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PostPosted: Thu Dec 29, 2016 7:31 pm 
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In which Kertes shows a (slightly) more human side, Thutmoset's price is paid, plots are plotted, moral decadence runs rampant, and observant readers might learn something about the Sacred Empire and the weird concept of "alignment".

First chapter

Warnings


Summary


A Life for a Life (word count: around 3k)


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Last edited by Huey Nomure on Sat Jan 21, 2017 7:47 pm, edited 6 times in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 29, 2016 9:43 pm 
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The phrase "making your bed and lying in it" comes to mind.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 31, 2016 1:14 am 
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I've read "The Deal," but I had virtually no idea what was going on here. I mean, I understand what Kertes is doing with the midwife and how it ties in with her deal, but basically all of the world-building sailed right past me. With the whole "alignment" concept, for instance, and use of "crepuscular" as a personal adjective, I just sort of feel like I was expected to understand all of that coming in. I've never been a fan of xenofiction, and that's why. It's the same with all the current events of the world that were described early on in the piece. I just personally didn't care.

Dhouti bugged me. I just can't read that sort of incessant fawning over someone as in any way real, which made me think that he was up to something, but since I'm predisposed to dislike Kertes anyway, I really didn't care if he was or what it was he was up to. And speaking of my predisposition to dislike Kertes, I did not really buy her tears at the end, since she brought this all about and was basically just putting on a show with Ranno in the first place.

I don't think this story was bad or anything, but it was really not my cup of tea. There was no one here for me to "cheer" for, which is not necessarily a problem, but I just can't really access this character or this world.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 31, 2016 4:57 am 
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Thank you for reading and commenting!

Landis963 wrote:
The phrase "making your bed and lying in it" comes to mind.

Yeah, here Kertes starts to pay for her huge mistake in The Deal: not the pact itself (she regularly makes deals with at least five demons), but the rashness of it; nothing can end well if you forget to read the fine print in such a situation.

I've read "The Deal," but I had virtually no idea what was going on here. I mean, I understand what Kertes is doing with the midwife and how it ties in with her deal, but basically all of the world-building sailed right past me. With the whole "alignment" concept, for instance, and use of "crepuscular" as a personal adjective, I just sort of feel like I was expected to understand all of that coming in. I've never been a fan of xenofiction, and that's why. It's the same with all the current events of the world that were described early on in the piece. I just personally didn't care.

Oh. I know the first part is thick with information, but I thought the data was just scattered to require a bit of putting together; I can make things clearer, but if a reader isn't engaged enough to want more information about the world that's the problem I've got to address first IMO.

Quote:
Dhouti bugged me. I just can't read that sort of incessant fawning over someone as in any way real, which made me think that he was up to something, but since I'm predisposed to dislike Kertes anyway, I really didn't care if he was or what it was he was up to.

In my mind he's a hedonist that genuinely misses her wife and maybe has read too many romance novels. Stripped of fantasy context, he's mainly a husband that is losing his wife to her work, I hoped that part at least was relatable... but maybe the POV and The Deal induce the reader to think that everyone is plotting something and no expression of emotion is sincere.

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I don't think this story was bad or anything, but it was really not my cup of tea.

How can a story seem "not bad" if you can't understand half of it and you dislike the main character? I'm honestly confused: I consider them both bad things, and since you write for a character that's basically a rhyming Faustian devil I consider your word to be of significant weight especially for the second part.

I know Kertes is a despicable person, but is there a way to make her less obnoxious to read without significantly changing her actions? I meant to show the friction between her ambition (what she considers to be her "work") and her emotions, but I can't shake off the feeling I'm failing hard. Does she take actions that are too callous to be "redeemable"? Should I expand more on her anger in The Deal?

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 31, 2016 2:23 pm 
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Quote:
I don't think this story was bad or anything, but it was really not my cup of tea.

How can a story seem "not bad" if you can't understand half of it and you dislike the main character? I'm honestly confused: I consider them both bad things, and since you write for a character that's basically a rhyming Faustian devil I consider your word to be of significant weight especially for the second part.

I know Kertes is a despicable person, but is there a way to make her less obnoxious to read without significantly changing her actions? I meant to show the friction between her ambition (what she considers to be her "work") and her emotions, but I can't shake off the feeling I'm failing hard. Does she take actions that are too callous to be "redeemable"? Should I expand more on her anger in The Deal?

What I mean is that it's not bad in terms of the writing, the plotting, or the characterization (apart from my aforementioned annoyance with Dhouti, which is likely just my bias). The stuff about the in-world conflicts and the whole culture of the alignments is problematic, in my opinion, but that doesn't make the story bad. As you say, the information is out there in some form, so if people are interested enough, they can find it. We all know I've written more than my fair share of stories that require knowledge of earlier stories to "work," and I certainly do so with the understanding that those stories might be more difficult to engage a "new audience" than the starting point stories.

Regarding writing for villains, let me just say that it's not easy. It helps to have someone the readers can root for playing against the villain, but it's not strictly necessary. I think Raiker was helped by a few different factors. Firstly, he's a gimmick character. There's more to him than just the gimmick, I think, but ultimately Raiker is a show, and I think people like reading about him to see what comes of the gimmick. Secondly, I think Raiker was helped by the way I introduced him; it wasn't clear that Raiker was a villain. There were hints, certainly, but there was some mystery there. I think if I had debuted Raiker in "Poetic License" rather than "The Jaded Cat," he might not have caught on so well. I could be wrong, but that's my impulse.

