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Pact Sealed

March 7, 2015

Well.  That was a learning experience.  I think that’s the best way to put it.

It’s impossible to say anything about Pact without inevitable comparisons to Worm, so I’ll bite that bullet right here and right now.  I suppose what I can say is that where Worm was a triumph, in many respects, Pact was a means for me to grow as a writer.

I should start off by saying that I’m immensely grateful to my readers for reading through Pact and offering their feedback and support.  Pact came to 948,800 words.  We can round that up to 950k words, for the sake of brevity.  It took almost half the time to write that Worm did, and came to about half the word count.  You guys stuck it out with me, you shared your comments, and I was able to make a living as a writer in the meantime.  I appreciate that more than you know.

On its own, to be making a living as a writer, maintaining a wage and a readership, that’s a triumph of sorts.  That may be hard to recognize when compared to where I stood when Worm was done, but just about anything is going to pale in comparison to Worm, so maybe that’s unfair.

Why was Pact a learning experience?  In part, it was something I needed to do to test waters and see what I was capable of.  I know a lot of criticism that gets leveled at the series is because of how nebulous or vague the underlying system is.  Magic in Pact is a vague thing, one that can be interpreted, bent, or otherwise misappropriated.  There’s a logic behind it all, but it remains what it is.  The characters are different, and the story itself takes on a different form, a struggle to catch one’s footing and find a place in the world, which can seem like our protagonist is mired in a situation with no way up or forward.

But being able to write that and see the audience reactions, see my own comfort level, it’s a valuable thing, and something I can carry with me to future writings.  I don’t think I want to write something quite so loose in the future.  I also got more comfortable with humor and lighter characters, and that’s something I had almost no confidence with at the start of Worm.  I felt like I stumbled on certain elements, and exploring simple and juvenile forms of humor in Evan and the goblins was a good thing.  I’ve collected a repertoire of things I now know that I want to do or not to do.

Pact taught me some other things, though.  See, I want to be a career writer.  I’d like to think I have the chops, but the fact of the matter is that I’ve only been doing this for three years and three months.  The things I need to learn aren’t all about sentence or narrative construction or characterization.  Some are about life.

Where Worm left me feeling like publishing (probably self publishing) was something I eventually had or have to do, I don’t feel that way with Pact.  Pact isn’t bad, but it isn’t great, and I feel like the road to making Pact great enough to publish is long and awkward enough that it may not be worth it.  It’s hard to say for sure.

Part of the reason for this is that Pact had a shaky start, and that made for a shaky foundation to build the rest on.  Just off the end of Worm, I was distracted by real life.  It was fairly happy as distractions went, my brother got married.  It just so happened to be a marriage that took place a two hour trip from my place into the woods of Quebec.  The married couple lived a five hour flight away, and I was close, so stuff fell on my shoulders (and on my mom’s, though she had recently been hospitalized for back problems; another distraction).  There was a lot of peripheral stuff to do or get involved with, I was stressed in typical wedding-involved ways and I was interacting with people who were stressed in typical wedding-involved ways, and it made writing hard when it would have been really nice to focus on the story and make it more what I wanted it to be.

The wedding wasn’t the only thing going on, and I maintained my schedule while I moved out of Ottawa and found myself a little bit more elbow room in a smaller town with lower rent.  Moving is a bit of a hassle, as it turns out, and moving to a nearby town when you don’t drive is even more so.

I was also trying to figure out a way forward with the editing of Worm, which proves tricky when it is the easiest thing to drop when real life gets hard or irritating.  I know from experience that the way I operate best is to work hard one day, rest the next.  It was the same when I studied and went to school, it was the same when I worked in the produce depot of grocery stores, and when I did some reno work or house painting.  Wedging the editing in there is a tricky thing, and I’ve gradually adopted it, halting as it may be.  It’s been a lot easier since I’ve moved, I can say that much.

In the midst of all of the above, I fell back on some old standbys and patterns and didn’t move the story forward, leading one storyline in particular to drag on.  I didn’t sell the story as it should’ve been, and as much as my audience might have become frustrated at points, I felt that same frustration myself.  In dragging everything to Toronto and sending Blake to the Abyss, there might have been a little bit of a desire on my end to change things up and get some fresh air.

It may never be clearly apparent to readers, but I’ve learned some valuable lessons about time management and balancing different aspects of my life.  I’m hopeful that this will be evidenced by my being more consistent, wiser, and mature as a writer, because I intend to write until I physically can’t write anymore, and those are really good things to give evidence to.

All that said, I’m thrilled that the audience came to be as fond of Green Eyes and Evan (or just Evan, in some cases) as I was.  It’s gratifying that my readers seemed to voice support for many of the same individual elements of Pact that I enjoyed writing, be it incidents with the goblins, aspects of the Abyss, or some of the better scenes.

I’m rather happy to be here, writing this, and I admit I’m relieved to be putting Pact to rest.  It was a good thing, but I’m excited to be moving on.  I think, much like Worm, it’s a setting I’ll have to revisit in the future.  I’ve left some elements still to be resolved, and both Vista and Alexandria referenced the Maggie Holt series in Worm, so… that’s a possibility.  Maybe something shorter and tighter, and in the spirit of the learning experience that Pact proved to be, something where I hold on to only the better things.

As suggested above, Worm’s editing process is underway, though it’s proving about as slow as I anticipated it being.  In the interest of giving myself more structure with the editing process, I’m suspicious I may start asking Reddit for arc-by-arc feedback, revisiting the story one arc at a time and raising some of the issues or questions I have in regard to the editing, so stay tuned for that.

Pact was defined by threes.  Worm is the past, Pact is the present (for now) and that only leaves the future.  Story three.

Twig.

