A Thought on Secrets in Storytelling

Been thinking about plot surprises recently. I’ve been watching Fairy Tail, a Japanese anime based on a manga series by Hiro Mashima, because the pandemic has given me an opportunity to watch it where I left off years ago. I like Fairy Tail, a lot. I like the interactions between characters and the focus on unity accomplishing grand things. I don’t like the Ankhseram curse secret-turned-major-plotline. I find it annoying and not well thought out.

Supposedly, those inflicted by the curse kill everything around them until they don’t see value in life, then they stop. It’s a contradiction. But here’s the thing (at least in the anime; I haven’t read that far in the manga). Zerif, in his guise as Spriggan, says that it’s safer not to care about his subjects–which means he’s caring about their lives. Which means everyone around him should be dropping like flies. They aren’t. So much for a killing contradiction.

Maybe this is explained away a bit further into the story. But currently, I keep wondering: What’s the purpose of the curse? Is the god Ankhseram punishing the individual? How is a disregard of life supposed to accomplish that? Why is the curse killing all living things (plants included) for simply being around this person? Isn’t that punishing innocents? While gods can be that kind of a jackass, I don’t get the impression that’s the author’s intent.

It’s made me think about some of the secrets in my stories. Do they make sense? Are they just an excuse to motivate the plot in a certain direction because I’m out of other ideas? How valuable are they? Sure, some people might still think the secrets are stupid, but I’ll at least feel I’ve fleshed them out before I invest heavily in them and realize they don’t quite work the way I planned.

When it comes down to it, plots are hard, especially in long, complicated stories. This is a place where plotters, who carefully plan out their tales, have an advantage over pantsers, who free-wheel it and see what happens (seat-of-your-pants writing). Planning the story beforehand can definitely catch some of the unexpected weirdness of plot points and correct them before a single word is typed. Writers like me, however, who are plantsters–authors who do a bit of both–but fall heavily to the pantser’s side, need to be more creative in their corrections, which can happen long after the plot is set and an issue pops up. Rewriting an integral plot secret is hampered if its previous incarnation is already published.

At least when it comes to very important plot points, it’s a good idea for all writers to think about the future outcomes in their stories. It’s very hard to steer the car in the direction you want to go, if you don’t know where you’re going in the first place. While that road can be incredibly fun and exciting and surprising, driving unexpectedly over a cliff isn’t.

Shiobe Rising: The Wellspring Dragons Book 1 and Trouble in Tindrel: The Wellspring Dragons Book 2 are available in Kindle format. Lapis of Nicodem, a serialized dark fantasy, is available for free at World Anvil. Follow me, Kwyn Marie, on Facebook and Instagram. Check out my author website, and the Wellspring Dragons book site as well as the Lapis of Nicodem book site. And if you like what you see, buy me a KoFi!

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