#66: Character Quest

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #66, on the subject of Character Quest.

This is about the creation of my book Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, now being posted to the web site in serialized form.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, so you might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  That link will take you to the table of contents for the book; links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.  There were also numerous similar previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts:

  1. #18:  A Novel Comic Milestone (which provided this kind of insight into the first six chapters),
  2. #20:  Becoming Novel (covering chapters seven through twelve),
  3. #22:  Getting Into Characters (for chapters thirteen through eighteen),
  4. #25:  Novel Changes (chapters 19 through 24),
  5. #27:  A Novel Continuation (chapters 25 through 30),
  6. #30:  Novel Directions (chapters 31 through 36),
  7. #33:  Novel Struggles (chapters 37 through 42),
  8. #35:  Quiet on the Novel Front (chapters 43 through 48),
  9. #37:  Character Diversity (chapters 49 through 54),
  10. #39:  Character Futures (chapters 55 through 60),
  11. #43:  Novel Worlds (chapters 61 through 66),
  12. #47:  Character Routines (chapters 67 through 72),
  13. #50:  Stories Progress (chapters 73 through 78),
  14. #53:  Character Battles (chapters 79 through 84),
  15. #55:  Stories Winding Down (chapters 85 through 90),
  16. #57:  Multiverse Variety (chapters 91 through 96),
  17. #59:  Verser Lives and Deaths (chapters 97 through 102),
  18. #61:  World Transitions (chapters 103 through 108), and
  19. #64:  Versers Gather (chapters 109 through 114).

This picks up from there.  In these chapters the three main characters begin a joint rescue mission.


There is some essential background to the book as a whole in that first post, which I will not repeat here.

Chapter 115, Kondor 38

I think the hints of the first signs of autumn were drawn from my writing journal—the notebooks in which during and for some time after college I attempted to practice writing in scraps, descriptions, character sketches, plot ideas.  At one point I found it worthwhile to attempt to describe seasonal appearances which might be useful for future background.

The hibernation suggestion is a diversion, to help the reader miss the other possibility.

Joe’s attitude toward Bob has a lot of amusement in it; he thinks of Bob as something of a clown, and doesn’t take his “warrior of Odin” notion seriously.

It seemed like time to trigger the problem, even though I was not certain how it was going to work.  This introduces the big event for which I brought them together.  The choice to make it Speckles who was kidnapped was made late in the process, but I long knew that one of the parakeet people would be taken, and it made sense for Lauren to be emotionally invested in the one taken.  It gave extra impetus to the quest.

Chapter 116, Hastings 40

As mentioned, “Lauren was not ready” picked up from the end of her previous chapter, where she expected to be ready.  It is perhaps a comment on our inability to be ready for the unexpected.  The juxtaposition between the end of Hastings 39, “Lauren was ready”, and the opening here, “Lauren was not ready”, was intentional.

Joe’s rationality comes through in calmly approaching the situation—but Joe has no emotional investment here.

The distintegrator rod is Lauren’s most potent weapon, and I needed to take it from her so that she would not begin to rely on it.  Thus I knew that she would lose the disintegrator, which is why she took it.

The decision not to wear the robes was obvious:  they’re a psychological weapon that would be useless against the sparrows, who don’t understand clothing at all.

As I mentioned, I gave Lauren the rifle so that she could give Joe the bullets.

There is also the aspect here that Joe might be an atheist but he has integrity, and Lauren can recognize and respect that even though he is not a Christian.

Slade’s comment about “something more” did as much to bring forward his idea of this as training for Ragnorak as it did Lauren’s idea that they were there for a reason.  Kondor’s “religion thing” was a recognition on my part that this fit with his ideas.  Joe blames war on religion.  That of course is a very narrow view and not really defensible—in some places one could as easily blame religion on war.  But it is the way he sees it.

I had intended for Joe’s Sherwood Forest tracking to come into play here; but it naturally flowed from that and from their personalities that he would be the leader on this expedition.

Chapter 117, Slade 39

Most of this was to bring to the fore Kondor’s tracking ability.  I still hadn’t worked out how this was coming together.  I knew that Slade’s alliance with the wind was still supposed to play a part, and had some image of that in my mind.  I knew that I wanted Lauren to sacrifice herself to let the others continue, and had envisioned some sort of leap into a chasm or something.  But I needed to break the tracking passage, so I created the cave entrance.  At that moment, I didn’t know where the cave went or how the other things fit.

Perhaps it’s a learn by doing thing.  I remember George Lucas commenting that it was very difficult to get any excitement out of spaceships fighting each other in space, because there was no real background; space ships fighting inside the space station, or speeder cycles rushing through the forest, could be made much more thrilling by the background zipping past.  In something of the same way, perhaps, I realized that having Kondor track their quarry for hours would be dull, unless something interrupted it.  At this moment, I had no idea what was in the cave; I thought in terms of a long path to somewhere, but it was very vague.  But I needed to get away from Kondor following the trail long enough to break the monotony.

