I’m working on the Opening Action problem. You know, the story should open with a bang. Some kind of bang. The idea is to minimize back-story and scene-setting.
Star Wars ep. IV, "A New Hope" (the one that came first) opened with space ships shooting. That was an epic opening. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark opened with the whole dungeon level sequence. That, too, was an epic opening, free from complexities; it’s an elemental "get the golden treasure or die” prologue story.
I watched the Punisher movies recently (and John Wick I and II, and Hotel Artemis) to get a better sense of Opening Action.
In Tales of the Red Ranger, Book I, the threat of murder and the Mage getting beaten up seem solid. But. I’m still not sure. There’s a fair amount of threatening and planning murder without any murderous action.
In Book II, however, we’re not so solid. There’s some catching up from Book I, and — well — no one even argues with the Mage or the Red Knight. So. That’s not good.
While the Mage is buried up to his eyebrows in trouble with the Mage Temple, there’s no actual beatings. And there are problems with spies, assassins, and enemy collaborators, too. But no one so much as pulls a knife on the Mage.
There are descriptions from a number of points of view to bracket the depth of the problems.
No one tries to kill the Mage until almost chapter nine. As far as I’m concerned, if there’s no beating, I’ve failed as a story-teller to articulate a real problem. If there’s nothing bad happening, why leave the happy place?
Yes, there’s also trouble brewing at the Red Knight’s ancestral home. The Red Knight’s problem arises slowly. It’s intentionally murky. They have to go there to learn what’s really going on. And that’s where the fate that’s actually worse than death shows up.
Chapters 1-5 of Book II are ready for surgery. That’s about 30 or so individual scenes. I think five need to be replaced outright. And some exposition refactored into the remaining 25 scenes.
There’s a lot of pressure to introduce the bad guys early and often. I understand the story-telling value of the bad guys.
(I may be way wrong about this…) I feel that darker stories emerge from the bad guys being known only indirectly through their actions. We’re all forced to guess what’s going on, and the reader isn’t provided with significantly more information than the characters have.
When the bad guys are known, and prominent, we have a better feeling for what the hero’s up against and what the conditions of victory are.
When the bad guys aren’t well known, we’re left wondering who really is the hero, because it’s not clear what victory — or even survival — might mean.
In the good books, the bad guys yell at their henchmen; that’s often good exposition. In movies they’re forced to gloat over the hero because there isn’t enough screen time or budget to lecture the minions. In the long-running TV series, however, the bad guys can emerge slowly. Very slowly in some cases. More like a good book.
One of my benchmarks is Tolkien, where the boss bad guy is so remote he's essentially an abstraction of evil. The proximate bad guys (e.g. Gollum, Grima, or Denethor) are really mere henchmen.
Hopes and Dreams
My conceit is that I’m trying to follow a trail that’s vaguely Lovecraftian in it’s slow exposition of horrors.
Also. When an institution is the bad guy, it’s difficult to portray it. Yes, a person can stand in for an institution. The Mage can fight with another Mage; this can be emblematic of fighting the whole temple system.
Single combat makes it feel like victory is possible.
I don’t think anyone can fight an institution and achieve “victory.” At best, I think my characters can only hope to achieve some kind of armistice. Maybe not even that.
Before we can get to that part of the story, the Mage needs to confront armed elements of the Temple in Chapter 1.