Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Sometimes I Have No Idea What I'm Doing

So.  Second Class, my current big-plot Grandpa Anarchy story (more of a Black Moon Maidens story actually).

Scene One

The first big plot -- the biggest plot -- is a cult leader who kidnaps Black Dahlia's brother, perhaps in revenge.  So the first scene I wrote involved the Black Moon Maidens  taking out the cult, but not finding the leader (who they were apparently looking for).

The naked woman strained against the ropes.  "Do not fret, girl," said the priest.  "You have been chosen for a magnificent purpose -- you shall be the sacrifice that will summon Lord Shag Sogoth back to this plane.  Yours will be the first death of many, as our dark lord sweeps away this wicked world in  the great cleansing...."
The priest filled a chalice with seawater and passed it around the circle.  He faced east and then north, west, and south, turning counter-clockwise and drawing a complicated symbol in the air and then speaking the name of one of the elder gods.  Once the ritual of banishing was complete, he faced the altar again.
"Ancient Shag Sogoth," he called out, "whose power is over 9,000.  He of ten eyes and a thousand tentacles who wields the glaive of souls lies sleeping within he vacation house on the shores of the oceans of the void, only three blocks from Dorgon's Sushi Bar.  It is not a deep sleep, nor the sleep of the dead, but a light nap after a filling meal.  He dreams of pink kittens and blue butterflies."
The gathered acolytes responded in unison, "Yes, Shag Sogoth dreams of kittens and butterflies!"
"But only so he can crush them when he wakes!" exclaimed the priest.
"Shag Sogoth dreams of kittens and butterflies!"  The priest chanted this phrase over and over.  Drums beat a pulsing rhythm with a faint calypso flavor.  The cultists swayed back and forth.  The lights flickered.  The temperature in the room dropped suddenly.
The priest raised a long knife high into the air.  Behind him a catgirl appeared.  She was dressed like a ninja and wielded a sword.
"Nya!  Surprise!" the catgirl exclaimed.  "Sayonara, asshat!"  She drove her sword into his back.  It emerged from his chest, skewering the cartoon crab.
I tried to inject some silliness and humor into this scene.  Before writing it I really hadn't thought much about who their leader was or why he wasn't there -- but they can't catch him right away, so someone else is leading the ceremony and that person dies.  They don't catch their man.  (And, incidentally, Black Dahlia arrests the other cultists instead of killing them, as Grandpa would do.)

It seemed like a good start to me.  I moved on to scene two, in which Jay Medberry (Electric Bluejay) of Temporary Superfriends explains who they rescued and what he's found out about the cult leader before a discussion of his search for a female tech-expert heroine for the Maidens.  Dahlia is set on adding at least one more person to their team but they have no tech expertise whatsoever.  I made this point by having them lift a smart phone off the cultist they'd just killed, but they can't even break into it to get information on the leader, Jay has to do this for them.  Also, I tossed off a line about Jay having Tsunami Lass and Spirit Summoner Sally track down the cult leader's house but they found nothing.

This was another thing I hadn't planned to do, but it made sense.  I didn't want to write that scene, so having Jay toss it off explained something that didn't actually need to happen on screen.  But now I had established that Jay was involved in the investigation, and that he was employing Tsunami Lass and Spirit Summoner Sally to do that for him.  These happen to be two of the heroines who he is trying to convince Dahlia to add to her team -- so it doesn't hurt to introduce them doing stuff.

I expanded on this with another scene a few days later in which Sally, Tsunami Lass, and Dog Is My Copilot (who is the secretary at Temporary Superfriends, but a very useful in tracking someone given that she's basically a dog person) find a body while tracking the cult leader.  I decided that it was odd that Jay was so involved in a Black Moon Maiden investigation, so I added a line about how this cult leader had killed one of his people, and he really wanted the guy brought down.

Okay, so far so good, right?

New Scene One

Except that I had a lot of people chasing after this villain, and I hadn't even really established who he was or why people hated him so much.  I mean, his cult was trying to summon a dark god, okay, that means he's dangerous, but he wasn't even present at the time?  And why does he want revenge on Dahlia if he hasn't really interacted with her yet?

So I decided to write a new first scene -- a prologue -- which introduced the hero that worked for Jay who this cult leader killed.  I managed a passable scene, very short, that established that this hero worked on his own, wasn't that experienced, had tried to track down the cult leader and had been caught and trapped.  The villain was about to kill him, end of scene.

New Scene Two

But now I had a new problem.  It just seemed too weird to write a short scene introducing this villain and then jump straight to a scene where the Black Moon Maidens were trying to kill him and his cult.  Talk about instant plot advancement!  So I wrote another scene between Jay and Dahlia in which Jay explained who the hero who had died was, what he'd found out about this cult leader, and how he wanted the guy brought down.  It's at this point that the Black Moon Maidens are brought in on the case, at Jay's request.
"His name," said Jay Meberry, "was the Concrete Duck.  He was a bright kid but too reckless.  He registered with us, but he really had no interest in being a sidekick, or working with others.  He wanted to be a hero.  He wanted to fly solo."
"And it got him killed," said Black Dahlia.
Jay nodded.  "He was working on a kidnap case.  He left notes...."
Dahlia studied the folder.  "Wilhelm Chatsworth?  Why does that name sound familiar?"
"He was a history professor at Sanford Schuster U.  He disappeared last spring."
"Ah, I remember now.  My brother's a student there, he mentioned it.  They said he was a strange guy who got too deep into the occult -- believed in ancient magic and elder gods.  The school was about to fire him when he simply vanished."
"Yes," said Jay.  "Apparently he's assembled a cult.  They call themselves the Brotherhood of Apophenia Dawn.  They're trying to call down an elder god to the mortal plane...."

