Things I Like and Things I’d Change about Wayward Son

As promised last week, my friends, today I offer you more perspectives on Wayward Son. Specifically, I’ll be talking about what I, as an author, like the most about my work and what I think I did really well, along with what I believe are its flaws and what I would change or do differently if I did it all over again.

Be warned, massive spoilers for Wayward Son ahead!

Things I like:

1: Awesome battle scenes.

I certainly wouldn’t call myself an equal to professional fantasy writers (such as R.A. Salvatore, my main inspiration) when it comes to writing battle scenes. However (and this is about as self-aggrandizing as I’ll get) I do believe Wayward Son has some of the best action scenes in the English Fire Emblem section of FFn. I might do a bigger post on how I write fights later on, but I do think both my smaller, individual/team combats and the larger, mass-warfare showpieces are among the most vivid, engrossing, and entertaining in my community, largely thanks to their high level of detail and attention paid to choreography.

My favorite battle, hands down, is the showdown between Renault and Tassar in chapter 28, “The Siege of Thagaste, Part II.” EVERYTHING came together in that battle so well, and I had an opportunity to include (nearly) everything I wanted there. I always thought about having Renault and his former mentor fight to the death inside a burning cathedral, but I also wanted to include a tower, so that the fight would move up and up. I was able to do both thanks to the architecture I designed for the Eliminean churches, in which they’re built around a large tower. The fact that it’s Renault’s mother’s cathedral, and that Tassar killed his mother, adds even more to the tension. And since Tassar used to be Renault’s teacher, the reader has a good idea of just how far Renault has progressed. He went from a kid who didn’t even know how to hold a sword to an armored, knife-and-sword-wielding Mercenary Lord capable of standing up to, and eventually surpassing, the disciplined, storied veteran who taught him everything he knew.

The fight scene itself also works extremely well, IMO. It’s a straight-out knock-down, drag-out brawl. I love how I started it off (Renault being ambushed by Dark magicians—Tassar thinks he’s set a nice trap before Renault reveals he enhanced his magic resistance), how I made the cathedral burn (an incompetent mage set the fire), and how that encouraged Tassar and Renault to take their fight upwards; Renault wanted to avoid the spreading fire (and didn’t care about putting it out) while Tassar wanted more favorable terrain. It displays the ruthlessness of both men; Tassar doesn’t want an “honorable duel” but does anything he can to win, and only Renault’s own cleverness keeps Tassar’s ambush from succeeding.

Finally, I love the duel’s conclusion. It’s unexpected, but makes sense in the context of Renault’s abilities and equipment, and doesn’t come out of left field or seem like a “Deus Ex Machina.” Long story short, Renault has a dagger attached to a chain hidden in his armor’s oversized left pauldron. The chain is small but very strong, capable of supporting his weight, so he can use it like Simon Belmont’s whip and latch on to things. At the end of his duel, he ends up at the top of the cathedral tower, where Tassar manages to break his dagger-chain. He subsequently charges Tassar, driving both of them off the edge. Tassar thinks they’re both dead, but Renault reveals he has a spare chaindagger hidden in his right pauldron, drops it into his hand, kicks Tassar away and hooks it onto a gargoyle on the side of the cathedral, leaving Tassar to fall to his (presumed) death. The spare dagger was never revealed before, but made sense given Renault’s armor design, and of course would feature prominently in many future battles. I think I succeeded in keeping the reader on the edge of the seat, the battle’s conclusion in doubt till the very end, a satisfying surprise, and a good introduction to a mechanic (the second chain-dagger) which would come into play later. 😀

2: Braddock in particular

Once again, to be perhaps a little self-aggrandizing here, I think he is one of the best, most compelling, most endearing, and well-constructed “OCs” in the English parts of the Fire Emblem fandom. An OC stands for “Original Character,” i.e someone who wasn’t present in the original media. Since Wayward Son takes place centuries before Fire Emblem 7, I had to make quite a few, and I think I did a very good job, generally (which I’ll get to later). I think I did my absolute best with Braddock, and honestly, no matter how far I go in life, I think he will always be one of my greatest literary achievements. I’ll always be proud of him, I believe.