The site won’t be open to the public until Tuesday, at the usual time.  I’m not doing the sample thing, because I’m fairly certain I know what I want to write, and the samples have a way of breaking hearts one way or another.  On a similar note, I’d rather avoid dropping any hints about genre or anything else, because many will hear ‘sci-fi’ or ‘fantasy’ and they go in with preconceived notions and expectations.

To find out what niche it fits in, you’ll have to check it out.  With that in mind, and on that note, I hope to see you guys for serial number three.

Thank you, and I really do mean that.  You guys are great, and I wouldn’t be where I am without you.

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124 Comments
  1. Well, you’re the reason I got into this crazy webserial writing business. (Okay, you and M.C.A. Hogarth, but, you first.)

    I think Pact was a great example of Failing Better, for you. It definitely did show you improving yourself as a writer.

    Most notably, for me, was that you repeated the trope of the protagonist stripped of capacity to communicate that you did with Worm. However, unlike Worm, I felt that this time around you balanced it such that it wasn’t a detriment to the story, and it didn’t damage the structure nearly as badly as I felt it did for Worm.

    Pact isn’t perfect, but it’s genuinely good, and for my money it’s better than Worm in almost every metric I can apply.

    Pact also had more memorable scenes; whereas from Worm the only real standouts left to my memory are bug-suffocation-of-superheroine and the first encounter with the Slaughterhouse crew, Worm had a lot more going for it. Conquest, Ur, even the beginning chapter with good ol’ gran-gran.

    Ultimately? To borrow those words of Samuel Beckett:

    “Ever tried. Every failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

    At the end of the day, we all fail better until other people can’t tell our failure from success. 🙂

    Good luck, good writing, and I look forward to reading Twig!

    • Bigjeff5 permalink

      Posting here because I’m either too dumb to find the comment button, or it’s just not allowing any new comments because the post is over a month old now. Whatever.

      I want to say that I absolutely loved Pact. I think I might like it even better than Worm, though it might just be that it’s still so fresh. It was emotionally heavy, and I found myself occasionally looking at it in my feed and putting off reading because I knew it was an investment. It’s pretty rare for a story to do that to me, and while it doesn’t make reading easy, it’s ultimately very satisfying.

      The Magic. People criticizing it are wrong. Period. I’m something of a fan of magic systems, and the system in Pact is seriously one of the best I’ve read. And honestly in the wrong hands this system would have been terrible. Rules encourage creativity, forces it even. When there are only a handful of rules, and those rules are fudgeable, it is very hard to be creative, yet you can do so much more than a rules heavy system! I’d compare it to particle physics, actually. In particle physics there really are only a handful of rules. In fact, four forces and 17 (18 once the graviton is discovered) fundamental particles, and they allow everything in the universe exist and work as it does. What you did with magic in Pact was incredible in my opinion, and definitely worth patting yourself on the back for.

      The characters. Of all things this was probably the weakest, but I still felt it was pretty good. I genuinely liked characters like Blake and Green Eyes and Evan and Mags, and genuinely hated Laird and his brother, and Conquest. I empathized pretty strongly with Sandra and Rose as well. As others have mentioned we probably didn’t get the attachment to Blake’s friends that you wanted, but you can’t have everything, heh. Getting people invested in 10 or so characters in a story is pretty damn good in my opinion.

      The last thing I’ll say is that, while it may have seemed like it was too loose and wandered too much, I read several other web serials that I consider to be quite good and yours was easily the tightest, and most information rich of the bunch, so don’t be too hard on yourself for that. It may not be up to your standards, but it’s not bad, especially for the format.

      I do agree that Pact would probably take more cleaning up to publish than Worm, but I also think it would be worth the effort. If it’s ever available as a book I’ll buy a copy just to have, that’s for sure.

      TL;DR: I wish the entire genre of Urban Fantasy was filled with Pact clones.

  2. Thank you again for writing. PACT is an amazing, powerful story and when you publish it, I’ll buy a copy for myself and a copy to lend when I recommend it.

  3. Gin permalink

    Green eyes is my waifu, easily best girl in the book.

  4. Thanks Wildbow. It’s been a great ride, and I’m looking forward to the next one. Pact kept me sane on Tuesday mornings (when I have a particularly onerous task at work).

    You’ve created some amazingly evocative and compelling characters here, and you should be proud of your writing and creations 🙂

    As with Worm I found the final chapter dragged on a bit, but the epilogue more than made up for it.

  5. Stancliff permalink

    It’s a shame that Blake never realized that Laird was totally forsworn. As a Police Chief / Officer he took a vow to uphold and enforce the Law, but he ‘contributed to the delinquency of a minor’, ‘conspired to commit murder’, was an ‘accomplice after the fact’ and therefore through these a murderer himself. Then he attempted to murder Blake,

    For the first half of the story all Blake did was Self Protection, defending himself from the crimes of others.

    • Simurgh permalink

      Or he used the practice (and maybe some help bargained for with the Duchamps?) to make people think he took a vow to uphold and enforce the law.

    • Bigjeff5 permalink

      The whole system is basically fudgeable at its core though, that’s my favorite part about it. One of the tricks in the system is that you can make a lie the truth, or at least come close enough to trick the universe into believing it’s the truth, and so the lie has minimal karmic impact, if any. With magic, opinion matters much more than technicalities, and the opinions of those who are aware of and practice magic have more weight. From the perspective of the magical community, Blake was a threat to society.

      Given their relative karmic positions, I don’t think it would have been hard to fudge everything such that he was upholding his vows, not breaking them.

  6. And, of course, we all say thank you right back, Wildbow.

    Hg

  7. WitchAndMoan permalink

    Hi, I’m here to complain about a job well done! There’s no links to the final chapter or epilogue on the ToC page, and the final chapter’s next chapter link to the epilogue isn’t active. That’s all.

