Effulgent Corruption: Shades of Gray

on Thursday, July 14, 2011
Current count: Chapter 2 of 8 in the final part is complete. Six chapters left. If I keep the trend of writing one a day (about 5-6k) I'll be done next Wednesday. Though I'm guessing I'll blitz the final three in one day, which will probably be Saturday or Sunday.

Had a weekend hike/campout planned for Friday-Saturday, but it got cancelled. Oh well, more writing I guess.

This book is finally almost finished. I still can't believe it.

And now, Shades of Gray.

Moral ambiguity has also always been a key focus of my writing. The world around us is hardly black and white (unless you enjoy watching Fox News) but a staple of fantasy seems to be making it as such. Nobody argues that the Orcs in Lord of the Rings are just misunderstood, or that the Elves might actually just be huge jerkwads and are basically running away at the first sign of conflict. Nobody argues that the White Witch in Narnia might actually have some good qualities, and Aslan might have considerable flaws (probably because he's an analogy for Jesus, but that isn't the point).

My first novel, Lacrymosa, threw a girl in a middle of a conflict between two races. Raised by one but actually belonging to the other, she sparked off a war between them and was forced to pick sides. The goal with the story was that the reader would have difficulty choosing which faction they wanted to win: by presenting both with considerable good and bad qualities, it provided a moral conflict for the main character and (hopefully) the reader.

It would have worked if I was a better author, but everybody actually picked the same side (the Ala) so I guess that means I failed.

I'm also going on a tangent for what I was going to actually talk about, so now I'm going to try and pull this back together.

I'm completely convinced nobody is perfect. Everybody has their collection of vices, their "favorite sins" if you will. In most fantasy novels we are willing to glaze over these character flaws because the rest of the character is so overwhelmingly good. His motives are noble, so who cares if he was a mass murderer at some point? He's clearly good now, so it is easy to forgive that moral ambiguity for the sake of plot. Authors rely on this, throwing snippets of character flaw to make their character seem more rounded, then swiftly abandoning them  should those flaws actually negatively effect the main story.

Basically quirks for the sake of having quirks, not for actually integrating those quirks into the story. "My character has a quirk!" *checks off a box* "Now I can get on with the actual plot!"

As you can guess, this drives me crazy. While I'll admit most of us in the real world have weird eccentricities that only play a minor roll in our "life's story," I'm reading a book here. If my character has a knack for killing people without hesitation, why does he hesitate when confronted with a main character (besides the fact that it's, you know, the hero he's about to slaughter)? Why do we make unrealistic changes to how a character acts just because the person he's interacting with has a name (vs the nameless other characters)? If you give your character a flaw, you'd damn well follow through with it, and not some cheap, half-assed way that doesn't follow a character's past. Give them a trait or flaw, and make it relevant.

I'm off target again. Sorry, this is like being shotgunned by my brain's ideas.

The point is, one of my main goals in Effulgent Corruption (besides it being dark) was to make it realistic. All three viewpoint characters of EC have distinctly different goals. In their own minds (and in the mind of the reader, if I sold it right) everything they do makes sense. Drake's goals are logical. Ciara's goals are noble. The means by which Rook's goals are accomplished might be questionable, but his intentions make perfect sense.

The fun part is everybody's goals completely conflict.

I'll have to have Alpha/Beta readers tell me if it works, but the basic goal is that everybody's intentions make perfect sense when thought of separately, but when mashed together you realize that they are incompatible. Whose side do you take? Now that the end has come, who should win? Are any of these characters actually good, or do their flaws outrank their good points?

It's interesting what you can do with viewpoint in this case. A reader is naturally more sympathetic to a viewpoint character. If you can present their monstrous actions in a sympathetic way (think of any of the John Clever books by Dan Wells), you can trick the reader into liking a character and agreeing when them when they'd completely abhor them if they saw them from the eyes of someone else. I (attempted) to use this tactic when writing Rook. From an outside view, he's a complete animal, with no hope for redemption and the world would probably be better off if he were dead. But when you see things through his eyes, everything changes. The awful things he does actually sort of make sense. His greater goal is one that isn't just noble, it's necessary for the world to survive. But can you still really side with him? What when the only way for him to succeed will probably result in the murder of the the other viewpoint characters?

All this is in theory, however, assuming I actually pulled it off in writing. Which is also the reason I was so daunted by the task of writing Effulgent Corruption - I didn't know if I could pull it all off in the way I wanted. Again, Alpha/Beta readers.

My point is: I like gray. I like it in my novels. I like flawed protagonists that are flawed for a reason, and those flaws actually incorporate in interesting ways in the story itself. I like pulling the rug out from under readers (again, see Nier). I like reading books that do that, but brainstorming them is just as fun.

Now I just can't do it so much it's cliche. But that's an issue for a later time.

I'd throw an EC quote down here, but I literally can't find a single paragraph in this last part that isn't a spoiler.  So instead I'm going to turn to a random point in the book and find the most interesting paragraph that isn't a spoiler. I can't see how this could possibly go wrong.

(From Part 3, Rook's first part)

Then the cart passed, making way for a cacophonous clinking sound. Behind the wagon, like threads of rope dragged behind, were three lines of chained Marked. Each line in turn had three Marked attached, the slaves marching to keep up with the plodding cart, manacles clasped tightly around one wrist. They kept their eyes low, not struggling or fighting, simply pressing forward as the sweat dripped from their faces. Their corruption lines were long, one man’s reaching all the way past his shoulders and beginning to encroach on the flesh of hisneck.
            “Passive,” Grax’s voice was gleeful. “Covered; they hear one of Us now. They don’t remember what it was like to be men, what happened in their First Life. All they know is slavery, servants to their masters. Just like you, Rook. Just the way I like you.”
- Effulgent Corruption, Saints


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