355. What I Want to Change about The Trials of Lance Eliot

I once wrote a novel titled The Trials of Lance Eliot, and readers have asked me whether I plan to write sequels. I may continue Lance’s story someday, but what I really want to do is rewrite its first part.

Well, I don’t want to rewrite The Trials of Lance Eliot completely. (That would take a lot of work.) However, having put a couple of years between myself and my novel, I’ve realized there are quite a number of things I want to change.

The Trials of Lance EliotHere’s what I want to change about The Trials of Lance Eliot.

In case anyone is interested in reading my little book, be ye warned: There be major spoilers ahead!

I want to remove Miles and a few other characters.

When I wrote the novel, I had big plans for Miles. He is a traveling companion to Lance, Regis, and Tsurugi, and I wanted him to balance the group by being a foil for each of them. With his soft heart, strong work ethic, and childlike faith, Miles was supposed to challenge Lance’s selfishness, Regis’s irresponsibility, and Tsurugi’s cynicism.

In the end, however, Miles doesn’t contribute much. He drops out of the story partway through, making a halfhearted encore toward the end. I don’t think the novel needs him. A few other characters could be just as easily removed: Atticus, for example, could be replaced by Petra. I think The Trials of Lance Eliot has too many underdeveloped characters, and could benefit from the removal of the unnecessary ones.

I want to clear up the disappearance of Maia and Kana.

The supposed deaths and eventual reappearances of both Kana and Maia make me cringe more than almost anything else in The Trials of Lance Eliot. Fake deaths are horribly clichéd.

However, the apparent deaths and subsequent reappearances of these characters are necessary for the story. The deaths of Maia and Kana drive the development of Lance and Regis, respectively: Lance becomes depressed, and Regis resolves to become an honest man. Maia and Kana must be reintroduced later in the story: Kana to rescue Lance, and Maia to send him home. I can think of no easy way to dodge these fake deaths.

However, I can be less coy about Maia and Kana’s disappearances. I want to state merely that they are “missing,” not that they are necessarily dead. That would still provide some tension, while making their inevitable revivals seem less contrived.

I want to start the story in the US instead of in the UK.

Full disclosure: I started the story in Oxford only because J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, my favorite fantasy writers, lived there. I’ve never actually been to the UK. Most of what I know about contemporary British culture comes from watching Sherlock and Doctor Who. I don’t know enough about the UK to make it a convincing start to Lance’s story.

Indiana, a place with which I’m all too familiar, would be a perfectly adequate place for the start of The Trials of Lance Eliot. If anything it would be better: a small Indiana town is far less interesting than Oxford, which would make Lance’s adventures seem more exciting by contrast.

I want to make Regis a girl.

Not long ago, someone on Twitter shared the following quote from Noelle Stevenson: “When you write a male character, think ‘does this character have to be male? Why?'”

Like The HobbitThe Trials of Lance Eliot is overstuffed with male characters. (I love The Hobbit, but its lack of female characters is appalling.) It wasn’t my intention to discriminate against female characters; I wrote mostly male ones because, well, I happen to be a guy. In the end, The Trials of Lance Eliot had only three female characters with any depth, and only one of them (Maia) received much characterization.

I’m no feminist, but I’ve realized it isn’t fair for my characters to be men by default. Of all the characters in my novel, Regis has probably the fewest reasons for being male. I want to rewrite the character as a young lady. I suppose that means I would have to change the name, wouldn’t it?

I want to change the orphanage in Valdelaus to a home for persons with disabilities.

Orphanages have become a cliché in storytelling. A home for persons with disabilities would offer far better opportunities for both pathos and comedy—believe me, I know!

I want to publish the book under my own name.

I’ve already discussed this, and have nothing to add.

I want to use exposition more evenly.

An early chapter of my novel is mostly exposition as Kana explains things to Lance. Perhaps Kana could offer his explanations incrementally across a couple of chapters? Whatever my solution, the early chapters should strike a better balance between action and exposition.

I want to rewrite some of the dialogue.

I prefer to use good grammar, but that isn’t how ordinary people talk. My characters should speak less like Adam writing and more like people actually talking.

I want Lance to swear like a normal person.

