Friday, March 26, 2010

Ten Years After: The Story Behind The Story Of GUNMETAL BLACK

(NOTE: While I do feel incredibly self-service for nattering on about myself at time, I'm pleased to announce that 2010 is the 10th year of continuous work on one of my long-form stories, this one being GUNMETAL BLACK, or GMB for short. As of this writing I'm into novel 6 of 10, and more than halfway through. That such an occasion exists, I thought, was reason enough to set aside my usual modesty and toot my own horn.

So . . . toot toot.)

One of the questions all writers dread hearing is "Where do you get your ideas?" I have no answer for this questions and no one's as yet bothered to ask me, so instead of plowing that furrow again, I'll instead tell you a little bit about how I use my ideas, and how one idea pulls in another and pulls in another until they become one big idea.

You know how in chemistry they teach you that atoms form compounds and stuff like that by sharing electrons? Chemistry was ages ago for me, so forgive me if I don't explain things with a lot of learned finesse or anything, but it goes something like this: Atom A lacks an electron to balance it out, but Atom B has one electron to spare. The two atoms join together, sharing the electron between them, and eventually linking up with Atoms C, D, and so on. Eventually, you have a compound, and if you have enough of the compound, it becomes something you can hold in your hands.

That's a lot like how I write. I get a whole bunch of ideas, or half-remembered ideas I had and never developed and they all sort of smoosh together . . .and eventually you get a story out of them. Some of the later ideas are purpose-built for the story, and some just come from that folder where you leave all the stuff that you worked on but didn't feel strongly enough and decided you'd get around to it someday.

Ten years ago, for something I was doing for a friend, I came up with a character, initially designed to be her character's opposite number. Visually, and in terms of character, I tried to just take her character, pick elements that would make the character antagonistic to her character.

Naturally, nothing happens in a vacuum, and we are all of us the sum of our influences. So this proto-character started taking on elements of cool things as he began to take shape. Take one pinch of brilliant amorality from people like Diabolik and Hunter Rose, take a bit of the single-minded ruthlessness of Golgo 13, take a few visual cues from Strider Hiryu and Heaven knows what else, shake well, add a dash of cinnamon, bake at 450 for 5 hours and, unbeknown to me at the time, GUNMETAL BLACK'S main character, Kienan Ademetria, sprang to life.

I should add, I had no ambition to plug him into the great huge meta-story he now inhabits. That came later. At the time, I had the barest idea of what he was all about. I knew he was the galaxy's deadliest assassin, I knew he had two fembot bodyguards named Vain and Mirage, and . . .gosh, that's pretty much all.

But as in our atomic model above, ideas attract ideas. Kienan's origins (themselves a weird amalgam of Batman and Superman's--he's the last survivor a doomed planet who trains himself to the peak of physical perfection) were set in my head, as was the notion plied his trade in a region called the Frontier, which was a bit of a Wild West-esque backwater of space not necessarily under any central authority's control, Kienan worked for a Triad-like criminal organisation, and Kienan had several dalliances with women in his past, one of whom was dead, the other, so far as he knew, he'd killed when she'd turned traitor.

It wasn't much, but it was a start. The mise en scene of the story was taken largely from an idea I had for a big space saga I was going to write back in 1992-93, as were a few characters that I'd had kicking around through the 1990s. But before any of the heavy lifting came up, my conception of Kienan as a character started to change.

Oh, not the conception of him as a brutal, ruthless assassin--I liked that part, not least because my last character was so goody-good, the idea of writing a character that wasn't made it seem like it would be a nice psychic break from all that and a chance to do something new.

Two things, though--here's where most of the "master thief" and "genius criminal" stuff got dropped, as was his tendency to run off at the mouth. I decided that if I wrote him as this utterly brilliant guy that there wasn't going to be a lot of tension in any of these stories, so maybe the thing to do was to just make him slightly smarter than everyone thinks he is. Ruthlessness and cunning, I thought, would give me the edge I was looking for.

I realised I was writing a story that was probably going to be fairly dark even under the best of circumstances--blacker than a coal mine at midnight at its worst--and so I walked a fine line between portraying Kienan as a driven, though evil, character, and not making him an utter bastard (as these were the early 2000s, I had plenty of examples in comics alone of what I didn't want to do floating around) so the notion of him killing hookers or being a serial rapist was exactly what I didn't want to write about.

But how do you write a moral story about an amoral killer? Well, the easiest way is for him to lose all the time, but if you do that, there's no tension. We know the villain will never succeed, so it gets to be a bit Coyote and Road Runner. So I decided to play it in the ways of Kienan may win in the short term, but there's always a price to be paid--and maybe we wouldn't know that it was coming at the time, but would be a nice hole card to pulled later on. This also solved the problem of Kienan killing most of his opponents--like dragon's teeth, killing one usually created a few more problems down the road.

So I had that going for me, and I wrote a few more short stories featuring him to kind of get a handle on what I was looking for in terms of tone, and as I went a few more bits of the underlying mise en scene and mythology clicked into place.

I still didn't have a title for this enterprise (or the idea that it was , but thankfully I had a vast collection of coloured pencils and a very mind-numbing stretch of jury duty, during which I decided to fill up one of my sketchbooks with titles ideas.

