Moving Along

Sometimes when I reach a scene, I know what I'm supposed to write, but I'm not excited to do it. I've discovered that when I'm not terribly excited to write something, it's best to break it down and figure what I do want to write and then work from there.

This sounds very boring, but it's one of those simple fiction-writing lessons I've picked up through trial and error.

Take this evening for example. In the original outline, Mabel rushes to the Disney Concert Hall to catch the Metal Charm, only to be confronted by Montiere. Montiere has crippled the Charm and is about to destroy it, but he's kept it alive as bait to capture the Charm-catchers. Lawrence meanwhile is hidden and plans to risk his life to seal the Charm for Mabel right under Montiere's nose. Mabel shows up and fights Montiere, Lawrence seals the Charm, and right when Mabel is about to be skewered by Montiere, Lawrence leaps in to take the blow instead. There's some drama there, and in the end we realize Lawrence is going to be fine because he can't be killed.

Sounds like a good outline, huh?

But when I picked up my pen, problems started cropping up. First, how could I convey the difficulty for Lawrence when sealing this Charm? Iji struggled with keeping the Water Charm and ended up having to let it go in an earlier chapter. Iji has centuries of experience under her belt, while Lawrence has about ten years. He's good, but he's not that good. Also, forget showing the magical prowess—how could he have this moment of genius without Montiere noticing? The villain is standing right across the street!

Then there's Montiere. The thing that made me frown when I started writing is just... Montiere is the strongest duelist in North America. He's the most deadly magician known. He's big, and he's been practicing for hundreds of years. Mabel cannot defeat Montiere! She hasn't even mastered the Charms. We've already seen him tear a powerful Charm apart without breaking a sweat. If he wanted to kill Mabel, Mabel wouldn't last a minute. Some fight scene.

I hate it when writers tear down their villains. Setting up a great villain and then having a hero rise to the occasion is one of the greatest delights in storytelling...

So, the idea of having Mabel and Montiere actually fight at the end of book one made me... unhappy.

Okay, I said to myself, if they're not going to fight, what happens?

Will readers feel cheated if there's no climatic confrontation? Is a non-combative confrontation in character?

My gut said yes, but my brain didn't supply the reason. Then, I thought of a villain confrontation where the hero was outclassed, The Legend of Korra: The Voice in the Night. In the episode, the heroine goes after the villain in a one-on-one duel, but the villain disables her and chooses not to destroy her because it will affect his revolution, creating a martyr. He declares that he will leave her for last... It's a great scene, and in this frame of mind, I started thinking about Montiere.

Montiere and Amon, Korra's villain, are very different creatures, but it's important to consider different approaches to a confrontation. Montiere isn't launching a revolution—if anything, he's the opposite—so he's not going to save Mabel in order to not make a martyr of her.

I ended up thinking a lot about Montiere, what I've written in this book and what I find most interesting about him. I mean, there are the obvious traits (psychotic, arrogant), but there's also loyalty and honor, although they are on his own terms. Ultimately he abandons Pin-pin to death because he told her she was not meant to be a vampire, and she went off and became a vampire anyway. He kills Salieri because Salieri disobeyed him and knowingly abandoned his duties as a technovamp to pursue magic. Montiere is very much about older ideas of honor, of his superiority. Personal debt and loyalty are his currency. Montiere is not the indifferent assassin—everything is personal. Salieri and Pin-pin have interactions and debts of honor with Montiere. Mabel doesn't. So, why would he feel betrayed or angry at Mabel for catching the Charms?

Mabel has no debt to Montiere, and this is the crux of their interaction in front of the concert hall. It's a short scene, but it sets up their relationship, this uneasy field with two players staring at each other over a line. Mabel is terrified, of course, and Montiere has centuries of perspective.

I don't know if it will make the editing cut, but it feels right.

So many commas!