Desiderius Price

Artfully portraying two parties of heroes while maintaining suspense

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I’ve got a story that I’ve been stuck on for years, some ideas for addressing it would be nice.

Like any story, it’s got heroes and villains; at a key point, several of the heroes get separated from the others.  From the perspective of everybody else, this small party is believed to be dead, and therefore, unavailable/out-of-the-picture.   Now, the main party of heroes keep on pressing forward, fighting the villains, but things get worse and worse for them, until it seems like certain defeat.  Small party is able to observe/interact/strategize, but can’t divulge their existence until that pivotal moment.  (Obviously, you can see where I’m headed with this, the small party’s actions are the ones that change the outcome.)   There’s quite a bit of…action to both sides.

So, my dilemma is how to best portray the two parties.  If I go purely with the main party, I get the atmosphere I want, a really dark and dreary story; however, it’d seem a very deus ex solution.  If I go with main to the end and come back to the small party, there’s little to no suspense for that second party and it’d come across as a flashback.  If I mix the two parties, alternating the POV between them, then what happens to the main party isn’t a surprise and zero suspense.

Ideas?  Thanks.

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Would there not be some form of suspense in how you write and handle the smaller parties tasks and such? Just because their actions are helping, doesn’t mean the main party can’t still fail… or that the smarter party can’t fail. I’d say show both PoV’s, otherwise you will crash right into that Deus Ex Machina.

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I’ve tried all of the above, didn’t like any of them.  I did work out a bit of the smaller party’s timeline, of course, while working on the main party’s.  However, it’d be a bit of a spoiling, at least if I did it at first.  I also tried it later as a flashback (before I understood the Deus Ex), didn’t like it that way.  The advantage of doing it up front, as I go along, is that the mutual actions will mesh quite nicely.  However, there’s less mystery/suspense on the main party (from the reader’s perspective), because what ought to be unexplained things going on, now have an explanation.

Of course, these are my recollections after about a decade since I last tried to sort it out.  I do know that as I try to revise and work my way back, that unless I sort out my dilemma to the better way, I’ll be just as stuck now as I was then.

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One idea (borrowed from the Hollywood playbook) would be to follow the smaller party for a little while and then cliffhang them (ie, leave them in a dangerous situation that there’s a good chance they won’t survive). Then, when they pop up later, it will be a surprise, but not a deus-ex-level surprise.

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Could always just leave small hints that it’s been them all along. That way when they do show up, it’s a surprise, but it’s not Deus Ex.

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5 hours ago, Sinfulwolf said:

Could always just leave small hints that it’s been them all along. That way when they do show up, it’s a surprise, but it’s not Deus Ex.

That was one possibility I explored, but then I leave out a bunch of stuff, like the small party trying to figure out what’s happening,  where the small party’s manipulating the events in the main party.  (They’re even having to sacrifice people of the main party, to help resolve the overall crisis, it’s that dire that there’s no other choice – I basically pushed the situation that close to total defeat.)  It’s like the proper solution is a “choose-your-own-adventure” choice to the reader, follow the main party, or follow the small party, both are compelling stories, and both have main characters.

Edited by Desiderius Price

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On 8/9/2018 at 10:07 PM, Sinfulwolf said:

Could always just leave small hints that it’s been them all along. That way when they do show up, it’s a surprise, but it’s not Deus Ex.

Yes. This is what I’d do. Stay with the main group, with how they saw/heard/felt the smaller group’s possible death. Have it affect them fear and grief.  Make sure they are running by the seat of their pants and guessing. But have some guesses be way off, and they get injured/take losses because of wrong guesses. They don’t know why they hear a distant tank and keep wondering when it will catch them. but the tank is helping them indirectly. The main group has sparse and confusing input and IS hearing actions of the smaller group, but they don’t know.

This might be tricky, and a grid/timeline with major actors and sound/sight/evidence that crosses groups. I did a bit of this for my first real fanfic and had a spreadsheet with three hero groups and a villain in a magical gate maze/prison. But I swapped POVs between three characters and it was a nightmare to write.  I’m attached enough that I can’t judge anymore if it worked.

