This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #67, on the subject of Novel Conclusion.
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:
- #18: A Novel Comic Milestone (which provided this kind of insight into the first six chapters),
- #20: Becoming Novel (covering chapters seven through twelve),
- #22: Getting Into Characters (for chapters thirteen through eighteen),
- #25: Novel Changes (chapters 19 through 24),
- #27: A Novel Continuation (chapters 25 through 30),
- #30: Novel Directions (chapters 31 through 36),
- #33: Novel Struggles (chapters 37 through 42),
- #35: Quiet on the Novel Front (chapters 43 through 48),
- #37: Character Diversity (chapters 49 through 54),
- #39: Character Futures (chapters 55 through 60),
- #43: Novel Worlds (chapters 61 through 66),
- #47: Character Routines (chapters 67 through 72),
- #50: Stories Progress (chapters 73 through 78),
- #53: Character Battles (chapters 79 through 84),
- #55: Stories Winding Down (chapters 85 through 90),
- #57: Multiverse Variety (chapters 91 through 96),
- #59: Verser Lives and Deaths (chapters 97 through 102),
- #61: World Transitions (chapters 103 through 108),
- #64: Versers Gather (chapters 109 through 114), and
- #66: Character Quest (chapters 115 through 120).
This picks up from there. These chapters bring the book through the climax to the end.
There is some essential background to the book as a whole in that first post, which I will not repeat here.
Quick links to discussions in this page:
Chapter 121, Kondor 40
Chapter 122, Slade 41
Chapter 123, Hastings 42
Chapter 124, Slade 42
Chapter 125, Hastings 43
Chapter 126, Kondor 41
I was in the mountains of New Mexico in my scouting days, and climbed one that went above the tree line. Although for some reason I could not understand then or now we did it before daylight (we wanted to see the sun rise, but wound up mostly huddled in makeshift rock shelters trying to stay warm and out of the wind), I remember something of the terrain. The idea of the trees thinning gave me new terrain and a new problem for Kondor; he was now out of his forest element, and needed to adapt.
As Joe hopes to see Lauren again, the possibility of heaven is automatically discounted, but the reality of being a verser creates a different possibility for which he can have some hope. That hope is realized in the next book; that probably doesn’t spoil much.
There are several ways to mark a trail, and Kondor considers some of them. Using rock markers is good. The standard, though, stacks a rock on top of another rock, which is good because it doesn’t happen naturally but bad for the current purpose because it doesn’t survive over long periods of time. The markers I use were my own invention here, the “S” shape prefiguring the destination. Obviously, I learned making and following trails in Scouts; this particular trail marker was again to suggest the snake.
I knew that somehow Bob was going to be the one fighting the big final fight against the “big boss of the whole game”. Joe has now delivered him to that point, and I needed something to remove Joe from that final fight—so I gave him his own battle. I’m not sure when I thought of the idea of one of them fighting the soldiers while the other rescued the girl; but it was evident that Kondor would have to be left behind, because I needed Slade’s perspective on magic. Slade was better at that sort of glorious one-man combat anyway.
I like to think that Kondor was inspired by Lauren’s sacrifice to take the same step himself. That’s why he says, “It’s my turn.”
I skipped Lauren intentionally. I was in suspense concerning what was going to happen to her, but at the same time I needed to move the main quest forward. So I tackled this moment when Joe stays behind and Bob goes ahead, and then returned to deal with what happened to Lauren in the next chapter.
I couldn’t for a moment think why Slade would go on and leave Kondor to fight against such odds; but then the realization that Speckles was already on the altar gave me the reason. I wasn’t sure it was completely sound, but it worked for the moment.
I had envisioned something akin to Stonehenge; but I wanted the ground to rise slightly to it from where they were, and the center to be hidden from view so that Slade and Kondor, while not that far from each other, could not see each other. Thus the idea of a crater commended itself.
This is the moment when one of the birds is shown to have magic. I was not yet certain how much magic the bird had, but providing one such bird made Bob’s task appear more difficult.
I had envisioned the wizard as part of the group transporting Speckles, the sparrow hen suspended in the air and moving slowly along the route as the wizard walked and directed her. Because he is using magic, not psionics, he can also levitate himself (fly), which Lauren does psionically, not magically.
This might be the best combat scene in the book—although there is Lauren’s still ahead, and the final battle, but here Slade fights and defeats fourteen opponents, and the flying feathers and flashing blade come alive in the action. I tried to envision a combat that would be compelling on the screen; then I tried to convey it sufficiently that my readers could see it. Of course, screen combat is often compelling by the speed, the number of movements which occur in short order. That was difficult to portray here without wasting a lot of bodies quickly–which is what I did.
