Gunlord’s “The Last Red Shoulder:” Postmortem

As promised, my friends–FINALLY–allow me to present you with a rundown of my thoughts on my most recently completed long-form (the first I actually completed, really) fic–The Last Red Shoulder! Again, you can check out the whole thing here:

And, as you might be able to tell from the fact I’m calling this a “post-mortem,” I don’t think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written, and I’m not that fond of it. I’m not ashamed of it–I think it stands on its own and accomplished everything it needed to–but I do think it fell short of my hopes for it, and my readers’, as well. Let’s explore why, and see what we can learn.

First, I must answer one important question: Why did I even write this fic? At nearly a hundred thousand words long, it’s a little longer than what most would consider just a “side story,” though for Wayward Son, maybe that’s understandable XD But why’d I even put so much time on it?

Two reasons. First, I wanted to put some of the notes I had lying around for Wayward Son to good use. Long story short, for those of you not familiar with all of WS: The first half of the story, about 40 chapters long, involves “the good guys” chasing down the main villain and killing him just before he fled their country. In my original draft, however, the villain actually managed to escape, and the first half’s story arc would have continued for another twenty chapters or so as the heroes hunted him down through the neighboring nation called “The Western Isles.” I ended up cutting all those chapters out and ending the story arc immediately simply because my story was *already* getting too long. My reviewers had mentioned it, and I myself was beginning to get worried about adding on another 100,000 words to a fic that was already around 500k words and only half done.

Even so, I didn’t want to lose all the work I’d done, so I thought I’d take my discarded notes for the Western Isles arc and turn them into a stand-alone fic. I also saw it as an opportunity to flesh out some loose ends in Wayward Son. While the main villain died, several of his underlings were mentioned to have fled to the Isles, and an evil monster/artifact the heroes fought hadn’t been destroyed and was implied to have still remained at large. So I thought making a sidestory rather than another addition to an already overlong fic would be a good solution.

That’s one reason, and one I’ve already explained before. The other reason was…well, sort of personal. Don’t want to say too much about it, but I wanted to exorcise some personal demons of mine–or, at least, work through some emotions I was feeling at the time.

The Last Red Shoulder is a pretty grim, dark fic. Fitting, as it takes its name from The Last Red Shoulder, an Armored Trooper VOTOMs OVA that has some of the same themes. VOTOMs is a scifi story, and that OVA revolved around the protagonist and his friends trying to get revenge on the colonel who had betrayed their military battalion. Similarly, my Last Red Shoulder involved a man trying to get revenge on the general who’d betrayed his team and left them all to die.

The VOTOMs OVA was dark and gritty on its own–there’s lots of violence, and all of the protagonist’s friends die before he gets his revenge. My fic follows a similar outline, though only vaguely (the nature of the betrayal is significantly different, in my story, the protagonist’s leader *and* love interest betray him). My story wasn’t dark because I wanted to follow its anime namesake, though. It was dark because I wanted to vent a lot of my angers and frustrations at the time. Again, I won’t describe them too much, but I thought that writing about an anti-hero consumed by hatred over a betrayal and subsequent isolation would be cathartic for me. At least, I figured it would be a nice way of reminding myself that things could be worse…much, much worse.

At the same time, though, I wonder if that may have been at the root of the many issues with this fic.

And there were plenty of issues with this fic as a whole, as my readers pointed out. The beginning and ending, which take place within the time period of FE6 and are framed as “history lessons” (since the story itself occurs centuries before the games), appear as if they were just tacked on to make everything seem more relevant to FE7 (since only one character from that game shows up late in the fic, everyone else is an OC). The main character and his friends are far less fleshed out than I wanted them to be, both individually and collectively, in terms of their relationships. Some of the battle scenes were cool, but others, particularly the last one, ended somewhat abruptly or didn’t have much “meat” to them. And for the second part of the plot-the struggle of some of the old characters from Wayward Son to keep the anti-hero protagonist from working together with the aforementioned monster to destroy the world after taking revenge on his betrayer–I definitely didn’t work in anywhere near the amount of stuff I had originally envisioned having. There was supposed to be a bit of a romance, more fights with monsters, global politics, lots of stuff. It all ended up on the “cutting room floor,” so to speak.

Why’d I leave all that out?

Well…honestly, I can’t lay the blame on failures of planning or writing myself into a corner or anything like that. I think that I just lost motivation to go as far with the fic as I’d originally envisioned.

I essentially pared it down to the bare minimum. I kept only the elements, and *only* those, necessary to completing the fic and tying up all its loose ends. Because, quite frankly, I just wanted to finish it up as soon as possible. I *never* leave a job undone if I can help it, so just abandoning the fic wasn’t an option for me. So I ended up just not writing large parts of it just so I could get to the finish line as soon as I possibly could, so as to not leave any lingering questions unanswered and satisfy my readers to an extent…even if they and I weren’t entirely satisfied with it.

