Drafty Wednesdays: A Look at “Hero Defeats Ultimate Evil!”

The first Drafty Wednesday of 2015 is a short one, because we’ll be looking at a flash fiction piece I spent the last week working on: “Hero Defeats Ultimate Evil!”

Maoyu_coverThe story began as an idea taken from the concept behind the book series and anime Maoyu. Unfortunately I have not read the books, but I have seen the anime and can comment on it. The anime is basically a good versus evil tale, but with the twist that the Hero and the evil Demon King end up working together to break the never-ending cycle of war and create a better world for all. In it the main characters have no names, instead being referred to by their class: Hero, Demon King, Rogue, Merchant, etc. The idea, as I understand it, is to show them as the archetypes that they are.

I thought of doing something similar with a flash fiction piece, though probably not nearly as ambitious. I grew up playing RPGs on the SNES and later the Genesis, and the running theme through nearly all of them was the defeat of some kind of ultimate evil. And in most cases the evil was something that had either been sealed away in ages past and was now running rampant, or it was now running rampant and the solution was for the heroes (i.e. you and your controller) to seal the evil away “for all time” or whenever the sequel could be made.

This gave rise to the full title of today’s story: “Hero Defeats Ultimate Evil! Seals away for future generations to deal with.”

Seriously, why not just kill it and be done with it? Maybe I’m just not as pure and good as the good guys in these stories and RPGs must be, or maybe I’m just a coward. If a bad guy’s facing me down with the intent to kill me or mine, then I want him dead. That way he can’t come back and finish the job later.

Anyway, as you can tell from the title this isn’t going to be your typical POV kind of story. The title, I hope, reads like a newspaper article. That was the idea of it in the beginning, anyway. This would be the journalist’s view of what occurs in many RPGs: the defeat and sealing away of a great evil, and what it means for those involved.

The rough draft of it was, as you would imagine by seeing, fairly rough. I really had no idea how news articles like this would have been written, nor did I care. I had a spark for the idea and wanted to get it down on paper. And I did, in a half hour or so. It’s amazing how quickly an idea can be written out once it’s rattled around in my head for a long enough time. The original draft was around 704 words and broken out into 15 paragraphs. Here is the first few paragraphs of it:

Hero Defeats Ultimate Evil

Seals away for future generations to deal with.

Reporter seeks bards to put epic story to music.

After a cataclysmic battle lasting three days and two nights (“Even heroes need to sleep,” Paladin was overheard saying after sprinkling holy water on her pajamas) the Hero’s Party has done the impossible. The Ultimate Evil is vanquished, its body broken and sent to the depths of a newly formed lake at the base of Mount Doom. It is not quite dead, but it has been sealed away.

It will be many generations before the Ultimate Evil rises again,” Mage said. The gemstone on the end of her staff smoked from the amount of magical energy expended to carry out the world-saving deed. She wiped sweat from her dirty brow and pointed to the still-churning waters. “The lake will settle, but it will stir once more. Have no doubt of that.”

Reads pretty crappily, right? Well, for someone who doesn’t know the story at all, anyway. Who’s Paladin? And who is Mage? It becomes apparent that they’re members of a group called the Hero’s Party, but that’s not explained all that well in the beginning. It made sense to me, but I’m the writer. It hopefully makes sense to the guy behind the wheel.

After this I started reading up on wartime news articles, specifically the BBC’s stuff from World War II. I came up with a better idea of how a news article should be formed. Namely:

  1. Start with the punch line, the gist of the story. The title of the article already says it all, whether it’s “Hero Defeats Ultimate Evil” or “Normandy Invasion a Success.” Following that and maybe a subheadline, the first paragraph should say the most important thing that happened.
  2. The next two or three paragraphs expand on this punch line, going into a little bit more detail about what happened, what it means, or maybe what important figures or leaders have to say about it. A quote by a general, or something an eyewitness saw. Something that brings it all home.
  3. The meat of the story, or what I like to call, “Back to the beginning.” Here we go to the start of it all. The operation’s launch-point. We then work our way forward until we reach the aforementioned climax again and lay it out in more detail than the summary at the first of the article.
  4. The conclusion. Here the article pauses to reflect on the significance of the event, or to mention other things that were happening at the same moment elsewhere, or some such bit of reflective work.