In terms of Kertes, yes, I personally think her actions make her pretty much irredeemable, at least in my eyes (of course, I'm not very good at the whole "forgiveness" thing in general...). I mean, she bursts onto the scene sacrificing a baby to make a deal with a demon to sacrifice the life of her sister. You don't really let bygones be bygones after that. Even this this story, she knows her sister is going to die, and puts on this elaborate sham to terrorize and threaten the midwife. I realize, of course, that she can't very well just tell everyone what's going to happen, but that doesn't justify it.

In terms of "showing the friction between her ambition... and her emotions," I personally didn't really see it. Again, maybe I'm too much of a cynic, but all of those areas where you were going for that felt false to me, like she were putting on a show, or just wanted a different selfish thing at that moment. I did not believe the tears at the end at all, and the moments that she desired to be with her husband felt less like a tender emotion and more a desire for carnal fulfillment. I also very much got the sense that Dhouti was more a slave than a husband, probably based off his fear of discipline from interrupting her work.

Admittedly, maybe all of this is unfair. Maybe I came to this story and this character with a strong prejudice against because of what I knew about Kertes from "The Deal." That's probable. I don't personally feel any desire to watch Kertes succeed in her various machinations, but I'm so detached from the people she's hurt that I don't feel any particular impulse to watch her fail. I also haven't been given anybody to cheer for to oppose her. Ultimately, I just didn't see anything in this story for me to engage with.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 01, 2017 5:24 pm 
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The stuff about the in-world conflicts and the whole culture of the alignments is problematic, in my opinion, but that doesn't make the story bad. As you say, the information is out there in some form, so if people are interested enough, they can find it. We all know I've written more than my fair share of stories that require knowledge of earlier stories to "work," and I certainly do so with the understanding that those stories might be more difficult to engage a "new audience" than the starting point stories.

Problem is, this was meant to be a starting point :V Kertes was to be a first glance into the Empire's decadent and vicious nature, with Dusk's story being more detailed in the explanation of alignment and some of the political intricacies of the nation; from this comment I'm starting to feel like I should make a prologue to Bad Blood showing how Kertes has come to be the way she is. From her point of view, this story is her tragedy, and a classic one at that. It may be hard to present her to you (and the other readers) as this story never existed, though.

I modified a bit the first thoughts about Dhouti, I hope this outlines his character a bit better:
Quote:
Good, Kertes thought, he doesn’t need to be reminded of what happens when someone interrupts my work. Dhouti had been happy enough to gift all his current and future property to Kertes as dowry, and sometimes had the gall to wonder why work kept them apart; while Kertes spent nearly every waking hour worrying about the ever-changing worlds of commerce and politics, Douthi was free to make good use of her library, her harem and her money.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 07, 2017 1:07 am 
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After "Legacy," I came back to this and realised I hadn't read it. Well, let no one say I don't fix my mistakes. This was an interesting glimpse into Kertes' world, made much more accessible by the exposition from "Legacy." I'm guessing Dusk is going to grow up and oppose Kertes for control of the house -- a potential epic!

This story differs from the usual heroic epics, however, by starting with the evil baroness's point of view. I assume this is a stylistic choice. Will we swap to Dusk's point of view and experience the world from a commoner's perspective? Or will we see the hero's journey through the eyes of the character who's normally the villain? I'm excited to find out.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 07, 2017 5:19 am 
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After "Legacy," I came back to this and realised I hadn't read it. Well, let no one say I don't fix my mistakes. This was an interesting glimpse into Kertes' world, made much more accessible by the exposition from "Legacy." I'm guessing Dusk is going to grow up and oppose Kertes for control of the house -- a potential epic!

Thank you for the promptness, but unfortunately you read this before I could align (heh) this piece better with the events and tone from Legacy. :D There won't be major changes, though, mostly a better wording for Kertes' feelings and a few different lines of dialogue... though maybe I'll add a scene or two. I'll make sure to point out the differences when I'll be done with them.

Not to spoil you or anything, but I'll quote something that was said in Legacy:
Uab-Tot wrote:
[crepusculars] can speak like us, little panther, but other than that they are little more than animals.

He's not an unbiased source, of course, since a crepuscular killed his wife, but the fact their family had many servants but all the slaves are crepuscular is significant; if aligned are this empire's bastards (the Twin Gods have less influence in the rest of the continent, though suntouching and moontouching is still a thing), being born as a crepuscular is an irredeemable sin for the "faithful". He can't officially own anything in the empire, not even his life.

I know this is a jerkish thing to say, but as I see it everything one needs to know to guess how Kertes' story will go is in the events mentioned in Legacy and The Deal. :D

Thank you for reading and commenting! I'm very glad you like it.

(As an aside, Kertes wouldn't have given up her child so easily if he had been merely unaligned; then again, nobody can know how much Thutmoset lied through omission in The Deal. Would the child have been born crepuscular if Kertes had carried him until the end? The demon knows Kertes more than she assumes, and he's a powerful diviner to boot; my little panther has botched everything botchable by not asking for more information)

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 07, 2017 7:18 am 
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Updated with a bunch of details to better fit with Legacy; this the most relevant paragraph for the ones that have already read this chapter.