In a lot of this I used an observer narrative technique.  Rather than attempt to follow Joe’s ability to follow the trail and have to get too many details into it, I let Bob observe that Joe did it extremely well.  I did the same with other moments in this part of the story, avoiding becoming too directly involved with the characters performing many of the actions but instead focusing on how they are perceived by their companions.

It was not out of character for Kondor to bring everything; and I already knew that he was going to die on this, and go to the other Mary Piper, so I wanted his gear close to him.  I think by this point I knew Lauren was going to survive her leap and have a chat with Slade toward the end, although the details were still unclear, so having her travel light made sense (particularly as her wagon would have been too much for the journey).  I never thought much about what Slade left behind, although I imagine his magic books and treasure chest did not go with him here.

I had set myself another challenge which I realized now.  The events leading to the sacrifice had to be drawn out long enough that my trio could reach the hen in time.  My first thought was that I had to make the trail long enough and assume that the captors moved along it slowly, such that it would take them quite a few hours to get to the end but the faster moving trackers could close the gap in that time.

The editor was confused by the shift in name usage; it is consistent with the person whose story is being told.  Lauren, who is almost always called Lauren in her own stories, calls her companions Joe and Bob.  Slade is always Slade to himself, and he consistently refers to his companions as Lauren and Kondor.  Kondor is again always Kondor in his own stories; he once or twice refers to Lauren as Mrs. Hastings before relaxing into Lauren, but although aloud he comes to call him Bob, Slade is almost always Bob Slade in his narrative, reflecting a bit of distance, some lesser connection, there.  I think that I got this idea of using the full name from The Great Gatsby, in which my high school English teacher pointed out that one of the characters is consistently distanced from the crowd by using his full name.

I brought them to the cave mouth and was not certain what I would do next.  I recognized almost immediately that what I needed was an obstacle that would slow the captors some, possibly as a place where some ritual was performed in advance of reaching the sacrificial location, but I was not sure how I was doing it.  At first I thought this could be the place, but then I realized that I needed to accomplish a lot more, and this could only be a landmark along the path.  I had considered an underground passage—I had played in a Star Frontiers game in which a ritual trek included a trip through caverns—but decided to make it shorter than that.

The other aspect of this was that the interruption, and the several subsequent interruptions, made the journey seem longer.  This seemingly longer journey was necessary, because it had to appear at least reasonably credible that the threesome caught up with a group that had left the night before; they could perhaps move two or three times as fast, but they could not really move ten times as fast, so this had to seem like it spread over several hours.  No matter how much tracking Kondor did, it would never have that feel, unless it were broken up by something else.  The cave was just such a thing.

Chapter 118, Kondor 39

The perspective of having the characters observe each other hits again here, as Joe watches Lauren recite the scripture that calls the light.  Light is one of those magicks that works in most worlds.  It also gives us Joe’s viewpoint, that her magic is really psionic and she doesn’t know it.  Kondor applies the same reasoning now that he applied to Sowan the Mage:  it can’t be magic, so it must be psychic.

It is sometimes the case that versers teach each other, and that’s encouraged in some situations; but I didn’t want these people to be too much the same, so they always think of it (and isn’t that just like life) at inopportune times.  Joe will not have the chance in this world to ask Lauren for a lesson, and by the time he does have the chance there will be other problems.

The image of the cave was the moment I decided there was a snake god at the end.  I was going to need something to fight in the big climax, and a giant snake seemed a good choice.  I had not, at this time, read Rowling at all; I subsequently discovered that she used a battle with a snake-like creature in one of her books.  This seemed different enough in retrospect, and I couldn’t see an effective way to change it, so it stayed.

The roof exit was a sudden inspiration; it would provide another value to Slade’s preparations and, to a lesser degree, Lauren’s acrobatics.  I think it was probably at this point that I decided one of the sparrow people was a wizard–more precisely, an evil cleric with clerical magic.  That was the explanation that would ultimately come out for how they carried Speckles along; it would also give me some suggestion that the procession was not a rapid flight with a prisoner, but a ritual march to the place of sacrifice–another piece that made catching up credible.

Lauren’s question about carrying Speckles up the wall is the first clue to their situation, and I decided that the way they were transporting her limited their speed.

Joe’s pride is challenged by the fact that the others made this climb easily.  It shouldn’t be, really—he is the most heavily encumbered here, as he brought all his gear and the others brought only what they thought they would clearly need.  But he’s also the only one who went through boot camp, and couldn’t let himself be outdone by the others.

