Now that Volume 3 has ended... a bit of self-reflection.
This volume was not received well. So as an author, I ended up having a do a lot of soul-searching in the past few weeks... longer, actually.
I've written in the last Daybreak Dev Diary that Volume 3 was me trying to tackle a particularly ambitious topic -- the judgmental biases of human perception -- that proved somewhat beyond my skills as a writer. Sure, I managed to finish the volume and make it... mostly work? But there were definitely some jarring parts, some poorly paced chapters, and a whole midsection that seemed to have thrown people off.
Sylviane -- the main focal point of Volume 3 -- was meant to be a bipolar character from the start. She has a rather mild (yes, mild!) form of a serious psychological illness, and it took a long time peeling back the many layers of issues. Her nearly-molesting Kaede and her suicidal-moment in Volume 2 were meant to be the first peeks of her Hypomania and Depressive episodes. Her bulimia was also a lead-up, as for somewhere between 75% to 90% of anorexia/bulimia suffers, the bulimia is actually a "secondary effect" of a stronger psychological disorder (most commonly chronic depression).
Then she actually, truly crashed in middle of Volume 3 and hit her lowest spot... and a lot of readers hated her for it, and what it did to Kaede in exchange.
(Spoiler warning up to Chapter 12.)
Several readers have commented that Kaede in much of Volume 3 didn't feel like the Kaede I first introduced at start. No, she isn't. After Sylv's episode, Kaede was scared as hell for what her life had become -- she had inadvertently stepped on a royal landmine and wasn't sure how to take her foot off it without being blow to bits. Suddenly, that snarky, quipping part of her evaporated in an instant, at least around everyone except Pascal (whom she was still in that 'comfort zone' with).
But as I noted as early as Volume 1 Chapter 3 (just before she gave Pascal that beating), Kaede didn't actually know what she could do to survive in a world where she simply didn't have a trade to ply. Remember that her original goal was to become a historian and adviser, Earth history. Hyperion was on an entirely different tech and social level, not to mention basis of technology. With none of her science books around to reference all those minute details that even an apprentice was expected to know. She was basically stuck with entry-level menial jobs -- being a maid in a pre-modern age was a fairly dreary prospect of long hours, poor treatment, and no personal life, a fact Kaede would know well as a history enthusiast.
I added the Volume 3 Interlude after Chapter 15 specifically to give a proper window into these thoughts of hers again. A minor detail most people wouldn't pick up in Volume 1+2 is Kaede's sleeping posture -- she tends to curl up, and it's not done just to be cute. It's the sign of someone who ultimately wants stability and safety in her life. She realized in Volume 1 that Pascal was someone capable of giving her that -- of being part of a family and feeling that unconditional acceptance that few people could truly offer. She tries to hang onto this pillar, this one pillar of stability in her life in the new world. But after Sylv's episode in Volume 3, her faith in it had thoroughly been shaken.
Nevertheless, her conscience wouldn't let go unless she helped Pascal through the immediate dilemma and gave it one more chance -- which was the core message of Chapter 12 - Never Leave Regrets. Having accepted Pascal as family meant that she couldn't just let him die on the battlefield either.
Did her gamble pay off by end of Volume? The reader can decide... but only if they made it that far.
Sticking a wrench in all this was Vivienne. She was another character I planned early given all the references in early Volume 2, although not quite in enough detail and it showed (her being an almost doppelganger to Kaede came as bit of an afterthought). Her own background is based on an absurdly complicated historical figure, and hopefully I'll get to tell the tale in Volume 4. But Sir Robert brought her in to give Sylv an "endorphins kick"... because seriously, I've always found how 'pep talks' can fix depression in other media to be utter bull and disparages what is a very serious issue for many people. Some people take anti-depression medication for a reason.
But wow... readers did not stomach this combination of Sylv-Kaede(-Vivi) well. Apparently I got too realist?
(Thanks to PaulusAlone for the comment that really put it to perspective for me.)
The unique views count drop between Chapter 7 (6,500) and Chapter 11 (3,300) is 50% of the total audience. Sure, part of it is probably due to the fact I posted much slower during that period and with cliffhangers during a serious, if not painful arc, many people would rather wait to read it. But that doesn't explain such a huge drop!
Talk about depressing.
In fact when I first noticed the trend late last year. I went into a depressive episode myself -- much thanks to Kadi for putting up with me during that period. Without his (and other beta-readers', and long-time commenters') support, I'm not sure I would have finished Volume 3.
So yeah -- to be honest -- Volume 3 is something I regret writing a bit. Not because I think the content was done in a wrong way. I went through absurd amounts of research precisely because I wanted it to be realistic, and I'm rather proud of the work I created, as well as the Sylviane character I built by its end.
But... I don't think that's what most people wanted to read in a work like this.
And no... I don't think I'll be doing something this serious again, at least not anytime soon. Working with Sylviane's character has taught me a lesson about just how truly flawed most people preferred their characters (no disrespect to the audience ^^). I'm one of those people who can sit through a book or a series despite hating the entire cast... but I'm clearly not the norm.
Also... we may be in the climate of cynical, passive-aggressive a-hole protagonists with a martyr complex (Hachiman from the highly-rated OreGairu / My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU really disgusts me, actually). But clearly that does not extend to heroines who go through a breakdown and temporarily lose all sense of compassion. As a 'Not-Feminist', I actually find this to be decidedly sexist behavior. Nevertheless... reality is what reality is.
(Sigh). Well, I am a hobbyist writer who writes fiction but reads mostly nonfiction. It actually gives me a fun edge when arguing about 'realistic characters' as most of the characters I read about aren't just realistic but... real.
But, I guess this is my first experience on just where the clash lies... or maybe I'm just in the wrong genre again?
I don't know. I may never know. This just reminds me again of the many reasons why I don't aspire to be a professional writer.
I still fully intend to continue with Volume 4. But at the moment, I'm less certain of Daybreak's long term prospects compared to when I was between Volume 2 and Volume 3.
On the good news, from what I've spoken with readers, it does seem like I managed a much better balance on the 'war' aspect in Volume 3 -- less time spent on the mechanics and every little tactical maneuver. The flaw seems to the fact that Volume 2 used a lot of minor character POV scenes that, because the audience didn't care for them, they processed/remembered it like some sort of 'overhead view'. Of course, Volume 2 also held the burden of setting up the Manteuffel Incident (scenes from Weichsel politics), the Rhin-Lotharingie Coup (scenes from Gabriel) and others -- like how I planned to develop Gerd more but, just never had the time. Oh the inexperience shows again.
Volume 3 seem to mostly fix this by framing the major battles almost entirely from the major characters' perspective, with time spared for the main opposition. It emphasizes mostly on how the struggle, loss, and chaos affect the main characters, and spends far less time trying to deliver a blow-by-blow account. Obviously, still needs more polishing, and I still stray from it at times -- like how Chapter 7 (first fight vs the Caliphate) was still extremely-detailed as I tried to both introduce Edith's character and show why the Lotharins struggled qualitatively as well as quantitatively. But... I think I'm at least on the right track on reach that optimal point.
What do you think?
Thanks for all your patience and support up until now,
P.S. I originally designed Sylv with Bipolar II Disorder (the lesser of the two 'true' bipolars). Then when doing research, I realized that her character would dig such a deep hole that she can't climb out if she had a true, clinically-defined hypomania episode. Which is why I made her case... quite mild, so mild that in fact, a psychiatrist in our world may hesitate to even diagnose her. See the 1st minute of this Crash Course video.