Layers of Depth: the uneven distribution of information

Plot points and conflicts are driven by the characters who have critical knowledge. The fact that some characters are working with limited information creates tension.

WritingCraftSeries_depth-through-conversationIn literary terms, this uneven distribution of knowledge is called asymmetric information. We see this all the time in the corporate world.

  • One party in a business transaction has more or superior information compared to another.
  • That inequality of information gives them an edge against the competition.

In a story, as in real life, a monopoly of information creates a crisis. An idle conversation will bore your reader to tears, so only discuss things that advance the plot. A conversation scene should be driven by the fact that one person has knowledge the others need.

The reader must get answers simultaneously as the characters, gradually over the length of a novel.

When I am writing a scene, I ask my characters three things:

The first question I ask is: “What is the core of the problem?” In the case of one story that was begun several years ago and never taken beyond the first draft stage, the core of the problem is Jared, my main character. The story is set in the World of Neveyah, and one of the canon tropes of stories set in that world is that all mages are trained by and work for the Temple of Aeos.

The_Pyramid_Conflict_Tension_PacingJared is hilarious, charming, naïve, a bit cocky, and completely unaware that he’s an arrogant jackass. He is a young man who is exceptionally good at everything and is happy to tell you about it. Jared has no clue that his boasting holds him back, as no one wants to work with him.

This boy is both the protagonist and the antagonist of this story.

The second question I ask is: “What do the characters want most?” Jared is a mage, and as such, he is a member of the Clergy of Aeos. He wants to be just like his childhood hero, or better. Jared needs approval and admiration to bolster his sense of self-worth. Everything he does is an effort to be seen as worthy.

Unfortunately, the leaders of the Temple of Aeos have plenty of heroes on hand and just want a mage who can be relied upon to get a job done well and with no fanfare.

The third question I ask my characters is this: “What are they willing to do to get it?” Jared has boasted many times that he will meet and overcome any obstacle, no matter how difficult the path to success is.

His mentors like him, but despair of his ever succeeding as a mage. They devise a simple (and on the surface) heroic seeming quest tailored to improve his attitude. They layer it with dirty and disgusting obstacles that he hasn’t planned for. Jared meets and works his way through these roadblocks one by one. His mentors ensure that when he does “rescue the kid,” he gets their message quite clearly. This is where the asymmetric information comes into play. Jared’s innocent assumptions make for a wonderfully wicked plot arc.

How will Jared’s story end? It ends in a satisfying mess with all the acclaim the young hero could ask for—along with a large serving of humble pie. But nothing can keep Jared down for long—he takes that embarrassment and embraces it with his own personal flair.

Epic Fails meme2When I started writing this story, I had the core conflict: Jared’s misguided desire to be important. I had the surface quest: rescuing the kidnapped kid. I had the true quest: Jared learning to laugh at himself and developing a little humility.

I had all the pieces and the completed first draft, but other projects had more priority. Then the pandemic hit, and this story was shelved.

Now, with all the hustle and bustle of moving to a new home, I need something short and sweet to work on for relaxation, and I came across Jared’s story. It needs serious revisions, but it’s one of my favorite Neveyah stories, as it is not dark as they usually are. Jared’s tale of woe is full of gallows humor, detailing the deeds of a hero who becomes a man.


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4 responses to “Layers of Depth: the uneven distribution of information

  1. Pingback: Does a Character’s Past Weigh Them Down? by Traci Kenworth – Where Genres Collide Traci Kenworth YA Author

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