It’s not just me—he is a very, very popular character. As one of my friends said, he “loved Braddock“. Another reader (not one of my friends, which should speak for the character’s ecumenical appeal) told me via Private Messaging he was so “appealingly written” she could tell his death would change everything by chapter 19 or so. She hadn’t unlocked Renault’s story conversations mentioning his “best friend’s death” at the time (so she said), so this is high praise for the character. Many more of my reviewers and friends have told me similar things. I don’t know of that many OCs (though there may be a few) in the FE fandom which have received such an enthusiastic response.

Why is he so popular? And why do I like him so much, at least? For me, and I think for a lot of people, male and female, it’s because Braddock is, in many ways, the kind of friend they wish they had (or are glad to have), but also the kind of friend they could believe they have. Allow me to explain.

Virtually everybody, I believe, would find Braddock’s personality to be very charming (much, much more so than Renault), and they’d find the man himself to be genuinely good-natured. He’s fairly amiable, intelligent, well-read, and considerate, particularly for a mercenary. He’s not easy to offend and he (generally) tries not to offend others, treating everyone with respect until they’ve proven they don’t deserve it. Indeed, he’s very, very sweet. He treats his friends, particularly Renault and Keith, with brotherly affection, he does his best to look out for them, and he’s always ready with a kind word or a joke to cheer someone up when they’re down. That sense of humor, more often (but not always, especially when it comes to religion) gentle and perceptive rather than sarcastic and snarky, won both his friends and my readers over. Braddock is also ferociously loyal, every bit as loyal to Renault as Renault is to him. He’d do anything for his friends, especially Renault, and ends up giving his life for his “brother’s” sake. He’s not blindly devoted, though. Braddock possesses a strong sense of justice along with an almost knightly attitude of chivalry towards women, and will make sure to never betray his convictions or allow his friends to betray them; harshly criticizing Renault for being willing to work for slavers and keeping him from murdering a pregnant woman, for instance. Topping it all off, Braddock is a big, tall, muscular warrior who’s both handsome and extremely strong (strong enough to rip a heavy gravestone out of the ground with his bare hands). He’s also very skilled. Braddock’s magic weapon and heavy armor make him one of the strongest axemen on the continent during the time of Wayward Son, capable of standing toe-to-toe with the toughest armies or most powerful villains.

Thus, you can see why both male and female readers would like him. Guys look at Braddock and see a big, tough guy who’s also kind, loyal, and generally all-around cool—the exact sort of guy you’d want to have on your back, whether you’re in high school or in the professional world. He’s the sort of pal you could joke around with and confide in, while also keeping you safe from bullies or thugs. Women, on the other hand, see a very strong, tough guy who manages to have a “soft side” without being a weakling. Braddock’s a gentleman, honest, and unfailingly sweet, but he’s also not the kind of man anyone wants to mess with. An ideal protector and suitor, in many ways.

At first glance, all this might make him seem like a bit of a Marty Stu—i.e someone so idealized and flawless that they become an unconvincing character. Braddock, however, has several flaws, some of them quite serious, which give him the ‘rough edges’ necessary for a believable and intriguing character, but not so large that they overshadow his many good points.

First, he’s kind of awkward. Though he does his best, he doesn’t have a good grasp of social graces or niceties due to his upbringing (much like Hector of Ostia, who he is loosely based on). Sometimes this is just funny, like when he leers at Renault’s mother before realizing who she was, but it can be embarrassing for him and his friends.

Second, and much more importantly, when he gets really angry he can lose control of himself; his impulsive nature causes a lot of problems for both him and his friends, and is the reason there’s so much blood in his hands and the reason he carries so much guilt. We see a somewhat understandable expression of this in chapter 12, where he betrays his employers after being consumed by rage upon finding out they’re slavers, which he hates above all else. This naturally inconveniences his mercenary colleagues, such as Renault. Much more troubling is how he literally set off a civil war in his home country. The villain of Wayward Son secretly killed his wife and framed another noble, Volker (whome he disliked) for the crime. Braddock got so angry he didn’t think straight and killed Volker without even bothering to consider he might have been innocent. This set off a horrible diplomatic incident that grew into full-scale civil war when Braddock managed to escape after being imprisoned.

