Shirtaloon is joining us today to talk about He Who Fights With Monsters 2, Book 2 of his serialized story. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The path from retail middle management to interdimensional wizard adventurer wasn’t easy. But Jason Asano is settling into his new life. Now, a contest draws young elites to the city of Greenstone to compete for a grand prize. Jason must gather a band of companions if he is to stand a chance against the best the world has to offer. While the young adventurers are caught up in competition, the city leaders deal with revelations of betrayal as a vast and terrible enemy is revealed. Although Jason seems uninvolved, he has unknowingly crossed the enemy’s path before. Friends and foes made along the way will lead him to cross it again. Inevitable conflict looms….
What’s Shirtaloon’s favorite bit?
My favourite bits when I’m writing are less about individual characters and more about how bringing those characters together shows us who they really are. I’m not talking about in the large moments where everything is on the line, even if those are the important ones. For me, I love the small, quiet moments where not a lot is really happening but we get to see the characters as they are when not fighting off blood cultists or bog monsters or giant desert shark crabs.
The big events show us what characters are made of, but the quiet times show us who they are. For me, the moments of downtime, when the plot doesn’t have the characters racing to beat the clock, are some of the most fun ones. They are also crucial to character development, giving us important insight into shine.
I have a lot of downtime chapters, especially in the first book, where scenes that could be easily skipped are used to let the characters play off one another. Shopping, walking down the street between plot-driven sequences or sitting around, having a meal. The way characters bounce off one another when they don’t have evil to fight is always fascinating to me and these are the times where their personalities can really sing. Many readers have told me that these are some of their own favourite bits, and they’re mine too.
In the first book of He Who Fights With Monsters, my favourite bit is a picnic in the park. It isn’t attacked by bandits, no portal opens up for demons to spill out of and no shots suddenly ring out. It’s just a collection of friends and family having a nice day in the park.
The picnic takes place in a chapter contrasting this gathering of friends with a gathering of mourners for a memorial service. Several of the primary characters have just returned from a dangerous journey to retrieve the body of a fellow adventurer and the picnic is a celebration of life before the service for their fallen colleague.
The value of companionship, both in a dangerous profession and personally, is a theme that this sequence highlights as the solitary adventurer died and had to be recovered by a team of friends who never met him in life. The dead man is interred alone while the companions both celebrate and memorialise together.
The picnic scene drizzles in some foreshadowing for coming events but there is minimal plot advancement. The important part is seeing the main character, Jason, amongst his found family, happy and at ease. It marks an important transition for a character that started out alone, uncertain and scared and has now found his place. The most important aspect of that is not where he is or what he’s doing but the people around him.
The picnic scene also contains the largest collection of characters to both appear and speak of any scene in the book. Minor and major characters all come together and we see the tapestry of relationships Jason has woven. With so many characters, each only gets a passing highlight. It’s just enough to show who they are, how they’ve changed and, most importantly, how they fit into the tapestry.
Although seemingly unimportant to the plot, the picnic scene is a milestone for the main character and the overarching story. It marks the end of Jason being lost and his readiness to help others who themselves are lost. It also shows the character at his best, amongst friends and allies, to mark against future developments. In the short terms, it’s a reference point for when the threads of his tapestry are cut. In the long term, it contrasts how he will develop when he finds himself once more alone.
I’m a serial fiction writer first, so my work is structured a little oddly when taken into book format. In many ways, the first book of He Who Fights With Monsters is the first act of the series as a whole. This scene, although appearing some two thirds through the book, is the establishment of a status quo that marks the quiet beginning of the larger story. It’s the moment where Jason goes from coming to grips with the world to taking it on, along with all the people by his side.
All of this is why this scene is my favourite bit from my first book. A fun, light, seemingly disposable scene actually stands as an important marker for where the story has been and for what lies ahead.
Shirtaloon’s Patreon, where the full story is serialized
In the middle of penning a dry academic paper, Shirtaloon had a revelation: he desperately needed to write something very silly. To his surprise and delight, he found a warm and welcoming audience in the world of online serialized fiction. Transitioning his work into actual books, he is continually startled at the appetite for his particular blend of high magic, wild adventure and absurd nonsense. Success has allowed him to fund an excessive board game collection he doesn’t have time to play because he’s always writing. The unplayed games sit on the shelves behind him as he works, silently judging.