So, I guess this is part of my “Storytelling Lessons” series.
Storytelling Lessons from The Witcher
1) Be aware of which are your best characters.
I think I wrote about this before somewhere. If your reader wants to know more about A and you’re consistently giving more information about B instead, that’s a problem.
As I said about The Wheel of Time: “The show is a ‘chosen one’ story (definitely my least favorite fantasy trope), and now, of the five possible chosen ones, the least interesting character (by a wide margin) appears to be It.” That was true through to the last episode of Wheel of Time, where my favorite part was a scene between two very secondary characters.
With The Witcher, the core trio of characters, Geralt of Rivia, Yennefer of Vengerberg, and Princess Cirilla of Cintra, are the most interesting, both individually and in various combinations, and they are all played by top-notch actors. There are a lot of good supporting characters around them, but the supporting characters do exactly that: support, rather than outshine.
2) Heroes are okay, but you need at least one good villain (I think of this as the “Hitchcock Rule”), and your villains should be at least as complex as your heroes.
This is one of my main complaints about a lot of comic book movies these days (and, for that matter, The Wheel of Time): villains who, for undefined or uncompelling reasons want to conquer, or remake, or destroy the world. Yawn. Also, it’s an interesting contrast with murder mysteries (this just occurred to me): Good mystery stories require a good motive for the murderer(s). You can go with plain old lunacy as a motivation, but it’s difficult to carry off. Ellery Queen managed it several times, but the lunacy in his books was always highly structured — killers who killed according to specific patterns. And lunatic killers can work better in movies, because: acting!
In general, though, understandable motivations are the best. (Orson Welles, however, had a different opinion, which I talked about here in relation to Iago.)
Everybody in The Witcher has motivations, though often hidden ones, including the monsters. Geralt spends some time defending Ciri against various monsters, until she realizes — and then convinces him — that the monsters are indeed trying to get to her, but they actually never try to harm her. (Geralt, of course, expressed his opinion of this idea with a grunt — his most common reaction to anything — but it was clearly an interested grunt.) The last episode of the season was, among other things, a series of revelations of motivations, and hints of some motivations which won’t be revealed until later seasons.
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In other news, I’m very close to starting to post a new story. The first part is basically ready to post (well, I’ll probably read it over just one more time…), and I have three more parts more or less ready to go.