  8. Mayhem permalink

    Other people might have criticized the nebulousness of the magic system. For me, it was possibly my favorite part of the series. It ties stories and power, magic and dreams, and it does it in a really fresh, real way. AND IT’S JUST SO CREEPY UGH.

    The real weakness of Pact was in its characters, and I think that’s probably why I liked the last few arcs so much more. I mean, the characters who really stand out as well developed “real people” are Rose, Blake, Peter, Mags, Green Eyes, Evan, Fell, and Conquest–other than Fell, that’s basically the final team, and more than half of Pact passes with no more than 3 of those characters in the frame at a time. Blake’s friends from Toronto just never really gelled as people–we didn’t meet them and get to spend time with them the way we did with Green Eyes, Maggie/Mags, and Evan, nor did they have such overriding personality features like Conquest or Fell or Evan (or, hell, Ur/Barbatorem/the lawyers). Plus–as we later realize–Blake and Rose are incomplete people and their incessant bickering and lack of perspective or ability to see each other’s point of view made the first 2/3 of Pact a really frustrating read.

    Worm was great in large part because it started with a lot of good characterization, with a moderate amount of action. The ending was strained because of action fatigue and there just not being enough character stuff to support fight scene after fight scene. Pact, by contrast, really stuck the ending well because all the character work that had been done came together for it, and because you stuck with character. (So, ironically, you may have been in a rush to end Worm and fighting that with Pact, but as a reader, the end of Worm dragged out too long and the end of Pact was succinct and engaging)

    I’d really like to see you write a protagonist who saw other people’s points of view! Who isn’t so lacking in perspective, who isn’t so thoroughly driven to conflict.I mean, it’s not like you have to write Pride and Prejudice or anything, you have a talent for writing action! But, you know, ultimately stories are about people, and while the concepts of Pact are awesome–fuck anyone who tells you otherwise, they’re great–the conflicts just aren’t as meaningful when you’re not shipping the fuck out of Rachel/Taylor.

    • cranefly permalink

      Putting my thoughts here because I enthusiastically support almost everything above. I loved Pact-as-Pact, and I especially loved how the magic was, at its best, weird and poetic and relational and absolutely not a mechanistic “magic system.”

      My only departure from what Mayhem writes here — more of an ‘and’ than a ‘but’ — is that one of my biggest disappointments was how the development of Blake’s relationships with his Toronto friends got squelched. The highest emotional point of Pact, to me, was Blake’s retreat to his apartment and friends: there was such a sense of real healing taking place there, with Blake about to lay the foundation for a healthy magical practice centered on what was most important to him. When, soon after, the plot hit the immovable object that is Conquest, I feel like a great deal of the heart went out of the story, and of course Ur erased what was left. Not that I didn’t appreciate the story-as-it-was, particularly Mags and Evan and Green Eyes, but I can’t help thinking of the story-that-could-have-been as well.

      Around halfway through, someone in the comments called Pact “inspiring” and got the expected grief for that (“it’s a wildbow story, it must be dark and horrible” etc.), but: I’m a parent of small kids, and the magical ethics laid out by the first part of Pact have been on my mind: the power of telling the truth instead of easy untruths, of finding solutions besides direct confrontation, and above all the importance of your connections to other people. It meshes well with how I want to relate to my kids, and it was inspiring to work it into my practice of parenting.

      Thank you for taking us along for the ride, and Iook forward to being surprised by your work again in Twig.

  9. John Galt permalink

    Thank you,sir. Looking forward to Twig.

  10. S.Royle permalink

    I’ve been reading since Worm, and I’ve loved both Pact and Worm. That being said, one thing I’ve noticed is that you tend to start your stories in a down to earth manner, the stories make sense in a local way. If that makes any sense. The story of a girl with superpowers struggling to be a good person while the only people she considers friends are supervillains. The story of two vestiges fucked over by fate and having to deal with their families poisonous magical legacy.

    In both these, the story is coherent, and makes sense, but in both, towards the end you always go bigger, grander, and while that’s not a BAD thing, you also seem to like throwing in curveball after curveball. Emotional gutpunch after gutpunch in rapid succession until I at least, am numb and somewhat lost as to what’s going on because the gutpunches aren’t working anymore.

  11. Thank you wildbow for Pact!

    I can understand and see how being so distracted at the beginning really had an impact on Pact. Green Eyes, Evan, and the goblins were endearing, cute, and ridiculously awesome. There were so many really good elements to the story, I wouldn’t mind seeing a different version someday. Pact was a difficult world to do though and I thought you were brave to take it on, since magic can be so over powered and the rules are so difficult to set up and maintain. In Pact, I started to get left behind I think when Blake’s family was introduced, never could relate or get a feel for them, so it was more character development for me. I needed to connect somehow if they were important. Same for the kids of the families in Jacob’s Bell. Putting in my ha’penny’s worth for both Pact and Worm, I really enjoyed the relationships between Jeremy and Sandra, and Dragon and Defiant. Along with many, many other things I thought those were very well done.

  12. Veldorn permalink

    Thank you wildbow for your work.

    I want to say how much I love your work. Before I started reading Worm I wasn’t a fan of the superhero genre, but Worm rescued the whole genre for me.
    The powers, the people, the society, the way everything interacted was just brilliant for me and hooked me from the beginning.

    While many complain about the nebolous nature of the magic in Pact, I liked it anyway. The symbolic and mystic nature is something you see rarely these days, and like Worm I loved how you made everything interact made that world so great for me.
    And the abyss, I was totally fascinated about that. It totally intrigues me how it works and what it does. For me there could be an entire book just about the abyss and it’s inhabitants.

