Here’s some hand-wringing about the scope of a story. How “big” is it? How “big” should it be? And should each book of the four-part series expand in scope?
For me the scope is the number of lives touched. A small scope means a few lives are touched by some action. At the end — except for those who died in sword-fights — things return to normal.
A story can have a broad scope. A kingdom can be made safe. The people living in the Outlands can be unified to defend themselves. The scope is tens of thousands of lives made safe.
As I look at Book III of Tales of the Red Ranger, the choice between expanding the scope vs. shifting it is starting to worry me. I could tell a larger story of the Mage’s impact on more people. Or, I could follow the Mage through some more difficult times and dark places without really dwelling on the kingdom-scale impacts.
In Book I the Mage spends almost ⅔ of the book trying not to be executed. The Red Knight has problems, too, but the focus is the Mage. The Mage’s actual goal — above and beyond staying alive — is personal. Eventually, there’s a #grimdark marginal “success.”
Yes, Book I does touch on two earldoms, the kingdom’s internal conflicts, and the temple pursuing the Mage. But. Really. The layers of politics are some of the backstory to motivate the duplicitous opportunists and assassins.
In Book II the Mage and the Red Knight spend ⅔ of the book trying not to get executed for fake crimes or killed by the necromancer. But the scope is larger than their individual goals. There’s the Red Howe and the neighboring villages. The action is spread across two earldoms. Indeed, one earl is being helped in spite of being an incompetent drunk.
To an extent, the focus feels bigger in Book II. But it’s supposed to be the same Temple, Kingdom, and External trio of threats. The “external” threat is the most deadly and immediate; the others are complications.
The feeling of a growing scope led me to an initial outline for Book III that could include yet more of the earldoms. At least four of them. And maybe the king, too.
I also have to remind myself to slow down. The books aren’t about the world. They’re about the people. There are some additional principles I’m using as aids to navigation.
Incremental Reveals. I don’t want to pour the whole kingdom into a single book. There’s too much to reveal. Half the book would turn into disconnected vignettes about some other part of the kingdom. The Mage and Red Knight would devolve to tourists. The Red Knight would hate tourists. The Mage — as tourist — would be a right bastard to everyone.
Dark Places. The first two books involve moving into the dark place in a profound way. The dark places are not things they pass through. It’s a thing they live in, and barely escape alive. Indeed, they have to be extracted. The dark places involve a kind of seduction. And the dark places are personal. While a kingdom — as a vague metaphoric whole — may enter a dark place, the individual’s journey is more relatable and more interesting than the larger political situation. Especially the Red Knight, who can be a real jerk sometimes.
Gritty and Detailed. Small things are important to me. I’m not a fan of Elric of Melniboné crossing kingdoms in a few paragraphs. In some of the Elric stories, getting from here to there is merely a side-bar drama, irrelevant to the overall hero’s journey. Having traveled long distances IRL, I think the drama of getting from here to there is — and should be — front and center. Distance and isolation are their own dark places.
I think my path through my own authorial dark place has several stages. The first step is to adjust the Book III outline to replace some prospective chapters that weren’t focused on someone’s personal journey. See Personification for thoughts on materializing personal problems as bad guys.
Part of the revision will more clearly identify the holes in the Red Knight's heart filled by the Mage, as well as the Crown, the Orb, and the Scepter.
In order to keep an appropriate level of grittiness, I will need to outline the parallel stories of the various earldoms and Outlanders. These other stories won’t get told directly, but the intersections need to be reasonably clear. Emphasis on reasonably. There’s a fogginess to these distant things. The Mage can’t ever be certain of what the Temple or the other Earls are doing; the effects can be observed, and action can be taken, but mistakes will be made.
The final step is to work through some nested elements of the journey. While the coarse outline of a hero’s journey is “there and back again,” there are sub-journeys within the larger journey. Some are sequential stages; some are nested.
I have to leave the parts in place for Book IV to step off boldly in an incrementally bigger scope. Incremental Reveals. Dark Places. Gritty and Detailed.