Thus, the reader sees that for all his good qualities, Braddock is very, very far from perfect, or even ideal. He has a tremendous amount of blood on his hands, starting a whole war because of his impulsiveness and inability to control his anger. His reasons for doing so (being manipulated by the villain) make it understandable and keep the reader from hating him, and even make the reader sympathize with him, but they still keep him from being completely ‘perfect.’ All these factors taken together, I believe, succeed in making Braddock immensely appealing, but not superficially, overbearingly, or saccharinely so. And they represent what is thus far my crowning achievement in characterization—which is something I think I did quite well generally!

3: Characterization as a whole

In general, I think Wayward Son’s original characters—that would be most of the cast—are very strong for a fanfic. Some are better than others (Roberto is one of my regrets, as you’ll see) but I think I’ve done a very good job fleshing out most of them and making them believable. Some are expies from other series (Yazan Gable and Job Trunicht are from Gundam and LoGH, respectively, and didn’t change too much), admittedly, but my all-original characters have received warm receptions. The Pegasus Knight Kasha is of my own invention, and my reviewers have generally liked how over-the-top crazy she was. I’m also proud of Apolli’s character development (he took his name from the Z Gundam character but nothing else). As I mentioned here, he was originally supposed to have a much unhappier ending, but I’m very happy with how he eventually turned out: A genuinely good, decent man who overcomes his trauma over the course of the first “Book” of Wayward Son. It’s not just Braddock who managed to rise up and become a well-defined character in his own terms. While most of the time, the only characters people can criticize as being “out of character” are those from the games themselves, one of my reviewers noted that the original characters I made had been well-defined enough that she could comment on instances they seemed OOC. This person, again, wasn’t a friend or well-wisher, so I doubt she was just buttering me up. I did take her advice, and the fact she gave it in the first place is something I’m somewhat proud of—it’s testament to my abilities in characterization that my readers felt confident enough in my creations’ personalities to mention when they thought I was getting off-track.

4: My treatment (to an extent) of politics and religion.

I am definitely no George R. R. Martin, but I’ve always liked very politically-involved medieval stories like the ones he writes (and like Final Fantasy Tactics and Ogre Battle, as I’ve mentioned before!). Wayward Son is nowhere near as involved in terms of the politics, but I think I did a decent job of portraying the differences in the governments of Lycia, Bern, and Etruria. To an extent, the rulers of Eturia are cartoonishly inept and played for humor, but Bern, at least, is portrayed as a relatively sane nation looking out for its own best interests, even if those interests are opposed to those of our heroes.

I also think I did a good job with the religion of Eliminism—which we’ll see much, much more of when Renault’s redemption gets into full swing. In FE 6 and 7, it seems to be vaguely based off Christianity, Catholicism specifically, with a hierarchy containing priests, bishops, and archbishops at least, along with a few references to “saying mass on Sundays” and loving one’s enemy. I think I managed to put a convincing spin of my own on it, and maintain those similarities without making it into just an expy of the Catholic Church. There are small differences, like serving milk instead of wine at communion, to larger ones, such as Eliminean cathedrals being based around circles rather than  the shape of a cross, to very large doctrinal differences, such as widespread tolerance of homosexuality and having church leadership consist of eight Archbishops rather than a Pope and his cardinals. The eight, by the way, is a reference to the Eightfold Path of Buddhism, which I decided to include after being told Eliminism’s similarities to Catholicism weren’t as strong in the original Japanese. In any case, I’m reasonably proud of the way I incorporated all these little differences.

5: Doesn’t get too artless or preachy

I will admit Wayward Son isn’t the most subtle piece of writing you’d ever read. Its critique of what is commonly referred to as “New Atheism” or “rationalist” thinking is fairly obvious, ranging from the French Revolution references of the antagonists to Trunicht’s sarcastic mockery of utilitarianism. Still, at the same time, characters like Dougram represent decent people who reject religion entirely, and all in all I think I incorporate my own musings on religion and rationality into the narrative pretty well. I don’t think I beat my reader over the head *too* much with the messages WS wanted to convey, and I think they were conveyed without the story going out of its way to do so, which is good.