And sure enough, "Gunmetal Black" popped into my head. It was a nice image, and it played to the mood of the story equally as well as the fact that Kienan carries guns. And as I always take the path of least resistance when it comes to titles (fun fact: All GUNMETAL BLACK titles are music-related, and most often a bit of lyric or a song title. This is rather wonderful for me as there are few things I hate more than trying to come up with titles. The two others are a certain question I'm frequently asked regarding GMB. Also, broccoli.) the first thing that sounded right was what stuck.

So I started writing the first novel--finally. Then one became two, and two became three, and that was about the time someone started asking where all of this was going.

I didn't have an answer the first couple times. But, as I was driving in my soon-to-dead car, listening as the tape deck devoured yet another painstakingly-crafted mixtape, it all clicked into place. Where it would go, if not exactly how I'd get there, and a few major status quo shifts I could do on the way there.

As I stated here before, GMB doesn't follow the usual arc, wherein your main character starts on the periphery of the action and gradually spirals in closer until they're in the heart of the main story. GMB draws a straight line through several plots, some short-term, some longer-term, and one that specifically touches most every plot to one degree or another.

This unconventional way of telling what one person called the "overarching metaplot" gave me an enormous freedom to tell GMB stories. If I wanted to do an intimate, personal story, I could. If I wanted to tell it in nested flashbacks, it's possible.A story where the main character doesn't even show up? Oh yeah. If I wanted to tell the entire story from the point of view of the person who ends up murdered at the end of it, well why not? The versatility the concept offers is something which helped to keep things fresh over the story's first decade and kept it from feeling like too much of a grind (something this big will always feel at times like a slog, though.)

Whether all of this works or doesn't I leave up to the reader. In its first decade, GUNMETAL BLACK has found quite a few fans (where they come from and what they take from it is something of great interest to me) and I hope when the time comes where the end is written and we've seen what comes from Kienan's prophesied trip to Earth, they'll have found the journey worth it after all. I certainly hope they have.


Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

You know, I need to sit down some day soon and read this - it looks like you've done some rather interesting things with narrative structure and characterization, and that's just the kind of fresh air I need right now. Do you have PDF versions of the first five novels? They're a touch more convenient for long-term reading than online HTML...

Kazekage said...

I don't have them as PDFs (should do, one of the days, shouldn't I?) . . .but on the site they're all structured in the proper story order . . .or I could just zip all the HTML files and send them to you.

I'd rather love to know what you think, actually. :) Let me know how you wanna read 'em and I'll set something up. Give me something to do whilst moving house. ;)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

PDFs are just easier because they don't require going online - I just put them on my laptop and take them with me.

I'm halfway through the first novel. Detailed comments to follow, but so far I'm intrigued. :)

Kazekage said...

Well, it turned out to be serendipitous, as it had been something we'd be planning to do for awhile and this was a useful kick in the pants.

Oooh, "Intrigued!" :) I recently re-read it myself, and I'm releived it holds up as it probably very obviously--even after a substantial revision--shows I didn't really have a handle on what it was gonna be and where it was gonna go.

The next bit I'm gonna send you should be the short stories--they're a different animal (and slide in between the continuity of the novels, but show a different and more experimental side to the story.

Looking forward to your detailed thoughts on it and your reaction to the rest!

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Always glad to provide the right push. ;)

Well, I haven't quite reached the end yet, but there were a few things I wanted to say...

First of all, the world-building really piqued my curiosity: you introduce various factions like the pirates, the UEF and the Blue Dragons without overexpositing them, so I want to know more about who these people are, how they're connected, etc. Which, I imagine, comes later. :)

The plot structure holds up well: you've got Kienan and his team on one level, Red and the pirates on another, and they don't seem related until Kienan gets involved with Mao. Then the wires cross and things get interesting.

The only real glitch that I noticed on that level was Kienan's introduction: there's a paragraph that mentions a cloned lover who's now a berserker, and it was a bit too much too fast. Of course, that information was necessary for the scene where Red boards the ship, but it still falls under "tell" rather than "show".

Character-wise, I loved that most of the villains were women - not just Red, Kilana and Valcuria, but Korin as well. The flip-side is that towards the end of the book, everyone (with the possible exception of Valcuria) turns out to be... well, a bit of a chump, and largely for the same reason. Korin's coup is sloppy and mishandled because of Kienan, and Red turns out to be totally useless in dealing with him, and while I didn't necessarily need any of them to be Chessmasters, it's kind of problematic to have your main focalizer constantly refer to them as stupid, because that's how they look to the reader.

Which leads me to Kienan. Again, I'm taking into account that this is just the first effort so it's not a dealbreaker, so to speak, but he comes off as too Stu-ish for my tastes: runs around shooting everyone up, never loses a fight, never really bleeds, never really hurts, never really cares. It's not too noticeable until the scene in the fifth chapter where he blasts his way out of McKenzie's club - that came off as a bit excessive, especially since he'd just thwarted Korin and goes on to topple Red's plans with the same perceived ease.

Still, it's a decent start given that you're assembling this whole universe from scratch; it's a lot easier to let those types of speed-bumps slide than when you're working with pre-established source texts (ie: fanfic). I'm looking forward to the next one. :)

Kazekage said...

I'm using your remarks here and making notes for things to fix things in book one. I'm always up for constructive kicks in the backside, and this really helps. :)

Glad you liked it, even with the quibbles. This is GMB's pimply adolescence, so there are bits I find myself wincing through as I obviously was flailing about trying to find my way and hadn't had all the I's dotted yet.