Quote:
Kertes felt her heart freeze. She wasn’t as stupid as to believe a demon would lie in a deal, but hearing it from Nezemab’s voice was still hard. She remembered the only two conversations she had with Astekhu since she had performed the ritual; the lies she had told to convince her older sister to keep the baby, and later the one to move Astekhu's quarters closer to the servitude that would have taken care of her, but more importantly farther from Kertes. Whatever it took, yes, but she had doomed her own sister and she hadn't found the gall to be with her when it mattered. Her chest filled with guilt and frustration.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 20, 2017 12:04 am 
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Aaaaaaaaand I have now read this one, too -- thanks for sharing, Huey!

(I'm through "Legacy," "The Deal," and "A Life for a Life" -- are there any stories in this sequence that I'm still missing?)

I'm having a hard time putting my thoughts together for this story, and, the trouble is, I think it's essentially the exact same reaction as I had to "The Deal" -- the Kertes I see here just doesn't feel like she squares from the Kertes I saw in "Legacy." The impression that I got was that Kertes genuinely loved her sister. It's so hard for me to understand how we get from there to here. :(

One of the things which kind of gnawed at me about "The Deal" was the fact that Kertes appeared to feel no emotion about sacrificing her sister. That felt odd. But here, seeing her sort of token remorse about the death that she knows is going to happen -- and which she knows is her fault -- that actually feels colder, somehow, then feeling nothing at all. Because, like Raven said, if any of those emotions are heartfelt, then Kertes has a strange way of showing it. I find myself not believing her. I don't get the sense that she actually does feel sadness, or regret. The only vibe I get off of her is callous and cunning -- the only thing she really seems to care about is engineering someone to take the fall, and it's not even clear to me why anyone needs to be scapegoated for this, why it can't just be presented as the accident that it will appear to be to anyone who doesn't know about the deal.

And, again, if this is who you think Kertes is -- if she's really this cold-blooded, this cruel, this heartless -- then, hey, mission accomplished! But the sense I get from your comments is that you're hoping for the opposite, almost -- you're hoping to show a more empathetic side to her. And, unfortunately, that's not working for me. Whatever pang of remorse Kertes may claim to feel, it's hard to believe that when she has been lying to her sister for so long, when she has coolly and calmly sent her to her death, and when she makes sure that she herself won't have to be present when it happens.

Again, if that's who Kertes is, then that's who she is, and what I would say is, have her own it. No crocodile tears. Let her be as bad as she needs to be.

But I feel like you're trying to pull her in the other direction -- here, and also in "Legacy." And, for me, the result is that Kertes seems less coherent to me.

Anyway, that all sounds way, way harsher than I mean it to. You're really a Hell of a writer, Huey, and I hope it doesn't feel like I'm batting that aside. I'm just struggling with Kertes a bit, and I'm trying to talk through it in the most coherent way that I can. (And I am seldom coherent... :blush:)

Thanks again for sharing, Huey. I did enjoy this piece, and I'm glad to have finally read it!

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 20, 2017 5:28 am 
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Thank you for reading and commenting!

(I'm through "Legacy," "The Deal," and "A Life for a Life" -- are there any stories in this sequence that I'm still missing?)

Nah, if you have the feeling there are some missing parts is because of blunders on my part.

The impression that I got was that Kertes genuinely loved her sister. It's so hard for me to understand how we get from there to here. :(

Long story short, she decided the promise to restore her family name was more important than the one to protect her sister.

One of the things which kind of gnawed at me about "The Deal" was the fact that Kertes appeared to feel no emotion about sacrificing her sister.

This means I have to work on The Deal: she's not like she feels no emotions, she is so conflicted she makes an instinctive (and very rash) decision.

Because, like Raven said, if any of those emotions are heartfelt, then Kertes has a strange way of showing it.

She can't show those feelings; they'd either hint at her knowledge about how things will unfold or taint the mask she has crafted for herself. (and some cracks show up anyway, as when she utters the word "nephew" for the first time) I'll try to make that clearer, but I believed the bare essential was already there.

the only thing she really seems to care about is engineering someone to take the fall, and it's not even clear to me why anyone needs to be scapegoated for this, why it can't just be presented as the accident that it will appear to be to anyone who doesn't know about the deal.

No, the scapegoat is for her guilt and hatred! Thutmoset set Ranno up to be her unwitting pawn, knowing that the ainok's personality would bring out the worst from Kertes.
Quote:
Faultless as Ranno could be, her fury needed a scapegoat… and Kertes still didn’t know what to do of the baby.

Holy Joker, I really messed it up.

Whatever pang of remorse Kertes may claim to feel, it's hard to believe that when she has been lying to her sister for so long, when she has coolly and calmly sent her to her death, and when she makes sure that she herself won't have to be present when it happens.

That's because she's trying to avoid her feelings. To say it as she would, she's a disgusting coward unable to face the consequences of her own decision. The first part, when she considers the alliance with the upstart captain of the army, that is a calm and cool-headed Kertes; the mere thought of the deal she made turns her from the cold, capable and terrifying head of the Meskhenet house to a seething, stumbling wreck of a woman. See how fast she turns from peaceful afterglow to a fuming ball of hatred and rage.

