I’m having a lot of fun restructuring The Forge into discrete 5-step beats. Some of these suffer from haphazard glides from one beat into another. This leads to too many characters with too many things to say. I now see how this is clumsy and confusing story-telling.
Some of the beats are missing a clear Crisis section where characters identify their choices. A few are missing Climax sections where choices are finally made. A few are missing Initiating Incidents because they follow directly after the previous scene: the Consequence of one is the Incident for the next.
While important, this is still a superficial rewrite.
More Fundamental Structural Issues
Here’s the crux of my personal rewriting journey. The Mage actively refuses the call to adventure. For the Tales of the Red Ranger to include reluctant heroes, there has to be active reluctance. This can’t be an “aw shucks, I may as well kill all the bad guys,” story, where the hero leaps into decisive action. This is a #grimdark story, and there’s no action until it’s way too late. Bonus: after dithering, the action taken is often ineffective or — worse — counter-productive.
I’ve been looking closely at the "Act I” beats. Accepted wisdom suggests fourteen beats broken into four stages: the call, the refusal, the aid/mentor, and crossing the threshold. This pacing suggests a single refusal beat, the one big melodramatic moment, filled with reasons why the descent into darkness is the only choice left.
One refusal. And — boom! — they're off on the road the war and the tower and the new forge and the Outlands and the assassination and all of it.
(I overstate this. The mentor section of the beat sheet I’m using has a four-beat stage that eventually leads to crossing the threshold and leaving the familiar. It’s not trivially Call - Refuse - Go; it’s more like Call - Refuse - Mentor - B-Story - Wavering - Go.)
I’m not sure I like my hero’s future hanging on a single beat. But. I also failed to start with a tightly-focused 80,000 word book. So. I need to eat my broccoli and pare the story to a scope where a single beat works.
I have about thirty or so beats in Act I (3/5 of a novel right there.) Twelve of them are part of a dark path and ordeal that’s a series of refusals. That’s a bit over budget for a single book. While “Kill your Children” is the common advice, I’m not sure that’s what I need to do here. There’s another possible reason why there are so many beats in this act.
The reason this is big is because I may have uncovered Book I of a four-part restructuring of The Forge. These will be the first installments of Tales of the Red Ranger franchise. (The parts with drafts are nine to a dozen books. The parts with outlines is six to eight more books.)
Book I: The Pit. The Mage is confronted with a rot at the core of his beloved temple. Observing forbidden practices puts the mage’s life at risk. While the Red Knight offers protection, it may involve a terrible price.
Book II: The War Camp. The destruction of war is tearing the kingdom apart. While the Mage find injustice is everywhere, the Red Knight offers a way to end the war. Can the Mage turn away from the present suffering to prevent future turmoil?
Book III: The Forge. Captured by Outlanders, the Mage must choose between alliances he can barely understand. If he defends the Outlands against attacks from the Empire of the West, will he face accusations of treason against his own king or the mage temple? Can the Red Knight accept an offer that thwarts their quest for justice?
Book IV: The Hidden War. The Mage escapes from the Outlands, to discover a shifting balance of power in his own kingdom. Protected by the Red Knight, the mage must prevent his own assassination while choosing among dangerous alliances.
This is not my first effort at restructuring what I have. See The Size Problem for a different organization. I’ve been sitting on this problem for three years since I finished the first draft. See The Debut Novel Problem for my first encounters with the upper bound on word counts for debut novels.
In the software biz we call this “Refactoring.” The essential components rearranged, algebraically, to build something cleaner and more useful without (really) creating very much that’s new.
Update (8 days later)
Slowly starting to get it now.
Book I, The Pit, involves the Mage’s refusal of aid from anyone until reaching the bitter end. The Red Knight is essentially one of the antagonists in this story.
Some emphasis has to change for the mage to more actively embrace the path through the pit. In the original draft, it was a kind of journey-ish series of events, with an implied call and refusal. It was not a proper quest and the boon was not clearly defined with a mcGuffin The initiation and parts of the return were solid, however, which is why I’m taking this path.
Originally, it was a detailed acting out of the call and the refusal. Rather than simply refuse, the mage decided to endure the doom pronounced on them.
The reason I’m expanding parts of the story is because they have always reflected the Mage’s choice — to try to endure the punishment because it’s the “right” thing to do. While I’d like the Red Knight to play a larger role, I think I’m over it.