Armed with this, I looked back over my work and came up with a much longer second draft. 1,274 words, and 32 paragraphs. Here’s the first bit of that:

Hero Defeats Ultimate Evil

Seals away for future generations to deal with.

After seven years of terror, the world is finally free from the clutches of the Ultimate Evil!

In a cataclysmic battle that sundered a mountain range, changed the course of two rivers, and left the magical city of Tarsis a smoldering crater, the elite members of the Hero’s Party (HP) have finally completed the impossible task placed upon them. The Ultimate Evil (UE) is vanquished, sealed away inside a newly formed lake filled with holy water.

UE struck the first blow in a horrific display of its tremendous power. A gigantic spell circle appeared in the skies over Tarsis, and moments later the earth opened up and swallowed whole sections of the city. The intent was to kill everyone in HP, but they had already left the soon-to-be destroyed city.

Better, but still not where I want to be at. We’re jumping into the meat of the story (“UE struck the first blow…”) too soon. Also, it’s a bit long for what is supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek story. I doubt I’ll keep the reader’s interest for much more than 1,000 words, so going nearly 300 over that is a bad move.

More revision followed. This time I analyzed several articles and tried to come up with ratios for the punchline summary, the meat of the article, and the conclusion. After going through several wartime articles I came up with a rough formula:

  • Punchline summary – 10-15% of the article. The fewest paragraphs I saw were three, and the most were five.
  • Meat of the story – 65-80% of the article. Obviously the bulk of it, as it is here we’re going into the most detail about things.
  • Conclusion – 10-20%. If the ramifications of the event are huge or some famous person makes a commentary about things, this will end up being longer. At other times it’s only going to be a few words or so. Still, the shortest I saw this section was around two paragraphs. The most was five, depending on how long the overall article was.

Now we’re talking. This is quite a bit of work for a simple short story, right? Sadly, this inefficiency spills over into my longer works, which explains why it’ll take me upwards of 10,000 words to write a 4,000 word story sometimes. Sad, but true!

Ok, here’s the final revision, the version I submitted to:

Hero Defeats Ultimate Evil!

Subheadline: Seals away for future generations to deal with.

After seven years of terror, the world is finally free from the clutches of the Ultimate Evil!

In a cataclysmic battle that sundered Mount Dour Doom, changed the course of two underground rivers, and left the magical city of Dilirin a smoldering crater, the elite men and women of the Hero’s Party (HP) have done the impossible:

The Ultimate Evil (UE) is vanquished, sealed away inside a newly formed lake blessed by Paladin and Priest.

Paladin struck her breastplate in salute. “The Gods are with us! Failure was never a possibility.”

Priest dropped to his knees and prayed for those who had been lost.

Earlier this week HP gathered in Dilirin to receive a magical talisman that would help in the fight against UE.

So, the title and first line of the story has not changed at all from the get-go. I only added “subheadline” so that a first reader/editor will be able to note that it’s not the real beginning of the story, but rather an extension of the title. Probably not necessary, but I’m quirky like that.

Here we have the punchline summary done in five short paragraphs, beginning with the declaration that the world is finally free from the clutches of the Ultimate Evil, a brief summary of the battle and the damage wrought, and quotes or actions from two members of the Hero’s Party (This time properly introduced). We then begin the meat of the story with “Earlier this week…” and the story proceeds from there to its ultimate full-circle conclusion.

It reads more like a wartime article than it ever has, and I feel like it’s now something I could do should I decide to write any more stories in this format. Will I? Not sure. Depends on how well this one does, as well as what else strikes my fancy. My writing tends more on the traditional sword and sorcery side, but I do like experimenting with new styles and different genres and subgenres. So, we shall see!

As for the final version of the story? I was able to trim it down to right at 1,000 words. How’s that for a rubberband effect? Went from 700 to 1,300 back down to 1,000. If I’d written another draft it might’ve ballooned again! Glad I got it fired off.

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