    What I most love about your works is not only how your worlds are perfectly logical within their own rules and genre but the social interactions between the characters, which is my favorite part of your work. That every minor character has it’s own personality, story and motives is just great.
    That’s why I liked your endings not as much as the beginning. It always goes on the epic scale, which is nice but it somehow loses the charm of the earlier chapters.

    Thank you for work and I must say that you won a lifelong fan with me.

  13. Let me know if I messed this comment up at all. I may or may not have written this some time ago. Thank you very much for reading this though!

    Thank you for once again making an amazing story. It has come to a close and in many ways has closed out in the way that is best for those involved. I think I could give boundless praise about the sheer interesting dynamics in your worlds and the mysteries that can be peeled behind every wall. Thank you once again for being such an amazing author and being so hard-working

    However, now is the time where I point out the thing I think held back the story. As an author, developing through the writing of Worm and the writing of pact, you have held your character’s on edge for almost the entirety of both works. To be honest, you write that sort of situation REALLY WELL. However it also seems to be becoming a sort of clutch for you. I noticed, with pact that there was very little time setup for introduction that was non-threatening for the characters and not on the brink. One side effect that that this causes, is an establishment that the ending challenge is kind of arbitrary. After all, what makes this particular challenge the final one, and what makes the final challenge SO distinguished from others? Honestly, there is not enough build up to the final challenge because their are no breathers where the tension can be built up. This is not to say your writing is bad, but it does lead to side effects of sighs at a particular challenge, rolled eyes at unsurprised survivals, unsuccessful and disingenuous offscreen deaths for supporting characters. All of these seem to tie into an inability to really write away from the brink.

    I don’t exactly know what will give the same expertise at writing peace, calm before storms and a slow-buildup as you have with writing on the brink situations. However I think that it would be interesting and probably better for longer-term writing versatility if you focused less on the brink in your next work.

    Regardless, I wish you success and I thank you profusely for writing these two amazing works. I wish I was anywhere near stable enough to write such a story on my own. Good Luck! Have Fun!

  14. Wildbow, thank you for the amazing stories. As a ‘first draft’ in serial form, you’ve shown you have an instinctual grasp of the craft of writing. Every story has its ups and downs, and life can certainly get in the way of our art. In the end, however, you finish strong.

    I do hope you choose to reach out to the Reddit community, and polish what is already a powerful story. There are a few aspiring authors who have been inspired by the story, and I’m sure there is a way to get constructive feedback through the course of the work that doesn’t bog down your editing process.

    I’m fond of Pact, and see a lot of potential for further stories in the world. Well done.

  15. Anvildude permalink

    As someone who read both Worm and Pact in ‘single sittings’ as it were (that is, I Archive Binged both of them after they were done, so no update gaps), I have to tell you- I hated this story. But I seriously respect it, too.

    See, I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, I read to get away from the horrible, to see the potential in people and the triumph of the Hero over the Villain. Pact was basically none of that, or anti-Triumph, in a lot of ways. Yet I couldn’t stop reading it. I had nights were I thought I was going to have nightmares from the sheer vileness, the perverted wrongs you managed to put the characters through, but I couldn’t stop reading, couldn’t ‘put the book down’ if you will. I grew to respect Rose Senior, and pity Rose Junior. I was rooting for Green Eyes and Blake and Evan to find some sort of happiness at the end, and for the Demons to ultimately fail in their goals. Every step, though, tore at me emotionally, worked to drive down any hope I had for the better nature of people.

    I hate this story- but it does exactly what it needs to, to be a great story.

    I look forwards to being able to help support you through the purchase of books (Worm, maybe Twig, but _probably_ not Pact), maybe donations or whatnot. I tell friends about you, people who I know are into these sorts of stories.

    But please. For the love of all that’s holy, [i]NEVER WRITE DEMONS AGAIN[/i]. Whoever thought it would be a good idea, when you had the vote, to hand you an Urban Fantasy Masquerade Horror story was INSANE.

    Bleurgh.

  16. I enjoyed Pact. In some ways, more than I did Worm, if you believe that. But, you are very right when you think it a little rough and etoilated in parts — outside distraction is sometimes obvious. :/

    I’d not be too quick to pop Rose, Blake and company in a locked filing cabinet, though, were I you. A couple of years’ distance and you might feel up to a rework, if you find yourself with time on your hands. The core of the tale is a solid one, imo, and I thought your handling of the magical mash-up was rather well done. (I’m not adverse to the kitchen sink approach, so that helps me in this, where others might stumble… so that is entirely subjective on my part.)

    Thank you very, very much. This was my cuppa cha, and no mistake. ^_^

  17. Average Reader permalink

    Hey, wildbow. Pact was recommended to me recently, and I finished it in just a few sittings. I thought it was excellent! And although I don’t know if you’re still reading these comments, I’d still like to leave some of my thoughts for you.

    (I’m not a writer or critic, so I apologise if my criticism isn’t very constructive.)

    + The ‘soft’ magic system was fantastic (theatrics, bullshitting, oaths, blood, and everything else)! I really hope you return to this universe sometime in the future just so I can see more of it.

    + The smaller setting was refreshing. I don’t like when a story starts out with a smallish conflict and eventually blows up into a potentially world-ending crisis, so it was nice how –even when shit hit the fan– the end result was simply Jacob’s Bell being condemned.

    + My favourite parts of the story were when Blake was binding ghosts and trying to complete Conquest’s 3 tasks. Well done on those!

    + Maggie was my favourite character, and I wanted to see more of her! I kind of wish she had been the MC, although maybe you didn’t want that since she’s a little too similar to Worm’s MC.

