Paths Unknown

There’s often a sort of emergent synergy to writing fiction. I think it’s the reason why my elements method works for me, and probably why the ring method gives such promising interactions. I’ve found many times that the unresolved plot-holes I have in one story are answered by another, providing a link between them.

Back thirteen years ago, around the last time everyone said the world was about to end, I was involved with the then-bigger-but-relatively-small AGI Community. AGI stands for Adventure Game Interpreter, which was the engine behind most of Sierra’s first suite of graphic adventure games. Kings Quest, Space Quest, and the like. Space Quest II was actually one of the first games I ever had on the PC, and my appreciation for the genre grew from there. It was a later version of the engine (SCI: Sierra Creative Interpreter) that was the source of one of my favourite games of all time, Quest for Glory II: Trial By Fire. QFG2, and the series in general, was semi-alone in continuing the story between the games, taking the choices you’d made in one and throwing them into the next. Play as a thief who couldn’t save the baronet from his enchantment, and that carried through.

It’s probably no surprise that my favourite game series now is Mass Effect, which also continued the choices you’d made throughout the three games.

QFG2 and its siblings not only gave you different character classes to play, but each class had different ways to solve their obstacles. It was common for the genre to have multiple solutions to problems anyway. The community I mentioned centred around some tools that had opened up the AGI engine, allowing people to make their own graphically-challenged adventure games about whatever they wanted. As you probably guessed, I did it too. I never got further than a ‘demo’ version of The Lost Planet (many years before), which opened with your character on a space station that was being attacked. The goal of the demo was to escape, and because I loved the multiple-solution approach, I came up with three different ways that the character could get out without being killed – each to then lead to a different place.

Writing fiction (other than a choose-your-own-adventure type) doesn’t require that many options, but one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned was during my first  NaNoWriMo – the usefulness of red herrings, outs, tangents, and winding paths that lead to somewhere I hadn’t planned. I had some complications in the story, and some of the characters came up with theories about what they thought might’ve happened. Yeah, the characters. The idea was that I would throw in some ideas as small red herrings, with the intent being that something else would happen.

In the course of writing, I discovered that the character was right all along. It worked better that way.

I had a journey in the same story, trying to go from point a to b. Instead of a simple transition, I chose to write out the journey. It took me to new, unexpected locations that formed the central piece of the ending. The story would’ve been very different without it, but I can’t imagine it any other way now.

Sometimes you need the path that leads the characters astray. You need a little bit of exploration to happen without planning it too intently, so that you don’t have things be too predictable. You need to give your characters options, letting them take the one that feels natural for them at that point in time. If they have options, your likelihood of a Deus Ex Machina resolution to their obstacles is reduced. Don’t make your red herrings into ultimate objects of power. If you throw in the Lost Soulsaber of the Ked’mari and go on about its power, it needs to be drawn. It’s a cheat otherwise, and you’ll only disappoint your readers. If a character suggests taking the north passage instead of the eastern, it can be nothing, or it can be a source of treachery.

It all leads to giving you options on ways to escalate the conflicts within. You don’t even need to know where it’s going, just have them on standby in case they’re useful in the future.

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