Help me structure this really complex story idea

4 months ago | unice5656 (Member)

Hi everyone! I'm totally procrastinating from working on my existing projects so I thought I'd share this really complex story idea I had that I doubt I'll ever have the skill to write the way I imagine it in my head and see if anyone has any insight on how it can be done.

It's basically a story that needs to chronicle parts of time a couple thousand years apart, during which time a character who died in the earlier period gets reincarnated. On top of that, it's supposed to be a poetically tragic love story that ends up having a sappy happy ending because I'm a total sucker for that kind of thing. Read on for the full summary if you're interested.

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In the world I imagine, there are seven ways to become effectively immortal. They have different benefits and trade-offs:
- Shade: this occurs if a person dies with a strong wish to remain in order to resolve some unfinished business. Shades can be seen and heard by people but have no physical presence and no physical needs. They disappear when they resolve their business or give up on it.
- Undead: somewhat similar to vampirism, undead can create other undead, though they do not need to drink blood. The body is no longer effectively alive but fueled by undead magic. Undead gradually lose their emotions with time and can become what we classically consider 'evil'. It's not uncommon for a group of them to attempt to conquer the world every few centuries, at which time their numbers are drastically reduced and the cycle starts again.
- Healer: A person proficient in healing magic can use their powers on themselves to prevent aging. Depending on the degree of their powers, they may not have enough magic left to heal others. They can die if they sustain injuries greater than their powers' ability to heal.
- Reincarnate: Through meditative techniques, a person can imprint some of their memories into their soul and use other techniques to remember them upon being reborn. They can generally only remember the life immediately previous to the current one, and there is always the risk that they will fail to remember. People who attempt this don't generally succeed more than two or three times in a row.
- Automaton: A person can choose to bind their soul into a soul-stone and use it to power a golem-like creature. What they are able to do depends on the quality and design of the golem. If the soul-stone is separated from the golem, the soul is unable to do anything until someone finds the stone and either breaks it to release the soul or attaches it to another golem.
- Phoenix: A person can let their body be consumed by the Eternal Flame and be reborn as a younger version of themselves. There is an entire religion dedicated to this and temples containing torches of Eternal Flame can be found in all major cities. This is both the most widely available and least common form of immortality due to the fact that you have to experience the pain of being burned alive and still maintain the will to live. Once you are reborn as your younger self, you start to age normally again and will die of old age unless you repeat the process. People who complete one rebirth house the Eternal Flame within themselves and can summon it at will, for example to recover from an otherwise fatal injury.
- God-King: This is a legendary, almost mythical form of immortality that you have to be born with. The prophecy that describes the conditions under which they are born goes "conceived in love, born to right a great wrong". God-Kings are ridiculously magical creatures that are immune to any kind of harm and are invariably great, charismatic leaders who instinctively know how to rule an empire well. They are born every couple thousand years when society becomes too cruel and barbaric, usually as a slave, and end up overthrowing the current order and ruling a huge empire. The world experiences a golden age at this time. However, after a couple of centuries, the God-King gradually loses his will to live as all his loved ones die, and when he no longer experiences a pull from the world, he disappears. Time passes until people consider his existence to be a myth, society devolves again, and the cycle repeats.

The story revolves around two characters, one of which is the third incarnation of the God-King. He's about 200 years into the founding of his empire and extremely detached from life, absentmindedly ruling out of a sense of duty. All of his loved ones have died except for one friend who became a Shade to keep him company. Despite his lack of attention, his magical instincts still work to tell him exactly what needs to be done to keep everything prosperous, and he goes on a tour of one of his most distant jungle territories in the south.

The other character is an orphan. Her mother was travelling in the southern jungle and died during the birthing process, her father unknown. She has light coloring, which is unheard of this far south, and the superstitious locals consider her possessed by a demon. She is hated by everyone in her village other than the soft-hearted medicine woman, who raised her.

The story starts when the medicine woman dies and the orphan's life becomes endangered because the remaining villagers want to burn her to death to exorcize the demon they believe is inside her. It is at this point that the God-King arrives on his tour. Noticing that one of his subjects is in a place that would never accept her, he takes her back to the capital city and places her in one of his learning academies, then proceeds to forget about her.

The orphan girl flourishes in her new life. She is intelligent and loves learning. She makes a point to learn everything she can about the God-King, never forgetting her gratitude towards him. Despite the fact that she is more than qualified to focus on a scholarly career, she chooses to go into the military for a chance to get closer to the God-King, eventually qualifying as a governor for one of the empire's provinces. She serves with distinction and is content with her life, able to see and talk to the God-King on state occasions, until she realizes that she is growing old and will eventually have to retire. In her research, she has also realized that the God-King is withdrawn from the world because it hurts him when his loved ones die. She decides to seek immortality in order to keep him company for as long as he reigns. Out of all the paths to immortality, she considers the Phoenix route the most reliable of the ones she can attain (she has no magic) and begins training her pain tolerance. At the age of 50, she succeeds in reincarnating herself for the first time, reverting her body to early adolescence.