Basically there's a lot of stuff that I'd said in other scenes, only it made more sense to put it here.  This also involved moving a lot of introductory type stuff from the later Jay/Dahlia scene to this one.

New Scene One

Having explained a lot of what was going on in scene two, I was free to go back and rewrite scene one again.  My first attempt had not been very intimate or visceral, it was just a "here's the hero, he's captured, the villain is going to kill him" sort of straightforward set up thing.  Not that I really think my newer version is all that visceral, but it's an improvement, and there was a lot of explanatory/exposition stuff that I didn't need to add since it was not in scene two.

Paul opened his eyes and stared up at broken ceiling  tiles.  The room was dark, and something was in his mouth.  He tried to sit up.  Ropes held him down.  And everything came flooding back.
He'd been tracking a villain --  a man named Wilhelm Chatsworth, who'd kidnapped a woman to sacrifice her, in order to summon a dark god.  It sounded crazy but Chatsworth was dead serious.  He was steeped in dark magic, and had loyal followers.
Paul looked around.  He was in an abandoned office building, tied to a desk.  Chatsworth was nearby, studying an old book.  He glanced up and smiled.
"You did well to find me," Chatsworth said.  He was tall, with a craggy face and graying hair, dressed in a nice suit and power tie.  He'd worn a black, hooded cloak earlier, but without it he looked like the professor that he, in fact, was.  "I really must congratulate you.  There are several very powerful heroes endeavoring to find me, but you found me first.  And who are you, I wonder?"
"I am the Concrete Duck!" Paul growled.

I am, of course, a little worried about being too dark, or not funny, since these stories are funny at other points.  But it's meant to be a dark scene.  It's hard for me to find the balance sometimes.

Anyway, I'll probably rewrite the scene yet again later to try and improve it some more.  But right now, I like what I have vs. what I had for a first scene the first two times.

So Where's Our Villain?

Now this is all well and good, but I still didn't know why our villain wasn't in original first scene where the Maidens take down the cult.  But I'd decided that our cult leader Chatsworth has a transformation spell that allows him to disguise himself as other people.  This will allow him to assume the identity of someone close to Dahlia's brother, so that when he realizes who the brother is, he's in a position to use that knowledge.

It occurred to me that if he can transform like this, that maybe he'd taken the precaution of disguising himself before the big sacrifice.  Maybe he'd suspected they were going to be caught.  Maybe he was there all along, in disguise, posing as one of the other cultists they arrested.

I really liked this idea because it played into the whole "Grandpa Anarchy would just kill them all" idea.  Dahlia decides to not be, in essence, a mass murderer, and that decision causes her problems.  Of course, it will also have to have positive repercussions because I don't really want the message to be that she should mass murder bad guys to prevent the occasional future problem.  For one, I have another villain show up who is not very evil, more of an annoyance, but who is the tech genius Dahlia is looking for.  She convinced this person to turn to the side of good -- one example of her softer tactics working to her advantage in a way that would never happen for Grandpa.  I also want one of the cultists to help her out as well.

But!  Big Bad Chatsworth is captured, and escapes, and vows revenge.  This involves a couple of more new scenes, which I'm working on.  And I want an earlier scene with Dahlia's brother that sets up some of that plot earlier.

Original Question:  Do I Know What I'm Doing?

I'm well aware that I'm not the kind of writer that plots things out extensively before writing.  For this story, I had some nebulous plots that I knew the basic arc for:  1)  Cult leader kidnaps Dahlia's brother (and a subplot for that involving a weird Halloween party in which Dahlia's brother and friends dress up as the Black Moon Maidens);  2)  Dahlia's search for a tech heroine, and their encounter with nominal villain Mia Nevermore, a robotics wizard, who they convince to join their side; 3)  Nina Ballerina quits the League of Two-Fisted Justice and eventually joins the Maidens.  They add several other heroines at the same time and form a second response team; and 4)  Fire Maiden is kidnapped, taking place roughly at the same time as the team is getting ready to rescue Dahlia's brother -- thus, the need for two different teams to handle everything.

But clearly a lot of the actual details I'm figuring out as I write, which is why I kind of have a two steps forward, one step back approach.  Things I write in one scene make it clear that I need an earlier scene to explain things.  It's kind of an organic process for me when I work on a story this big.  And even though I'm always convinced that the scene I'm currently writing or rewriting is improving the story, I'm at the same time never sure if I really know what I'm doing or where I'm going.  The whole super soldier serum plot that I've spliced onto all of this is probably not necessary to anything, but is not a full-fledged story on its own.  It seemed to work placing it in the middle of all of this, but I may change my mind later.

"Nyaaa!"  DarkFireNinjaCatgirl bounded into the room.  She dropped six vials of a greenish liquid onto the desk.  "Courtesy of the Continuity Crusaders!" she exclaimed.
Dahlia stared at the vials.  She picked one up and inspected it carefully.  "Yes?" she said.  "What is it?  Energy drink?"
"No, silly!" the catgirl replied.  "It's super soldier serum!  Just like what gave Grandpa Anarchy his powers!"
Jay picked up a vial.  "People have been trying to replicate this formula for years," he said.  "The super soldier experiment was deemed a failure when Walter Lutton failed to develop any special powers.  Later, once they realized that it had worked on Grandpa Anarchy,  the formula had disappeared."
"Nyaa!  Of course it disappeared!" the catgirl said.  "Last night I stole it from a vault in 1941!"


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