Chapter 3, and Tenrek, the turtle beastman who appeared alongside Amaya at the Sequestered Tabernacle. I won't give away secrets, but that was not the last you'll be seeing of either of them... :twisted:
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Re: Inside A Madman's Mind: I Ramble About My Stories

26 Oct 2007, 16:51

Man, Avoidance Kata sounds really impressive when used correctly. Nash seems to have been using it early and often. <^_^>
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Re: Inside A Madman's Mind: I Ramble About My Stories

26 Oct 2007, 23:17

Yeah, 2e sids sound like their charms are much more bad-ass if they can use them to prevent being killed by their own author.

Oh, I'd also argue that, at least in the first story, one of your abyssals remained an idiot. Still, Steel was the best abyssal ever. And I do confess to some curiosity as to how he will use the gender-switching power that apparently comes with being one of the Underworld monarchs, because he seems the type to have figured out something fun to do with that.
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Re: Inside A Madman's Mind: I Ramble About My Stories

27 Oct 2007, 00:54

BrilliantRain: Steel wasn't so much an idiot as basically unconcerned with details and facts. Most of his development was based on actually paying attention to things other than himself. (Mechanically, he spent XP to raise his Perception from 1 to 3 over the course of his downtime adventures). But yeah, he was a little dense. The issue wasn't so much Abyssal intelligence as Abyssal interest - trust me when I say that Ebon and Alabaster (whose original characters were so old they had NAMES [specifically Sarnax and Tynal] when I wrote them up) were not nearly as cool. Although Jasmine kept a few of Alabaster's quirks, especially the shrouded skin thing.

-----

The last story I wrote, In Which, is also an odd one. It's not exactly one story. Really, it's four much shorter stories, which connect as direct sequels of each other. When I started the first one, all that I really knew was that I wanted a Fair Folk lord who wasn't a total Creation-eating jackass, the sort that were suggested to exist in Scavenger Sons, written up in Halta (ish) and then ignored completely in Fair Folk. And I wanted the Conduit of Gaia to not be Ma-Ha-Suichi, who was the first choice.

That was because of some whole "Gaia isn't necessarily nice" thing, which worked better in a chronicle with PCs than in a story where she WAS the PC.

Anyway, the first chapter was pretty much awesome to write, and the sheer awkward hilarity between Serafin and Alakazar in their early meetings still amuses me. Especially the bit about children. Ironically, the story-image I was going to write never showed, because Alakazar started hiring other Fair Folk instead of handing out Graces like candy to humans, which was my first idea. Scores of Wyld-shaping humans descending on predatory Fair Folk like a cloud of very angry bees. It's absurdly easy to pull off, and he may still do it some day. If he does, I'll save the "co-ordinated shaping attacks" fiction bit for then. In the first chapter, I was planning for a three-chapter sequence: Serafin Exalts, Serafin fights in Greyfalls, Serafin becomes Conduit. But I found a problem; there was nothing connecting Serafin to the other plotlines. At all.

To solve the problem, I took another problem and solved it. Twice-Breathing Millia, the Girl Without Enough Plot In Her Own Story Arc, got adopted into Chapter 2, as a child of the Silver Court. Her connection helped tied the Sidereals and Dragon-Blooded into the plot, giving Serafin backdrop and a pathway to understanding the Sutra that connected her to Gaia. Plus, it let me give her a lot more screen time by introducing her in Chapter 3, using the event she had vaguely alluded to previously. (That event doesn't synch up perfectly, actually. If I were to do editing, she would shift her first conversation a little bit). The second chapter also introduced the Silver Court, who really aren't that important, I just like laying threads that connect Exalted to the WoD, even if the timeline is totally wrong.

Chapter Three introduced the akuma foe, as well as Cathak Tyr, allowing a man to take on the damsel in distress who's still more badass than they first appear role, a role first filled by Nia, then by Alina, then by Millia. (As an aside, I end way too many women's names with 'a's. I have no idea why.) Really, it was mostly there to provide a backdrop, and it annoys me that I didn't flesh out the Fair Folk antagonists enough, or have Alakazar there at all. It was very saddening.

And then came Chapter Four, and the return of my favorite Avoidance Kata Sidereal, Thetram Nash.

Anyone want to guess who got killed by Infernals in the first draft of Chapter Four?

That's right. See, after all his near misses, I still had that "noble ending to an ignoble character" thing rattling around my skull. For Nash to switch sides enough to join the Lunars, even if it was against an Infernal, and then get whacked, seemed poetically fitting. So why did he survive this time? He was there. He got arrowed. But, halfway through writing the combat sequences in Chapter Four, I just threw up my hands and said "screw it". Thetram survived mainly due to the massive body count in Dynasty's Shadowed Light. No more phyrric victories killing off half the cast. Serafin was the bloody Conduit of bloody Gaia, and she was going to have her crew come out intact (with the exception of Millia, but she was already dead. So it doesn't count). And so, the cackling villain I had originally designed, and fortunately never fully written out, wound up becoming a conflicted, turmoil-filled Sidereal who no longer knew what to believe. His faction was in ruins. The Infernals were rising. Maybe the Bronze was wrong all along. And so he found a new plan - working for Serafin.

As you will see, this really saved me for planning the next chapter. I would have been so screwed. So thank you Thetram, for not dying any of the four times that you were supposed to.

Then, all I had to do was write up the Interludes, setting up the army of villains ready to take the world by storm. Not all of them are going to be critical. But Sacheverall's Alliance and the alliance of She Who Lives In Her Name are going to be front-row players, as will the Deathlords, whose time in the tale isn't done yet. And Draniel, of course, also known as the Guy Whose Life I Totally Ruined Just For The Plot, is going to be pretty important.

And there it was - the grand story ready for launching. I had a whole fancy idea to make a fake movie trailer for Age of Bone and Blood, but Windows Movie Maker couldn't handle it, and my attempts to download Premiere were disasterous, to say the least. So no cool trailer. Maybe after the fact, at some point.

I will begin writing Age of Blood And Bone very shortly, just in time for it to get consistantly sidetracked by NaNoWriMo. Ironic, that.
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Re: Inside A Madman's Mind: I Ramble About My Stories

29 Oct 2007, 19:42

Friv, these writeups humble me.

And tempt me to do my own.

Seriously, though, thanks for the insight into your writing process. It sounds astonishingly similar to my own. :)
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Re: Inside A Madman's Mind: I Ramble About My Stories

30 Oct 2007, 21:11

I'm tempted to do the same...if only to type out my thoughts and what not (time permitting ha!). This provided some excellent insight into your works thus far.
Out of the night that covers me,
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In the fell clutch of circumstance
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