As part of my Guest blog series for authors and fellow bloggers I am proud to present another guest blog spot. The Dragon’s Blade I am very excited andthe author of
The Dragon’s Blade: The Reborn King is out NOW!
So go grab a copy!
Setting the Difficulty
By Michael R. Miller
Recently I was writing a short battle sequence for book two of Dragon’s Blade. It shouldn’t be a shock to hear that my main character, Darnuir, powers up a fair amount over book one. It means that the expendable demon soldiers of the enemy don’t present much of a challenge to him. So how to make this fight remain compelling? Throw hundreds at him? That would quickly become tiresome.
It got me on a train of thought about how to suitably challenge characters who grow in power. In fantasy there is often a climatic villain of world ending proportions to deal with. This is particularly true in epic fantasy. But what about the journey in between? It feels similar to how games, especially RPG’s, start the player off at a low level and then escalate.
In games like Dragon Age you tend to begin with some rags, a patient tutor and maybe a stick. As you play you gain levels, better gear and talents turning once threatening enemies into a sack of bones. Thus stronger creatures are thrown at you and higher level areas unlock otherwise all sense of progression would be lost. In books it is not as straight forward as ‘unlocking the new zone’ but a similar idea prevails. Characters who start with little or no power can become world conquering magical emperor-deities. Of course not every character will but most tend to grow in power in some way. Even if it is not a growth in magical strength it might be in status, the size of their armies, knowledge or even in simpler ways such as confidence, bravery or another attribute. However the character grows, the respective challenge they face must remain suitably difficult or you run the risk of losing tension.
Difficulty settings in games usually range from ‘easy’ to ‘just don’t bother trying.’ It allows players to choose a suitable level of challenge for their skills and experience. If you find the game too easy it is not rewarding. Too punishing and the player will feel frustrated and might even resort to a cheat code. If characters aren’t challenged the reader will feel like it is all happening to easily. Make the task appear insurmountable, fail to power up the character enough or satisfactorily explain how they overcome it, and you risk a deus ex machina; the plot equivalent of a cheat code.
This was a particular bug bear I had in the final Harry Potter book when Voldemort dies on a technicality or loophole in the magic system. This occurred, in part, because Rowling didn’t want Harry to grow in power and thus he was never going to take on the dark lord and win otherwise. I found a similar issue with the ending of the Inheritance Cycle. It was made pretty explicit that Eragon was not as powerful as Galbatorix, even by the end, yet a victory is pulled off on an awkward piece of logic in the wording of a spell. Of course, those are just my opinions.
Climatic battles aside, it is equally important to maintain a steady ratio of power to challenge for the character throughout the story. A lot of this just comes down to proper pacing and plotting, however, this small aspect is worth considering very carefully. Once you’ve given your character a power up it is very dangerous to take it away. That just feels like regression. Let’s look no further than Sansa Stark in season 5 of Game of Thrones. Now THAT scene was awful because of its content but it also undermined her character growth. At the end of Season 4 she appeared to ‘power up’ when she got all conniving with Baelish and season 5 reversed that.
So how to solve that problem I was having? In this instance I decided the challenge for Darnuir would have to be an internal one, dealing with the addictive qualities of the magic system and how this was affecting his relationships with those around him. This challenges him in an area he isn’t ‘overpowered’ in; actually being a capable leader. It isn’t something he can just swing a sword at and fix.
The best stories find the perfect intersection of character growth and plot. This is driven by conflict and that conflict will only feel real if it is real to the characters. Thinking of the ‘difficultly setting’ is thus key to this. In short, don’t go giving your character the bathrobe of Zeus in chapter two if this means nothing can take a swing at them until chapter twenty six.
Like many young boys he quickly developed a love for daring knights who battled evil. When this was combined with endless hours playing Age of Empires and watching Lord of the Rings, a love for both history and fantasy was born.
He studied History at the University of St Andrew’s, dabbling in everything from Ancient Rome to Modern Scotland and a good deal of things in between. Graduating in 2014 he moved to London to pursue law. He’d rather forget that. In early 2015 he began to seriously turn attention to writing the fantasy story he had always dreamt of telling.
He had sketched out eight chapters over the years and, although they needed rewriting, they helped plot out the action of the story. He wrote a little each night and, slowly, he found things were improving. At a self-publishing panel event he got speaking with a representative from a hybrid publisher and so far so good. With a pinch of luck he hopes to avoid the phantom cubicle desk of real life pinning him down.
He hopes you enjoy reading Dragon’s Blade as much as he has in getting it from idea to page to published book.
“Compelling and enjoyable” the British Fantasy Society
Dragons once soared in the skies, but that was before the Transformation, before they took human form. Now, demonic forces stand to obliterate them. When left mortally wounded, Darnuir, the Prince of Dragons, can only be saved through a dangerous rebirthing spell. He is left as a babe in human hands.
Twenty years later, Darnuir is of age to wield the Dragon’s Blade. As the last member of his bloodline, he is the only one who can. He is plunged into a role he is not prepared for, to lead a people he does not know. Shadowy demons ravage his new home and the alliance between humans, dragons and fairies has fractured.
Time is short, for new threats and deadlier enemies are emerging…