In the past few weeks, I’ve become aware of a potential problem with Tesseract. As strongly as I build the characters from the beginning and continue to do so in subsequent chapters, the plot is taking a long time to become a blatant force in the story.
That’s not a crime. Some stories are simply driven more by character than by plot. This is true of any story that relies on the length of the character’s life, like Tesseract does at times. Patrick Rothfuss has even said that The Name of the Wind is a slow starting book.
In this first major novel, Rothfuss establishes the remote inn that is run by Kote and Bast. Then he establishes The Chronicler. Then he has The Chronicler meet Kote and Bast. Then he has The Chronicler approach Kote with the theory that the innkeeper is actually Kvothe, one of the most famous (or infamous) men who has ever lived. Kote denies this, even though he and Bast know it’s true. Finally, Kote capitulates and negotiates the terms and how long it will take to tell his story.
Only after all that happens, do we start to hear the story of Kvothe.
Kentaro Miura’s Berserk does this a little as well. He spends three volumes showing the Black Swordsman teaming up with the elf Puck to fight monsters who have taken control of the kingdom. Then Miura starts a flashback which lasts eleven volumes, taking Guts, the man who will become the Black Swordsman, and showing his life from rogue fighter to raider captain. More importantly, it shows Guts befriend his eventual love, the mercenary Casca, and their charismatic leader, Griffith.
Then the story gets back to killing demons and trying to topple governments as well as ethereal legions of creatures.
Do these things have to take so long? Sometimes, yes.
However, I try to be more direct with my plot and action, especially when the plot gets going. To get that plot going, I feel I have to establish my characters. A fair portion of the time, I can introduce some action early on, like in Berserk. Most of the time, I’m seeding things that will pay off later.
The most significant piece of information in Vitamin F doesn’t show up until Chapter 14. Commander and Der Former don’t encounter each other until about the same point in Mind & Machine. In Tesseract, all four viewpoint characters aren’t in the same place until the same point, which pushes the story to ramp up to the plot.
It takes a while for me to make a story kick into high gear. I’ve stomped passive voice, I do better with my descriptive detail all the time. Now, I get to sort out how to reach full gear on my plots earlier in the story.