I then started thinking about how they could change the nature of the fight; the ring was an idea aimed at that, and then the fake sound behind him. Having him recognize it as a fake and then fake them into believing he was fooled seemed a fun way to do it.
The editor thought the killing of the wizard unnecessarily violent. I thought I was in the climactic sections, and it needed to be vivid and thrilling while still just this side of credible.
I learned from reading Lord of the Rings and Dune that one way to keep tension is to maintain multiple stages. I do that constantly throughout the book, but particularly here when Bob wonders whether Lauren had died. I did not at that moment know the answer to that question, but knew I was going to have to write her fight next.
I liked the Sleeping Beauty reference; I thought it kept Slade humorous even in the midst of the serious battles.
Originally after the phrase “a snake that could swallow all snakes” I had included “it could swallow a cow”, but the editor quite rightly said that should go; that was less impressive than that it could swallow all snakes, and it was cut.
The missile brush trick is something I would use in the third book as a spell one of Slade’s companions knows. I’m not certain I even remembered then that I had used it here, and there is no direct connection between the two.
When Lauren leapt from the cliff, I thought that might be the end of her; but I needed to write the story to figure out what would happen next. My first instinct was that I would no longer have her stories to break up the others. I had at that moment no intention of attempting to recreate the battle with the beast, but only to bring it to whatever conclusion I chose off camera and then let the reader know where she was. But there were several problems with that. One was that I still needed Lauren’s stories to break up Slade’s thread. One was that it was cheating the reader to set such a major battle aside and not resolve it. In the end, the idea of multiple staging seemed to demand that this battle be fought, and that Lauren’s story come back in here, so I wrote it.
I knew it was crazy for Lauren to jump, and I needed the reader to know that she knew that. In fact, it was in the rewrite that came up with the idea that she would grab its neck when it tried to snatch her in its jaws. That made it much more believable.
I now needed to manage a roller coaster ride in a way that would seem terrifying yet believable; I also needed to find a way to bring down the bird, but not make it seem too easy.
The disintegrator rod was a weapon I wanted to take from her for a while anyway; she would get it back eventually, but she needed to learn not to rely on it. She couldn’t hold on to it practically up here, and it couldn’t survive the fall without breaking, so that all came together fairly well.
I had her try several things which did not work; I had it try several things as well. It would be dramatically very good for her to plunge toward the ground with it, but I knew she wouldn’t cause that to happen intentionally. It had to be an accident.
I also realized that I needed some way to save her, because the more I thought about the denouement the more apparent it was that Lauren and Slade were going to have to discuss a couple of things to make them work.
The idea of breaking her fall by leaping up from the creature had been vetted with two of the smartest people I know, my good friend (now Reverend, possibly Doctor) David Oldham, and my brother Roy. Dave didn’t like the original version in which she pushed off just before landing and rolled across the ground. The idea, of course, is that both she and the reptile are falling at the same rate, which is not as fast as she would fall alone because it is using its good wing to slow the descent some, and if she pushes herself up from its back she will transfer at least some of her kinetic energy to it, accelerating its fall and decelerating her own. I’d originally had her leap up and away and then come down on the dirt; David agreed that it might work if she also landed on the beast’s body, to use the body of the beast as a sort of cushion or air bag, crushing it and so absorbing some of her momentum in that impact before rolling down the slope. The outcome was the more dramatic idea of slowing her fall with the leap and then landing back on the bird and tumbling off. But I did not want the reader to know at this point whether that worked. I left the chapter hanging as to that.
I think if this were done as film/video, the entire section of these few chapters would bounce between Joe fighting the bird honor guard, Lauren fighting the flying reptile, and Bob rescuing Speckles. I’m not sure how to integrate it, but then, I’ve never done video.
Kondor is now gone. The last chapter is his, because it is the beginning of the next book, but his chapter that would have fallen here has been skipped because his part in this book has ended.
This battle went through a couple of rewrites. The version that went to the editor was too short, but it took a lot of thought and effort to lengthen it and keep it interesting. The entire section of the snake circling Slade and closing for the crush was added; yet it was a good add, and brought back Slade’s first “magic”, the reference to Thor.
The talking was always part of it. Part of it was plot exposition, part was Slade’s style, his way of “not being afraid”.
Slade confronts a “primitive” religion, the sort of “original” religion that atheists think are the origin of modern beliefs. He sees the flaws in it. He starts out with a rather typical twentieth century derision of primitive religious beliefs and practices; but even as he started to deride the idea that the snake was a god, Kondor’s attitude toward his own beliefs came to mind, and he recognized that there could very well be a spirit of the mountains of whom the snake was a servant.
