Yesterday, after finishing up working on Destiny from Ashes, I treated myself to a couple of hours of reading for pleasure. That’s a treat I usually give myself after I finish up one project and am starting to ramp up work on the next. It helps me make the mental transition from one “voice” to another. The fact that one of my favorite authors had a couple of stories in a new anthology only made it better. But, as I read one of the stories included in the antho, I found myself taking something from one of the books and asking “how far should you go?” in a novel.
Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve asked that question. Truth be told, I asked it–several times–while writing Jaguar Bound. The antagonist initially started out as someone much darker, not only motive-wise but with what he did to his victims. It was taking the book into a very different place than any of the others in the series (or the origin series) and bothered not only me but my alpha and beta readers. There was nothing wrong with the story. It just wasn’t right for the characters as they’d been created and as they’d evolved because it would wind up “breaking” one or more of them along the way and doing so in such a manner they would not have been able to come back.
In last night’s case, the story wove a tale where the antagonist was part mythological creature and part something else, something our main characters didn’t know until the end. Another complication was that the antagonist had a disease that impacted the way they acted and drove their motivations. It was interesting and everything but it also started me thinking about when do we, as authors, go too far with the hand-wavium and start losing our readers?
For example, let’s take one of my least favorite creatures in fantasy of any kind: vampires. If you write a vampire where he sparkles in any manner except bursting into fire, I will wall-plant the book. If you don’t have some sort of emotional impact of having lived hundreds, if not thousands of years, while everyone else they know grows old and dies, I will wall plant the book. If you don’t include some period (and it had better be more than a few hours or days) of suddenly not needing to eat, not aging, etc., I will wall plant the book.
Shapeshifters, be they skinwalkers or weres of any flavor or something else, are another thing a lot of readers look at with the side eye. There needs to be a reason for them to exist. Their shifting needs to follow rules. It doesn’t matter if their shifts are “magical” or if they happen because of some medical experiment gone wrong or through some technological hand-wavium, there are rules that need to be followed. It doesn’t have to be shown/discussed with very shift, but it needs to be referenced somewhere along the way.
One of the things about shifting I’ve seen argued until those involved come close to blows is how a woman who stands 5′ and weight less than 100lbs can shift into somethin that is taller, heavier, stronger, etc., than she is. Or how a man who looks like a linebacker can shed mass to be something smaller than he is. It’s a legitimate question and one that can be hidden behind hand-wavium or handled in a way similar to how Faith Daniels does it in her Jane Yellowrock series.
I could keep going. The thing is there have to be rules. The rules of Eerie Side of the Tracks differ from the rules of Nocturnal Awakenings which differ from the rules of Tearing the Veil. Keeping those rules in mind as I change from series to series sometimes gets difficult–which is why I have notes. I wish certain authors did the same.
Now, as for the story that got me starting on this screed. Our antagonist started as a mythological creature not seen in the particular series before. That’s cool. I love reading about new creatures and seeing how a writer, especially a skilled one (which this author is) handles them. But the antagonist wasn’t just that creature by the time the protagonists come across it. Without giving away too much, it had also become a shifter of another flavor. Then it had contracted a disease. Add in one of the rules about certain shifters in this writer’s world and you’ve got a big, mean, hungry and probably insane critter who really wants to eat the good guys.
It was a very good story. Really, one I will be going back to read again, this time with a critical eye to learn from it.
But it left me wanting more. Because it was a novella, the author didn’t have the time to develop the full backstory for the antagonist I would have liked to see. I wanted to know more about the original creature aspect. I wanted to know how the creature then came across and was bitten by a certain kind of shifter and what happened from then to when it became so “mad” it came to the attention of the good guys.
I also realized this was one of the few times when an author could have gone too far but managed to weave the different aspects of the creature together in such a way, not just in the creature’s motivation but in the story’s development, that I didn’t mind we had a creature that was part mythological character, part shapeshifter of some sort and possibly even part witch. (Even if it did had me making notes about things I want to make sure I have explained–or at least started to explain–in Fire Striker and can continue doing so in its sequel.)
So, what about you guys? When is enough too much?
Don’t forget that Jaguar Bound is out on Amazon and will be out on the other major outlets this week.
Twenty years ago, the world first learned of the existence of shapeshifters and other paranormals. It hasn’t always been easy but now Normals and Paras live in relative peace. Mackenzie Santos played a large role in making that happen. Mac has spent most of her adult life enforcing the law. Once she started turning furry, that law included Shifter law. Because of her and those like her, the world is a safer place.
Or is it?
A new threat appears on the horizon, one that puts both Paras and Normals in danger. Will Mac be able to meet and defeat this new challenge or will it turn into her greatest fear: war between Paras and Normals?