February 10th, 2021
After months of anticipation — and what I hope manifested as enjoyable reading on your collective behalf — we have reached the end of AoC’s second major saga, The Sacrificial Slytherin, otherwise known as year two. It was truly an experience, and never have I learned so much about a craft as has been the case whilst writing the second year of Ashes of Chaos. It has been an experience I had not expected, and it is one I am very proud of. Many have greatly enjoyed this arc, some even to the extent of willingly supporting me in a direct manner through my Patreon page. Others have been more critical, which we will get to in time.
My goal with this blog is not to dissuade those who dislike the style I have chosen for this particular story. That would be both illogical — for it serves no true purpose — as well as an exercise in futility. My goal with this blog is simply to shed some light on the philosophy that went into this arc. By the time this piece is complete, my hope is that those who read it might better understand some of the choices I made, as well as perhaps gain some interesting tidbits that wouldn’t exist anywhere else.
Seeing as this point will arise a number of times, I think it necessary to speak on my philosophy when writing fanfiction. It is something I have spoken of in blogs past, but for those who haven’t read those, here it is once more. To me, fanfiction is — in addition to being an enjoyable escape from reality and a hobby I happily indulge in — a relatively risk-free environment in which I can experiment, succeed, fail, and above all else, learn.
Before writing Ashes of Chaos this year, I had put a very minimal amount of time and effort into improving as a writer in my life. It is something I always had a natural talent for, but that talent was very raw. For all of my perceived ability in the art, most of the potential remained untapped; buried beneath mounds of bad habits and flawed methodologies.
When Ashes of Chaos began to gain more popularity, I truly began to invest in myself as a writer. Not in the monetary sense, but in the context of taking time to learn and improve. Writing was something I enjoyed and this story largely gave me confidence that one day, I might even profit from such exploits. I have spoken of my improvement at length in the end-of-year blog I posted back in late December, so I won’t rehash that journey here. The acknowledgement of its existence is necessary though, so it was something I thought I would bring to the attention of the reader.
In some ways, each of my fanfictions — at least those posted in the year 2020 — are largely written to help me improve in specific areas of writing. Of course, I greatly enjoy writing all of them, but there is also a method to each facet of the madness that is my obsession to improve.
Ashes of Chaos is going to be my longest work by far, simply due to the nature of what it is that the story aids me in exploring. It took me some time to find my voice when writing Ashes of Chaos, but I think that discovery came some time around the second part of year one’s Samhain arc. The first time I felt truly confident as a writer came a few chapters later, when I wrote the two part arc titled “The Dragon’s Revenge” near the end of year one. Two chapters later, the year had concluded, and I began to analyze what made Ashes of Chaos special. Or at least, what I believe made it special.
When doing this, I came to the revelation that, in many ways, there were things about it one just couldn’t predict. Usually, Harry’s first year tends to be a predictable affair in fanfiction. Though I won’t claim Ashes of Chaos had a first year that was impossible to predict, I would put forth the argument that I introduced several pieces which made things more interesting. Amelia Hurst is the prime example, as she is still perhaps my favourite twist in AoC thus far. Other things fall in this category too though. The Imperius Curse upon Professor Sinistra is probably the best non-Hurst example.
The point is that by the end of year one, I had come to the conclusion that, among other things, it was the mystery that made AoC such a hit. This was a belief largely bolstered by my Discord server, who seemed to be the most active and intrigued after either major cliffhangers or instances of things that obviously set up future events, but that didn’t give the nature of those events away. It helped that the other revelation I had made in regards to mystery was that the genre was a ton of fun to write. Foreshadowing in particular was something I fell in love with before the year found its end.
So in year two, mystery and all that came with it was something I really wanted to work on as an author. Of course, worldbuilding, interweaving subplots, and writing long-term character development were there as well. Those are the three things Ashes of Chaos exists mostly to further my progression of, hence why the story is as expansive as it is. Through this story, I believe I have gained much ground in mastering these arts. It is easier to learn something without limits, hence why the word counts thus far in this story have been eye-wateringly long. This is unlikely to change, as it would be quite a sudden shift if I just veered away from such things. I have a story planned for the not-so-distant future that will see me hone these skills in shorter-form writing. Not to say the story won’t be long; it absolutely will be, just not in comparison to Ashes of Chaos. Think novel length arcs as opposed to… whatever you would classify the monstrosities in Ashes of Chaos as. Whilst I completely understand the slow pacing this sparks isn’t for everyone; it was and, to an extent, still is the best way for me to master these areas. The fact that people actually enjoy reading it is merely a gift on top of all of it.