Re: The world-building. In an effort not to overwhelm the reader with Claremontian levels of of backtory, I try to spoon the world-building stuff out in dollops enough to give them a taste without too much, if that makes sense. As the world of GMB is rather expansive and we don't get round to bits of it in a hurry, it's enough I think that you're intrigued by what a Rigellian might be or what the UEF are and hooked in enough to see what comes of it. I'm glad that works, even if it's a bit shifty on my part.

You'll see a LOT of world-building in the short story pack and a lot of backstory building as well. :) It will also reveal a glaring continuity error in GMB 1 I desperately need to fix.

That's me being bloody clumsy. I eventually handle the Kienan's clone g/f as berseker story in "Breakdown" but that ham-fisted info-dump is a holdover from my "explain everything" style of the time, and it will be justly jettisoned in the next revision.

You'll be happy (I hope) to know then that GMB probably has more female characters than male characters, both goodies and baddies, so this may continue to click with you. As to the "chumpiness" of the baddies, well . . .I think you have a point. I really want to go back and sharpen the points on them, especially as I have more of a sense of where these characters are and where they end up. It needs it, because if I don't sell the villains as legit threats, it's not going to sustain the tension I want. A more experienced writer would know this, and it will be fixed!

Guilty as charged on the Kienan Stu dealie. At this point in GMB's evolution we're still shedding the Hunter Rose-esque "I'm brilliant at everything!" nonsense and I promise Kienan Is Not Like That Now. It really needs to come out in revision (it may be the first thing I yank out, as I thought I'd cleared that all out by now and I'm mad I haven't) as Kienan gets to be a way more interesting character the more fallible and vulnerable he is.

And he'll bleed. I promise. From wounds external and otherwise. :)

I'll get the short stories ready to send to you here soonish. Hopefully that'll show a little more evolution in the concept (and the writing!) After that we'll return to the novels with GMB2!

Thanks so much for reading it, Diana! I really appreciate it! :D

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

And that, my dear, is why online writing is the best: revisions are just a backspace key away. ;)

Quite right - for the purposes of the story, a Who's Who isn't necessary yet; it's enough to see where the battle lines are drawn.

I'll get started on those ASAP, just as soon as I finish David Mack's "The Sorrows of Empire"...

You could always take the Mystery Box approach, at least as far as that specific scene in book 1 is concerned: there's something behind Door #1 that Kienan doesn't even want to think about, and when Red boards the ship, you can withhold the specific details from the reader as to what actually happens there...

Well, you know how I feel about women in SF: the more, the merrier! :) As for the villains, I can understand the tension there: on the one hand, Kienan needs to defeat his enemies to maintain credibility, but you don't want to make it too easy for him - his victories would be all the more impressive against more formidable opponents.

It's an easy oversight - I must say, though, I'm getting more and more curious to see what comes next. :)

Excellent! A little pain and pathos go a long, long way!

It's my pleasure, believe me. :)

Kazekage said...

Yeah. I've likened it to fine-cutting a movie--at every step along the way you can cut something, modify something . . .makes it a lot less painful that way.

Well, you'll get bits and bobs in the chunk I sent you last night, which'll fill in some stuff, but the curse of GMB seems to be the more stuff I explain, the more I pull back and there's more ground to cover. :)

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on these--they're a much different animal than the novels in a lot of ways . . .

It would do, except for the fact that I've utterly deconstructed every bit of that continuity that I'd have to look at the whole thing again. Fortunately, I've got some idears in that area . . .

Very true, and you'll be seeing even more female GMB characters soon--it's practically a matriarchy. The mistake I made here was that as Kienan's our vehicle for identification, I made the mistake that I excoriate people for all the time--for it to be a Big Deal, the characters have to treat it as such. :)

What happens next? I become a slightly better writer and get more of a handle on what this story ends up being about. In the stories you've just got? Well, you get a lot of questions answered and new ones asked, some things get explained and some Big Hints about the big plot get dropped. :)

There's a lot. How far does that go? ;)

I really do appreciate this and I'm looking forward to how you like the next bit!

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Well, in a movie there's such a thing as a final cut that you can't take back - as long as GMB stays online, you can exercise direct and absolute control over it.

Just tell me you have a plan and it's not "God Did It". :)

Would you rather I wait until I finish the whole batch or should I respond to each in turn?

Tell you what, throw in some male sexbots and we'll call it even. ;)

Believe me, it's my pleasure - given my current mainstream-related ennui, a touch of original fiction is exactly what the doctor ordered. :)

Kazekage said...

As that's probably as far as I'll ever get with it (or at least in the short term it's what I forsee) it's an advantageous situation, really, I get to keep things fluid enough to get better ideas along the way, and things can easily be locked into place when the time comes.

I do, and it's definitely not that, for sure. :) I can promise you two things 1) it won't be a happy ending and 2) God has nothing to do with it.

Probably each in turn--as this is a bit more unfocused than the novels are, it can give me time to address each one and the continuity questions that might come up might be the simplest way.

Uhm . . .none as yet. How 'bout if I split the difference and make the men as potentially slutty as the women? ;)

I hope I don't end up dropping my end of the deal! I'm hoping very much you'll keep enjoying GMB!

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

It's also a great way to smooth out plot holes and discontinuities without having to resort to retcons.