    – The vestige plot twists were silly, and it made me lose interest in Blake/Rose over time. It started out with Rose supposedly being Blake’s vestige (a kind of magically-created, fragile doppelgänger), then it turned out that… no… Blake is the vestige and Rose was real all along! But then… no… neither of them is a vestige (at least, not like the ones Johannes was creating/messing with), they are actually uneven halves of a forgotten Thorburn! Sorry, but I really didn’t like it. >.<

    – I was looking forward to Blake growing as a practitioner (acquiring an Implement, claiming a Demesne, learning to use magic in different ways, etc…), but that was cut off pretty early. I do like how he grew as an Other (slowly becoming a more monstrous Bogeyman), but I wish you had continued showing the practitioner progression through another character after Blake lost his ability. For example, I think it would have been great if you had shown Rose's perspective a little bit more (alternating with Blake's) and had her claim a Familiar/Implement/Demesne in his stead. I was disappointed when the story ended with her having none of those. Strange.

    – The pacing was kind of bad. I felt that there were too many fights and not enough downtime between them. It didn't feel very believable with how often they won or escaped from those numerous fights (while being consistently outnumbered/outgunned as well), especially considering how Blake/Rose were fragile half-people with heavy karmic burdens. I think more downtime with them gathering power/tools/allies would have really helped.

    – The Toronto excursion went on way too long (imo), although I did love Conquest's 3 tasks. The final confrontation against Conquest was kind of anticlimactic (his binding in particular); their victory didn't feel "earned" to me.

    – The whole spiel with Blake wandering around the Abyss and confronting his past/memories should have been cut, to be brutally honest. It felt cliché and just wasn't very interesting. I thought it was very clever how you allowed Maggie to keep her memories of Blake by being *nameless* when Ur swallowed him and tried to erase his connections to other people. I was sure her unaffected memories would end up being the key to recalling Blake from the Abyss, but you went nowhere with that plot point, which was extremely disappointing to me.

    Anyway, these are the comments that immediately sprung to mind. Even if they sound harsh, I want you to know that i still loved reading Pact and am eagerly looking forward to Twig! 🙂

  18. Doug permalink

    I never understood the mindset of people who said things like “If [popular character] dies, WE RIOT!” until I read Pact. I loved Evan, and winced every time I read that he got hurt. I’m 41, and don’t cry often, but I teared up at the end. Thank you for writing it.

  19. I can’t tall you how much I look forward to reading your stuff each day. I devour books, usually its not realy the genra that gets me but the writing style of the author. and I truely enjoy yours !

  20. Hey Wildbow.

    I was one of those referred by Yudkowsky via HPMOR to read Worm. Then I followed and continued to read Pact. I used to infrequently post under a different nick, but that doesn’t matter now.

    I’m glad you made this post. It makes both Worm and Pact make even more sense now that you’ve explained what was happening in your life while you were writing. It also makes me understand just how much and in what way you have been growing as a writer in the past three years and three months.

    The progress you have made is inspiring. That you say you’ve learned some time management lessons on top of mostly maintaining the writing schedule you set for yourself is awe-inspiring. You probably already know, but you know you’re a role model, right?

  21. Articdata permalink

    I actually liked pact. Thought it was good, seems like you’re being too hard on yourself there.

    Then again I didn’t like the last third or so of worm and you seem to be proud of that so maybe I’m just weird ha.

  22. Valin K Syrcen permalink

    I’ll keep this simple.
    It was hard to get into. Then the story started moving and I ended up loving it so much, my wife felt neglected.
    Now I’m getting everyone I know to read your stuff.
    Thanks for entertaining us!

  23. Thanks wildbow. Discovered your writing at the end of Worm. It was the first superhero story I’ve ever liked (cos it wasn’t cheesy).

    With Pact I got to follow it’s unfolding. Your consistency remained admirable throughout. It wasn’t the love affair I had with Worm but it was a good story. It pleases me to know that you’ve learned from Pact. If you’d like to try stuff in the future at least this reader doesn’t mind it one bit.

    Rock on!

  24. Thanks wildbow. Discovered your writing at the end of Worm. It was the first superhero story I’ve ever liked (cos it wasn’t cheesy).

    With Pact I got to follow it’s unfolding. Your consistency remained admirable throughout. It wasn’t the love affair I had with Worm but it was a good story. It pleases me to know that you’ve learned from Pact. If you’d like to try stuff in the future at least this reader doesn’t mind it one bit.

    Rock on!

  25. Thank you!
    That said… I love the vague rules of magic because it allows the characters to be incredibly creative on how they practice. I have so many questions unanswered, but I like how it opens a wide fan of possibilities! We can later on see further attempts from the Lawyers; we can go into what happened to Faysal and his way of seeing things; we can see the third BloodFireDarkness from Maggie and she even has unfinished bussiness with Padraic that adds spice to it all; there is sharp tongued human Peter and his Sphinx sister in law; the chronomancer cousins and Lola the rebellious enchantress, the hunter brothers, Molly the wraith, Rose the scourge, all that not to mention Blake, Green and Evan who make a supercool fun trio.
    I am sad to read that you don’t consider Pact as publishing material right now… but you are not sure so that keeps my hopes high! I think the universes and characters you create are a treat to read and look forward to read Twig. I hope there comes a time when you can give Pact a chance and make it publishable to your own eyes.

    Thank you again TwT

  26. I think you may be being too harsh on Pact – there’s a *lot* in it to like. “Worm” was the result of characters and ideas percolating through your mind for years and writing and rewriting stories about them. If you did a rewrite of Pact at some point, you’d probably find that it also came out better after a similar opportunity to mentally compost.

    I think you’ve already identified most of the things I would’ve complained about: the shaky start where we had little reason to care what happened to the main character, pacing issues (particularly the need for more points of tension release before ratcheting it up again), the fact that the protagonist basically never had a victory that wasn’t immediately snatched from his fingers, etc. If those aspects were tweaked in a rewrite then I think you’d have a very strong story indeed.