The battle has a feeling of “flourish, then consider”, which worked well and contrasted with a lot of the fights elsewhere, such as Lauren’s battle with the flying beast, which were continuous action until they ended. Slade often had these pauses in battle; they seem in retrospect to characterize his style to some degree.
This is the climactic victory of the whole book, and for Slade it is much more than that he just saved the girl and won the battle. I didn’t realize it for quite a while, but I knew that Bob’s story had ended here. Some years later I was reading something on Aristotle’s Poetics and realized that this book really ultimately was Bob’s story. He was an ordinary auto mechanic who fancied himself a warrior of Odin, and now he is a warrior of Odin, having defeated a giant, albeit a minor one. His victory yell is the call of that success; the rest is denouement.
In the original I had included the phrase “beaten the big boss of the whole game”, which I thought fit well with Slade’s character; but the editor thought it a mistake to make it seem like a video game battle, and I conceded and cut it. But he agreed that the yell should stay, and I kept the “it wasn’t game over” line.
Denouement. It is here that we discover that Lauren survived her crazy stunt, and then spent some time finding her way out of the mountain valleys back to the nest, and pick up the idea that the parakeet people migrate. My editor thought it was so patently obvious that Lauren was an idiot not to have realized it sooner; but I don’t know that anyone else had that impression. I haven’t gotten any other responses suggesting that it was blatantly obvious to the readers.
I wanted to give the impression that Lauren was exhausted, so I stacked her first words to suggest a breath, “‘What about,’ she asked, ‘Joe?’” I figured that would convey the feeling of breathlessness. I probably did this many times. I notice it here: I break the sentence in an awkward point to insert the label. I thought it created a pause, here specifically to give the impression of panting, as if she was breathing heavily as she spoke, although elsewhere it expressed uncertainty or thought or hesitation.
I was at this moment uncertain how I was going to get either Lauren or Slade out of this world; so I did not commit to whether they were going to follow the parakeet people.
Again, Lauren is like me. I wear a sweat suit to bed.
The idea that warriors of Odin would brag about their victories had really just come to me when I was writing this section. It fit, to a significant degree. They were to be courageous, fearless in battle, and by bragging of their exploits they would encourage each other to greater feats so that they would have more about which to boast. I have no idea whether it’s true; the only other Odinite I ever knew was also a game player character who (player and character) knew about as much as Slade about that religion.
The editor thought that Lauren’s words about God giving what we need when we need it were the right “moral of the story” as it were, a good place to wrap it up. It was, in a sense, the end of this book; the Kondor chapter which follows was in many ways a way of saying, “To be continued.” The moral for Slade at this point is that what matters is whether you will do what needs to be done when the time comes.
I should probably credit Corrie Ten Boom’s father with the lesson about God giving us what we need when we need it. I’m sure I’ve heard others say it, but his example of holding onto his daughter’s train ticket until they board the train in the context of whether she would be brave enough to face martyrdom at the hands of the NAZIs is memorable.
Almost as soon as I’d decided it was a novel and not a comic book series, I decided that Kondor would end on “the other Mary Piper“. The world in the game book has both the space ship and the sailing ship versions, and often they are played in parallel. I didn’t want to play them in parallel–I thought that would be dull and predictable here (although it is exciting in play, because the players keep wondering whether what happened to the other guy is going to happen to them).
Joe’s ending is really more like the beginning of the next book—but in a sense it has to be here, because we have to know what happened to him when he fought the sparrows.
The weakening of the flashlight beam was a nuance, kind of a “referee’s call” for a tech device not working as well in a low-tech universe. It’s not something Joe would expect, because he hasn’t really worked with the idea of technology not working in some worlds, so when it doesn’t work he seeks more practical explanations.
The deja-vu expression, “We have been here again, we will be here before,” is something of a Multiverser gag for time travel worlds. That’s not what this is—this is a parallel scenario, the same names and situations in a different kind of universe—but it fits pretty well. I had written it for an entirely different scenario. I had done in play a series of adventures which were built around C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and included the fun of running them chronologically backwards, such that each adventure took place before the previous one. This meant that from the first adventure the player characters were recognized by those around them as being heroes from an earlier time. When they could no longer discount this as mistaken identity, Aslan explains it with those words: “You have been here again, you will be here before.” There it was rather obvious in meaning: in their future they would return in Narnia’s past. However, I thought the phrase was one of my better bits, and I was not certain whether the second novel would ever be done–and I knew I could not use the Narnia adventures in a published work–so I placed it here, in a position that would have something of a different meaning.
I hope these “behind the writings” posts have been of interest, and perhaps some value, to those of you who have been reading the novel. There is another–two more complete, actually, and another two started–but there are some complications which I will discuss in the next web log post, probably tomorrow.. Feedback is always welcome, of course. Your Patreon support will make a difference.
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