You're really a Hell of a writer, Huey

I appreciate the sentiment, but when my intentions are misunderstood on this level it's clear I have a crapton of work to do.

Kertes is not a simple character. Probably her story and personality would be more suited for a proper novel, but I'm not able to face a work of this scale yet; for this reason, I'm trying to portray her struggle through key moments, since I doubt anyone would like to read my stunted version of Game of Thrones. Maybe there is too much going on, as Raven frequently says, but while in other context this notion can be negotiable (Sharaka used ghostfire in the first concept, Kalit will lose his shadow magic, and I'm still tinkering with Elphimas' Storyteller/Collector thing) I feel like turning Kertes into a heartless villain would be butchering the character. She's juggling a lot of different impulses and desires, and constantly struggling to make the best of her past decisions while fumbling to understand what she should do next. She tries to tell herself she got this, but she doesn't, much like me with this storyline :bang:

I apologize for being this aggressive.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 20, 2017 6:37 pm 
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the only thing she really seems to care about is engineering someone to take the fall, and it's not even clear to me why anyone needs to be scapegoated for this, why it can't just be presented as the accident that it will appear to be to anyone who doesn't know about the deal.

No, the scapegoat is for her guilt and hatred! Thutmoset set Ranno up to be her unwitting pawn, knowing that the ainok's personality would bring out the worst from Kertes.
Quote:
Faultless as Ranno could be, her fury needed a scapegoat… and Kertes still didn’t know what to do of the baby.

Holy Joker, I really messed it up.

I'm not sure I understand this. Are you saying that Kertes feels she needs someone (Ranno) that she can direct her anger and hatred towards, because she can't publically be furious at Thutmoset or herself? Or are you saying that Ranno is involved because Thutmoset only sent her to piss off Kertes? Because what confuses me there is that Kertes seems to know the ins and outs of the whole deal beforehand, including that the demon would send a midwife. Well, "know" is probably misspeaking, because she clearly doesn't know who Ranno is, but she figures it out very quickly, and immediately plays into the role of setting Ranno up.

You're really a Hell of a writer, Huey

I appreciate the sentiment, but when my intentions are misunderstood on this level it's clear I have a crapton of work to do.

For the record, "Hell of a writer" does in no way suggest "perfect first draft." Many, if not practically all, of the greatest writers ever fine-tune their work countless times before it gets to where they want it to be. Great writing has far more to do with perseverance than anything else, in my opinion.

Kertes is not a simple character. Probably her story and personality would be more suited for a proper novel, but I'm not able to face a work of this scale yet; for this reason, I'm trying to portray her struggle through key moments, since I doubt anyone would like to read my stunted version of Game of Thrones. Maybe there is too much going on, as Raven frequently says, but while in other context this notion can be negotiable (Sharaka used ghostfire in the first concept, Kalit will lose his shadow magic, and I'm still tinkering with Elphimas' Storyteller/Collector thing)

Yeah, I'm really not a fan of the Game of Thrones model in general. It can certainly be done well, but there's a big difference between "complicated" and "overly complicated," and I find that a lot of GoT-inspired settings fall into the latter category.

I feel like turning Kertes into a heartless villain would be butchering the character. She's juggling a lot of different impulses and desires, and constantly struggling to make the best of her past decisions while fumbling to understand what she should do next. She tries to tell herself she got this, but she doesn't, much like me with this storyline :bang:

I just think it's primarily an issue of what we, as readers, are being shown. You're mostly showing us Kertes as she tries to appear to others (I haven't gotten to Legacy yet, so keep that in mind). And to others, Kertes is a pretty horrible person, what with her cutthroat politicking, ruthless tactics, and cavorting with demons and such. I mean, think about the trope of the multi-millionaire businessman who uses underhanded tricks to run smaller companies out of business. We're inclined to think that guy's a pretty big scumbag. But if you tell the story from his point of view, how he grew up poor, always scrapping around for money, and on his tenth birthday made a promise to his dying father that he would make something of himself, and how increasing his company's market share adds more jobs to the economy than the jobs lost by the closing of those smaller companies, and how he goes home every night and sings a lullaby to his baby daughter, and suddenly he looks like a very different character.

I have no problem with you wanting to make Kertes into a nuanced character rather than a heartless villain. But you're going to have to get me close to her for me to see really ANY redeeming qualities in her, because what she's done has been horrible. If you want me, as a reader, to overlook her sacrificing her sister to a demon (not to mention the infant that she LITERALLY sacrifices to it) I'm going to need something to hold on to. It's not even a question of whether or not she's beyond redemption at this point; it's a question of whether she's even worth redeeming.

I apologize for being this aggressive.

Just speaking for myself, I don't think you've been aggressive.


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 20, 2017 8:48 pm 
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I'm not sure I understand this. Are you saying that Kertes feels she needs someone (Ranno) that she can direct her anger and hatred towards, because she can't publically be furious at Thutmoset or herself? Or are you saying that Ranno is involved because Thutmoset only sent her to piss off Kertes? Because what confuses me there is that Kertes seems to know the ins and outs of the whole deal beforehand, including that the demon would send a midwife. Well, "know" is probably misspeaking, because she clearly doesn't know who Ranno is, but she figures it out very quickly, and immediately plays into the role of setting Ranno up.