    *The* major plot issue I have with Pact is that the story is built on the key premise that Faysal believes that the Abyss will hold Barbatorem for thousands of years.

    Barbartorem is a *summonable demon* and it beggars belief that Faysal didn’t see this massive gaping flaw in his strategem. *Especially* since he appears to be familiar with the lawyers and know that they’re associated with the Thornburns who initially summoned him. Did Faysal really think that the instructions on how to summon Barbatorem weren’t tucked away in the lawyers library and being shared with their other clients? That assumption is a lynchpin of the story and it really doesn’t appear to be strong enough to bear the weight.

    Overall though, I’m pleasantly surprised. If you’ve been following my comments you know I found Pact hard to get into at first, but once it found its footing it was a great story and I’m glad I read it.

    Thank you very much.

  27. I think your a bit hard on Pact. I think the issue here is often you receive criticism on a chapter by chapter basis. On a chapter by chapter basis I think Worm was a stronger piece but as a whole Pact is better. I arrived late to the party for both works so the elements the frustrated many in Pact like the magic system or blake’s issues with personal space early on made me more curious and made me drive further into the material. Looking forward to twig and more new on publishing Worm and hopefully Pact.

  28. Victor Borges Angelo permalink

    Sincerely, all of your web serials are publishing worthy. Worm is the more popular one, but Pact also deserves the chance to be more know.

  29. PS. I read some writing advice once about “X turns out to be Y!”-style twist endings which I think at least partially applies to Pact.

    If the characters’ very nature is going to be a surprise, that reduces readers’ ability to get to know those characters since you have to keep key character information from readers in order to preserve the twist.

    In this case, Rose and Blake are half-people. It’s easy to understand and empathise with them once you know that but until then they’re frustrating characters. Blake is always throwing himself headfirst into things with a recklessness approaching idiocy and Rose is cold and guarded. They don’t come across as entirely credible characters. It turns out there are very good plot reasons for how they are but, until we know them the characters come across as flat and unlikeable – which makes it hard to keep reading as far as the twist.

    I’m trying to imagine how Pact might have read if we as readers had been informed up front of Blake and Rose’s nature while they themselves remained unaware. I think it might actually have been a more engrossing story.

  30. Gary permalink

    Three things:

    1. You are the best fucking author, human.

    2. The elements of Pact that kept me reading straight through for the past few days are that the story is both gripping and relatable. You wove in the aspects of “We don’t get to choose this life” with “Holy shit how are they going to get out of this one?” quite perfectly. Albeit the logic is sometimes fuzzy, I believe those things, and even the fuzzy logic captures the current state of our lives perfectly, giving credence to the idea that this story hones in on the “present.”

    3. Albeit this is no Worm, Pact could have easily been similar in length, if your prerogative was to show the reader almost every aspect of the magical world. You didn’t, which isn’t a bad thing, and almost refreshing. Sometimes the greatest awe (or horror) is when a reader is left to fill in the blanks.

    All in all, great job human. Love your work and I will be looking forward to your future work.

    -Gary 

  31. Ghoul King permalink

    I’d originally planned on a fairly lengthy critique, until I read this and saw that 90% of my frustrations and complaints are addressed here as things you were less-than-happy about yourself. So, here’s the remaining ten percent.

    But before I can provide it, I need to tell a little story.

    There’s a story -a fanfic as it happens- that I am inordinately fond of, but that quite late in the story posted a chapter in which the female lead got romantic with her bodyguard, among other roles he served. I missed the original version of this chapter, as it was taken down and replaced before I even woke up, but the author spelled out what had happened, that it had gotten backlash from her readers, and that she’d corrected it because the backlash was, in fact, justified. The new version of the chapter dropped the romance angle.

    The author admitted in author’s notes that she’d planned for the romantic conclusion from the beginning of the story, and recognized that her expectation shaped the way she told the story prior to there -specifically, that she actually failed to provide adequate lead-up to the romance scene in question, because she’d taken it as a given that the romance scene was a part of the story. Her expectation that it would play out that way, ironically, led to it making no sense for it to play out that way, because she’d taken it for granted instead of laying sufficient groundwork.

    My single biggest frustration with Pact -and a frustration with key pieces of Worm, actually- is that the story has wired in elements to the story that fundamentally lean in the direction of that kind of result: the author (you) expects things to go X way, has a magical apparatus to justify things going X way, and ends up skimping on actually depicting things going X way. The three big ones are: Barbering “Ross” or whoever it was, Karma, and Rule of Three, but there are countless one-off examples of this dynamic in the story.

    We are told that Rose and Blake are doomed to their friction because they’re products of a Barbering, that they are incapable of understanding each other and are destined to try to destroy each other. This is described as a mechanical inevitability to the Barber’s ability. That’s great, except Rose’s early behavior still feels artificially inclined toward her and Blake getting along for, literally, no reason, and knowing how the Barber works hasn’t caused me, as a reader, to go “Oh! I get it!” It’s just reinforced that my original sense -that Rose and Blake failing to get along was artificial, rather than a natural product of writing these two characters- was accurate. This is particularly conspicuous given how much insight we get into Rose’s head: I have plenty to work with in terms of going “Ah, this is the kind of person Rose is”.

    You can contrast this to Sophia, back in Worm, who I found inexplicable until we got one interlude from her perspective, and then I “got” her… even if I still thought she was a psychopathic moron. With vastly more information on Rose’s viewpoint, her pre-Urr behavior, specifically the failure to get along with Blake… there’s individual bits and pieces where I can say “Ah, I get it”. If she knew, in a general sense, what they were, I can see why she was so bothered about Evan being made Blake’s familiar -she may well think that Evan would automatically become her familiar once Blake dies and Rose becomes, retroactively, the Thorburn heir, in which case she would feel Blake is effectively making a major decision for her without her input. That makes sense, that this bothered her so much, that was a lightbulb moment for me. But mostly I’m left feeling like Rose and Blake failed to pull together because that had been your intent from the beginning, rather than as an organic outgrowth of developing these two characters.

