Though I’ve primarily been focusing on getting the paperback edition ready for Magic’s Stealing (I ordered the proof copy today!) and making edits to The Multiverse Chronicles, I’ve still been thinking about the plot for The Shadow War. My goal is to iron out as many inconsistencies as possible before I get into the heavy writing/editing phase.
Today I’m going to look to look at a scene from The Shadow War and focus on how knowing the multiple character motivations in that scene can help improve the logic of what’s going on.
Warning: There are spoilers in this post regarding events in Magic’s Stealing, along with certain character motivations and the first major event of The Shadow War.
In other words, if you don’t want spoilers, you might want to pick up a copy of Magic’s Stealing before reading this post, then come back to read this post. If you don’t mind spoilers, then by all means, please continue reading. :-)
Toward the beginning of The Shadow War (the second book) there is a scene in which it is very important that the main character, Toranih, is captured by the shadows. In the current draft of this scene, a city guard requests her presence for legitimate reasons, but once she’s separated from her friends, a pair of shadows ambush her and the guard, then drag her through a portal to where Shevanlagiy (the antagonist from the previous book) is waiting to kill her. Shevanlagiy makes the attempt, but Toranih takes her by surprise and knocks her aside, leaving Lord Menchtoteale (the leader of the Shadows) to try. He attempts to strike her once, but since Toranih knows that shadows can’t be killed by mortal weapons, she grabs the nearest shadow’s knife and strikes her own hand. She falls into the shadow realm, and Menchtoteale again attempts to kill her, this time making what should be a devastating blow with the Wishing Blade, but Isahna (the trickster god behind the shadows, the god Menchoteale answers to) heals Toranih, orders Shevanlagiy to leave Toranih alone, and orders Menchtoteale to train her.
At this point in time, though, I’m a bit concerned that all of that is going to seem rather… confusing.
Why does Isahna prevent Menchtoteale from killing Toranih, and more importantly, why can’t these big bad guys successfully kill an almost defenseless teenager?
(Though I do have to say that Toranih has been working on her magic, and she is good at physical combat. But still… shouldn’t a well-trained sword fighter with a magic sword, or a super-powerful sorceress, manage one partially-trained kid?)
Since I want these scenes to make logical sense, I did my usual day-dreaming to work out the problems with this scene. As a result, I considered the character motivation for each character involved.
Toranih: She wants to get out of this alive. Being caught by shadows? Not exactly conducive to her plans of warning the port city of the upcoming attack. Now, she’s been in the shadow realm before (in a slightly alternate timeline that got erased because of her actions–read Magic’s Stealing if you want to know how that went), so she has a bit of an idea of how shadow magic works. She also knows that–at least according to her memory–she’s resistant to Menchtoteale’s attempts at magic’s lure (basically, a mind control power).
Shevanlagiy: Thanks to events in Magic’s Stealing, Toranih has part of Shevanlagiy’s magic… specifically her resistance to magic’s lure. Before that event, Shevanlagiy could ignore Isahna’s commands (so long as ignoring his commands don’t alert him to her own secret plans). Now that Shevanlagiy has lost part of her magic, she’s not sure how much it will take for Isahna to give her orders that she must follow, which isn’t good when she plans on stealing the Wishing Blade from him later. At this point, she needs to kill Toranih as soon as possible. However, it’s important that she be the one to kill Toranih, otherwise she won’t get her magic back.
Menchtoteale: He’s in charge of wielding the Wishing Blade, and his job is to collect as much power into the sword as possible. He needs an army of shadows (to overrun the Immortal Realm so that he can kill the gods and force their powers into Wishing Blade). Toranih was one of the few mages who didn’t lose her powers when he wished the magic of Cirena into the Wishing Blade, largely because she had the support of a lower-tier goddess behind her. For Menchtoteale, killing Toranih with the sword means finishing that part of the job. Alternatively, striking her with a shadow blade means he should be able to command her. But he knows that someone who looked like Toranih was particularly resistant to his ability to command the shadows. As such, killing her is the more practical option, even though having a shadow mage on his side could be good for the army.
Isahna: His intent is to have Menchtoteale get as much power in the Wishing Blade as possible so that he can eventually take that sword, confront the high gods, then take their place. (It’s a bit of a vendetta after he lost the bid for power to a different god). He’s gotten surprisingly useful information from Shevanlagiy, but he’s certain that she’s playing him for a fool. Unfortunately, he’s not all-knowing, so he’s not sure what her end-game is. He does have an idea that her resistance to his powers may have dropped recently, and has something to do with Toranih. Thus, keeping Toranih around might give him a few insights into what Shevanlagiy has planned… especially since the kid has strong powers (if she can be coaxed into using them) and an interest in military operations (unlike Menchtoteale, who Isahna chose as his general mainly because the guy could forge the Wishing Blade).
There are other motivations behind these guys, as well, but I’m trying not to give away all the twists of this scene. ;-)
Anyway, looking at those motivations, let’s take a look at the scene again and at what could happen instead.
First, Toranih must be captured early on in the story (or at least, she needs to be in a position where she becomes a shadow). This is critical to the plot, as she needs to be working against the shadow army from the inside. The problem with this is that, in theory, Shevanlagiy really should just sneak up on Toranih and stab her in the back.
Problem solved (And we have one very happy Shevanlagiy).
