Writers cheat. I’m not talking about blatant or even subtle plagiarism. I’m referring to taking short cuts when it comes to plot devices. How often have you read, “It is written…” or “It has been prophesied that…”? I see this technique as a way to explain away why something happens without really explaining why it happens.
There’s nothing less exciting for the reader than inevitability.
As I begin writing the sequel to my first novel, Ohlen’s Arrow, I have imposed upon myself the requirement that I answer “Why?” for every character motive in my story. My process involves making a plot event list, which is nothing more than a sequential list of events that occur in the story. Each event is a single sentence that translates into a scene in the book. I then organize those scenes into chapters.
When I state, “The monsters attack the castle”, for example, I must answer the question, “Why did the monsters attack the castle?” What is their motivation? Simply declaring, “They’re monsters, that’s what they do!” is nowhere near good enough, and would easily come across to most readers as transparent and cheap. If a character gets promoted to a position of power, how unoriginal would it be if I declare that it was prophesied by the mystic elders of the First Millennium? This makes it sound inevitable, and there’s nothing less exciting for the reader than inevitability.
Answering “Why?” requires that I do some backstory research, which can be described as Iceberg Tips. Even though a great deal of the backstory behind my character’s motives won’t actually appear in my book, there will be hints of it and the discerning reader will glean why Argo the Orc hated Prince Ruprect with every fiber of his ugly hide. Without the iceberg, there can be no tip.
I would like to quote the following reviews of Ohlen’s Arrow, posted to Amazon.com:
“I enjoyed taking this journey with Ohlen and his friends. The balance between action and character development was perfect and the story was easy to follow. That can’t always be said of a book in this genre and as a reader, I appreciate it. I’m happy to hear the author has begun the sequel, and I’m anxious to find out what’s next for our hero.”
“I was waffling on how many stars to rate this work. Since this was Mr. Williamson’s first publication I decided to round it up to a 5 because I think his book is a great read and rounding down meant taking away a well deserved extra 1/2 a star which seemed wrong. His characters felt true to themselves and their environment. Their interactions were complex but fresh and not contrived. Mechanically it is a good story but it was the character development that made this first book such a great read. Most writers do not have Mr. Williamson’s dexterity at crafting such realistic characters. I do not think this is the end for Ohlen and his friends. I look forward to seeing where Mr. Williamson takes this group next – especially my favorite character the one we last checked in on before the story closed – talk about a delightfully complex character construct.”
As Merrick Stonehorn stood in the back of the crowd gathered in the courtyard, he watched Hadrick Burgoyne emerge onto the wooden dais erected before the Keep’s main entrance. An entourage of sycophantic advisers and attendants surrounded the fat, grey-haired man whose clothes were needlessly regal beyond the occasion. Despite Burgoyne’s physical size, Merrick considered him to be the smallest man he’d ever met.
The ruler began speaking to the assembled crowd – it was a monthly ritual. His speeches were flowery and puffed up civic decrees that had little substance but were intended to remind the citizenry that he was still in charge.
Merrick sensed someone was watching him. A short, wiry man with brown, expressionless eyes emerged from behind a food vendor’s cart, stood next to the giant innkeeper, and said, “His speech is especially interesting today, don’t you think?”
Both men kept their eyes toward the fat man on the dais as they conversed. The big man shrugged his shoulders and said, “‘Interesting’ isn’t the word I would choose.”
Rinn discretely glanced around to make sure no one was within earshot. “I’d say he’s doing a good job for a dead man.”
“I don’t like the guy, but that doesn’t mean I want to see him dead.”
Merrick gazed nonchalantly toward the shorter man standing next to him. He caught a glimpse of a rare smile from the rogue.
“We need to talk. You know where,” Rinn muttered before fading back and disappearing amongst the vendor carts.