You have no idea how utterly relieved I am to hear that, after "Lost" and "Supernatural" found my BSG scab and ripped the damn thing wide open again...

In that case, here's what I've got so far; not much on account of some technical difficulties, but I'm making (slow) progress:

"Advice for the Young at Heart": This was actually my introduction to Silhouette, and I'm not quite sure where I stand about her just yet - I'll need to see more before I figure that out. I like that you made the distinction between Kienan killing and her enjoying it... though it doesn't quite click with the "fun" Kienan seems to have at his enemies' expense in the first book.

"After The Rain": Hmm. More prostitutes. And yet, I really liked this one for two reasons - it's the first time I've seen Kienan have a character flaw, this pathological need to save/fix people in his life.

I also appreciated the fact that you don't explain why Saeko doesn't want to be saved, even though she's clearly miserable: some stories are better left untold, after all. :) But a bit more set-up might benefit the Jayla reveal - the flashbacks seem to skip a beat between "blissful romance" and "sayonara, sucker".

That'll do. :)

I'm just sorry it's going so slow for me - I'd actually planned to finish the shorts by now, but work always gets a little crazy on the May/June border and this year is no exception. :(

Kazekage said...

And I need all the help I can get there, believe you me. :)

Yeah, I heard about that and I decided, and am saying it here publicly that neither GUNMETAL BLACK nor SEVEN SPHERES LEGEND will feature endings involving divine intervention that solves everything with a wave of the hand. It would be a knife in the back of the latter especially, as the whole story turns on the idea that gods can't help you to shape the world you want to live in.

Don't worry about the speed you read 'em at, Diana. It's enough for me to get a chance to hear your thoughts about 'em. :)

RE: "Advice"--Silhouette is a hard one to get a bead on, even for me. The story behind the story is that Silhouette is still in the stage of her relationship here where she's basically molding herself into a female version of Kienan, or what she imagines him to be. This leads to some dissonance, since Kienan first killed in the name of survival and has divorced himself from the emotional content of killing (except when he's pushed, and that's . . .well, bad for everyone, really) Kienan generally feels when it comes to drawing a gun, you shoot to kill, and it's a serious matter. I decided that was a better approach than him being a gleeful sociopath. :)

"Rain"--Yyyeah . . .I was still working in seedy noir conventions here. Maybe I thought there was some mileage in contrasting people who pleasure others for money vs. people who kill them or maybe I was still trying to be capital-E edgy. There's not many of these, I promise.

As to the story, it's a favourite of mine too, as Kienan's character gets some depth to it (you really nailed him there--the need to fix or save people recurs a lot in GMB)

As for the Kienan/Jayla relationship . . .yeah, it needs a bit more done with it, but that whiplash feeling is kind of intentional--they really had no business being together, as Kienan was trying to forget Silhouette and Jayla wanted someone to self-destruct on, and they weren't exactly in love. Things ripple outward from this too . . .you'll see. :)

I don't mind it's taking awhile, and I know how being busy is--I punch a clock as well, after all. :) --I'm just pleased to know you're still reading it, recognizing some threads I worked into it, and I hope you're seeing some gradual improvement as we go.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Haven't seen enough of it yet to comment on that. We'll see. Somehow, I doubt it's quite as bad as you think. ;)

Hallelujah. Or, you know, not. :)

Well, the good news is that I've got a nice block of summer vacation coming up, so that should get things moving along at a much nicer pace.

I do, in the meantime, have comments for "Save The Darkness":

It's an interesting counterpoint to "Advice" - I'm guessing this is the "real" Silhouette, whereas the one in "Advice" (and book 1) is the clone, which explains her new bloodlust? Anyway, I think there's a transition in your treatment of Kienan midway through the story: it starts with him more on the Sue end of the spectrum (ie: Kilana and Red both going slack-jawed over him, Toriares defending his actions with the Hard Knock Life excuse, etc.), but when you get to that moment where he stalks Red on the radio... that, I think, is the most effective use of Kienan I've seen so far, the idea that he's the boogeyman, the voice in the darkness, and he can only be seen through other people's eyes.

There's also a very noticeable change in pace once the story goes planetside: the action scenes, Red's confrontation with Dragos, the breakout, all very exciting. I think I actually enjoyed those sequences more than the earlier scenes with Kienan and Silhouette's relationship drama, if only because it didn't quite seem to mesh with the idea that he's obsessed with "saving" women. Unless this is set after "After The Rain", in which case it's actually the genesis of that fixation...

I think the problem with gleeful sociopaths is that it's very hard to do "serious" stories with them - Joe Kelly had to go a long, long way to make Deadpool an effective dramatic lead even while giving Kitty Pryde a Shoryuken.

This might be a misreading of "Advice", but I thought Kienan was rattled not so much by Silhouette's budding sociopathy but by the fact that she's modeling herself after him - that that's how she sees him. It's a bit iffy because this is still the point where Kienan is, if not flippant, then at least apathetic about his actions, so I don't get the sense that he'd be disturbed by that sort of thing. And yet, if that were the case, it'd be an extremely powerful character moment.

To be fair, it's a good story - I think I'm just a bit overexposed to that particular convention at the moment. And Frank Miller is still getting work. There's no frown emoticon big enough for that.