Lance’s dated British euphemisms are a bit silly. People don’t say things like “dash it” and “what in blazes” anymore. (Well, I do, but I do a lot of strange things.) My novel may be a case in which mild profanity would be justified. Ordinary swearwords like “damn” and “hell” would believably convey Lance’s lack of moral fiber toward the beginning of his journey.

These are the changes I would make to The Trials of Lance Eliot… and then, maybe, I could go back to planning its sequels. Maybe.

9 thoughts on “355. What I Want to Change about The Trials of Lance Eliot

  1. I was rather surprised to find that I agree with most of these changes. However, I would like to present my opinions.
    -As far as memorable characters go, Miles isn’t near the top and I cannot recall much of him besides crying.
    -The “deaths of Maia and Kana were rather unimpressive as fake deaths really are too cliche (which made the loss of Tsurugi very hard to believe).
    -I kind of liked Oxford as the staging area for the story. Probably because I’m a Tolkien fan myself and England is still some magical land where these things can actually happen. Switching it to the US is the only change I would take some issue with. But there’s a reason I’m not an author, so I trust you could make it work.
    -…I would quite like to see how you would handle Regis being female. Although I feel like it might cause some confusion. I saw the relationship between Lance and Maia leaning towards the romantic side, and having another female close to Lance might complicate it. But again, there’s a reason I’m no author. You could make it work.
    -Agreed.
    -Agreed.
    -The first section was pretty heavy on exposition. It wasn’t a problem for me, being a Tolkien fan. I eat exposition and history lessons of fictional lands for breakfast! But other readers may become bored after a while. Agreed.
    -Choppy dialogue is something that I find a lot of authors struggle with. The thing that bothers me most is forcing people’s names into a conversation. If two people are speaking, they don’t repeatedly say each other’s names. I figure the writer is just trying to make sure the reader remembers the characters’ names, but it’s just something that sticks out to me.
    -Agreed.

    I really liked this story. It was written better than most I’ve seen and obviously had a great deal of passion and heart put into it. It also had a quite original plot, I think.
    I hope you’re able to complete the whole story to your content someday. You surely have a gift for writing and I wish you the best of luck in the future.

    Have a nice day!

  2. Up front, I should say I haven’t read the book yet. I meant to borrow it from Andrew and Sarah, which will be more difficult now. Maybe I should see if it’s packed away at my parents’ house somewhere. It’s something you might want to keep in mind, though, as you read my comments.

    I’m having an issue with fake deaths myself. Do you put into this category both situations where someone actually dies and somehow comes back and situations where someone’s death is faked (either by the person, an outside source, or even just by the author)? And in the latter situation, does it make a difference if the reader knows about it or not? I have ended up with far too many deaths that aren’t real deaths in my writing. I know it would be one of those universes where people would say you could never believe someone was really dead. I never intended that, but each one of them is important enough that I can’t see a way around it.

    You could totally get away with using “Regis” as a girl’s name. Just my opinion.

    How much exposition is too much (or sometimes too little) is such a frustrating thing to figure out for me. I want to write it how it comes out, how it flows well to me, and not spend so much time figuring out if it’s unbalanced. It’s that much harder when writing fantasy and needing to explain to the reader what the heck’s going on around here. I’m finding I have a tendency to just write as if the reader knows everything, and then go back and explain things when I’m revising later. Or when my sisters tell me they are really confused by something that was left unexplained.

    Let me ask you something–do you talk the same way you write? I’ve found that I talk much more casually than I write. I don’t really know why–I suppose because I don’t take as much time to think about what I’m saying as I do what I’m writing. And I don’t just mean what I go back and edit. For some reason, words come out more formally when I’m writing. I often rewrite dialog when I read it out loud and realize it’s just too stuffy (except for the odd character who is meant to talk that way). I imagine it’s even more that way for you, as you’re definitely more of a grammarian than I am.

    I often wonder how other writers who are Christians handle swear words. Note that I didn’t use the phrase “Christian writers,” because I’m making a distinction between people who write Christian fiction, and people who are Christians but write outside of the specifically Christian genre. I have one character in particular who would be well within his characterization to swear often. In the past, I even let him do so. But I felt weird about it, and took it back out. I’ve read Christian books where they basically just state that a character swore, but don’t state the words. So your addition of this to your list is intriguing to me.

