Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Potential - Beyond the Page

This will be the last "Potential"-related blogpost, I promise. I realized that there was one more thing I wanted to talk about re: the story Sean Rubin and I did for "Legends of the Guard #2", and that was to write a bit about the storyline beyond what's included in the page.

One thing that I (and many other writers, I'm sure) will do when writing a story is to envision events both well before and after the tale to help put the characters' actions into greater context. When I'm sensitive to the characters' motivations and desires, it's infinitely easier to write scenes and dialog. With something like "Potential", where there really wasn't a lot of dialog to begin with, making every word count was of the utmost importance. To do that, I had to really dive into my characters, Eskel particularly. He explains his philosophy in the story itself, but in the backstories I wrote, he didn't always hold that point of view.
The original story, before common sense required Sean and I to hack away at the page count, involved an elaborate flashback sequence that was to explain more of Eskel's history and why he would put so much on the line for Barkhamsted and its small collective of inhabitants. 

Eskel was originally in a patrol with his best friend acting as Patrol Leader. Immediately before the Weasel War of 1149, the group was tasked with protecting a small Mouse village called Saybrook along the western border of the Territories. In a "Seven Samurai"-inspired scene, Eskel and his two best friends stood their ground and defended the town from the weasels during the opening days of the war. During a particularly heated battle, Eskel asks his Patrol Leader friend why they are risking their lives for some meaningless town (suggesting they abandon it out of pure common sense). Eskel's friend would only reply "If one falls, all fall."
And yes, for those keeping score at home, that would've been two small Connecticut towns in mortal peril in a single story.

At the end of the battle, Eskel is near-fatally wounded, his friends are killed, and the town is destroyed. Eskel only avoids meeting his maker thanks to the townsfolk whisking him away before the invaders can get a hold of him. After being nursed back to health, Eskel vows to follow his friend's example and protect those who other Guards would abandon. Instead of returning to Lockhaven to participate in the Weasel War, Eskel becomes a bit of a rogue element and travels from colony to colony, helping those that are too small to garner assistance from the Guard to defend themselves from attack. This work takes Eskel all over the Territories, until he finally reaches Barkhamsted and deals with their bear issue.

The subtext here is that Eskel hasn't been back to Lockhaven in years, and has been on a kind of pilgrimage, perhaps feeling that if he saves enough small towns that he will put his dead friends' souls to rest and make up for his cowardice. It takes Osric's determination and desire to become a Guard for Eskel to return to Lockhaven, where he would have eventually become a Patrol Leader and returned to the fold. 

Unfortunately, that bit of subtext could in no way ever hope to fit in the story as we have it written, so it remained, until now, a mystery. In a way, it helped the mystique of the story, making it really feel like a good campfire story as Fenton presented it in "Legends of the Guard #2". Eskel's philosophy is explained, but his motivations are not. His skills are demonstrated, but how he came to learn them was not. My problem is that I always write stories that are bigger than their final product - I tend to write icebergs and only display the tippy-tops. I'm always disappointed that I have to leave things by the wayside, but I think it ended up working in "Potential's" favor, adding a level of mystique appropriate for the June Alley Inn's storytelling contest.

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