    Adding to my sense that this stuff tainted the story is how the story got a lot better once it hit the Abyss, which is kind of unintuitive given what the Abyss is. Blake drops into the Abyss, he stops being a Thorburn (Karma no longer justifies arbitrarily dumping bad luck on him), he stops interacting with Rose (No motivation to distort his behavior for the sake of holding to the Barbering mechanic), and, oddly enough, the Rule of Three largely gets ignored during the Abyss portion of the story.

    Also adding to this sense is Green Eyes and Evan: two of the best pieces of the story, and totally separated from all this stuff. Green Eyes is biologically a monster due to the Abyss, but the story never really tries to tell us that the Abyss twists people in any particular direction, psychologically. So the story never ends up informing us that X reason demands we believe that Green Eyes fits Z claim, and therefore never ends up being flat-out wrong about something claimed to be an inviolable rule, regarding her. Evan, meanwhile, is what he is, and then becomes magically adept at what he’s already good at when he’s made into a familiar. Like Green Eyes, the story doesn’t try to tell us anything about what he is or must be based on some external factor, and so never sets itself up to be wrong.

    Worm had this problem in a narrow way. Contessa’s power is the most extreme example I can imagine of this problem -literally anything she does implicitly demands the audience suspend all disbelief- but Contessa herself, even though she’s the justification for major aspects of the world, has barely any screentime, minimizing problems. The audience has no opportunity to see how Cauldron came about in enough detail to cry “Bullshit!”, among the myriad things Contessa influenced. Jack Slash’s minor Thinker power is a more narrowly applied version of this: it implicitly demands the audience suspend disbelief on any consideration of characterization where Jack Slash is involved, but not when it comes to physics or basic logic. The Simurgh… is complicated and I don’t want to get into her, because I actually think she’s handled well, but she’s still functionally an example.

    But where in Worm there’s a few specific cases of powers working this way -Tattletale’s borders on this, but it has the advantage that it is explicitly able to be wrong, so any mistakes can be interpreted as mistakes even if that wasn’t authorial intent- with said powers being mostly at the periphery of the primary story thread, in Pact’s case this dynamic is almost omnipresent, from start to finish. “This is what Barbering does, and Rose and Blake are Barber products. If you think Blake and Rose’s behavior makes no internal sense or fails to fit what Barbering is claimed to do, you’re wrong, magically.” “Karma justifies literally any bad thing happening to the Thorburn heir.” “Rule of Three justifies the timing of success of failure, even if it doesn’t logically follow.”

    I’m maybe engaging in a bit of hyperbole, but my point is: I think you set yourself up to write the story with an expectation that certain things are true in such a way that you didn’t focus sufficiently strongly on ensuring those things *are* true, like the author in the fanfic I described, and it hurt the story’s integrity. And since these things are wrought into almost every aspect of the story, very little escapes the cut of the Barber or the overbearing pressure of Karma, leaving only small things, mostly things that don’t matter overly much to the plot, free to just be what they are.

    Which is maybe appropriate on a metafiction level, that the Barber’s cut would damage a story he influences so strongly, but Pact isn’t metafiction. I hope it isn’t, anyway.

    On a more positive note: I really do like almost all the characters in the story, and would’ve really enjoyed reading a story focused on them. This is a contrast with Worm, where I loved the story overall, but honestly very few characters grabbed me as people I’d like to see more of. I was particularly pleasantly surprised at a lack of “reskins” -a lot of people who write a story, and then write a “completely different” story with “completely different” characters write the same characters in the same story, just dressed up differently. I had some concerns early on -Maggie and one of Blake’s friends looked like Rachel-alikes, initially- but the only character that seems a little too import-y in the end is Rose, reminding me just a little too much of Taylor.

    On a semi-positive note: I’m not a fan of vague magic systems in general, but honestly my main frustration with Pact’s vagueness wasn’t so much that it was vague, per se, as that the vagueness was rarely really leveraged. I often came away feeling like Pact’s magic was vague in the sense of “the author isn’t telling”, rather than vague in the sense of “the system has few or no hard-and-fast rules and/or is underexplored by people, much of it unknown”. The former is kind of a cop-out, letting the author pull out essentially arbitrary solutions to problems while arbitrarily denying solutions to other problems. The latter provides room for creative solutions while still placing reasonable limits on things, even if it’s not clear what the limits are. I think the story got better about this over time -Rose negotiating with the Abyss and taking Blake into herself feels a lot more like the latter than the former- thankfully, but this is my read on why the vagueness was a problem.

    … and yeah, I realize I indicated this is short by my standards.

    • Ghoul King permalink

      “That’s great, except Rose’s early behavior still feels artificially inclined toward her and Blake getting along for, literally, no reason”

      … should read as “not getting along”. I thought I’d caught all the stupid mistakes, but apparently not.

  32. Robin permalink

    I’ll try twig definitely! while worm caused me some restless nights reading it, pact did not grab my interest and you left me behind somewhere in detroid.
    Keep writing and I’ll definitly give it all a try…

  33. vexste permalink

    To be honest, I actually think I liked Pact MORE than worm. There was just… something about it. I loved the feeling of it. It seemed to have been written to be dark and almost despairing, yet somehow it spoke to the hope in me. I’ll admit.. I find myself a little sad for Green Eyes. I wanted her to get her happy ending with Blake… in a mor romantic sense. But at the same time… I find myself happy for Blake. He finally got his dream, after a fashion. Although I also mourn for Rus…

  34. Hades permalink

    thank you for the effort put forth in Pact and Worm both.

    only complaint i have for Pact is why i never did finish it, my interest had started waning near the end when blake was (pretty much) replaced, once he was off screen my interest waned and i’d stopped reading.

    i do however intend to read Twig. so good luck for future

    • That’s interesting. I had almost the exact opposite reaction. At the beginning I found neither Blake or Rose to be at all engaging as characters. We later learn there’s a plot reason for this – they’re literally half a character each – but that doesn’t make them any more engaging at the beginning.