Thutmoset has been very vague about who he would send to collect the baby. Kertes acquires the following information:
-Nezemab doesn't remember Ranno -> She hasn't been called legally
-She's a midwife supposedly called by Kertes herself -> Someone else called her, since there is no reason to call for a midwife through illegal means (at least, Kertes never had such a notion)
-Ranno is easily frightened by Kertes -> She's not a willing envoy of Thutmoset
-Ranno arrives minutes before the birth (+Thutmoset is fond of artificially serendipitous timing, and has huge divining powers) -> Ranno has been sent by Thutmoset through other agents.
-Ranno has no specific instructions for the baby -> The child has to be treated as any other crepuscular Ranno has helped to life.
The rest is merely improvisation and a leverage of wealth and power. The last two point are less than automatic - Ranno could have been an agent of rival families (I could add the order for two guards to follow Ranno to Kertes' quarters, actually) - but the firstborn of an unaligned branch in a house where the youthful head has recently taken a consort is not that big of a deal. Furthermore, Thutmoset loves to annoy Kertes, so of course he would choose a way to keep her guessing.

Quote:
For the record, "Hell of a writer" does in no way suggest "perfect first draft." Many, if not practically all, of the greatest writers ever fine-tune their work countless times before it gets to where they want it to be. Great writing has far more to do with perseverance than anything else, in my opinion.

Sure, but this is far from the first draft :D I get what you're saying, it's just that after writing 6.5k words to give perspective to a character reading "I find her emotions hard to believe" is a bit disheartening. I'm probably making too big of a deal about this, and my meatspace issues certainly don't help things.

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I have no problem with you wanting to make Kertes into a nuanced character rather than a heartless villain. But you're going to have to get me close to her for me to see really ANY redeeming qualities in her, because what she's done has been horrible. If you want me, as a reader, to overlook her sacrificing her sister to a demon (not to mention the infant that she LITERALLY sacrifices to it) I'm going to need something to hold on to. It's not even a question of whether or not she's beyond redemption at this point; it's a question of whether she's even worth redeeming.

That's not my point... my goal is not making Kertes redeemable; her first action in The Deal is gutting a living newborn like a chicken while she mentally complains about the money she had to spend to buy him, that's not accidental. My problem is making Kertes engaging and believable, something somewhat unrelated to ethics.

To tell it in chronological order, it went like this:
-I share The Deal
-Raven: "I don't really find myself invested in Kertes's story, as I don't like her enough to want her to succeed, nor am I invested enough to want to watch her fail"
-Me: Ok, in the next piece I should make her conflict clearer!
-I share AL4AL
-Raven: same as before, and I'm not engaged enough to puzzle together the worldbuilding from the information in the piece.
-Me: Ok, got it. You know what, I'm going to make an introductory piece for both Kertes and the world! Kertes will be younger, so she will be explained a few key things in a way that's hopefully not too infodumpy, and her character will be less rough, to show the character's basic impulses and behavior... I can work with that.
-I share Legacy
-OL: I really like Legacy! I look forward to read more about her!
-Me: That's great!
-OL: It's hard to believe her remorse in AL4AL.
-Me: That's... the opposite of great.

I don't understand: Kertes has done a bad thing as a side result of pursuing her goal, a mistake (arguably) caused by rashness and recklessness. She finds the guilt and emotional backlash overwhelming, and avoids it at the best of her ability while trying to make the best of her situation. When Kertes has to face the final consequences of her actions, she tries to soothe her stress through pleasure; but the next morning nothing has changed, so she takes her anger and directs it at Ranno, the only viable scapegoat for the public. Remorse and guilt are not somethings she desires and definitely not something she wants to show to the world, but they color her every action and emotion in this piece, bar the first section about Set-Auan.

So, while I hope that Legacy makes Kertes more engaging, showing her origin and how the environment encouraged her evolution in the woman we see in Bad Blood, I didn't think her emotions would have been so problematic. Is my idea of Kertes unrealistic, or I just have to work harder to bring this dynamic to the surface?

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To anybody reading this, including my future selves: have a good life!

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2017 12:02 am 
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Kertes has done a bad thing as a side result of pursuing her goal, a mistake (arguably) caused by rashness and recklessness. She finds the guilt and emotional backlash overwhelming, and avoids it at the best of her ability while trying to make the best of her situation. When Kertes has to face the final consequences of her actions, she tries to soothe her stress through pleasure; but the next morning nothing has changed, so she takes her anger and directs it at Ranno, the only viable scapegoat for the public. Remorse and guilt are not somethings she desires and definitely not something she wants to show to the world, but they color her every action and emotion in this piece, bar the first section about Set-Auan.

So, while I hope that Legacy makes Kertes more engaging, showing her origin and how the environment encouraged her evolution in the woman we see in Bad Blood, I didn't think her emotions would have been so problematic. Is my idea of Kertes unrealistic, or I just have to work harder to bring this dynamic to the surface?

Well, let me try to talk my way through this a little bit. And, again, this is just me talking, so it's worth precisely the paper it's not printed on. :)

The thing which I'm struggling with is that it feels like, in what we see here, if Kertes's emotions really are genuine -- if she really does feel remorse or regret about what it is that she's done -- then her ability to compartmentalize those emotions is almost unbelievable to me. Because, while we see some glimpses of them in her internal monologue, I'm not getting the impression that the color all her actions and emotions.