Ah, just as I suspected: Jayla comes in after Silhouette. Well, the puzzle pieces are starting to click together. :)

Oh, there's marked and visible improvement, no question there: the first book had the potential, and the short stories are using it - even on a purely technical level, they have more twists, deeper characterization, more significant POV shifts...

Kazekage said...

'Tis still early days. :)

There is some stuff about biblical prophecy in some of the later GMB stuff, but I promise that none of it is a set-up for God coming in to save the day. Not even God can stop the downer ending that GMB will one day achieve.

Summer with GMB! Awesome-sauce!

Well, it was written a bit before "Advice," and it's still just around the time when I'm working out just what Kienan and Silhouette's relationship was like and why it went so catastrophically wrong, but I didn't have a real specific handle on what the particulars were yet so this takes place sometime after "Advice," which Sil is becoming very disillusioned with the whole assassin thing and Kienan, embodying the job to her is losing his shine as well.

And Silhouette isn't the clone, but you'll see pretty soon her name is more than just a coincidence. ;) Though some of the clone stuff happens as a result of this story . . .

I re-read this this afternoon and the sue-ness really made my teeth grind. By this point I was really hoping that I'd gotten all that out of my system, especially since the stuff he does on the radio and all sells it way better than having everyone fawn over him and that'll be sanded off in revision.

"Darkness comes before "After the Rain," and it's funny you mention the whole "rescuing" thing as the first thing Silhouette remembers is Kienan rescuing her from being attacked, which I'm planning to explore a bit more in a story I rescued from the bin.

While Kienan was initially supposed to be more of a wholly evil character, when I found myself filling in more of the blanks of his history, I found myself framing it like this--he was the sole survivor of a massacre that pushed him over the edge and made him rather kill-crazy, as well as removing him from anything and everything he loved or cared about previous to that. So he has a head full of murder and is wholly isolated from the rest of the universe, and yet he unconsciously builds surrogate families over and over again (that he doesn't necessarily know what to do with or how to relate to). There's something to that which explains his need to rescue people and the fact that he can flip and be utterly relentless and deadly, but I've never been able to boil it down to a single sentence.

I'm glad the action comes off--in light of how I write them now, the relationship stuff doesn't have the bite it should, and I'd like better to balance it against the action. I'd also like to fix that Toriares bit you found that you told me about off-blog, because it's a big beat to miss.

I'm glad you caught that with Silhouette that I carried over to "Advice"--that's kind of the reaction I wanted Kienan to have (and his attitude toward his work is if not indifference, a total lack of moral opinion, certainly) But he's also been rather emotionally isolated until Silhouette, so when this happens, on some level he is disturbed. But I'm not yet sure whether it's because he doesn't like what he sees of himself in her or it's not what he wants for her.

*mentally tries to remember how many GMB hooker stories are left* There's not many left, I promise! I got the faux-noir stuff out of my system fairly early and went in a much more intriguing direction later. Hopefully.

Yep, Jayla was Kienan's rebound after Silhouette, which screwed him up rather more than he might let on. Jayla screws him up even more, but you'll see that soon enough. :)

I'm glad of that. "Darkness" is . . .hmm, I wrote it sometime after GMB2, so I'm getting a clearer picture of who these people are, but I'm not quite there yet. That said, I'm glad you can see the progression in things, and I hope you see more as things develop, as the short stories are where I'm at my most experimental. Looking forward to your thoughts on the next one!

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Good to know - I'm completely burned out on God Sue right now, largely because I have yet to see that scenario play out in a way that doesn't come across as plain lazy writing.

Indeed. :)

Ah... okay, that clarifies the timeline a bit.

I think that's the most challenging and delicate aspect of writing original fiction: on the one hand, there's nothing wrong with having other characters see your protagonist as a Sue-type (ie: invincible, sexy, super-smart, whatever) but you need to make sure the story doesn't adopt that perspective. Because then you really do end up with a Sue.

In flashback or as a "Year One" story?

It's a bold - and somewhat unconventional - approach to protagonist characterization: I imagine the more typical play would've been to make him an anti-hero where his more extreme actions are justified by the corruption around him. "Dexter" used to do that quite well, but I think at a certain point the temptation to glorify the anti-hero and make him not so bad after all just becomes too strong.

Not that big, really - I'm just a little more sensitive to that particular theme. Other readers probably wouldn't have noticed.

Well, there's plenty to do in either scenario: if he's uncomfortable with her becoming a skewed reflection of himself, it suggests a certain disillusionment that he's been hiding very well; if it's not what he wants for her specifically, you're left with the question of what he'd rather see happen to her, and what that says about him. Does he want her to have the life he had before the massacre? Does he want her to just pick any path as long as it's hers and not just following his?

I'll be certain to let you know. :)

It's good that she's not just a throwaway character - the story works either way, but it's a bit more engaging if that story really does have a ripple effect later on...

The best thing about experimental fiction is that even if it goes awry, there's still a lot of credit to be had for thinking outside the box. And if it works? Well, that's even better. :)

Kazekage said...

Well . . .you may like the spin I put on it in GMB then . . .hope so, anyways. :)

Yeah--in their relationship, there's a bit of hero worship gone sour that will ultimately ferment into . . .something else. Wow, two paragraphs into this response and that's a lot of ellipses. :)

Well, as I get a bit clearer picture of what GMB is all about and everything, hopefully Kienan will become a lot less Sue-like . . .he makes one or two rather drastic mistakes along the way that complicate things for him and he has a rather marked tendency not to be able to figure things out . . .hopefully that will become clearer. :)

Probably just as another story filling in what happened at that part of the timeline, as Silhouette's awful important to what happens next and every little bit we can fill in will help.

