Here we are. The climax of the book at last. The gist of this chapter remained more or less the same throughout the revision process. (This should go without saying, but just in case: SPOILER WARNING for this entire post.) It was always planned that Tomas beat the vodnik, of course. This isn’t the sort of book where good loses to evil in the end. (A personal pet peeve of mine, actually. I’ve seen some books and movies that are one tone through the course of the story, and then try to pull a surprise at the end and shift tones. I hate that, and I don’t think I’d ever do something like that.)
In the first draft, Tomas beat the vodnik by breaking one of his cups. He just kicks it off a shelf, it shatters, and the souls take it from there. This really wasn’t satisfying at all. It’s too easy, for one thing. For a climax to really feel like a climax, I think it needs to have some weight. To have some sort of smart thinking on the part of the main character. Or some courage–something meaty. Just happening to be able to kick a cup at the right time? Not very commendable. It also made the vodnik look a lot dumber than I wanted him to. If his cups were that easily broken, what kind of an idiot would have have to be to make them that accessible.
So I made the cups unbreakable. Much better. And I made Tomas take a huge gamble on his Rasputin abilities. He had to be aware of what he was doing. It had to be a conscious decision on his part. Otherwise–if it were just dumb luck–that wouldn’t work. At the same time, I didn’t exactly have a ton of time to explain everything that was happening. I think it all ended up making sense: Tomas has almost died by soul-stealing once before. Because of this, his Rasputin abilities have made him immune to soul stealing. (Certainly of the vodnik variety. I suppose there might be other variants out there . . . ) The cups can only be broken by a soul that has escaped from one of the cups. When the vodnik tries to steal Tomas’s soul, Tomas is momentarily ensnared, but breaks free with his Rasputin powers. This in turn lets him break the other souls free, and they take it from there. The hints are all there for this to be possible at the end. Little mentions of weaknesses of the cups and how the Rasputin talent works. And they all come together here in this chapter.
I find that for a climax to really feel like it was done right, it has to take piece of the plot and put them together in a way that just fits. Like the final piece of a puzzle. At first, everything seems all over the place and jumbled, but at that last moment, it all comes together, and you see how it has to end this way. How it all led up to this. It’s better if it’s not predictable, naturally. But even a predictable climax that fits together properly is much better than one that just comes out of right field. I’ve always felt that Brandon Sanderson’s climaxes are well done. I loved reading them in his writing group–seeing how everything came together at the end. I try to have that happen in my books, as well. Hopefully it worked.
One last note–the bit about the vodnik potentially being Lesana’s brother. This was very much planned all along, though I won’t say whether or not he really was her brother. He certainly could have been. Any Slovak reading the book would have wondered what happened to the brother. He was young enough that he should have become another vodnik, of course. Could have, at least. But I really didn’t want the villain to be purely . . . villainous. A friend described the vodnik as chaotic neutral (using D&D terms), and I think that’s pretty close to what he was. Maybe leaning every so slightly to chaotic evil, but quite firmly in the neutral camp most of the time. He had a very skewed view of morality. He loved Lesana, that much is clear, and he wanted to be with her. To possess her more fully. He just couldn’t decide how best that could be handled.
Anyway–that’s it for this week. Only one more commentary to go! Thanks for reading!