Now, for Things I’d Change:

1: Length could be cut

As proud as I am of writing a nearly 1 million word “epic,” I have to concede that many of my critics have a point—to an extent, it’s unnecessarily long. Now, I hasten to add that even with the cuts and edits I’d make, the core of the story could be expressed in nothing less than 500,000 words, IMO, which would still make it extremely long. Still, I think I could chop off or merge a lot of things and ultimately reduce my word count by a few hundred thousand. A few examples follow.

As much as I love the big, Shadow of the Colossus inspired battle against Barbarossa, and the subsequent fight against ghost-piloted mechs in the Reaper’s Labyrinth, all that was ultimately a bit of a waste, since it didn’t really go anywhere further. The concept of secret weapons and an advanced Scouring society was interesting, and the purpose of those chapters was to get Renault and his friends isolated so they’d have a chance to prove they could triumph against insurmountable odds, but I think there were ways to do that which didn’t involve such a lengthy detail. If I were to re-write the story, I would cut out the entire detour (about 3 chapters total) and get straight to the Battle of Aquleia, where I’d have Renault and his friends defend a section of the city’s wall by themselves against a numerous and well-trained force. It wouldn’t be quite as dramatic or fanservice-y as mechs and mutant wyverns, but it would have fulfilled the same purpose of establishing Renault’s tight-knit squad as elite badasses in a lower span of time.

There are also a couple of sub-plots which didn’t really go anywhere. Vyrleena’s involvement was originally supposed to be much bigger, with a threat of Bern actually going to war at one point before being stopped by the Church, but I cut most of that out. I think I should have cut all of it out, maybe. Similarly, I think I could have condensed the fighting in the eastern front, in Caerleon, quite a bit. In those, I wanted Renault and Keith to become isolated from their friends for a time so I could build up a convincing ‘sibling’ relationship between them, but I don’t think I needed a whole chapter and a combination of two battles to do so. I might have been able to merge that plotline with the tragedy at Solgrenne, but I really wanted to include a setpiece involving the “Bingham Bridge,” so I suppose I gave in to my indulgences. 😄

2: On that note, some characters could be cut, and others ought to have been fleshed out

I think there are a couple of characters who just turned out to be nearly useless. Roberto was originally slated to die during the first attack on Scirocco, and I think it might have been better that way. Since he lived and ended up on the enemy side for a time, it gave me an opportunity to have a “recruitment” scene with him similar to the ones we see in Fire Emblem games regularly. Those involve a character in your army recruiting someone from the enemy army, like Apolli convinced Roberto to leave the rebels in Chapter 28. However, after his recruitment he never really did much, unfortunately, till he died fighting Paptimus in the climactic final battle. I probably could have written him out entirely without much loss. On that note, I think the Exedol-Malonda relationship could have used a good deal more background, since it was important to the plot and Exedol got very few lines before he died.

3: Can be a bit repetitive

My biggest regret with Wayward Son is that it can be a bit repetitive at times. The Armor of the Berserk, which was originally intended as just a fun throwaway reference to the anime for the purposes of fanservice, ended up appearing three times. While it will actually play a significant role in my other side-story fic, The Last Red Shoulder, I don’t think it needed to show up that many times. People also have a tendency to survive falling from the cathedral tower—Tassar survived his duel with Renault by being teleported away before he hit the ground, and Yurt later survived the same fall in the same way. If I were to re-write WS, I’d have Tassar die the first time but allow Yurt to live. Finally, the present plot arc in chapters 50 onwards is somewhat similar to the original Scirocco story in the first 10 chapters, with seemingly noble rebels being manipulated (to their own destruction!) by shadowy external forces. There’s a reason for this, as we’ll see, but I can see how some readers could find it a little contrived, and I would probably re-write all of it if I was able.

Well, my friends, there you have it—my thoughts on my own fiction, what I like best, and what I’d change if I could. Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts on what you like and don’t like about my writing. Next week…hmm, I think I’ve said almost everything I want to (right now) about my fiction and Wayward Son, so I might post a more general, non-fanfiction entry next time. Or I might find something new about fanfic to discuss! Either way, stay tuned 😀

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