    • Death is a powerful concept in reality, and it should be the same in fiction. A problem with fake/temporary deaths is that they devalue the concept. When death isn’t permanent, it loses its power as a storytelling tool. Whatever shock, pathos, fear, or grief it may have had begins to fade.

      Although fake/temporary deaths can be used effectively in storytelling — Gandalf and Sherlock Holmes are pretty good examples — they seldom are. I don’t think there’s an easy way to avoid fake deaths in my little book, and that bothers me.

      “Regis” is Latin for “king,” so I’m not sure it works as a girl’s name. 😉 The female form is “Regina,” which I don’t like.

      Exposition is tricky. It’s often necessary, especially in fantasy and science fiction, but it can easily disrupt the pacing or complicate the narrative. I’ve struggled to pace my exposition evenly.

      I talk more casually than I write, yet more formally than many people. My pedantic way of speaking makes it a challenge for me to write believable dialogue.

      As for swearwords: It is more socially acceptable to omit them, but I think it generally hurts the narrative to use silly euphemisms (like my dated British idioms) or say, “Such-and-such a character swore.” That’s telling, not showing. Of course, every writer should write only what he or she is comfortable writing. In my case, Lance Eliot starts out a selfish git, and mild swearwords would demonstrate that more effectively than outdated euphemisms or heavy-handed narration.

      • I’m not sure I can get around temporary deaths completely. In my world, there is a window of time in which someone who has died can be revived. Similar to clinical death, but with a somewhat longer window. So that alone may end up devaluing death in my stories. However, I don’t seem to have as many faked/non-permanent deaths as I had thought. Plus, I wrote one out when completely rewriting the story. And one the reader is told up front was the character faking their death, so I don’t feel that does the same as one where the reader is left thinking it’s real for a while. But I may feel differently if I were the reader.

        >>“Regis” is Latin for “king,” so I’m not sure it works as a girl’s name.
        Sure, if you want to go to the Latin. I have no clue, though, so it sounded fine to me. Makes me wonder how many names I use that have meanings that would make them odd choices if I knew about it. Maybe I’ll stay blissfully ignorant. (Though mind you, some names I chose *because* of their meaning, but only some.)

        I should probably not go into my annoyance with many of the “writing rules” out there, like the “show, don’t tell” one. I’ve tried to bend my writing to these rules and often end up annoyed or frustrated. Or believing that I’m just a horrible writer. In the end, I have to write what feels natural in order to get any work done, and if it’s no good, I guess it’ll just be no good.

        Sorry to turn your post about your book around to talking about myself. I like comparing notes with other writers, especially those who write in a similar genre and with similar values to me.

  3. It’s interesting you’d remove Miles. I found Miles to be a spot of humanity in a novel full of “characters” personally. I was able to connect with Miles, and his loss. He was human, and he was real to me. Not that I didn’t find connection with many other characters, but to me Miles represented the fact that it wasn’t JUST about the “heroes.” The whole horrid situation affected the “real people” too. It was a glimpse, to me, past the main character tropes and a view into a much broader world. Without Miles I don’t think I’d have as much sympathy for the masses, which would be a shame to lose.

    I think if you made Regis a girl you’d have to totally rewrite the character. Not that I believe girls can’t do the same stuff boys can, but I think a female would have handled a lot of it differently, and connected with Lance much, much differently. Just my thoughts, dash it all. 🙂

    • Death and destruction seem sort of abstract in a story until the reader sees how they affect the characters involved. Miles helps represent the cost of the tragedies in my book, but also complicates and slows down the narrative. I’m not sure how to include Miles without burdening Lance’s story. It’s something for me to think about.

      Indeed, I would have to rewrite (and rename) Regis if the character were a girl. Flipping heck, that change alone would demand half the book to be rewritten. :/

      • Plus it seems like it would be a forced thing just to get “a girl” into your novel. If it fits, great. If it doesn’t, forcing it is lying to the audience. 😉

      • Granted, making the Regis character a girl for no reason other than diversity is a bit drastic, but of all possible reasons for making drastic changes, diversity seems like a pretty good one. 🙂

        I must add that diversity, while important, is not my only reason for considering the change! I believe the Regis character could work at least as well, if not significantly better, as a woman. If I rewrote vast sections of my novel to make the other changes I mentioned in this blog post, I might as well spend the extra effort to make this one.

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