And I sort of feel that comes back to the question you've raised a couple of times, about how she's going to great pains not to display any of this inner turmoil, because she doesn't want to appear weak, or to give anything away to the people around her. And I do get that, and I can see how that's an important aspect of her character.

But I'm left with the feeling that it's also a very, very hard mask to wear without that mask slipping -- especially in the darkest moments. But Kertes's mask never really slips. It feels like she's too good at separating herself from any guilt or shame she might feel. And maybe the answer is that she's just one Hell of an actress, or she is that self-delusional. But I can't quite shake the notion that what it really means is that she doesn't actually feel bad, and she's just trying to convince herself that she does.

I read the story again tonight, and there are a couple parts that really sort of jump out at me, along these lines.

First, there's this passage:

Kertes still had nightmares of the last time she summoned Thutmoset, and had spent many a day reliving that night, neglecting her work to think about the anger and recklessness that had clouded her mind. What she should have said. The questions she should have asked, and the answers she should have demanded. Now she had to stumble blindly, hoping against hope that Thutmoset could have mercy for her, that he wouldn’t dare to steal the legacy he was asked to protect. She spent all her waking hours wearing the mask of the fearsome Kertes Meskhenet, but her heart filled with regrets whenever the memory came back to her mind.

Here's where we're sort of seeing that sense of remorse, but it feels like there's something really critical missing from Kertes's thoughts here: Namely, what is she remorseful about? We're told that she wishes she had done things differently, but what does that mean? That she had walked away from the deal? That she had somehow gotten slightly better terms? Again, she comes off to me here like someone who feels like they paid too much for a car, and now has a case of buyer's remorse. She doesn't come off as someone who feels she has done something bad. She doesn't say to herself: "I sold my sister's life. I sacrificed someone I used to love." The way she skirts that unpleasant truth feels too easy for someone who is apparently losing sleep over what she has done.

I kind of feel like I need to see that moment of honest from her, here, even if she's going to push it right back down again a second later.

Also, Kertes strikes me very much as a woman of action. She isn't shy about trying to get what she wants. She isn't shy about trying to turn the tables to her advantage when it suits her to do so. So I'm left to confront the fact that, if she genuinely feels remorse or regret about what she has done, she doesn't seem to have actually done anything to try to reverse her actions, or to mitigate the damage. Now, I get that her scope for action is probably very limited. She has made a deal with a powerful demon, and demons are not the sort of people you should cross lightly. But I have to believe that, if Kertes actually didn't want what's about to happen to come to pass, she would have made efforts -- subtle, well-guarded efforts, I'm sure -- to explore ways that she could try to get out from under her bargain. But we don't get the sense that she ever did anything like that. And that contributes to my feeling like she isn't really that overly sorry about the choice she's made.

Then, there's this part:

There certainly was some truth in the rumors about Dhouti and his brothers, Kertes thought as she finished her breakfast of dates and quail eggs. The night had been very pleasant: the twins hadn’t left her the time to think at all, which was just what she needed. She could see them stir in their sleep from her seat in the small garden’s table, their smooth white skin beautiful in the morning light. Sleeping during the night was not that resting for someone as moon-aligned as Kertes, but her husband’s diurnal sleeping habits were far from flexible. Not that Kertes was going to complain: Dhouti had proved to be much more than the rich attractive oaf she thought she had taken as a husband.

Kertes wanted to spend all morning in that sleepy bliss, the marine breeze caressing her naked body, but she was merely delaying the inevitable. She gestured for her plate to be removed, then beckoned at Canopus and his water basin. After Kertes had washed her face the servants handed her a cerulean linen robe and a silver-lined taupe shawl, colors that flattered her pale skin and blue eyes, then the garnet and black hematite bracelet that had Dhouti’s wedding vows carved on the inside.

Then Kertes sat again and closed her eyes, letting Canopus tidy her unruly hair into a loose ponytail with the help of scented oil while Zahra took care of make-up. Kertes breathed deeply and envisioned a full moon shining inside her, burning away Thutmoset’s shadow; after this morning, her end of the deal would have been fulfilled. But what did he want her to do with the baby, exactly? Ranno had clearly received no order from the demon.

When Canopus and Zahra had finished she looked into the basin, showing her reflection her best expression of contempt. She dismissed her servants with a wave of her hand and left the garden with a last longing glance to her sleeping husband and brothers-in-law.

And, probably, this is the moment which I get the most hung up on.

Because, while Kertes is in bed with her husband and his brothers, her sister is dying.

While Kertes is enjoying the morning breeze, her sister is dead.

While Kertes is lingering over breakfast, her sister is dead.

But Kertes doesn't seem to feel anything about that.

She had a great romp, which was just what she needed.

Her night was very pleasant. Not diverting. Not the best of a bad situation. Very pleasant.

She isn't looking forward to seeing the midwife, but she thinks about that with the same level of regret with which I don't look forward to going to the office if I know I have a conference call in the morning.

She's wondering what to do with the baby, but, if she cares about its fate one way or another, she doesn't remark upon it.

And this is the moment where I just can't believe her. I can't believe that she really cares. Because no one wears the mask that well.

I get the idea of trying to distract yourself -- to lose yourself in pleasure. But we're not talking about trying to forget about an exam, here, or a job interview. I'm sure Dhouti and the twins were good -- but I can't believe they were that good.