Eventually, the God-King notices the girl's impact on his empire. The province she rules is flourishing and she is semi-worshipped by those who follow the Phoenix religion. In speaking to her, he feels unworthy of the level of devotion he's inspired. This is the first real emotion he's felt in a long time and eventually, he falls in love with her.

The two of them enjoy a couple of happy decades together but by now, the God-King is pushing three centuries in the world, a lot longer than his previous incarnations. His apathy becomes stronger and stronger until the girl realizes he's only hanging on for her sake. She tells him to let go and that she will wait until he's born again. The God-King fades away.

Fast forward three thousand years, and the girl is now the Phoenix Queen. She considers herself the steward of the God-King's empire but is worshipped by her subjects as both a goddess and an empress. She doesn't have the God-King's magical instincts for ruling but meticulously researches the best ways to improve the well-being of the citizens. The empire continues to prosper. A couple of centuries into her rule, she realized that the God-King was more likely to reincarnate if she let society crumble and cruelty arise, but she can't bring herself to ruin the God-King's empire. Despite continuing to wait for him, she believes that she is stuck in a situation where she will either never see him again or have to commit acts that make her unworthy of him.

It is at this point in time that the God-King is reborn (the sappy 'wrong' he is to right is the Phoenix Queen's tragic suffering). He has no memory of his past life and has a different appearance to his previous body, but his soul is the same. In his previous incarnations, he was born as a slave and it was apparent fairly quickly what his powers were. However, this time, he's born into a normal, loving household and he's just considered an unusually talented youth. He eventually becomes the Phoenix Queen's personal guard because she has a program where promising leaders take on this role for a couple of years in order to learn governance. He falls in love with the queen and wants her to be happy but doesn't realize he's anything but one of the many men who constantly falls in love with her.

A strange echo of the past in their interactions makes the Phoenix Queen notice her guard and eventually fall in love with him. However, she feels extremely guilty for her emotions, feeling that she is betraying the God-King. It's not until an assassination attempt makes it clear that the guard is immune to harm that she realizes he's the God-King. At this point, there's a lot of emotional turmoil and the Phoenix Queen attempts to give him the empire and resume her subservient position to him while the new God-King refuses, but eventually they settle down in blissful harmony and the world prospers for another few centuries.

The story ends with the 4th God-King letting himself go into the ether and the Phoenix Queen following after. The world has reached an Atlantis-like pinnacle of technology and social progress, which will likely crumble in a few centuries, starting the cycle again.
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So yeah. Ideas? I want it to feel poetic and cyclic while still telling a coherent story. The story could be told linearly, alternating between past and future, starting in the future and flashing back to the past as it becomes relevant, or some other way I haven't thought of.

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Responses

  1. revfitz (Member)

    Posted 4 months ago

    Damn, that is one epic story.

    I'm not sure how to execute this myself, but I would skip right to where she is about to join the military. Everything prior we can learn along the way (you can reveal her intentions and drive as she seeks out the God King or as she meets him). Jumping ahead and then back again might really work well with this story but the more complicated the narrative the simpler I would make my character arc. How long were you thinking of making this story? Would this be a serial with arcs, multiple books, or one giant tome? Whatever you choose I would keep it in a simple three act structure with three separate arcs. This might help in making it feel cyclical.

    Honestly, I would just give it a shot and see where it takes me. I have a project that I have been working on that isn't a serial (and not nearly as public) maybe this is the type of story best suited for a book format? Working on something this complicated without online scrutinization means you do not have to have it perfect the first time. Something with this sort of scope may need a few drafts to get right. I know that does not help much, but I mostly write about breakfast :P

    Good luck!

    Existential Terror and Breakfast--A serial with cereal.
    Updates Wednesdays at: revfitz.com
  2. unice5656 (Member)

    Posted 4 months ago

    @Revfitz: hehe, yeah. Of all the ideas that have floated into my head over the years, this one is by far the most complicated.

    I was thinking one long book, not super duper long, though I've never written anything nearly that complex so I have no real estimate for how long it would be. It's really a romance novel disguised as a fantasy epic, hahaha.

    Yeah, it would definitely be a novel and not a webserial. It wouldn't even be a novel that's suitable being published chapter by chapter the way my works other than Fantasia tend to be. I think I may end up writing all the scenes and then shuffling them around in an agony of indecision until I'm satisfied with it.

    I also have a couple of other things going that are unpublished, so this one may sit on the back burner for a while longer. Honestly, my subconscious is a much better writer than my conscious, so the longer it stews, the more formed the idea gets. Hopefully by the time I get to it, I'll be able to make it as beautiful as I want it to be.

  3. Kraken Attacken (Member)

    Posted 4 months ago

    My word, I have to repeat revfitz on this one; that sounds quite epic!

