Trope Tuesday: The Chessmaster

The Chessmaster is a fun trope, especially when done well. A good villain is always at least one step ahead of the good guys, so when it turns out that he’s three or four or ten steps ahead of them, it can make for some interesting plot twists.

Of course, the chessmaster isn’t always the bad guy. Sometimes, it turns out that the mysterious figure behind the scenes pulling all the strings is actually working for good, even though he may sacrifice a few pawns along the way. Or is he? There’s always that tension, simply because of the chessmaster’s manipulative nature.

I’ve played it both ways. The last time I wrote a chessmaster was Gunslinger to the Stars, but the Patrician in Heart of the Nebula definitely also qualifies. In both cases, the character was introduced as a mysterious employer. I won’t tell you which one was the bad guy, and which one was the good guy.

I’ve never written a story from the perspective of the chessmaster. I imagine it would be quite difficult, since all of the plot twists would have to be telegraphed and/or th reader would have to be kept in the dark about the main character’s plans. Dune is an excellent example of the former, but I can’t think of any good examples of the latter. The Davinci Code comes to mind, but the way it kept the viewer in the dark (seen the movie, haven’t read the book) didn’t work for me.

Even as a non-viewpoint character, the chessmaster can be difficult to write. Careful plotting is key, of course, but so is the iceberg principle. For everything the reader can see, there has to be a bunch of stuff beneath the surface that they can’t see. It doesn’t require the same level of detail as the surface level stuff, of course, but you have to at least have an idea of what the chessmaster would do if the story went in a very different direction. Even if the chessmaster never reveals those plans, you can bet that he still has them figured out.

In part, this is what made Heart of the Nebula so difficult to write. The final draft bears little resemblance to the first draft, with characters and subplots cut out or combined with others. Still, I’m satisfied with how it turned out, and it seems that the readers are as well.

In Sons of the Starfarers, Gulchina isn’t a chessmaster so much as a magnificent bastard with delusions of grandeur. She has plans and does tend to be three or four steps ahead of everyone else, but she’s less interested in manipulating events than she is in manipulating people. Her ultimate goal, as revealed in Captives in Obscurity, is to establish a proud warrior race that will one day wipe out and take over both the Empire and the Outworlds. She doesn’t know how that’s going to happen, but she knows what needs to be done to lay the foundation for that work.

The chessmaster is a challenging trope to write well, but I’m sure I’ll use it many more times in the future. The storytelling potential is just too great to leave it out.

Trope Tuesday: Chekhov’s Armory

The famous Russian writer Anton Chekhov had a rule:

Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

This is, of course, where we get the trope called Chekhov’s Gun. If a gun shows up at the beginning of a story, you can almost always be sure that it will be fired at some point before the end.

Chekhov’s armory is where the story starts out in a place like this:

Or this:

Or this:

What the hell, I might as well just give you the link to the blog where I got all these photos. There’s plenty more gun porn where that came from.

My first time playing with this trope was Gunslinger to the Stars, and I have to say, it made for a really fun story. My outline literally consisted of listing a different gun for every chapter, and figuring out how to work it in. Chapter two was where all most of the guns were listed, but after that, it was pretty much “open fire” and “reload” right up to the grand finale at the end (with a little bit of kissing thrown in for good measure).

Seriously, though, it’s not a bad way to write a book: list all the things that need to go boom and figure out which order to put them in.

The biggest criticism I’ve received for Gunslinger to the Stars is that I should have described the guns in a more personalized detail. To be honest, my life experience is sadly lacking in this regard. I own a couple of guns, most notably an old Mosin 91/30, but most of my shooting experience comes from the Boy Scouts (though to be fair, I did impress the shotgun shooting instructor with a 40+ shot streak). This is a shortcoming that I am eagerly working to rectify.

So yeah, Chekhov’s Armory. It’s a really fun trope to write. When I’m finished with Sons of the Starfarers, I look forward to doing it all again with the next two books in the trilogy: Gunslinger to the Galaxy and Gunslinger to Earth. Expect book two before the end of 2018!

Gunslinger to the Stars

Gunslinger to the Stars

eBook: $5.99
Sam Kletchka here, freelance gunslinger and interstellar privateer. This, my friends, is how I went from being stranded in the armpit of the galaxy to becoming the luckiest human being in the universe. More info →
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Trope Tuesday: Childhood Friends

Friendship comes in a lot of flavors. In The Sword Keeper, Tamuna’s most loyal friend (and arguably a deuteragonist of the book) is Nika, the stable boy at her aunt’s tavern. Where Tamuna initially refuses the call to adventure, Nika jumps at the call, quickly catching up to her (which is good, because the call knows where they live).

Where Alex’s loyalty is based in honor, Nika’s loyalty is based in pure friendship, at times even flirting with (but never quite achieving) childhood friend romance. (Of course, this is only the first book in a trilogy…) These two different kinds of loyalty lead to some interesting differences between the characters, which I can’t really discuss since I don’t want to spoil the book.

I guess I can say this much: at the beginning of the book, Nika believes that he is Tamuna’s only friend. But when it becomes clear that Tamuna is no shrinking violet, the roles become reversed as Tamuna comes into her own. Since Nika has never known a world outside of their village, he does not take this well.

According to Dramatica, each story can be broken into four throughlines: the overworld story, the main character’s story, the impact character’s story, and the story of how each of them… well, impact each other. In The Sword Keeper, the overworld story is all about the return of the twelfth sword to a dark and troubled world. The main character, Tamuna’s story, is about her rise from the most unlikely beginnings to become the prophesied sword bearer. Her childhood friend Nika is the character who impacts her the most, and while I won’t spoil his story or the main vs. impact character story for you, it’s definitely a key part of the book.