I do a bit of that--sometimes Kienan ends up the good guy by default, because the people against him are even worse than he is. Sometimes I have him doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. Basically, the idea is that he has no real moral rudder (or if it is, its wholly alien to us) because he's so closed off. It's a bit like how Golgo 13 is portrayed, except I don't draw it in quite such an emotionless zen-like way. As to the glorfying the anti-hero thing, I hope I don't so much . . .if I do, I try to let the demon out a little to balance it out and make sure you can't identify with him too much.

Actually, many years after I'd written those stories, I got awful worried about what my hooker fascination said about me, so you were actually the second person to notice it. :)

That's a question I'm not sure I know the answer to (he said, admitting to certain gaps in his plans) Basically, I think it's more that whatever Kienan wants, he certainly doesn't want to have sex with a female version of himself (because really--eww.) and I think he does want her to be truer to herself, but, well . . .it's how she does it that rankles for him.

Boy does it ever. The evolution of the whole Jayla thing surprised me even while I was writing it.

And also, if I'm still gradually tightening bolts and fixing it as I go, I can still fix things that are silly, embarrassing, and ended up being not so good ideas later. Ctrl-Z means never having to say you're sorry. ;)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I'll be sure to let you know. :)

I like that twist. It reminds me of how the hero/sidekick relationship tends to go sour after a while... but of course, outside fan fiction, Batman wasn't actually sleeping with any of his Robins, so those relationships weren't as complicated as they could have been...

I think the best way to avoid Sueisms is give your protagonist at least two flaws that work against them - one just seems like a perfunctory gesture...

That's an excellent approach, but I think it'd only work if he weren't the focalizer - that way you could keep the reader guessing as to what he might do.

Trust me, no one will be putting you in front of a typewriter with a gun to your head, demanding you write a story about a woman who isn't a prostitute. :)

Let me complicate the question. ;) When you say he wants her to be truer to herself, what image does he have in his mind? In other words, who does he expect her to be?

That's typically where the best developments in a serial narrative come from...

Amen to that. :)

Meanwhile, some more comments:

Nobody On My Side: I think I'm bumping into the drawback of this particular format - since every story's supposed to be accessible on its own terms, there's a lot of repetition in terms of backstory: another flashback about Kienan's traumatic past, etc. It's a problem without a real solution, since the basic assumption for these stories is that any one of them could serve as an entry point into the series...

I loved watching Silhouette's love turn sour - even if I don't have the whole picture yet, it's clear that it's been going on for a while, and that it's a process: she doesn't just wake up one day hating him. So yay for emotional realism. :)

Kienan's a bit more problematic in this story: on the one hand, he's having a completely immature reaction to Toriares getting married (and part of the problem might be that I don't have a clear grasp of his age yet - this would be more appropriate in a teenager, early 20s maybe, but making him that young throws off the timeline of him building his reputation). On the other hand, he's clearly reacting to his own past.

The question is how you strike that balance: the story seems to suggest that Kienan's actually in the right, because everyone's tiptoeing around him trying to comfort him, even as Silhouette tries to call him out on his behavior.

Of course, with Toriares it's the same refrain from "Save the Darkness" - he actually says it verbatim, that "it's not [Kienan's] fault, really it's not". I'm wondering if that's the larger plan for Toriares: that he'll always make excuses for Kienan regardless of the reality of the situation.

Perspective-wise, it needs a few minor touch-ups: I think Kienan's still a little too open with his emotions, especially during the bar scene - it doesn't quite fit the person who's driving Silhouette away for trying to be close to him.

Also, this is just my $0.02 but I think the throwdown would've worked much better if Kienan couldn't land a single blow, both because he's upset and because you might want to underscore the fact that Toriares knows all his moves, taught him everything, etc. It's much more dramatically effective if Kienan goes berserk, acts on emotion, throws away the training and none of his blows connect.


Diana Kingston-Gabai said...


Life During Wartime: I flat-out loved this one. Sa'Kev is an excellent foil for Red and Kilana in so many ways: he's making the same power play Red made to take control in the first place, his preference of brute force matches Red's own violent nature, and best of all (for me), when he's listing Red's faults as a leader and challenging her, not once is her gender raised as an issue. She's not inept because she's a woman, and she's not exempt from fighting him because she's a woman. No one even considers that. Needless to say, I really appreciated that. :)

You also sold the sisters' bond quite well: I loved that Red only wins because she borrowed a play from Kilana, and that Kilana has absolutely no desire for leadership - which wouldn't stop her from claiming it if she had to.

Does Sa'Kev show up at some later date? I'd love to see him come back for a rematch. :)


Don't Explain: Ah... well, that was a curveball. :) POV-wise, it's good that we have Kilana focalizing here, but I think that again, you need to scale back Kienan's participation in the discussion - she seems to have him all figured out, and that robs him of his mystique. Unless she's being portrayed as the only person who can read him, which is certainly an interesting twist on the typical dynamic. :)

Where is this in the timeline? After Silhouette, certainly, but has Jayla died at this point?

Kazekage said...

I'll answer the general stuff, then take it story by story. :)

I figured it was a natural progression--like all first romances, it starts very passionate and a little obsessive, but cracks become fissures relatively easy since both parties are rather immature.