But we know from Magic’s Stealing that Shevanlagiy is hesitant to do that so long as Toranih’s other two friends are around. They have an artifact which can effectively wipe out shadows (and is a large detriment to her own powers). Not only that, but one of those people is Toranih’s sister–who has proven to have particularly good aim with a throwing knife and nearly killed Shevanlagiy once before (Shevanlagiy doesn’t die, per se, but she can get thrown into another realm and thus lose all her progress in this realm). The other person is Daernan–someone Shevanlagiy has been working very hard at making sure he stays alive. Putting him in danger isn’t a good idea for her–not yet.
Even if Shevanlagiy simply stabbed Toranih with a shadow knife and commanded her to hold still while she delivered the finishing blow, the possibility that Toranih might get destroyed by the artifact her friends have–thus permanently losing her “stolen” magic–is not a good risk.
So that’s an area I’m still running into issues with. Shevanlagiy needs Toranih dead, so the question is how does she make that attempt?
For now, let’s say that Shevanlagiy still orders a pair of shadows to kidnap Toranih and bring the girl to her. Now she’s putting the shadows–but not herself–at risk. Shevanlagiy’s first goal is still to kill Toranih… just on her own terms. She’s ready to strike when Toranih arrives, and makes an immediate attempt on Toranih’s life.
Since we don’t want Toranih dead yet, this is where we can see Toranih’s growth with magic from the previous story. She successfully thwarts Shevanlagiy with telekinesis… even though her chances are looking bleak if she can’t find a way to quickly escape.
Now enter Menchtoteale. He’s in the same location (which makes me consider… why would Shevanlagiy bring her captive to the same place as someone who might kill Toranih before her? Perhaps he comes back to their base unexpectedly early? Or perhaps Isahna gets wind that Shevanlagiy is up to something, so he sends his puppet along to check things out). Either way, Menchtoteale arrives unexpectedly, realizes Toranih is the same person he saw earlier, and he knows he won’t be able to control her easily. Forget making her a shadow, then. While Shevanlagiy is still dazed from her earlier attack, he attempts to kill Toranih and be done with it… except that Toranih, in her desperation, snags the knife from one of the nearby shadows and prevents her death by turning herself into a shadow. The catch here is that if he uses the Wishing Blade, that would kill her (but she might not be thinking about that)… unless he stops mid-strike because he’s bewildered that anyone would willingly make themselves a shadow.
He’s not the only one. Toranih isn’t sure what to make of her decision, either.
In the meantime, Shevanlagiy has had enough time to get back into the game. Now it’s more important than ever that she kill Toranih. She prepares to make the kill, but is stopped when Isahna shows up and orders them to stop. She can technically disobey his orders at the moment, but deliberately breaking his rules now would make it clear that she has her own agenda, which would jeopardize her later plans. She holds back, though she’s still trying to figure out how to take out her enemy.
Now, this next section needs some work, but this is what I have in mind so far:
Isahna orders them not to harm Toranih. Both Menchtoteale and Shevanlagiy protest, and Isahna makes the case that Toranih might be useful to have around. He orders Menchtoteale to train her, and orders Shevanlagiy not to kill her. When Shevanlagiy expresses her displeasure with the idea, he begins to question her why. Shevanlagiy tries making excuses, to which Isahna starts giving her minor orders with magic’s lure, ones which he knows she will deny if his suspicions about her are correct. Each time she refuses, her ability to resist magic’s lure dwindles, until he finally gives the order not to kill Toranih. This time, he successfully uses his power against her. Not only can he now keep Shevanlagiy away from his new military interest, but he has also discovered exactly where her resistance to his powers ends.
This is important for multiple reasons.
1st – This sets up a rule of magic that we will see throughout the rest of the series, one which Menchtoteale tells Toranih (paraphrased): “Better to accept the little things that Isahna orders of you, and thus be able to resist the commands that matter to you, rather than resist the insignificant things and be forced to do something terrible.”
2nd – We now see exactly why Shevanlagiy is afraid of Isahna… and why she is more desperate than before to push her plans along and find some way to strike Toranih and get her powers back… especially now that she physically can’t unless she takes care of Isahna first. Not only that, but this puts her in a position to ignore Toranih for the time being and focus her attention on Daernan, which gets into the sub-plot regarding glass-stone and protecting the kingdom from the shadows. Shevanlagiy is playing both sides, which makes her, to some extent, unpredictable.
3rd – Toranih has now seen firsthand how magic’s lure works from Isahna, which affects her decisions through the rest of the series. This is especially important when Isahna offers her a legitimately useful deal later (Though it comes with it’s costs,of course. I rather enjoy stories with villains who can offer a hard-to-resist deal. Probably one of the reasons that I enjoyed Rumpelstiltskin’s character in Once Upon A Time). Along the same token, we’ll also see Isahna offering Menchtoteale a deal regarding Menchtoteale’s own freedom if he can get Toranih interested in trading places with him… and that gets into a whole nother set of character motivations. Needless to say, Isahna is going to try covering all the angles.
In the long run, taking a close look at what motivates each primary character to act, especially early on in your manuscript, can really help to work out the kinks not only in a specific scene, but also in the full length of the plot. Not only that, but you’ll also have more believable antagonists and stronger protagonists, because we can understand what they’re up against.
Now I just have to figure out how much to actually show in the story. On the bright side I’ve already shown multiple points of view in the first book, so it won’t be as odd if we see the occasional point of view from the antagonists.
I hope this post has been helpful. :-) Have you ever explored a character’s motivations to solve problematic scenes?