A writing and reading rant today since this both annoyed me as a reader but made me think about how I could avoid this as a writer.
I’m going to start off vague so as not to spoil a recently released best-selling fantasy series. I recently saw a video review of a widely-wanted scene from book 4 of a series that was set up in book 2. I gave up on this series in book 3 so I didn’t read said scene, but I know what it was and how excited readers were over it.
It fell short apparently, and quite a few reviews had said the same thing.
It’s like any build-up when you plant possibilities in a reader’s head. You need to either dial back the build-up to match a marginally interesting moment or amp it up and have the climactic scene to make it worth it, otherwise, it just feels like a letdown. The same can be said for overdoing a scene that wasn’t set up in any way or was just overdone with no real need to be.
I recently reread another popular fantasy series after several years. I won’t say which one, but if you’ve read it, you’ll probably recognise it. It’s not quite a top favourite, but I enjoyed it more the 2nd time and rediscovered a top favourite character (not the protagonist). Anyway, There’s a sort of prophecy where the protagonist has to sacrifice her magic and lifeforce to close the gates to other worlds and send the demon king back to his own world. Mades sense. But when we got to said scene, I’d clearly missed a key detail in that it wasn’t guaranteed that the demon king would be sent home. It was part of a bargain with another group of people who changed their minds at the last minute. I was like… WTF?
I was prepared for something to go wrong, but not so pathetically. It made the whole prophecy look pointless since the protagonist was relying on an ancient bargain. I went back to see what I’d missed, and it was there, but… lamely pointed out. There was little to no doubt that it was a done deal, and certainly wasn’t established as something she had to worry about. So when the bargain failed, it just fell completely flat.
It became more of a plot device since it had other implications for the character by leaving her with virtually no magic. I can understand the need for it from that perspective, but honestly, there could have been countless other ways to do that with a surprise scene that left people more shocked than disappointed over it.
On the bright side, it did get me thinking about a prophecy in my own book and how to balance the build-up with the climactic scene. It’s a very different prophecy but is hinted at and built up in a similar way, so I’m going to use this experience to help me think about what would work better or even if I need the prophecy at all. Could I throw in a twist instead?