Kryptonite

If legends are to be believed (I don’t recall where I read this), in the first few comic books that featured Superman, he was invulnerable. Not surprising for the Man of Steel. But the writers soon realized they had a problem. If he was invulnerable, he could never lose a battle — and that made for really boring plots. In order to keep things spicy, they had to give Superman an Achilles heel. What they came up with was the fictional mineral kryptonite, which weakened him. Give the villain some kryptonite, and all of a sudden you have a much more emotionally gripping plot, because Superman can lose.

For reasons that would be tedious to explain, the rewrite of my fantasy epic has hit a patch of kryptonite. Or, to be more specific, a patch of anti-kryptonite. The plot is threatening to fall apart, because my heroine is in danger of becoming invulnerable.

The first book in the series is called The Leafstone Shield. The Shield is a magical amulet that the heroine acquires at the beginning of her grand quest. Up to now I’ve been treating it as a sort of MacGuffin, to use Alfred Hitchcock’s memorable term. A MacGuffin is an object that everybody in the story wants, but its exact nature hardly matters. My MacGuffin has big magic in it, that’s all you need to know.

In order to give the heroine a stronger motivation for setting off on her grand quest, it occurred to me that the Leafstone Shield ought to do something important. She needs to take it back to the land of her birth not “just because” but for some specific reason. Hmm. To overthrow the bad guys, it probably ought to be a weapon, there’s a dandy idea. And because I’m not even remotely interested in writing about battles, let’s make it a purely defensive weapon. Hey, it’s called a shield, right? What could be more natural? It’s a powerful but strictly defensive magical weapon.

This sounded like a super idea for about half an hour. And then I realized that the Shield was going to function as anti-kryptonite. As long as my heroine is carrying it, she’s darn near invulnerable. At every point in the plot where she’s sorely menaced (and that does happen from time to time), she can just saunter on through. The Shield will protect her.

So now I’m wondering if I can make the Leafstone Shield work when I want it to work, but be useless when I don’t want it to work. Not only would this involve a lot of finicky finagling, it’s kind of cheating. The author is now micro-managing the plot. Not that authors don’t do that, but I purely hate to dash around crying, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” One wants a plot that flows naturally and makes sense. And a plot needs kryptonite. Paradoxically, anti-kryptonite turns a plot into a weak, wimpy thing.

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