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4 hours ago, Anesor said:

Yes. This is what I’d do. Stay with the main group, with how they saw/heard/felt the smaller group’s possible death. Have it affect them fear and grief.  Make sure they are running by the seat of their pants and guessing. But have some guesses be way off, and they get injured/take losses because of wrong guesses. They don’t know why they hear a distant tank and keep wondering when it will catch them. but the tank is helping them indirectly. The main group has sparse and confusing input and IS hearing actions of the smaller group, but they don’t know.

This might be tricky, and a grid/timeline with major actors and sound/sight/evidence that crosses groups. I did a bit of this for my first real fanfic and had a spreadsheet with three hero groups and a villain in a magical gate maze/prison. But I swapped POVs between three characters and it was a nightmare to write.  I’m attached enough that I can’t judge anymore if it worked.

It’ll be even worse than that for the main party :)    In my smut version, I’m planning on a curse they’ll have to deal with.  (Yes, it’s a fandom with magic, I’m just trying to keep it sufficiently nebulous here so that on the off-chance a reader is reading this post...spoilers and all.) 

Small party’s influence will be more of unexplained events from the perspective of the main party; the main *won’t* be looking for the small party, because of how convinced everybody else will be of the small party’s demise.  (ie, I’m splitting hairs with how a canon device works, and the interactions of another character with said device; such that everybody sees the small party come into contact and assume “dead”, which is why I might need to portray some of the small party’s happenings before the story climax.)   At a certain points in the story, the small party’s actions will even lead the main party to believe they have a spy among their midst as the main party gets whittled away and things “leaked” to the enemy; this is because the small party will realize that going along with the villain’s plans will actually give them the best opportunity to vanquish the villain, at just the right moment.

Now, on a practical level, I am writing some scenes from the perspectives of the main party and the smaller party, this does help; and in that era of my writing, I did use spreadsheets too (unlike my originals where I’m using a database).  I’ll be creating a database for the fanfic works too….

 

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On 8/9/2018 at 7:07 PM, Sinfulwolf said:

Could always just leave small hints that it’s been them all along. That way when they do show up, it’s a surprise, but it’s not Deus Ex.

I’d have to say this would have to be a must if you got two parties going. From what I’m seeing the smaller hidden party is playing hard for the endgame. 

The cusp of victory is that sweet spot where everyone isn’t at their best guard after all. Victory is in your grasp the goal is practically touching. Focusing too much on the impending victory.

Main party should have some distrust. As in why are certain things happening that only the party planned together unfolding? I think the hardest part would be the hints that the smaller party isn’t as dead as everyone thinks. I mean did people actually see the bodies? The smaller party would be going off the plans the party made before they got separated.

 

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2 hours ago, InvidiaRed said:

I’d have to say this would have to be a must if you got two parties going. From what I’m seeing the smaller hidden party is playing hard for the endgame. 

The cusp of victory is that sweet spot where everyone isn’t at their best guard after all. Victory is in your grasp the goal is practically touching. Focusing too much on the impending victory.

Main party should have some distrust. As in why are certain things happening that only the party planned together unfolding? I think the hardest part would be the hints that the smaller party isn’t as dead as everyone thinks. I mean did people actually see the bodies? The smaller party would be going off the plans the party made before they got separated.

Magic exists, so no life will be detected subsequent to the smaller party’s “demise”; and with the villain announcing it, well, it’s pretty much a given under the particular circumstances.  The thought that the smaller party hasn’t fully crossed over won’t occur to them.  Main party’s going to suspect traitors in their ranks. 

All the plans the hero party (combined) had at the time of the separation were falling apart.  So, main party is going to persevere until they get wind of what the villain is after and try to stop it.   Yes, the smaller party will be playing much harder, going straight for the endgame, even getting into squabbles between themselves, at times, because of how hard they’re pressing.

This story has four MCs, two go to the small party (& presumed dead), whereas the other two regroup with the other members of the general organization the “main party”, which has some level of disbelief/disarray because the deaths weren’t what they were hoping for.

And in the smut version, small party’s going to be naked :)

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