Circling back to the point of mystery, it was something I really wanted to incorporate in year two. The way I sought to do this was through the built-in mystery that was the Heir of Slytherin. It is something that is obvious in many fanfictions, and I really didn’t want that to be the case in AoC. I wanted it to be very clear in hindsight, but I sought to obscure the fact from the readers for as long as possible.
I always knew Ares Black would be the one controlled by the diary. Emily being reborn is such a major shift in this story, that it was planned basically from the beginning. Because of this, the whole diary arc is actually one of the first things I planned in detail. That gave me plenty of time to think on how best to disguise the Heir of Slytherin, whilst still foreshadowing it in the background.
One of the more effective ways of achieving this is through red herrings. The most obvious one of these in year two was Benedict Cuffe. That Skeeter plot served several goals — a couple of which have yet to be displayed for you all to see — but the main one was of course getting her onside with Lucius. That way, a carefully calculated strike could be launched at Dumbledore later in the year. Additionally though, Cuffe was absolutely a red herring. Not a perfect one; as that would have made things a touch too obvious that he wasn’t it, in my opinion. As Regress pointed out in his excellently constructed fan theory, the timeline for such things just didn’t line up. Still, a surprising number of people took the bait, which was something I was quite pleased with, as I actually did tease Ares as the Heir during this period. Many people were just so fixated on Benedict and the Skeeter subplot that they missed it altogether.
There were other misdirections, as well. The Weasley twins’ malicious streak had some people wondering if they might be the ones possessed by the diary. Others bought into Pansy Parkinson, which was a bit I was quite proud of. She innocently — sort of — moulded into Harry’s group, making it less obvious Ares was the Heir when she did the same thing later. If Pansy hadn’t carried any ill intent, why should Ares? That’s the thought I think at least some readers had, anyway, and it was, if I dare say so myself, a clever bit of misdirection.
The other main red herring that didn’t actually work as well as I had hoped was Draco. I depicted him as being utterly exhausted a number of times, as well as being under amounts of stress that could possibly have been categorized as unnatural. There were also the more blunt details pertaining to Daphne’s petrification but if anything, I actually thought that would dissuade people of the belief. Not many people seemed to catch the bits about Draco early in the year though. He was only meant as a short-term red herring anyway, but that was the one I had planned which didn’t land quite as well as I would have liked. Nevertheless, I was quite happy with the cast of characters who I used as misdirections. It wasn’t something I had played with much before this year, so I am glad it went as well as it did.
In terms of foreshadowing, it was scattered throughout much of the year. The first and most obvious instance came in year two’s second chapter. Whilst locked in his room on Privet Drive, Harry has a conversation with Dobby. During this conversation, Harry makes a specific mental note that, based on the observations he has made during his talk with the elf, whoever is behind the coming events at Hogwarts must be very close to the Malfoy family. Later in the year, I make mention of the fact Narcissa’s sister, Bellatrix, and her husband Barty occasionally spend dinners in the company of the Malfoys.
Like Draco, there are times when I also mention Ares as being stressed and fatigued. In one instance, it’s actually mentioned that she isn’t quite sure why this is the case, though she ends up attributing it to the workload, in the end. She is also implied to be using Legilimency during one of her conversations with Draco soon before the meeting of the Hogwarts Duelling Club. The implications of Legilimency in this scene were heavy, even though I had explicitly stated earlier in the year that Ares was not a Legilimens. There are other, smaller things too. The way she toys with Daphne at the Duelling Club and the way she casually suggests fourth-year spells to switch out Charlus’s mail are the other main examples. Seeing as she is the daughter of Bellatrix Black and Barty Crouch Jr. though, I can see where one may not have recognized the significance of such things.
The other major thing that could be discussed in regards to the year’s climax would be the rebirth of Emily Riddle. Alas, there is much that still needs to be flushed out in story on that front, so what I can say is very limited. What I can say will transition into my next point. In canon, year two is the one I have the most difficulty engaging with. Largely, this is the case because it is all so outlandishly unbelievable. Phoenix or not, there is just no way Harry should have been able to beat the basilisk. Even when he does, Riddle should really have just killed him as soon as he realized Harry’s wounds were healing.
