Coming to Expect the Exceptions

When taking a novel class, we spoke about how a novel is ultimately a number of improbable events occurring at the same time, in a string, as to make an interesting story. This just doesn’t happen in real life. We have short periods of great interest, and then period of life where no one would really want to read that. Novels, video games, TV shows, movies, and other forms of entertainment do not have these boring moments of down time. Now and then, when your life has these moments without downtime, it quite honestly often leads to break downs or utter exhaustion. We just aren’t meant for that.

When writing fantasy, sci-fi, and other alternate reality works, we start to create that as a normal within our worlds. I’ve noticed this most in Dragon Age. The third game has been announced, some information has been released, and my first thought was, “Time to put down some Dark Spawn!” This is because in the first game, Origins, you take down what is called the Blight. The Blight is a rare, every several centuries, event. An archfiend comes up, leads an army of terrifying creatures, and tries to consume the world. In the first game you fight a Blight. In the second game it is all about a city growing and how you influence that. Sure you end up where you are due to being a refugee of the Blight, but otherwise it holds no pull over the story.

The third game is coming out and I thought once more, “Time to put down a Blight!” But then again I realized, no, not at all. There will be no blight. I will fight no archfiend. There is an inquisition with the major story line consisting of fending off dragons and bringing peace to a war between mage and templar. The dark spawn will appear as a scattered monstrosity which wanders the caverns below the earth, but at the end of the day they are not organized nor a true threat to humanity. They will just be a threat to a quest or two where you must cut through them to reach your goal. If you hadn’t entered the tunnels of the dwarves, you likely never would even fight them.

I understand that is long winded for an anecdote, but often times we read fiction, watch a show, or play a game in which we are experiencing a once in a life time (sometimes several generations) event. It isn’t the every day. In Exalted, you play as demigods, more or less. There are only about a thousand of them on the planet which holds many millions, but encountering Exalted and other super powerful beings is the normal for your characters. The average peasant likely never runs into more than a spirit of earth, and they probably have no idea when the interaction occurs.

I am seriously asking, would it weaken the book if these events didn’t happen? If everything happened as normal peasants doing their thing? In the story I’m writing, you follow two farmers. There is a world altering event, basically an undead plague a bit similar to the Blight, but the farmers don’t really factor into it. They are on the fringe, they survive it, but no more than anything else they had done. Hopefully it won’t leave people thinking “There has to be another Rising in the next book!” Is that a good thing? Or should that freak occurrence truly become a hallmark of my story? Truly I don’t wish people to forget it, but I want the love of these two individuals to be more important than some undead insurrection.

How do you use this? Are there freak events in your world that people only hear about in legend, or do you like having it right up front? Do you ease them into it, showing them a normal world, and then freak them out with the reality of that singular moment in history which will likely never be repeated, or will be repeated many centuries later? All input welcome.

6 Comments on “Coming to Expect the Exceptions

  1. I think it is okay to leave it as a standalone event. As long as you don’t turn the event into the driving force. Even if the blight is at all times hard and obvious in the background, it is important to maintain the characters as the driving force AND the focus if you are going to place those same characters into a brand new setting.
    But I also think no matter what you do, readers will attach themselves to different things. Even if your two characters are central, some people will like the blight background much better, maybe even Way better than the characters. That doesn’t mean they dislike the characters, they wouldn’t be reading such a story if that was the case, it’s just preference.
    I guess I would suggest in the second new setting to make occasional references to the first setting, or if it make sense, to have a few physical remaining elements. For example, there were still some darkspawn in DA:2 even though the plot had little to do with them at all.

    • Similar to DA, I will rarely be using the same characters. It’s more about seeing the change in places and overall groups. But I see what you’re saying. I just found it very fascinating how sucked into certain events we can get. Or how writers can focus heavily for a novel on a once in a life time event to make it so people think that is just how things roll. Thanks for the comment and sharing your own creative writings on your site!

      • I know what you mean. I actually like it a lot when there’s jumping around because it keeps everything fresh, but still, sometimes it sucks when a story closes a door on one thing completely. And thank you for reading my blog. I enjoyed the topic in this post.

  2. An undead plague sounds like something that should come up again- it’s not dead. What would be the after effects of such a blight? The trick would be in making the second mention a new event, naturally progressing from the first, that your characters can react to in a fresh way.

    • Dragon Age really did do a good job of that. 2 showed refugees going to another city.

      That’s a good point, though. I’ll keep in mind the ramifications. I do some things with the loss of loved ones and what not.

  3. I think, in fiction, once in a life time events should be everyday events. For me fantasy is 100% about seeing another world that is more exciting than this one and not constrained by reality. The events should still be read as once in a life time events though, otherwise they lose that ‘special’ element.

    Memorable events that help establish the backdrop of a sequel are excellent for chaining together a narrative, though a different event is more interesting. I think the best ones form a sort of chain reaction, with the aftermath of the last event causing the new, yet different event in some indirect way. Like Dragon Age 2 with the refugee beginning.

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