    No time right now to get into any ideas of how you execute it, but the one thing I will say for now is that as I was reading the plot summary, I got vivid flash backs of reading a lovely science-fantasy novel a few years back with a few similar themes: Lord of Light by Roger Zelasny.

    If you've already read it, then bummer, I have nothing to contribute. If you haven't, it may give you a few ideas, as it has similar themes of reincarnation, where the story bounces between past and present.

    In any case, if I think of anything else i'll let you know, but good-luck for now!

    Writing Fantasy: Welcome to Transcendence - Ongoing
    And Sci-fi:The Ascendant Age - Hiatus
  4. Dary (Member)

    Posted 4 months ago

    A world that has so many ways to achieve immortality is going to have a very different approach to life than we do: the idea that this God-King is depressed because he lost all his loved ones when you have half a dozen ways to achieve immortality just ... doesn't feel right to me?

    Maybe it might work better if you simplify it a bit: there's an immortal ruler in a society where immortality is commonplace. Society has become stagnant because of this, and the ruler is bored of life (but afraid to die). Maybe they lost their beloved a long time ago, before the methods for immortality were perfected, and their fear of losing people is what drove them to impose immortality on their people. And then the beloved is reincarnated and helps the ruler to accept the fleetingness of life, allowing them to pass on peacefully. (This immortal society wouldn't understand - or even believe in - reincarnation, because they're immortal.)

    For irony's sake, the beloved in born into an oppressed underclass. They join the military because they want to become one of the immortal elite. Over the course of the story, they gain gradual access to their previous incarnation's memories. But no one believes in such things - even more so if you have those memories contradict the 'established' history.

    Another variation: the God-King's reincarnation is born to an enemy country and becomes a celebrated hero because of their powers. He's led to believe it's his destiny to take down this despot Queen, but memories from his past incarnation keep bubbling up to the surface, confusing things, until he realises his true destiny is to save her. And again, you could have the conflict between old memories and established history.

    Either way, I think having a stagnating society built on the foundations of immortality would help give the story an underlying theme of embracing life/accepting death, which then ties into the character arcs for the King/Queen.

  5. TanaNari (Member)

    Posted 4 months ago

    Speaking from personal experience... when you write stories about God-Tier beings, it's better to write the story through the eyes of other people than through said beings. Ever notice how Goku, Superman, and Doctor Manhattan are the least interesting characters in their respective series? That's because they're not characters... they're humanoid forces of nature. And like all good stories about forces of nature, the best part of the story isn't them, it's their effects on everyone else in this world.

    Use that positioning to show life from the perspective of those who don't stand a chance in hell of surviving a battle with these beings and the powers they wield.

    It has the added benefit of you being able to tell the story through the telling of stories within the setting.

    "Gather up, grandkids, and let me tell you about the time I met the God-King."
    "Again? Grandpa, you tell this story every other day."
    "Don't make me get my belt, Billy."
    "Grandpa, my name is Jessica! And who's Billy?"

    Comedy aside, it allows for an effective "episodic" storytelling structure, which is almost essential if you want to complete a story like this one.

    It prevents the story from becoming an Escalation Cycle of ever-greater stakes while not a single audience member believes for a *second* the world is really going to explode or whatever.

    It also allows you to inject suspense and consequence into the story. "Of course the God-King's going to win... it's mechanically impossible for him to lose... but we just spent the last six chapters getting to know this cobbler and his family who are simple peasants, and I wanna know if *they* survive!" Which is a strategy used often by historical war novels, since everyone already knows who wins, so the question is only whether or not the main character makes it.

    That is how you make a story like the one you're talking about work. It also means you have a nice excuse to pull the 11th-hour power-up without it being an asspull, since you can for the final arc actually show the story through the main characters. You'll certainly have been teasing the audience long enough.

    Author of Price.
  6. unice5656 (Member)

    Posted 4 months ago

    @Kracken: Thanks for the suggestion! I have not read that and will check it out.

    @Dary: Despite there being so many ways to theoretically achieve immortality, they're not "easy" no one actually manages it for more than a few centuries, and in the society I imagine, it's quite rare. You have to be quite obsessed with it.
    For someone without magic, the options are Shade, Undead, Reincarnate, and Phoenix, which all have quite significant trade-offs. The God-King's friends and family chose to move on except for the single friend who stayed as a Shade to keep him company. The other thing that I didn't make clear is that the apathy for the world that the God-King experiences is partly due to grief/fear of pain if he gets to know new people who will die, but it is partly its own force that pushes him to move on and allow society to progress without stagnation. I do plan to somewhat explore the stagnating effect of having the Phoenix Queen rule for three thousand years, but I want the world/magic ecosystem to feel like it generally balances itself in favour of cyclical life and death, with the paths of immortality being mere detours that still lead back to the original place.

    @TanaNari: I wouldn't write about an all-powerful being if the story were action-oriented, but like I said, it's a love story disguised as a fantasy epic.

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