I didn’t want this problem in AoC. Especially not when I plan on portraying Riddle as a once in a lifetime talent. It would frankly have been silly and downright negligent on my part to have her bested by school children, and it also would have undermined her character. I didn’t have her win outright, of course. There was too much against her for that to be plausible, but a partial success made the most sense to me. You will notice that a lot in my writing. Oftentimes, characters will have goals in my story. It is rare in life that all of one’s plans go perfectly in practice, so I often have partial successes with notable bits of failure sprinkled in as the result of these plans. Particularly when said plans become elaborate. Riddle coming back serves numerous purposes I can’t yet speak on, but it also adds a layer of believability I think Chamber of Secrets desperately lacked in canon.
Speaking of issues in Chamber of Secrets, the most difficult thing for me in year two was finding balance. Even in canon, I find it to be ridiculous that nobody outside of Hogwarts seemed even to stir when the Chamber of Secrets was opened and students started becoming petrified. This would have been even more egregious in AoC if I had followed suit, based on the heavily political climate the story takes place in. That meant people outside the castle had to feasibly take notice and act accordingly, but they had to do so in a way that didn’t compromise the story or undermine the plot and characters it was focused on. I am happy with how I handled it, but it was difficult. That Wizengamot meeting following Daphne’s petrification was one of the most difficult scenes thus far in the story. The writing of it went quite smoothly, but the web of logistics I needed to untangle during the planning of it was an absolute nightmare.
I am thankful the basilisk naturally fell under Chaos Magic, which is something I had developed long before working out year two’s logistics. That was another thing that bothered me immensely in canon. There is just no way that Dumbledore and the others wouldn’t have figured out the monster’s identity. Even some of my favourite fanfictions fail to provide compelling justifications for this. Most often, the explanation either feels like a desperate hand wave on the part of the author, or it fails to actually provide a valid bit of justification. Of course, some stories have done this well, but most don’t. I am happy with the way I handled it, but it wasn’t actually anything I needed to put thought into. I had already classified the basilisk as a facet of Chaos Magic long before the logistics for that particular JKR plot hole came up in planning.
None of this is to pat myself on the back and say I wrote a perfect arc. There are absolutely things I think could have been executed more cleanly.
By far the number one complaint I receive in a ton of reviews is that the pacing is too slow. I’ve spoken about this already, so I won’t beat a dead horse. In general, I stand by my pacing. Is it very slow? Yes, it is; I acknowledge that and have never denied it. Does it detract from the story? Who is to say? Pacing is largely a subjective concept, just as time is relative and perceived differently by different people. I actually enjoy stories that move at a very slow pace, but I know some don’t. Beyond that though, I paced it this way for the purpose of self-improvement, as I have spoken on above.
With that being said, there was one bit of the year I didn’t love the pacing of. Ginny’s integration into Charlotte’s group of friends, followed by the fallout with Bulstrode, Mulciber and Jugson could have flowed better than it did. The latter portions of this arc were fine, but there was some trouble near the beginning. Some of the scenes with Charlotte and Laine are longer than they need to be in hindsight, and I went more into detail than was necessary. I did need to establish the dynamic, as Ginny becomes a touch more important in year 3, and her early struggles in the house will be essential for what I have planned down the road.
Again though, it wasn’t perfect. It did drag at times, by my own admission, and it wasn’t handled with as much skill as I employed with events later in the year. Some of this is practice, of course. I am quite new to all of this and year two was written over most of a year so naturally, there will be large improvements in my writing as time stretches on. Still, I took far too much time to get through the early parts of the arc. So much so, in fact, that I actually had to scrap several things because if I had included them, it would have dragged on even more. These things will come up in abbreviated fashion during year 3, but I would have liked for them to have some screen time. My mishandling of other things just made that impossible.
Despite that, I don’t regret the mistake. It is a relatively small one and it actually doesn’t bother me in hindsight. It is a miniscule thing that helped me to learn, and I really don’t think it detracts much from the story. I may trim the scenes a bit when revising the story, but it isn’t really a cause for concern and it is something I can easily live with. It did zero damage to the story and it didn’t limit me in any way. It is a harmless error, just one that I thought should be brought up to showcase just how far I am from perfect.
Speaking of far from perfect, I think it time to address some of the more popular criticisms people had of the year. Heads up, this will take a while.