Kienan has at least three I can name off the top of my head, but it took me awhile to get the writer's crowbar in there and exploit them properly.

The bits I have before I scrapped it really held with her POV--I felt like since we needed to see him how she saw him at the outset it made sense to hew to that as close as possible.

Yeah, but the disappointment involved with going to any well once too often would be pretty bad. I'm getting more aware as I get older, of the tendency to fall into ruts and formulas . . .

I am not sure, honestly. I think there's parts of her that he really likes (and she displays more of after she splits from him) but as Kienan can't really express that . . .

I hope it's equally surprising when you read it. :) It's quite a strange little bit.

Kazekage said...

Nobody On My Side:

Initially, the need to front-load the stories with all the backstory and everything was something that took awhile to figure out. Ultimately, I think I settled on doing as little as possible--you get a sense of the characters, a little taste of their motivation, but not enough to bog it down.

Yeah, I think they've been together about a year and change in the timeline, and the bloom is well off the rose by now, and both of them know it, but no one really knows how to break it off.

Early 20's is the best guess (until it's all done, I'm keeping the timeline somewhat floaty) but the immature reaction is intentional--Kienan has a severe case of arrested development (among other problems) The incident on the planet happened when he was 15, and it's pretty well screwed him up in regards to how "normal" people act--he hasn't had much exposure to "normal" and fears it a bit, especially when it's one of the few people he's managed some kind of emotional connection with.

Well, I've always read the story as Kienan being a real asshole to the two people who care about him--one he's shutting out and one he's treating like a traitor because he's trying to build a life for himself. That may or may not come across, and if it doesn't, I'll try to make it clearer when I revise it.

In a way--the recurring motif seems to be that Toriares will always feel a bit responsible for him and tries (mostly unsuccessfully) to keep him from being too self-destructive.

Hmm . . .generally, Kienan is a bit open when drunk. I can't decide whether that was a conscious decision or I just liked writing drinking scenes back then. But again, for it all to make its point, it could stand some fixing.

In any other fight, that would happen (and will--you'll see. :) ) but Toriares was just letting Kienan get it out of his system, and once that happened, reassure him he wasn't leaving him. Toriares has an edge on Kienan (he's a lot smarter), but he didn't really teach him everything--he did, however, add some polish to Kienan.

Kazekage said...

Life During Wartime:

I'm glad you liked it--seeing as how you inspired it, I was really trying to do you proud. Not least because you showed me a lot of potential in Pirate Red. :) Believe it or not, the gender question never came up when I was writing it--but I guess it proves the old adage: to make something seem like a big deal as it would be to us in the present day, write it like it's not a big deal in the future.

It's amazing isn't it? That a story with such a gutwrenching fight in it is a story about how much they love each other. I'd paid a lot of lip service to their connection, but I'd never really created a situation where I could make it explicit until now.

Well, while I did enjoy writing him and through him, writing about the poor ol' Siridar, Sa'Kev died in the fight when Red pulled his jaw apart they let him bleed to death. The Ninth Code is a harsh mistress. ;)

Kazekage said...

Don't Explain

Well . . .she did show interest in him when they first met. ;)

Kilana actually has Kienan pretty well figured out, and that's kind of what I was going for here--basically she's using him (not that he minds all that much) but it's not going to go much further than the occasional tumble because she can see how messed up she is. From orbit. ;) So they have . . .what they have and she's one of those rare few that he lets in a bit closer. I wanted them to be intimate but not make her another girlfriend by her choice, if any of that makes any sense.

Timeline-wise, we're after Silhouette but before Jayla. I should also point out in a behind-the-scenes tidbit that this whole story came out of a thread on the long-lost GMB forum wherein a few posters took great delight in asking rather intimate questions about Kienan and making me blush with what people apparently want to know. In an effort to play with that a bit and see if I could write a sexy story with no sex in it . . .this is what resulted. :)

It's after both of

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

That, and they're not exactly in a profession that's conducive to "normal" romance...

I look forward to discovering them. :)

On some level it's unavoidable - there's something to be said for consistency, after all.

And, of course, she can't read him at all, which results in her playing up precisely the aspects of her personality he finds less than attractive. Clever. :)

Nobody On My Side: Early 20's sounds about right - how long was he in stasis? That would contribute to his maturity (or lack thereof) as well...

In terms of the dialogue, that certainly comes across, but I think the plot makes it more ambivalent than it should be, in the sense that Kienan behaves poorly (regardless of emotional justification), Toriares makes excuses, Silhouette's attempt to call him out is muddled by her own failing relationship with him... and, of course, whatever lumps he takes in the process, he delivers a sound thrashing to the person whose perspective we're meant to accept.

How far does that go? Is there a point where Toriares would stop defending him?

It's just a question of whether you want this to be a rare moment for the reader to get direct insight into Kienan's head - it's certainly legitimate at this stage, but in the larger continuity where you might not want your readers to know what he's thinking, this would be a very significant scene...

In that case, you might want to stress that by "winning" the fight, Kienan had actually lost. The standard trope for this sort of situation is "might makes right" and I'm guessing you don't want your readers siding with Kienan at that point. :)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Life During Wartime: I completely agree with that adage - more often than not you have writers trying to turn an issue into a non-issue by constantly talking about how it's not an issue, but if it's all anyone can talk about in the first place... wow, I hope that made sense. :)

And this was really the best place for it, as the short story format lets you go much deeper into the dynamics of the relationship than you could afford in the main plot...