I can't imagine that, as she's lying in her bed, trying to enjoy herself, Kertes's mind doesn't for a second consider the fact that her sister is, at that moment, lying in a bed of her own, from which she will never arise. I can't believe that she doesn't imagine a scream in her head, or the sound of an infant crying. I can't imagine that, servile and attentive as Dhouti and the twins doubtless are, she doesn't gasp at least once out of horror, rather than pleasure. That the room doesn't fall awkwardly silent for a moment. That she doesn't throw her lovers out, because, on this night, only her demons can really keep her company.

I certainly can't imagine her waking up peacefully, enjoying the afterglow, and lingering over breakfast. I imagine her stomach tied in knots. I imagine that, maybe, she tries to eat, but the food tastes foul, and she can't keep it down.

Again, the mask here is just too good. It doesn't look like she isn't letting her feelings show. It looks like she doesn't actually feel anything.

Especially a moment later, when the servants are braiding her hair. Because that's what her sister used to do for her. How does that memory not come flooding into her mind in that moment. How does Kertes not imagine, for just one second, that it's her sister's hands she feels in her hair, before realizing -- no, my sister is dead. Her fingers are cold, and lifeless, and dead, and it's because of me.

Maybe she freaks out for a second? Maybe she passes it off as anger, screams at the servants, accuses them of pulling her hair, orders them to get out? Just anything that shows her feeling something here, other than mild annoyance.


Kertes felt her heart freeze. She wasn’t as stupid as to believe a demon would lie in a deal, but hearing it from Nezemab’s voice was still hard. She remembered the only two conversations she had with Astekhu since she had performed the ritual; the lies she had told to convince her older sister to keep the baby, and later the one to move Astekhu's quarters closer to the servitude that would have taken care of her, but more importantly farther from Kertes. Whatever it took, yes, but she had doomed her own sister and she hadn't found the gall to be with her when it mattered. Her chest filled with guilt and frustration.

See, here's some of that guilt. But, I feel like, by the time we get it now, it's too late. After the description of the previous night and morning, I can't believe that, now, she's feeling genuinely bad. It feels like too little, too late.

Again, for her not to have shown those feelings the previous night, and earlier that morning? The compartmentalization feels too good. I just don't believe it. :(

And, again, not only did she not find the gall to be with her when it mattered, she didn't find the gall to try to do anything to prevent it, in so far as we know. And that feels off, to me. I'm stuck with the idea that, if she had cared, she would have tried. If she didn't try, then she couldn't really have cared.

* * *

Now, with all that having been said, I feel like I need to repeat a couple of things, because I don't want them to get lost.

Huey, you're a Hell of a writer. A. Hell. Of. A. Writer.

I don't know why you'd feel like you were being aggressive. I don't think you're being aggressive at all! One of the things that I really respect and admire about you is that you're so open to hearing other people's thoughts and reactions, and that you're genuinely interested in trying to engage with them. A lot of people aren't like that. A lot of really good writers aren't like that.

It's a rare quality, and I genuinely admire it.

And, for what it's worth, that's the reason that I'm trying to be so open in the first place about the things that I struggle with in your stories, on the occasions when it happens. I feel like I want to share those thoughts, because I feel like you're interested in hearing them. There have been writers in the M:EM for whom that was not the case. And so I hope it doesn't feel like I'm being hard on you, or your writing -- if anything, I feel like it's safe for me to be open with you, and I want to thank you for that!

And, lastly, I do not think that the work you've done to try to develop Kertes's character has been somehow wasted, or unsuccessful, and I hope you don't feel that way, either. Because, at the end of the day, as I always try to say in these sorts of contexts, she's your character. She's yours. You know her better than I do. You know her better than I ever will. So, if you think that you're getting her right? Then you are. By definition, you are.

I have a different perspective than you do. Same goes for Raven, and for everyone else. So all I can do is tell you what I can see from where I'm standing, and how it does or doesn't seem to add up to me. And, to the extent that I have thoughts or suggestions, that's all they are. If you find them helpful, great! If you think about them, and you decide that I'm missing the point, also great!

You're the only one who can know what the point is. If you think you're telling the right story -- the true story -- and I don't get it? Then the ultimate problem is on my end.

All I can do is ask questions, and try to show you how the world looks from inside my shoes. Maybe that gives you the chance to see things from a different angle, and you find that you want to tweak something. Maybe you find that your angle is the better one, and that you can see things that I can't, and that gives you something new to write about, to show those things to me. Or maybe you conclude that what I'm seeing is a mirage -- Lord knows, it would not be the first.

You're the one doing the hard work, the creative work. You're the one who has to have the vision, and to like what it is.

I just read this stuff.

Tell your story, whatever that turns out to be. I don't factor into it. If my reaction helps you to tell it, then than makes me happy in a way that's hard to describe. If it is a distraction, push it aside.

Tell your story. Trust your characters.

You're not being aggressive. You're not being unsuccessful.

You're writing, and you're good.

The rest is just details.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2017 4:20 am 
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I can't understand why I kept skipping the afterglow section in my edits: even without context, there are some really weak passages there.

Quote:
I don't know why you'd feel like you were being aggressive. I don't think you're being aggressive at all!