The primary gripe was with the pacing, which I have already covered in detail. The one bit of this I will cover is in regards to the two-part arc titled “The Legacy of Katalysator”. Plenty of people thought this was unnecessary and an excessive interjection.
I will address the former point first. I view this as very similar to the pensieve issue earlier in the year. In the chapter titled “Schemes Uncovered” I wrote just enough about how pensieves work in court to give a general idea, but I didn’t give enough to cover all of the plot holes. This was intentional. They were covered, but I chose not to show my hand too early, as it was going to come up later in the story. Reviews flooded in telling me how foolish it was and how many plot holes it created, assuming I had just overlooked everything and that, of course, the reviewer knew best. They didn’t think of future events, they just made wild assumptions based off of very limited amounts of information. At the time, I reacted in a manner that showed my lack of writing experience. I took the time to lay it out in an author’s endnote and explain exactly why all of their arguments were invalid and shortsighted. This did have the desired effect of completely silencing complaints on the matter, but it also showed my hand and took away intrigue from the story.
I view the Legacy of Katalysator in a similar vein.
I have very specific reasons for going into as much detail as I did. There is an absurd amount of obscenely important foreshadowing in those two chapters that has largely gone unnoticed. Due to that, scenes absolutely could not have been skimmed over. The sheer amounts of detail I went into will make sense in time, just as my choices pertaining to pensieves were going to make sense in time. The difference is that this time, I am more experienced. I am not going to spell out exactly why I believe myself to be right. I am just going to take the reviews on the chin for now, smirk in my knowledge and foresight, and then hopefully prove myself right way down the line.
The other half of the criticism is that I used this interjection right at the climax of the year, taking people out of the fast-paced action and making them wait for a resolution. I can actually see people’s point on this one, and I knew it wouldn’t be the most popular decision long before I posted the chapter.
My counter to this is that yes, it probably wasn’t an amazing choice, but it was the best choice I could make. I couldn’t break up this chapter into smaller bits and space it throughout the year, as many suggested I should have done. If I did, much of Lockhart’s intrigue would have been spelled out much earlier than I had wanted, and I didn’t want to show anything about Riddle any earlier than this. There’s also the problem that, until now, there was no natural point during which I could have inserted this behemoth. Say what you want about pacing and taking readers out of the main arc, but this was at the very least a natural transition. It made sense in the context of the story and, in my opinion, it best achieves its objectives with its current placement. Again, I understand the complaints here; I really do. I just respectfully reaffirm that I still believe I made the best choice, even if I concede it was far from the perfect one.
A surprising number of people took issue with Harry’s power level. Specifically, they didn’t like it when he lost. I can remember several reviews saying that they disagreed with the decision to have him lose to the three upper-year students who attacked him soon before the confrontation with Flint and Selwyn. Similarly, people weren’t happy with how easily Harry fell to Emily whilst she was in control of Ares. This is sort of one that makes me shrug, if I am being completely honest. In the fanfiction community, you can never satisfy everyone, especially in relation to Harry’s power level. Some people will call a competent Harry Potter overpowered, and some will say that anything short of a living, breathing god is weak and pathetic.
It’s really just a case of preference, though I actually like my portrayal quite a bit. Harry is heads and shoulders above those in his year, and he can even go toe-to-toe with those older and more experienced than himself. With that being said, he is no match for any competent adult and plenty of upper years would handle him without much trouble at all. He is a genius, but his plans don’t always work. They often achieve their goal with unforeseen consequences, and Harry’s obsessive nature sometimes leads him to overlooking fine and essential details. I think it is a good balance to strike at this point of the story, keeping in mind that, as time passes, Harry will only improve in all of these areas and many more.
Two other bits of characterization criticism I fell under were the only other major complaints I noticed that crept up repeatedly. These are both pretty simple and, in my opinion, not super compelling or on point.
The first is that the ‘dark side’ is too competent whilst the ‘light side’ is full of idiots. While I don’t disagree I have made the darker members of the story far more competent than they were in canon, I still think balance is there. The only people I have shown as hypercompetent on that side are Riddle, Rosier, Lucius, Daniel Selwyn, and Peter — to an extent, but his plan also fails so… I don’t think any would argue that Riddle and Lucius should be far more competent than their canon portrayals, so I make no apologies on that front. Peter is an interesting one. He is certainly more successful here than he ever is in canon, but his plan actually doesn’t succeed. It’s Rosier who hastily puts it back together and makes the save with his own modifications. Even then, the only reason Peter does as well as he is doing is because he is on the inside. He managed to keep his cover all throughout the last war, so he is operating with far more information than his counterparts. Selwyn is an interesting one, but he is naturally talented and borderline sociopathic. With that in mind, I don’t think any action he carried out was unreasonable.