Chapter 119, Hastings 41

Lauren thinks about how her use of holy magic might impact Joe even as she uses it to solve their present problems.  Again, I’m letting the characters describe each other, rather than showing what they do from their own perspectives.

I climbed a hill as steep as this at Camp Lebanon in the summer as a boy.  That is the memory.  Much of this was again to make the journey seem longer; providing Lauren’s feelings would help reach that objective.

I managed to get Slade’s pagan god references back into the story without actually thinking of any, by having Lauren reference them.

The wind at the gap was intended as a magical protection left by the sparrow’s wizard-priest.  That’s why it rises when Joe attempts to cross, but not otherwise.

I had envisioned the bridge long before.  I had long debated from whose perspective this scene should be presented.  Doing it from Slade’s perspective would mean that I had to provide both sides of the supernatural dialogue, and that would make it more difficult to understand why Kondor was not convinced of the supernatural after hearing the voices.  I had resolved to do it from Kondor’s angle, so that I could focus more on his reaction.  In the end, it was more the fact that I was in Lauren’s perspective when the moment came that decided it; but this allowed me to present Kondor’s negative attitude and Slade’s side of the discussion without prejudice.  But first we had to deal with crossing–or rather, not crossing–the bridge, in a way that would not cost the life of a character.

Having Joe fall into exactly the same position as Big Bill in the earliest chapters would, I thought, seem credible.  In fact, I’d had trouble with the original version of the Big Bill story and had to entirely rewrite it (it was originally a chauvinistic challenge to Lauren’s right to work the steel, and my editor said it did not work at all), but I had to save the critical moment there because it had to be echoed here.  We know how Lauren will save him almost immediately; it is still tense as she does so.  When Lauren saved Big Bill, I did not realize I was going to do this again.  Yet I wanted this scene so I could use Bob’s connection to the Caliph of the West Wind, and it was a perfect situation to repeat the same rescue this time of Joe.

It is a Multiverser bias point that levitation—telekinetically lifting yourself—is more difficult than other forms of telekinesis—lifting other objects, such as other people.  Thus it makes sense that Lauren can lift Joe easily but cannot lift herself; it’s a different skill.

Lauren’s anthropomorphizing of the wind is in keeping with her supernatural view of the universe; it also sparks Slade to recognize how it fits with him.  Kondor, of course, won’t accept it.  Joe looks for the naturalist explanation for the wind, but is willing to accept the mental powers explanation for Lauren’s ability, as long as it’s not magic.

Having Lauren describe Bob’s confrontation with the wind enabled me to avoid what kind of voice the wind might have had while at the same time avoiding having Joe’s complete invalidation of it.  Having Joe talk whenever Bob stopped talking gave me his skepticism and got me out of committing to the voice of the wind.

I have no idea how Kondor knew the trail ahead would be rougher; of course the air would be thinner as they went higher, and that would be a problem.  But a break seemed to be in order at this moment.

Chapter 120, Slade 40

The points about how far they had traveled and how difficult it was to negotiate the ledge were both intended to help explain how the trio managed to catch up with their quarry.  I brought back the matter of how they moved Speckles, because I wanted the reader to wonder as well; that way the revelation that there was a wizard would drop the other shoe, and they would get it.

At this moment it came to me that the world through which they were traveling was still beautiful; their attention had been drawn away from that by their focus on the problem.  The sudden opening of the view is a spot of light in the story.

The flying reptile idea had come to me considerably earlier, and I knew that Lauren was going to end her part of the quest here; I had not decided yet how she would survive it.

It was now time for Lauren to sacrifice herself.  I struggled with the pterodactyl, trying to present it in a way that would make it able to hold them at bay and threaten their lives without their weapons putting an end to it.  There had to be a reason why Lauren would jump for it; that reason could only be that it continued to threaten and delay them, and they could not effectively counter it.

I envision the beast using the cliff face for cover and maneuvering in and out of view rapidly as it attempts to snatch one of them for food.  I don’t expect they would make a terribly good meal, but it doesn’t know that.

Guns do jam in Multiverser, on botch rolls sometimes.  I needed Joe’s rifle to jam, because I needed him to have bullets for the confrontation ahead but I couldn’t have him stop trying to kill the beast at this point.

Re-reading this, it occurs to me that Lauren’s talent includes organizing effective teams that continue without her.  That matters eventually.

I have elsewhere told the tale of running Skinner’s Falls in a canoe during the flood.  The short version is that when we reached the four-foot swells at the head of the rapids, I froze and stared, and barely heard my father shouting for me to paddle.  It was something of this feeling that I imagined for Slade at this moment; Lauren jumped off a cliff aiming for a flying lizard.  Whether she made it or not, she was probably dead.  He was stunned.

Interest in these “behind the writings” continues, so I’m still thinking they’re worth producing.  Feedback is always welcome, of course.  Your Patreon support is also needed to maintain this.

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