      For me the story only really hit its stride once the supporting cast properly arrived. Evan, Mars, Green Eyes, Peter etc. made it worth reading for me. And Blake was more interesting as he became more Other – not necessarily because it made him a more interesting character, but because it opened up story possibilities and gave us more insight to how the world of Pact worked.

      I hear Twig is great.

  35. Wyverntamer permalink

    Wildbow, I liked your take on the dark fantasy genre, and I want to make a presentation in German for a school project. I would like your permission to make it, otherwise I’ll just search for a new subject to talk about.

    • Go for it.

      • Bart permalink

        Wyverntamer, for those of us interested, would you mind paying a link after you’re done writing what you’ll say? 🙂

  36. Harry permalink

    Wildbow, I don’t know if you have been informed already, but there is a video game that contains a creature bearing a likeness to your Behemoth from “Worm.” It’s even named Behemoth. Below is a video link to YouTube. If you know already then never mind.

    • Bart permalink

      Can you link to the chapter in Worm where Behemoth is described?

  37. Andrei Bonea permalink

    So I’m not sure if you still read these but I’m slowly catching up on your works (finished Worm about 3 weeks ago). There are some parts I definitely love about pact compared to Worm and some parts that I feel like you could do much better because you have done so in Worm.

    The biggest part I loved about Pact compared to Worm is the ending. Where Worm had Taylor just get a fresh new life at the end (with some serious implications that she will eventually get sucked back into the old one) Pact had a clear “the end” point for the MC. Blake’s story is done and now he is just gliding by for the rest of his (possibly eternal) life. The chances of him getting sucked back into the fight are minimal at best and I feel that this is something a series (be it online of physical) needs in order to have a satisfying ending.

    I also love the Universe of Pact more than that of Worm but maybe that’s just me being a bigger fan of fantasy than of sci-fi. I hope you will do more with the world you’ve crated here because it has plenty of room to grow. And as far as having the magic be nebulous and vague, I feel like that’s needed on some level for magic to be magic. Even series that are acclaimed for having a simple and solid system like Mistborn has some vagueness to it that gets later cleared up by understanding and knowledge. By the end I feel like I’ve gotten a good idea about how the rules in Pact work so no big issues on that part.

    Now for some things I don’t like. First off the characters in Pact weren’t nearly as lovable as in Worm. I’m not talking about liking them because they have traditional good traits here (Worm was never like that either) but I didn’t care as much about the characters here as I did about the ones in Worm. Maybe that has to do with the length but while I was invested in the future of The Undersiders from the second job onwards I only really cared about Blake and Evan in this series. I can’t say exactly why but I hope you know what made them worth caring for and also made the messed up people like Reagent worth caring for.

    Second: the entire series seems like the end of Worm. While in Worm Taylor lost everything in 1-2 sagas, here Blake just keeps loosing bits over the entire series. I gets that this is what you were aiming for but it would be nice to have someone winning instead of everyone somehow loosing all the time (If you think about it the only parties who kindof won after this whole thing were the sisters and the Abyss.)

    Overall good work and I really hope you write more in this universe. I’d love to see something maybe shorter that deals with people actually enjoying magic and danger and all of this instead of desperately fighting against “the system” and not hating most of it.

  38. Rainmount permalink

    Pact started slow for me; I enjoyed it the whole way through but it wasn’t until Toronto that I felt really glued to the screen. I think I reached my first Worm level hallelujah moment at “Where’s Blake?”

    Sometimes I love what you leave unsaid, like how we never see the man in the ill-fitting suit do any climbing. What a guy. He was ready to help for like 10 arcs, just waiting for an enemy to stand next to a ledge so he could push them.

    Did anyone else think Molly was going to come and fuck shit up during the last sequence?

    I remember Blake expressing that he wanted to live out a carefree existence with good company, and also the sentiment that evil doesn’t take a break so neither can he. Do he, Evan, and Greeneyes still go out to fight monsters (Blake taking another form maybe) or was that responsibility transferred to Rose?

    I took a year and some between finishing Worm and starting Pact and I’ll do the same before starting Twig. When I read lots of your writing at once I start to feel like I live there. I actually have been thinking in more karmic terms lately, little day-to-day decisions to do the right(?) thing subtly aligning the universe with my interests… I need a break.

    P.S. Instead of a book sequel to Worm I’d rather see an mmorpg. I’m not much of a gamer but this would be my life.

  39. Chris Shorb permalink

    enjoying worm so far. read your comments re: editing. not sure where you are with that now; but how about hiring a professional editor to edit your novel(s)?

  40. Fizzle Dee Dee permalink

    There are many books about how to write well, and you’re likely as familiar with them as you want to be.

    There is one $5 book I think is super useful as a guide on how to be financially successful as a writer: _You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing_

    It contains content you can get for free by browsing Scalzi’s blog at whatever.scalzi.com, incidentally, but is entertaining and full of useful information I think.

    I am enjoying Twig, am rereading Worm, and greatly enjoyed Pact. My lifemate bumped into the Worm-related Kindle book in our shared library and told me how much she liked it, though I still haven’t talked her into checking out Worm (for she is both busy and contrary.) Be well.

  41. Vista and Alexandria mentioned the Maggie Holt series? o.o I don’t remember that at all, I only remember Taylor’s mention of it.

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