The Original Plot)
I mentioned at the end of my last post that I was dramatically altering the final act of The Favored Son. The original version of it just didn’t feel right there weren’t any minor change that would fix it, so I just rewrote the entire thing.
So where did that change take place? Well, it remained the same through Tharol breaking his leg at the end of the second competition, and also through his finding out that several of the students assume he has lost his conscience.
But after this point my current version and the original split apart. In today’s version the next scene is Tharol having a conversation where Reis emboldens him to lean into his “bad guy” role. In the original version he instead discovered that Reis was conversing with the strange statue lady at this point. He saw Reis exiting the parapets with the Order’s pet hawk on his shoulder, he walked out onto the parapet himself, he looked over the grounds, and suddenly he saw the statue lady’s bodyguard sprinting from the city walls with a letter held firmly in hand. A letter presumably carried to him by a bird!
Dun dun dunnnnhh!
Upstaged by Self)
Actually not so dun dun dunnnnhh. This revelation felt very tepid, and this was the main reason for scrapping my work.
This twist just felt incredibly weak compared to the rest of the story. Consider, for example, the earlier scene where the boys are in their second competition and Reis reveals that he swapped a fake crystal with Tharol. That twist was far more clever and far more satisfying. Even though readers were told to expect some trickery, I imagine that most still wouldn’t have seen that particular maneuver coming.
But this scene of Tharol realizing that Reis is in communication with the statue lady? It just sort of…happened. There wasn’t any real suspense leading up to it, there wasn’t anything particular clever to how he figured it out, he literally just stumbled into the revelation by accident.
And the thing is, I knew that this was a weak twist even when I first wrote it, but I didn’t have anything better to replace it with. It was the first thing that popped into my head and I wrote it down as a placeholder. I kept expecting to have some epiphany for how to improve on it…but nothing else came.
And just so you know, I write placeholder stuff like this in my outlines all the time, hoping that I’ll be able to find a better solution before it comes time to deliver. And usually I do. In fact Reis swapping the crystals during the second competition is an example of where this method worked perfectly! In my outline I originally just wrote “some trick should happen at this point,” and trusted myself to figure it out when I got there. That’s exactly what happened and it was incredibly satisfying. But when I tried to use this same method for my bigger reveal?…Nothing.
Eventually I decided I had to just take the weak plot point as it was and move on. I set it in stone, wrote several other chapters on top of it, and very nearly published things that way.
Time to Deliver)
Like I said, usually I’m able to come up with richer plot devices to replace my initial placeholders, but each of us will occasionally miss our shot no matter how proficient we usually are at making them.
Literally, in some cases.
Paul Millsap is a current player in the NBA and a four-time All-Star. He is able to play the game at a very high level. On November 15, 2015, his team, the Atlanta Hawks, were playing against the Utah Jazz. With 3.8 seconds remaining the Hawks were down 97-96, but found themselves with a chance to make a basket and win the game. The ball was bounced in to Paul Millsap, he expertly sidestepped his defender, pulled back, jumped up, and sent off a beautiful shot. There was no other player to obstruct his view, no one in position to swat his shot out of the air, and he was at an excellent angle to make full use of the backboard. It was a very easy basket to make. The sort of basket that Millsap makes all the time.
But he missed, and the Atlanta Hawks lost the game.
And this is not rare occurrence. Every season in every sport there are numerous instances of an athlete stepping up to a shot they’ve made a thousand times before and still missing it. Because at the end of the day none of us are perfect at making our shot. All we can do is increase our percentage chance of hitting our mark but it never becomes a 100% guaranteed thing. When I took a shot with Reis’s betrayal during the boys’ second competition I scored a hit, but when I tried again for his alliance with the statue lady I just came up short.
Endings and New Beginnings)
And this certainly happens in the broader world of storytelling, too. I’m sure we can all recall stories that begin with an excellent premise, but then fail to cash in on that potential with their final act. I believe that many of these misfires are simply due to the author being faced with a hard deadline. In those situations no matter how well you’ve trained yourself for a high percentage chance of success, sooner or later you’re going to slip and deliver something that is beneath your standard.
Fortunately for me, I write my stories a few weeks in advance, which affords me the chance to take a second shot at things.
Two weeks after writing that weak twist I found myself able to view the trouble-area with fresh eyes. I realized a new direction I could take the story in. It would mean scrapping most of what I had been writing ever since, but ultimately I decided it would be worth it. I made the change, published it, and the story you have been reading ever since is the result of that transition. I truly feel that my story is much stronger with this new direction.
Hopefully this little peek behind the curtain has been helpful for you. At the very least I hope I’ve been able to demonstrate that:
- Everybody misses. We might reduce the frequency of those misses but they will always still happen.
- Failure truly isn’t the end of the story. So long as you keep writing you’ll be able to take that shot again. And chances are you’ll make it that time.
On Thursday I’ll be publishing the next chapter of The Favored Son. At the end I’ll also be revealing a little more of how this version varies from the original. Come back then to see what you think of the differences!