“Writing is telling the truth in lies.” When I heard those words, it changed how I view storytelling – because, on a fundamental level, it’s true. When stories hold to that, we can feel those layers that separate a story from the truth beneath, and it resonates with us.
In Aether, I’ve been staring at my plot spreadsheet and it felt … flat. Something key was missing. My protagonist was running around, slaying demons with her magical sword. Fun, but it said nothing.
Last night, I held it up to the candle of truth to try to find a better way to go about this. The story, as I mentioned before, is about the young generation coming into its own in a world dominated by the old. These shadowy demons she’s fighting had to be more than eye candy. They represented the vague, undefined fears that every generation has to face when they leave the isolation of high school and begin their quest into the “real world”.
So, if the shadows are fears, how are fears defeated? With a magical sword? No. They are defeated by facing them. By looking into that darkness with all the strength of character and convictions that we hold. We don’t just go around slaying our fears. We absorb them, and panic, and eventually that surge of emotion dies down until we are almost back to center, but not quite.
When we really face our fears, we are changed in the process.
I decided that this truth has to hold true. Now, she can go around and slay her demons, but there are consequences. When she defeats one, her body will take on a change – scales, horns, or something that she will desperately want to hide from her loved ones, just like we strive to suppress our own fears in daily life.
And if she is swarmed and must tackle several demons, she faces a very real danger that those fears will eclipse her own ability to reason. She could hesitate at a crucial moment. She could be overcome by fear. Fight, flight, or freeze. Any of those could spell disaster for herself, or the people she’s trying to protect.
Now I have a hero that can fail for a reason we are all familiar with, and can understand, and can sympathize with.
What felt flat now feels exciting. I can’t wait to go back through my spreadsheet and apply that new twist to my scenes.