The Sword Keeper comes out in less than two weeks! Preorder your copy today!

The Sword Keeper

The Sword Keeper

eBook: $5.99
Author:
Series: The Twelfth Sword, Book 1
Genres: Epic Fantasy, Fantasy
Tag: 2017 Release
Tamuna Leladze always dreamed of adventure, but never expected to answer its call. That changes when a wandering knight arrives at her aunt's tavern. He is the keeper of a magic sword that vanished from the pages of history more than a thousand years ago. The sword has a mind and a memory, and it has chosen Tamuna for purpose far greater than she knows. More info →
Buy now!

Trope Tuesday: Knight in Sour Armor

What happens when the knight in shining armor realizes that war is hell and he lives in a crapsack world? When everything he believes about morality and honor is shattered?

Does he suffer a heroic BSOD and become a shell shocked veteran?

Does he cross the moral event horizon and become the one who hunts monsters?

Does he turn lawful evil and become the knight templar?

Or does he put on his jade-colored glasses, pick up his sword, and soldier on?

It’s one thing to follow a code of honor when you believe that people are basically good. It’s another thing entirely when you realize that people are filthy scumbags. Yet we often mistake starry-eyed idealism for the real thing. Underneath his hardened and deeply cynical demeanor, the knight in sour armor is driven by honor and ideals far more than he lets on.

In The Sword Keeper, one of the viewpoint characters, Alex Andretzek, is a young warrior prince who has lost his kingdom. He’s pledged his life to the service of the sword Imeris, with the understanding that one day he will be the new sword keeper. Then Tamuna comes into the picture, and all of that suddenly changes.

The most aggravating thing for Alex is that he has no idea why the sword choose Tamuna over him. Was he not worthy, or has the sword chosen poorly? It’s hard for him to tell which one is worse.

Of course, there is a third option: that there’s some hidden quality in Tamuna that he doesn’t yet see. But the same sour armor that allows him to cope with the injustice of the world also fills him with doubts. It’s a difficult balance to strike.

Underneath it all, though, Alex is a good and honorable man. Without his sour armor, he would have given all that up years ago.

To me, Alex is the embodiment of the saying that you should assume that everyone you meet is struggling through the most difficult challenge of their lives. If you do, you’ll be right about half of the time. On the outside, Alex is cold, aloof, and even somewhat rude. But beneath his sour armor, the struggle is real.


The Sword Keeper comes out in 18 days! Preorder the ebook now!

The Sword Keeper

The Sword Keeper

eBook: $5.99
Author:
Series: The Twelfth Sword, Book 1
Genres: Epic Fantasy, Fantasy
Tag: 2017 Release
Tamuna Leladze always dreamed of adventure, but never expected to answer its call. That changes when a wandering knight arrives at her aunt's tavern. He is the keeper of a magic sword that vanished from the pages of history more than a thousand years ago. The sword has a mind and a memory, and it has chosen Tamuna for purpose far greater than she knows. More info →
Buy now!

Trope Tuesday: Only the Chosen May Wield

So I’m bringing back the Trope Tuesday posts, but with a little twist: instead of talking about the trope itself and what I like / don’t like about it, I’m going to talk about how I used that trope in one of my books. And since The Sword Keeper is currently up for preorder, I’m going to spend the next few weeks using examples from it.

Perhaps the most central trope in the book is Only the Chosen May Wield. In the first chapter, Tamuna Leladze discovers that she is the Chosen One when a mysterious stranger arrives at her aunt’s tavern, carrying a cool sword. Unbeknownst to her, the sword is enchanted and carries the skills and memories of all the people who have wielded it. She soon learns that she is the last sword bearer of prophecy—which comes as a huge shock, since as a common tavern girl, she’s really not cut out to be a warrior.

While the book mostly plays this trope straight, there are a couple of other complications that give it some depth. First, the sword itself is an actual character. It speaks to Tamuna through the psychic link that she establishes with it, and when she sleeps, it carries her to a mountain sanctuary where she’s able to talk with it like another person. The sword becomes something of a mentor to her, sharing skills and memories as quickly as she is able to receive them (which is never quickly enough).

Second, while Tamuna never wanted to be the Chosen One, one of the members of her party did, and struggles with feelings of jealousy because of it. This becomes especially complicated because this character’s chief motivation is honor, and he’s put in a position where he has to act as a trainer/bodyguard for Tamuna until she comes into her own. It doesn’t help that he’s only a few years older than her.

I suppose there is a third complication: the fact that Tamuna can’t (or shouldn’t) wield the sword until she has been physically trained for it. Several times, Imeris tells her that he can’t share all of his knowledge of swordplay with her, because she isn’t yet strong enough. Otherwise, she’s liable to injure herself, because her body isn’t capable of executing all of the strikes and parries and ripostes that she knows how to execute in her mind. So, while no one else can wield the sword Imeris, the one person who can isn’t yet capable of doing so.

It makes for an interesting dynamic. Stories tend to get boring when things are too easy for the Hero, and in The Sword Keeper, very little comes easy for Tamuna. In fact, one of the recurring questions she asks is how in the heck she became the Chosen One in the first place. I won’t spoil it for you by revealing whether or what she discovers by the end.


The Sword Keeper comes out in twenty-five days! Preorder it now!

The Sword Keeper

The Sword Keeper

eBook: $5.99
Author:
Series: The Twelfth Sword, Book 1
Genres: Epic Fantasy, Fantasy
Tag: 2017 Release
Tamuna Leladze always dreamed of adventure, but never expected to answer its call. That changes when a wandering knight arrives at her aunt's tavern. He is the keeper of a magic sword that vanished from the pages of history more than a thousand years ago. The sword has a mind and a memory, and it has chosen Tamuna for purpose far greater than she knows. More info →
Buy now!