As for making the ‘good guys’ incompetent… I don’t really see this one, either. They have made countless mistakes in the specific context of Harry, yes. This is absolutely true and I would not deny any of that. They have been borderline idiotic in regards to Harry when the situation is examined from an omniscient standpoint, but I like to think their decisions at least usually make sense. Everything Dumbledore has done thus far has, for the most part, been explained in story. Even that which hasn’t has very specific reasoning. James, I will admit, is more sporadic, but there are things there you guys haven’t seen yet. Outside of Harry though… I would argue the ‘light side’ have done as much as they possibly could have done thus far. You all also haven’t seen some of the more competent members of the light yet, so there is also that.
The final piece of criticism I will address is in regards to OCs, and I’m going to make this one quick. I have had a number of people — though mostly one reviewer over and over again — refer to Charlotte as a Mary Sue. This is frankly laughable. Calling any of the OCs in this story Mary Sues is actually kind of hilarious to me. Don’t get me wrong, they are far from perfectly written. There are things I could have absolutely done better, but let me break this one down.
A Mary Sue is — according to Google — a type of female character who is depicted as unrealistically lacking in flaws or weaknesses.
Do you guys see the problem with this yet?
Charlotte is shown as being very overconfident and that weakness quite literally is her downfall on several occasions throughout year two. Of course, the most notable of these is when she almost gets cut up by Mulciber and Jugson. Even outside of this major and obvious character flaw, I think you would be hard pressed to say there aren’t others. Her abrasive nature certainly alienates her from certain people who could possibly become connections down the line and, like Harry, you could say her obsessiveness is not only unhealthy, but can lead her into trouble. To be honest, Grace is far closer to a Mary Sue character than Charlotte, even if the term doesn’t fit her either.
What this really comes down to is a subjective dislike of a character. Some people dislike Charlotte, so they call her a Mary Sue because it is the harshest term they can think of, even if most of them don’t understand what it actually means. It never gets brought up with Grace — even though it’s closer to being applicable — because people like Grace. This is fine. If you or anyone else dislikes one of my characters, that is more than fair. Frankly, the goal with Charlotte was to create a divisive character. If she was universally liked, I would have needed to analyze what I had done wrong. The fact that some people adore her character and others despise it just tells me I have actually succeeded on that front, regardless of what some people might mention.
But I don’t want this to read as a negative post that is just me blasting those who have criticized me, because that’s not my intention. I’m sure some reading this will disagree with my justifications, which is perfectly reasonable. As much as there are a fair number of reviews criticizing the story, there are far more of them praising it, even if the negativity naturally stands out in our minds. This is especially true when you consider most of my hardcore readers who would be the ones leaving the most positive of reviews are either Patrons are Discord members. This means they get it early and I see their feedback on Discord and Patreon as opposed to fanfiction.net and AO3.
Speaking of positivity, let’s end it on that note, shall we?
I would like to humbly thank everyone who has thus far supported Ashes of Chaos as a story and myself as an author. Truly, the support blows my mind. By the time year two concludes, we will have surpassed not only 4K favourites, but 5k followers. Seeing as Ashes of Chaos has been ongoing for less than a year, I consider that number to be staggering. It amazes me every day that so many people enjoy what I put out, and that is even more true of my Patreon page, which I have spoken on openly and at length in the end-of-year post I mentioned earlier in this blog.
I do hope you all enjoy what is to come for year 3, even if those who aren’t Patrons will be waiting a while for regular postings. Year 3 will begin posting on FFN and AO3 in September, and Discord will be receiving at least one chapter a month between now and then. Patrons, worry not. I will be writing AoC the entire time and my goal is to have a ridiculous amount of year 3 pre-written by September. You guys will still get all of the chapters as I write them though, so you will be getting regular AoC updates the entire time, even if the pace is a touch slower than what it has been these last few months.
Once again, thank you all so much for the support and I hope this shed some light on some of the more talked about facets of AoC’s second year.
Stay safe and happy reading,
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