Monday, June 3, 2013


We are so, so close.  SO very, very close.

Nine scenes.  As of the end of our last writers' meeting, Lauren and I had nine scenes and some tweaking and seasoning to do before the draft of Book III in our series is complete.

This . . . has been a momentous undertaking.

"We are the writers.  Surrender now, and we'll see that you are well treated."

Lauren and I first met on the set of a movie project we were both working for.  We discovered, much to our mutual delight, that we could write well together.  After the project swallowed its own head, I waited about a year for any lingering pain to subside and asked if she'd like to write together again.  To my joy, she said yes.  This was the beginning of a magnificent friendship that has since continued to grow and become richer over the last . . . is it eight years?  Wow.

So.  Our first act together was to contact the main cast, the people who had brought the characters to life for us.  There had been a lot of improvisation in front of those cameras, and we asked everyone for their blessing to use their characters and basic appearance for the story.  We lucked out: they were all very cool people and said yes.

Our second act was to create the universe.

Well, not entirely from scratch.  Lauren had been on the movie's writing team well before I signed on, and she had established a lot of the framework and back story.  I won't try to list everything she did here.  Suffice it to say that the bedrock was hers, and I contributed later.

We went through and ditched everything that had been contributed by anyone but she and I.  Then we started at the basics.  It's a magical story, so one of the first things we had to hammer out was how exactly magic works in our universe.  Further, how exactly magic differs from psionics.  The more powerful a magician in a given world is, the better an idea you have to have to keep such things consistent.  And some of these suckers were going to be pretty damned powerful.  We had to establish, for lack of better words, the physics of the story.

Then we looked at the story itself.  We knew where we wanted to start out.  Where would it finish?  And what were the vital parts in-between?  And we set to work to create our tale.  Not a book with some sequels or a book-by-book outline, you understand.  We created a single story arc of elegant complexity that spans four books.

Then we looked at the characters.  We created their back stories, established their passions and habits.  We chose names and relationships.  Then we went back and went over the universe's structure again, tweaking and smoothing so everything would fit.

There were very few absolute rules between us as we shaped and wrought, and we both agreed upon them heartily.  Here are the main ones:

First, no stupid characters!  One of our pet peeves is and has always been when a character would do something agonizingly stupid just to move the plot along - especially when the character should know better.  Worse than that is when a character has abilities that are never used because if they had been there would be no plot.  Better, we feel, to put in the extra work and have a smarter plot than have brainless characters.

This is not to say that our characters will never make silly-ass mistakes under stress.  People do.  It is something that makes them people.  But what they do has to be believable for competent characters of whatever skill level is involved.

Many has been the time that we have spent hours brainstorming over how to solve a conundrum brought on by a character being smart when it would have been easier to have them act like simple-minded dolts.  But we are both agreed: stupid people suck.  No stupid characters, no smart characters being pointlessly stupid.  Ignorant?  Sure.  Emotional?  If the situation calls.  Stupid?  Nay.  We say thee nay.

"I have mad skills and keen insights.  Why do I never use them?"

Second, consistency!  A person's abilities might have variables to a limited extent, that's just realistic.  Even Tiger Woods doesn't always play a perfect game.  But again, when the suspension of disbelief is shaken or shattered because suddenly a basic ability or aspect of a character or the universe's physics defrauds itself . . . no.

For example, in Marvel Comics' X-Men, there was a story line where the X-Men were facing an army of vampires.  In one arc within that story, vampires were dead meat puppets without souls or real minds of any kind.  Person dead, soul fled.  In the next arc, Wolverine was killed and turned into a vampire after his healing factor was secretly turned off.  Tests after death showed no human cell activity.  Then Cyclops turned Wolvie's regeneration back on and he was instantly up, no longer undead, and kicking vampire ass as usual.

Under the rules established in the previous arc, this was impossible.  If undead is just dead, Wolverine would have moved on to his eternal rest.  Then again, it was established years ago that his healing factor cannot create life from lifelessness and would not prevent vampirism.  But since Marvel has apparently ditched everything regarding their particular brand of vampirism in favor of something from the Buffy-verse anyway, character consistency apparently didn't matter either.  Another pet peeve.  And again, we say thee nay.

Yeah, we're boned.

Thirdly, research!  This is a close blood-cousin to the second point, but it bears mentioning.  There are too many stories where any reader's understanding of history, or the local color of a place, tears the suspension of disbelief apart.  This is not one of them.  If you live in Excelsior Springs, you'll recognize the places our heroes visit there.  If you know the history of ancient Egypt, the Catholic church, 19th century Britain or the Old West, you'll see how we have meticulously woven our world's threads among those of history's own pages.  We took advantage both of legend and of those pages in history where accident and war have washed time's writings away.  And ladies and gentlemen, it was a lot of fun.  If you are no historian, you'll still enjoy the story.  But if you love history, you will see the game we have created with history's characters.  And you are invited to play.

You are correct.
We used our WABAC Machine.

Fourth: the don't kill the succubus, but don't describe the sewers.  This is a delicate balance, and a bit of explanation is probably due.  In the movie Constantine, there was originally a character who was designed as a kind of friends-with-benefits for the main character.  The only problem was, she was a demon.   She really helped hold several scenes and one plot point together.  But she was deleted out at the last minute, because they thought having a sexual partner didn't make the main character lonely enough.  Odd.  I rather think having a demon be the only person who you could be with would emphasize loneliness.  Did she advance the plot?  Not exactly, but she added to its depth.  When they took her out, the movie suffered for it.

On the other hand, in Les Miserables, there is a scene where the protagonist is being chased by his nemesis and they duck into the sewers.  The action is fast, the tension mounts . . . and then there is a chapter describing the sewers, their construction, and their history through the ages.  By the time the reader gets back to the chase, the momentum is lost.  I haven't read it, but those who have have assured me that the sewers are a major drag.

Chantelle.  Beautiful.  Evil.  A demon in John's debt.
Some days, the closest thing to a friend  he had.

Without her scenes, the sprinkler scene is awkward
and later ones feel contrived.  All to avoid this: 

And yes, I am meandering.  But I am giddy at the prospect of what is at hand.

Consider the following.  When we first started in 2006, we were working on Books I and II more-or-less simultaneously, with occasional work on III.  Then we were working on Books II and III with some work on IV.  Now we're wrapping up having worked on Book III with occasional work on IV.  And Book III, Where Flap the Tatters of the King, is a monster.  Our most ambitious work to date, it is the point where the threads we wove through Books I and II come together and in a sense it's been almost eight years in the making.  We've woven plot throughout all four books, and we know exactly where we're headed.  And we are nearly done!

To celebrate, we are offering The Order of the Four Sons, Book I, as a free download on Smashwords.  So tell your friends, and feel free to join us.  It has been a hell of a ride.  We've been creating whole worlds for you to explore, and we look forward to sharing them with you.

Non Serviam,

(Don Quixote pic by G.A. Harker; All Buffy characters were created by Joss Whedon; Calvin & Hobbes was created by Bill Watterson; Wolverine is (c) Marvel Comics; Peabody and Sherman were created by Ted Key; John Constantine and Chantelle are both (c) Vertigo Comics, which is a division of DC.  All rights reserved by those who rightfully reserve them, and all that.)

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