Thursday, July 21, 2011

Elegant Solutions

I'm knee deep in the revising process. I've bounced the 30 off beta readers and I've got an editor lined up to do a serious once-over before I query. Color me terrified.

In other news I'm on page 50 in the draft as far as revising goes. I need to give it the read-aloud test to my faithful read-aloud betas, but overall I'm happy with what I've done. I wanted to give you all a taste of my latest victory! Because even though good news is sometimes boring, it's always welcome.

There's been a splinter in the back of my mind since I began this rewrite... it has to do with my villains. About halfway through the draft I realized that the Brushcasters have a reputation to keep in the Valley - they are revered as religious leaders and present themselves as the upstanding moral right. Some of the things they did at the beginning of the book for plot purposes didn't make a whole lot of sense in that context. One scene in specific is when the cast is on their way to Fire Town. Previously Cat was actively attacked by the Brushcasters in broad daylight resulting in the destruction of property and livelihood for tons of innocent people. Doesn't fit with the 'avatar of god' persona does it?

So to avoid attempted murder and vandalism, I tried to change the circumstances to make them attack her in secret. They set a house on fire to prove a point then leave her to take the blame - but even that felt out of character for these people who are used to having the whole world fawn over them and take their side in all things. This leads to the current rewrite and the elegant solution I titled this blog for.

First I'll set the requirements. This scene must accomplish three things - 1, We need to see that Trace can paint golems and what shape his golems take. 2, We need to prove that Cat is pretty powerless against a golem of any size, and that her magic - while useful - is not going to save her. and 3, Introduce Joshua and nurture the mystery that surrounds his character.

The attack did all these things in a clunky ill-conceived, plot-contrived kind of way. We see Trace paint a golem to attack/threaten Cat with. We see her struggle against it and Joshua saves her. It hits the bullets but leaves so many gaping holes. There had to be a better solution. The recesses of my mind have toiled on this for many months.

So obviously there can't be an attack... that's out of character. And probably there will be a crowd of people because Brushcasters can't go anywhere without a crowd of people assembling around them - so how am I going to hit my major points? Maybe Trace paints a golem as an example to impress or frighten Cat? That would work except she's already seen a golem painted in chapter 2... not only that but it was crafted by the most talented and skillful Calligrapher in the Valley, making it far more impressive than anything Trace can hope to make. Plus she's pretty pissed off right now and wouldn't stand by tapping her foot waiting for Trace to finish showing off. Plus its likely anything he makes as an example would stand there and not do anything which is does not an exciting chapter make...

So the golem is going to need to go berserk so Cat can use magic and Joshua can save her. Thankfully I've programmed a way for that to happen, but it relies heavily on people either messing with the actual paint (which is on the ground directly beneath the ten-foot fire monster) or someone actively attacking it. So what if Cat attacks it? She's pissed off that Trace is parading around like a know-it-all and flips out her magic to prove she's hot stuff too.

That solution sucks. Her motivation is to get she and her extremely fragile friend out of danger as soon as possible - yes she has no patience for Brushcasters, but she's not stupid. She knows her measly little water spouts aren't going to kill a fire gorilla and she knows that messing with them turns them into God's wrath incarnate. Not an elegant solution. Bad form.

So how do I mess up the paint? Maybe a child runs in? Another character we haven't met yet? A character we've already met? A wayward dog? An accident with the paint bucket? No. None of these are good ideas. No one is going to come near this golem, it's a wall of pure fire. No one is going to mess with the brushcasters' paint because they are holy and introducing some random child or pet into the mix just to screw with the spell is probably the most hackneyed idea I've ever had. No. Bad. Bad all around.

So at this point it was about 2am and I decided to sleep on it. The best ideas come to you after a good nights' rest. I turned out the lights and lay in bed when suddenly inspiration strikes like a prod to my brain.

What if it comes with him? What if Trace PAINTS A GOLEM OFF CAMERA and FOLLOWS IT TO THE SQUARE. Therefore he already has it - maybe he painted it for show? Maybe he painted it to help him find Cat's location... whatever! Point is now he has it and the circle to cast it is way over on the other side of town. CHA-CHING

So who messes with the circle to set the fire golem off? Well that solution is obvious. Who is here to make sure things go by my plan? Who is my tool to enact "god"'s will in this world? Joshua of course. If the circle is out of sight and no one is paying any attention to it then there's no reason Joshua can't skip across the rooftops and draw a huge X through the middle of it behind a guard's back?

This is fantastic - Joshua's involved, the golem going berserk is a perfect time for Trace and Paige to assault Cat with a little dogma, the locals will assume the whole thing is Cat's fault because she's being belligerent and they're stupid, the brushcasters have to LEAVE THE AREA to fix it therefore freeing Joshua to show up and do his thing without being caught - Trace hits point 1, Cat hits point 2, Josh hits point 3 and no loose ends remain.

It is a supremely elegant solution... and it rose from the inside of my world to knock me on the side of my head. These moments are what makes revising my favorite part of the process - I've taken something broken and made it amazingly better. I've tightened a loose bolt in the Threadcaster machine and now it's like clockwork.

So there's my moment of victory. As parting words I bit you remember my editor's motto - now's your chance to do it again better. And keep instances! I went all the way back to my second draft of the scene to pull inspiration for this new one - instances and copies along the way are extremely helpful, but that's another entry.

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