For the sake of argument? I was being aggressive toward myself, if not to anybody else, and berating myself is a bad habit of mine.

Quote:
One of the things that I really respect and admire about you is that you're so open to hearing other people's thoughts and reactions, and that you're genuinely interested in trying to engage with them. A lot of people aren't like that. A lot of really good writers aren't like that.

Well, most people here are writers that I consider significantly more skilled than me, so I'd consider myself stupid to ignore free advice. And since you're likely to be my only readers, I may as well make reading my stories work for you. To make you keep reading my stuff, if nothing else :evil:

Quote:
And, lastly, I do not think that the work you've done to try to develop Kertes's character has been somehow wasted, or unsuccessful, and I hope you don't feel that way, either. Because, at the end of the day, as I always try to say in these sorts of contexts, she's your character. She's yours. You know her better than I do. You know her better than I ever will. So, if you think that you're getting her right? Then you are. By definition, you are.

I have a different perspective than you do. Same goes for Raven, and for everyone else. So all I can do is tell you what I can see from where I'm standing, and how it does or doesn't seem to add up to me. And, to the extent that I have thoughts or suggestions, that's all they are. If you find them helpful, great! If you think about them, and you decide that I'm missing the point, also great!

You're the only one who can know what the point is. If you think you're telling the right story -- the true story -- and I don't get it? Then the ultimate problem is on my end.

Maybe Keeper would slightly disagree on this point, Death of the Author and all... :V

...but I get what you're saying. It's just that I feel like I must always offer a token resistance to heartfelt compliments, I'm messed up like that. So... thank you.

Edits:
Quote:
The questions she should have asked, and the answers she should have demanded. Now she had to stumble blindly, hoping against hope that Thutmoset could have mercy for her, that he wouldn’t dare to steal the legacy he was asked to protect. She spent all her waking hours wearing the mask of the fearsome Kertes Meskhenet, but her heart filled with regrets whenever the memory came back to her mind. Kertes had started to see Astekhu's face in every woman she sacrificed to the demons, and saw death whenever she met her sister's gaze.

Just to be clear, the "legacy" Kertes is thinking about is her ability to give birth: she's also afraid the ritual had made her barren.
Quote:

Kertes massaged her temples for a good minute in the following silence. Was there anything I could do? Demons won't get in the way of each other's deals, and I was so stupid that I completed the ritual that very night. It has been half a century since the death of the last mage able to bring people back to true life, and even demons are afraid to slight Thutmoset bringing back someone who hasn't even been directly sacrificed to him. Kertes shook her head. He made sure I paid the full price, that devious bastard.


Quote:

There certainly was some truth in the rumors about Dhouti and his brothers, Kertes thought as she finished her breakfast of dates and quail eggs. She could see them stir in their sleep from her seat in the small garden’s table, their smooth skin beautiful in the morning light. Sleeping during the night was not that resting for someone as moon-aligned as Kertes, but her husband’s diurnal sleeping habits were far from flexible. Not that Kertes was going to complain: Dhouti had proved to be much more than the rich attractive oaf she thought she had taken as a husband. The night had been satisfactory: the twins hadn’t left her much time to think about-


Her throat tightened as she tried to swallow an egg; Kertes almost choked on her breakfast. The servants made to help her as she coughed egg all over the table, but she stopped them with a glare and spat on the plate. "Overcooked," she croaked, and gestured for her plate to be removed. They obeyed, their fear plain on their faces. They don't know that I am the one deserving the lash. She beckoned at Canopus and his water basin. After Kertes had washed her face the servants handed her a cerulean linen robe and a silver-lined taupe shawl, colors that flattered her pale skin and blue eyes, then the garnet and black hematite bracelet that had Dhouti’s wedding vows carved on the inside.


Then Kertes sat again and closed her eyes, letting Canopus tidy her unruly hair into a loose ponytail with the help of scented oil while Zahra took care of make-up. Kertes breathed deeply and tried not to think about her sister grooming her, with little success. After this morning, at least her end of the deal would have been fulfilled, she thought bitterly. But what did he want her to do with the damned baby, exactly? Ranno had clearly received no order from the demon. She hated Thutmoset almost as much as she hated herself.


When Canopus and Zahra had finished she looked into the basin, showing her reflection her best expression of contempt. She dismissed her servants with a wave of her hand and left the garden with a last longing glance to her sleeping husband and brothers-in-law.


Hopefully, now it's clear that Kertes' contempt is for herself.
Quote:

Kertes felt her heart freeze. She wasn’t as stupid as to believe a demon would lie in a deal, but hearing it from Nezemab’s voice was still hard. She remembered the only two conversations she had with Astekhu since she had performed the ritual; the lies she had told to convince her older sister to keep the baby, and later the one to move Astekhu's quarters closer to the servitude that would have taken care of her, but more importantly farther from Kertes. All those words looking into eyes that seemed already dead. More nightmare fodder, just what I needed. Kertes had dreamed Astekhu politely asking why she had to die, her body kept together by blood-soaked black string. Whatever it takes, Mother, yes, but Twins be damned! She had doomed her own sister. To make things worse, she hadn't found the gall to be with her when it mattered. Her chest filled with guilt and frustration.


Layla obviously never told her to sacrifice her own kin, but as I said Kertes sees her mother's letter as validation for her most despicable actions.

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