indicted on two charges of negligent authorial cruelty
You would think I’d notice when I’m doing something horrible to my characters — but sometimes the penny drops quite late.
The context for this post is the scene I wrote for Chains and Memory last night. There’s a detail I put into Lies and Prophecy that seemed like an interesting twist, an additional layer to an aspect of the world that the characters hadn’t realized was there. When I started planning out this book, I knew I was going to add another component to that detail; the adding happened a few days ago. And then last night, writing a follow-on scene, I finally realized what I’d done to Julian, by tossing in that little detail so many years ago.
I can’t get more specific than that without massively spoiling things, but I can give a different example of what I mean: Nicholas Merriman, an NPC in my game Memento, which is the campaign that ultimately gave rise to the Onyx Court series. Nicholas is nowhere in the novels, so there will be no spoilers for the Onyx Court if I tell you I may have been more cruel to him than any other member of the Merriman family save Francis. (Who did appear in the novels, so if I tell you his role in the game was pretty much the same except it ended a little bit worse, you’ll have some scale for comparison.)
Memento was a Changeling game about a group of faeries reincarnating in mortal hosts over a period of centuries, trying to create the Philosopher’s Stone. They were assisted in this process by a faerie-blooded human family, the Merrimans, who passed down the knowledge of their quest through the generations . . . but lost bits of it along the way, because seven hundred years is a long time to keep that kind of thing alive. Nicholas, living in the modern day, had only the fragments he’d gleaned from his Alzheimer-afflicted grandfather, and almost no connection to the faerie world whatsoever.
Under the mechanics for fae blood in that game, Nicholas was permitted one single “fae gift,” i.e. an ability inherited from his changeling ancestor. It could be a powerful ability, but he could only have one. I chose Parted Mists. In Changeling, the Mists are a metaphysical force that causes human beings to forget about magical things: to come up with “rational” explanations for them or dismiss them as mere fancy or just forget them entirely. Parted Mists allowed Nicholas to actually remember his interactions with the PC changelings, which was pretty necessary to make the plot go; ergo, my decision seemed like simple common sense.
So they meet Nicholas and realize they were doing something important and go through a process that causes them to remember their past lives, which takes up the bulk of the campaign, with them flashing back to previous centuries (and previous Merriman helpers) before finally snapping back to the present day and finishing what they started.
By which point I had realized that I had been horrifically, unthinkingly cruel to Nicholas.
Because he remembered.
Here’s the thing about Changeling: in that setting, there is a magical layer to the world that we can’t generally see. Changelings can see it; children can see it, but lose the ability as they grow up; adults can be temporarily enchanted to see it, but the Mists make them forget after the enchantment fades.
Nicholas did not forget.
After he met the PCs, Nicholas knew that he was living in grey, dreary Kansas. He knew Oz was right there, all around him: a fantastical world filled with color and magic and wonder. He knew the PCs lived in that world, and he’d been permitted to visit it a few times. But every time, the magic ended, and he was back in black-and-white Kansas — remembering precisely what he had lost.
I did not mean to be so cruel to him. But I was, and it took me months to realize I had been.
And that’s more or less what I’ve done to Julian. Not the same flavor of cruelty, but the same failure to notice until an embarrassingly long time later. The good news is, I have noticed, and that means I can make story out of it; that’s what I was doing last night. Not only that, but in writing up the problem, I realized it had a whole second layer to it, so that he’s asking Kim the question she hears, and also a second question she won’t hear until it’s almost too late.
If I’m lucky, readers will hit this part of the story and think “oh, wow, that’s a really awesome thing Marie Brennan set up there.” They won’t realize how much of it was an accident, that I only just caught at the last second. 🙂