Ah, that's just my comics training coming to the foreground - technically, he's bleeding in the arena and then we get a transmission that he died, but the reader Never Sees The Body, so to speak. :)

Don't Explain: So did Red. :) I actually expected her to go after him, so kudos on the reversal!

Come to think of it, that's quite consistent with the way you've depicted Kilana so far: that she can see through him, and she's the only one who can see through him, because she's the strategist, the thinker.

Ah, so you've had direct experience with Rule 34. My condolences; I imagine you were never able to see Kienan in quite the same light again. :)

Kazekage said...

Or either of them really with their head together enough to sustain one. . .

They're coming. His utter callousness and inability to relate to people, plus his inability to see the big picture, mean things start blowing up in his face, really.

Yeah, but it is a cause for concern. I've binned a couple GMB stories because they weren't up to snuff. I'm determined to keep it as consistent a body of work as I can.

Yeah. It's no secret that Silhouette's most common comment about their relationship is "It's . . .complicated." :)

Nobody On My Side After the business on Caldera, he didn't go into stasis as much as he spent a few weeks drifting in an escape pod. This after days of trying to survive a mass slaughter on the colony conspired to screw him up but good.

Hmm . . .that's a good point. Really, it shouldn't feel like he won even slightly at the end. It does feel a bit like punches are being pulled. Perhaps I should go back and draw it in a bit more definitively.

Well, there comes a point where he can't really, because Kienan gets himself in far too much trouble. So that moment is coming. :)

Well, occasionally, I like to give people of a view of what's going on, but at the same time I don't want to do it too much or it'll lose it's effectiveness--the hope is that every now and again you get a peek behind the curtain in an unguarded moment. Not sure if it needed to be here exactly.

That's what I wanted and needed to come across, but from what you say, it doesn't, alas. The idea is that at times, even though he's a rather awful baddie, there are moments when you see he's also a bit pitiable, generally by his own hand. But sometimes I don't quite get there, alas.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Just to let you know that I have more comments, and have read "Heart like an Open Box", but they have to wait just a bit longer as I'm in the final stages of my graduate project, after which there will be amounts of free time best described as "oodles". :)

Kazekage said...

Looking froward to hearing your thoughts on it! I actually have another I need to send your way here sometime that something you mentioned here inspired me to write . . .

After that I promise to stop adding to the backlogs. Heh. :)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Just finished "Heart Like An Open Book".

And, wow, you certainly weren't kidding when you said these two were wrong for each other from the very beginning. :) She starts by basically accusing him of rape, then she's grateful for the rescue, then she's creeped out by his ninja-esque qualities. Not exactly a healthy foundation for a relationship. I had no idea she was amnesiac, so that goes a long way in explaining why she stuck with him for so long.

What I liked most about this story is that it clarifies, in no uncertain terms, exactly why they're attracted to each other - they both make a lot more sense now.

The only thing I'd suggest is a bit of decompression: even given the hectic situation and her own memory loss, Silhouette seems to move a bit too quickly towards imagining them together as a couple - they basically have this whole insane rollercoaster of emotions over the space of a day or two and ultimately decide to stick together. Perhaps a bit of padding in the middle to slow things down just a bit, enough so the groundwork for the relationship has more time to develop naturally?

Kazekage said...

Yeah, I tried to make this a match made in hell, and now that I had a clearer picture of Silhouette's backstory and where she would be moving forward, I could afford to make it a mutually culpable thing.

Her amnesia gradually lifts, and we'll learn more about her as we go--for one thing, her name is no accident--but for now, as it is later, she has a definite habit to gravitate towards strong men, whether she should or not. Heh. :)

I really wanted this to be kind of uncomfortable--you don't usually see love stories where there's a chance of mutually-assured destruction unless there's some third force in the way (usually drugs) but this time I wanted it all to have this kind of undercurrent of trouble and terror, even the bits that on the surface seem kinda cute or sexy.

I wondered about that--and I've mused on maybe soft-pedaling the end and making it a bit more ambiguous. But the thought I had when I was writing it was that being an amnesiac, Kienan had imprinted on Silhouette, and also laid the tracks for her attraction to "strong" men who can "protect" her. But if it feels a bit too rushed, I wonder if I should make it not so neat.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Hmm... off the top of my head, one way you could clarify the notion that Kienan has unwittingly "imprinted" himself on Silhouette is to show her attempting to mimic the way he walks/talks - something that shows her visibly trying to copy him and thus become like him?

Kazekage said...

There's a thought--she already dresses like him and tries to copy his borderline-nihilistic attitude . . .I even noted in my pictures of her from that time in her history that she even wears her hair like his, so . . .yeah, it's definitely something that could use some more highlighting.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Something subtle would do the trick, like watching him exercise and then emulating his moves with increasing accuracy. It's the sort of thing a person wouldn't notice unless they were specifically looking for it...

Kazekage said...

Hmm. . .it's an idea. Of course, I've tried to make the roll out of Silhouette's "other-ness" a bit more deliberate--it's one of the central mysteries of GMB, after all.

And while Silhouette is on the slate of stories I'm working on, this one's set more in the present day (he said, mysteriously) but I am considering going back and revisiting the early days again.