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.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Lost "Legends": Part 2

Well, that only took a month, right? I guess I'm not too good at this whole 'blogging' thing. Anyway, before moving on to other things, I figured I would finish what I started and talk about the other Mouse Guard story concept that I put together as a possibility for our Legends of the Guard contribution.

As I mentioned in my earlier posts, the very first Mouse Guard story I'd conceived was actually meant to be a comedy. The general thinking being that if the main characters of the canon series represent the best the Mouse Guard has to offer, then what is the opposite side of that spectrum? The end result involved two mice, named Eskel and Conrad (not the same one from the canon series and who would later be renamed to Osric). These two characters were meant to be the absolute worst Guards in the history of the institution. Not because they were malicious, but because they were clumsy and not wholly bright. Osric was meant to be the one who liked to pretend he was smarter than he actually was, and Eskel was the one who acted entirely on impulse except, unlike Saxon in the canon series, doesn't have the skills necessary to back up his wild tendencies and would get into trouble more often than not.

Already I'd run into a problem - the characters, their personalities, their predicament - it would all require way too much backstory. The idea was for these characters to be introduced, then put them in a situation where they could save the day. That was well outside the bounds of a 10 page story, unfortunately, and I had to shelve the idea early on. A few concepts worked their way into "Potential", however.

First of all, Osric and Eskel eventually became the characters in "Potential". I liked the names (Osric being a popular name for ancient Anglo-Saxon kings, and Eskel being of Old Norse origin) and eventually they morphed into the characters seen in the current story. The backstories and personalities all changed as well, but Eskel's weapon of choice did not - in the original concept, Eskel's saving grace would be his vast knowledge of plant and herb mixtures that allowed him to attract and repel a wide variety of nasty beasties throughout the Mouse Territories. In "Potential", Eskel has managed to get his hands on some kind of bear-attractant. In my next post (and last post about Legends of the Guard writing) I'll write a bit about "Potential", explaining a bit about the backstory that isn't mentioned in the actual narrative found in "Legends of the Guard".