Thoughts on Writing – When Good Characters Do Things You Hate

When co-authors disagree… the war behind the war… and characters you love doing things you hate.

*Sigh.*

Sometimes co-authors have two different visions for the same story. That’s when editing gets difficult. You go round and round in circles, and a few choice characters should probably hide lest they get caught in the force of a full-scale rewrite.

Part of the reason I haven’t gotten the next episode of The Multiverse Chronicles edited yet is because I’ve been busy catching up on formatting and book cover projects, and Isaac and I were preparing to go out of town to see Planet Comicon and ConQuest.

The other reason I haven’t gotten the next episode out yet is that I haven’t been sure how to approach this episode (and the ones going forward).

See, before we started releasing The Multiverse Chronicles, I ran through a loose edit of the first half of the story. Each week, I did polishing edits, and then sent the episode to our beta reader.

Not too difficult.

On the most recent episode (episode 15), I ran into a hang-up.

I hadn’t edited this episode whatsoever.

At first, I blamed that for the reason I wasn’t working through it very quickly.

Then, while working on the episode last night, I finally understood the major problem.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t edited it before.

It was that I didn’t agree with what the characters were doing.

Their actions didn’t make sense.

Quick backstory, (includes spoilers): The Britannian queen’s daughter is murdered, and suspicion is on the Prussian prince. The prince is nowhere to be found, an important message is prevented from going through to the other side, and the furious queen launches an invasion fleet on the Prussians. Our Britannian heroes are on the front lines.

There’s just a small problem from my point of view…

Who cares if the queen’s daughter was murdered? No one likes her or the queen, everyone knows it’s only rumor that the prince is involved, and why go in and attack a random city or hurt soldiers who have absolutely nothing to do with the conflict, other than being  members of the offending country?

In particular, why should one of our heroes, a general who obviously cares about his people, whose best friend is a Prussian general, why would he send his people to attack? He knows his queen is hot-headed. He knows innocent people will be hurt if he follows through with the orders.

By moving forward with the queen’s orders, his integrity drops immensely in my eyes.

It hurts. I care about his character, and I don’t want to see him make a stupid choice.

He should know better.

Thing is, he’s loyal to a fault.

After thinking about this a while (because how am I supposed to co-author a story in which I want to rattle a character into his senses?) I found consolation in knowing that good characters have faults.

To be nuanced, to be interesting, to make us pull at our hair and wonder why would you do that?, good characters must have both good traits and bad.

What gets even more fun is that someone else may consider his loyalty a good thing, despite how much I might be railing on about it being terrible.

(I’m the person who watched Once Upon a Time and thought the entire village who called Rumpelstiltskin a coward just because he mutilated his foot so he could go home to his son and not die in a pointless battle were insufferable jerks. Anyway...)

General Buford cares for the people under his command. He steps in to reconcile a wrong when one of his captains lets prejudice get the best of him. He recognizes when there’s a problem, and takes it into consideration. He doesn’t go running blindly into battle.

But he’s loyal. That’s a problem when his loyalty lies with a queen who is known for mangling her messengers when they deliver bad news. A queen who is controlling, and temperamental, and just a tad bit power-hungry.

(I came to the conclusion that the Britannians are very much playing the “bad guys” in this story… at least until you realize that someone else is pulling the strings to cause the whole war).

In order to not throw the not-yet-edited book across the room, I personally needed something more than just “he’s going to follow orders” if he’s going to go along with the invasion plan. Even if he is loyal.

Why does he have the orders he does? To invade and secure the port city, then set up a launch point for further troops to come through.

What reason do they have for invading? (Other than the queen being a dragon-blooded hot-head who’s reasonably angry about the murder of her daughter… just not so reasonable in her tactics.)

From a logical standpoint, the prince–who is suspected of murdering the princess–has vanished… as has one of the queen’s captains who was in charge of the princess’s personal bodyguards. They never got the message that said an investigation was underway, and that the Prussians where cooperating with said investigation.

So, logically, if the Britannians need to search for the prince, having a secured locale allows them to bring in more people as they need to, whether the Prussians want them to or not (Could be that the prince did kill the princess, and now the Prussians are trying to keep him hidden).

It’s not much to go off of, but it’s better than just doing something because the queen everyone knows is illogical said so.

Still, Isaac (first author) wants Buford to be “loyal to queen and country,” and that be the main reason he follows through (despite having him think that the invasion is pointless–since the queen just wants to punish the Prussians). But at least he’s willing to go along with the idea that Buford could reason out the above tactical advantage–the invasion puts them in a position to search for the prince and find out what really happened the night the princess was murdered.

And from all that, we realized we have differing views of how we want the story to go.

Isaac wants it to be a war story… where the war is pointless (and that’s the point) and the soldiers on either side are not necessarily good or bad. I want a steampunk fantasy with elements of a war story, where smart characters say ‘no’ to stupid queens, or have good reasons for following stupid orders… (I am very much looking forward to the inevitable revolt that’s coming in future seasons.)

This is where I also realized that our branding of the story may be wrong. I mean, I had been picturing the slogan of “Dragons and dinosaurs and dirigibles, oh my!” which insinuates a lot more light-hearted or quirky of a read than what the route the story seems to be taking.

(This is the downside of trying to release a serial novel before it’s completely written).

Will the story continue? I imagine it will, but there’s probably going to be a few more tirades of arguing that characters shouldn’t be blind loyalists.

But when they are, I’m not sure whether it tugs on our the heartstrings even more, because we don’t want to see them making bad decisions… or if it makes the author overlord side of me really happy when their blind loyalty bites them in the behind later on.

But hey, that’s all just an opinion.

Have you ever been stuck writing a character (or reading about one) who you really cared about doing something you really despised?

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