Delusions of Grandeur • R.D. Rhyne

December 21, 2020

Sunday Letter: The Payoff

This is a really good reveal, but I don’t think you’ve earned it yet.” That was the beginning of a very good phone call.

Right as I set aside The Traveler series to rest, I sent a copy of the completed draft to a close friend for review. I was worried about my finish, and wanted a second opinion before diving into a detailed edit.

The series is changing before our eyes.

I’m not talking about a change to the story or characters—just the format. Originally, I chose to publish each story following The Traveler in a serial format. If you remember, that story was as a one-off writing experiment for the site launch. Then I was encouraged by your feedback and the idea grew.

As I moved deeper into the narrative, I could feel the pull of change. Each successive story has ballooned the number of scenes and amount of story I want to tell. The upcoming story, The Addict, follows three plot lines. None of them resolve in that story.

The Addict moves the narrative forward, but doesn’t stand on its own like the first three. You require the context of the earlier stories to make sense of it.

When I spotted the divergence in an early draft, I faced two choices: embrace the pull of change, or re-think the story so it respected the periodical format and stood on its own.

I’ve decided to embrace change.

The result for you, my earliest readers, is a chance to watch the whole thing evolve from a series of periodicals into a more traditional chapter-based fiction.

What does that mean?

In the short term, nothing. I’ll publish the conclusion in three chunks as originally planned. After the entire story is out, I’ll compile each scene from the six stories into a single volume, and edit them into chapters. Then… who knows.

I’m leaning towards self-publishing an ePub.

It fascinates me how this experimental story has evolved from a single short into a series, and now chapter-based fiction. When this site launched in April, I talked about working on “my first novel”.

This isn’t what I had in mind earlier in the year, but I can’t say I’m disappointed. Instead of a place where I could curate my best writing, this website has become a running dialogue with myself (and you) about how I’m writing.

I hope it’s a interesting read.

Serious edits for The Addict begin at the end of this week. I can’t wait to see how it forms up, and for you to read it. This week, as I contemplated my own story’s payoff, I got to enjoy another story’s payoff.

Without revealing any spoilers from an excellent season finale, I want to talk about The Mandalorian.

I love Star Wars. I’ve absorbed everything I can: movies, cartoons, and novels. The Disney acquisition had me suspicious about the future of the franchise. But they’ve found success wherever they have expanded the universe.

Dave Filoni has been at the heart of that expansion. Two of his animated series—The Clone Wars and Rebels—are wonderful. He dared to create his own unique characters in the universe, most notably a padawan learner (Ahsoka Tano) and clone captain (Captain Rex) for Anakin Skywalker.

Earlier in the year Filoni treated us to his devastating and emotional conclusion of The Clone Wars. His final season for Rebels was equally charged with emotion. His characters were at the center of both endings.

Partnered with John Favreau, Filoni added to that extraordinary cast of expansion characters in The Mandalorian. And true to form, characters were again the heart of the show’s payoff.

Over two seasons we’ve witnessed the principal—Din Djarin—grow from a ruthless bounty hunter who follows a strict code, into a selfless warrior charged with a quest. The writers use repetition over a collection of side-quests along the journey to reinforce Djarin’s rules.

The show takes its time.

Without spoiling details, Djarin starts to bend, then ultimately break his code. The how and why drive the main story. The result is a wonderful character drama that transcends Star Wars storytelling, yet maintains the charm of a story set in universe.

The payoff is emotional. If you write a character defined by rules, they’re most interesting when they break them. You have to be careful with the details, and ensure they’re true to their character. Favreau and Filoni use basic emotions—love, fear, and anger—to establish Djarin’s break from the code they painstakingly built.

It’s classic narrative misdirection. Build a character slowly. Allow your audience time to understand and think like them. Then use common emotions we all feel and understand to change the character. Now your audience shares the characters emotion, conflict, and triumph.

The Mandalorian is a simple story executed extremely well. There are other characters, each with their own arcs. But the series pays off because you follow the Hero’s arc, and experience their emotional journey alongside them.

I’ve learned a lot about storytelling from the series. Even if you’re not a fan of Star Wars, it’s an easy one to enjoy.

Speaking of emotion, my intended post for last week was a eulogy. As I wrote, it became too personal to publish.

I said goodbye to my grandmother last week. It was a rough experience, made harder by the distance imposed by the current pandemic. Thank goodness for modern technology, which made live-streaming accessible to my grieving family back east. It wasn’t the same, but it was a small comfort to see and hear my family as they grieved.

One more Sunday left in 2020. See you then.