And I think one reason for this loss of motivation was the disappearance of the emotional turmoil in my own life which made the story so salient to me.

As y’all can probably tell, I’ve been doing pretty well recently. Grad school’s going well enough, haven’t dealt with any silly drama in ages, accomplishing stuff online and IRL…I don’t really have any problems of note. And while I’m certainly glad to be so happy, when I looked at The Last Red Shoulder with my present positive outlook…I didn’t find it so compelling. I found it harder and harder to justify spending much time on it. It lost steam, and I found myself looking at it as an annoyance rather than something I needed to complete to work through my own feelings.

That can teach everyone a valuable lesson, I suppose. Writing–and any creative endeavor, really–relies on emotion as much as anything else. Writer’s block, and artists block, and composer’s block, etc. *are* things. Writing just isn’t the sort of job where you can plop yourself down and churn out a lot of content–at least, good content–if you just work or concentrate hard enough. If you write a story to work through emotions you no longer feel, it’s just not gonna work. At best, you’ll manage to produce something you’re not really impressed with, but which is at least complete and at least fulfills its objectives adequately–this is what happened to me. At worst, you’ll just leave it half finished, or finish something that’s downright terrible.

Despite all this, however, there are some things I think went just right. While it’s important to acknowledge your failures, nothing but negativity’s not all that helpful, either. And as I said above, even if I’m not incredibly impressed with The Last Red Shoulder, I did manage to finish it and I’m not ashamed of it, so there’s no reason to deny what successes I did manage to gain. And by describing those successes, maybe I’ll be able to replicate ’em! So let’s begin:

First, one thing I think went well was the battle scenes. As I admitted above, they were often cut short, but even taking that into account, I think they were pretty good, for the most part. My favorite would be the first big one, where the protagonist (Kain)’s team participates in a big siege and fights a powerful ice magician. That scene displayed all my strengths (well-planned choreography, skill at describing everything going on during a fight, etc.) and played out pretty much exactly as I’d envisioned and originally wanted it to. It was also written early on, while I still had the emotional engine driving me to complete this fic, so perhaps that’s why it went so well. Still, I think some of the later battle scenes written even after I’d begun to feel less motivated worked out great too. The battle scene in Chapter 9, when Kain’s men are ambushed while caught in a fog, captured both the feeling of the “fog missions” in the Fire Emblem games it was based on, as well as the feeling of terror for soldiers unable to see where their foes are, especially when they thought they wouldn’t be detected. And while the final battle scene, involving a character from Wayward Son (Khyron) and Athos from FE7 fighting a horrendously transformed Kain, was much shorter and probably more abrupt/disappointing than a final battle ought to be, I think I did a good job of designing and describing the transformed Kain-Monster. He looked mighty scary, if I say so myself! Check out chapter 19 to see what I mean 🙂

Second, I think I did well with the incorporation of music. I’m hardly a professional poet or songwriter, but I tried to channel Tolkien in creating some of the songs the bards sang (at the very beginning of the story and at a few other parts throughout). I’m not very good at meter and all that, but I think the tunes sound pretty good when sung out loud, and I did manage to make some okay rhymes–again, if I say so myself! So I’m pretty happy with that 🙂

Finally, despite the dark, negative beginnings of this fic, I think I succeeded in making it something positive at the end. There’s a lot of blood and a lot of tragedy, but by the last chapter, the good guys have won, and they’ve also learned something–they’ve became less prejudiced, and they have a better idea of how to uphold freedom in their own lives and societies, at least in their futures. It’s a little uplifting, even if the ending is, again, somewhat abrupt and the story had a lot of content cut out of it. And these days, I’m trying to write stories that will uplift my readers and teach em things (that I think are important, at least). Even if there’s a lot of violence and tragedy along the way, I want the good guys, or at least a few of them, to live on by the end of the story, and to have learned how to improve themselves and how to live virtuous lives–and impart that knowledge to the people reading their tales. I think I managed to do that by the end of The Last Red Shoulder, even if in a sort of hasty, ham-handed way. :p

Phew! Finally, that ought to do it for this post mortem! I’ve been wanting to write this for a looooong time, and I’m mighty happy to have finally gotten it outta the way XD XD I hope you guys learned something from it too, or at least I hope you now have a little more insight into me and my writing process. Now that it’s out of the way, and I have all my immediate grad school writing duties and stuff done with, I’m gonna see how much progress I can make with Wayward Son. I *hope* I’ll finish up chapter 69 entirely over the course of this weekend. Might have a Writing Log up next week…or maybe not. I ordered a Digital Storm laptop recently (yes, another one), so maybe I’ll do a review of that if it comes in, or maybe I’ll review some of the books I’ve bought recently, or…who knows? I’ve been struck by a bit of wanderlust *again* and I’ve been wandering around, going further than I usually do, and exploring New Haven. I really wish I had a car, but oh well. In any case, whatever I choose to write on, see you next week! 😀

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