I discover new things about my writing process every day
Six thousand words, immersing myself in Japanese customs for the day. Unexpected. Fun. I’m forty-five thousand words into the second manuscript for my trilogy about Jason, a shapeshifter fantasy. I’ve never written fantasy before. I think I was primarily afraid of the whole world building. To alleviate some of that pressure I chose to stick to a relatively known setting. The Midwest, on our “normal” Earth, a contemporary setting. I’m not sure I could tackle strange worlds or ancient kingdoms quite yet. Nor to invent an entirely new language. I’m no Tolkien. And it’s not primarily the time it would take, but that I’m just not that interested. Writing a series is complicated…
What’s the story?
When I tell a story my interest is rarely in the set. Don’t get me wrong. I loved visiting Universal Studios and their tour of the sets this summer. I’ve done it twice before and it’s always nice to be able to return and see what’s new and changed. But unless the staging actually helps with the storytelling, furthers it, I really don’t see the need.
With fantasy, I feel that the worldbuilding sometimes feels more like draping than actually being helpful or necessary. I come to think of fighting scenes in movies, where I similarly find that the violence we’ve become so accustomed to really rarely helps tell a story. So the guy kills a guy. Do they really have to grunt for ten minutes? Is the gut-spilling needed? The broken teeth? The brain splashing?
In The Golden One, I take a somewhat different road. I focus on the story, on the emotions (which have always been central to my writing), and I only add fantastical elements when needed. I use shapeshifting as part of my backdrop. It’s well established in literature and I combine it with a few other fantasy building blocks to hopefully create something new, something unique. I haven’t read a whole lot of fantasy before, so I may have missed someone who’s done this before. If I have, well, that would be my defense… LOL
What happens in book one will affect book three
When I wrote Jonathan’s Promise, I fully intended it to be a follow-up to Jonathan’s Hope. A second book, very different from the first. No wonder, it plays out a good sixty years later, starting a week before the first one ends. And I also planned, from before writing that very first sentence, how it would end. It would end in a way that would make it impossible for me to ever write another book about Jonathan and Dan, ever, again. Well, color me wrong. Writing Jonathan’s Promise was relatively easy. If I’d forgotten something from the first book or if I referenced something from the first book, I could just pick it up and more or less quote from it. When you write a trilogy or an even longer series from the get-go, it’s not quite as simple. I set the ground rules in book one, I set the stage for the final chapter in the first book, which means that there’s one hell of a lot of planning going on.
Contrast that with my ‘laissez-faire’ style of writing. My pantser, from the hip, character-driven writing where I often find myself crying or laughing at what appears on the screen before me. Just today, as I was writing about Emiko, this nice Japanese character who suddenly appeared in Jason’s life, I had to stop three times to contemplate what that meant for the future of the story. Last week, I had another character appear who had the potential of changing the entire plot.
With the end in mind…
Do I know how the books end? I do now. I didn’t when I was done with book one, and the actual details still elude me, but regular walks, dreaming about Jason and his Byeonsin friends help me or let’s say it helps my subconscious because that’s really where most of the magic happens. I have an idea of how to end the book, and I’ll have you know that the challenge before me (or Jason as it is) is a tall one. The poor kid has to save the world, literally. And his enemy is powerful. That’s an understatement, actually. You’ll see what I mean in time.
With that tentative end in mind, I plow forward, adding scene to scene, always upping the ante a bit further, tightening the screws, increasing the pressure on Jason all the while making sure to remember that he’s a high school kid, not some college professor, always making sure that I’m consistent and logic in how I proceed. Not always easy…
Once the first book is out, it’s canon!
One of the scariest aspects of this journey is 11/15, the day the first book drops and is published. After that day, it is canon. Nothing that is said in that book can be changed. That means that if I fucked it up in there, I’ll have to live with the consequences thereof for the rest of the trilogy. Don’t believe me? Just dig through your Star Trek library… Ever wonder why the new movies are playing out in an alternate universe? Canon, right. Luckily, those universes are well established in canon so that was easy. For the writers. For us fans? Not so much.
Book two feels like the most difficult one to write…
Like I said above I’m about forty-five K into book two. Another fifteen to twenty K and I’m done. Book one clocks at sixty-eight K. Is it inevitable that it will feel a bit like The Empire Strikes Back? Or should I go with the Harry Potter approach and end it on a “happy ending” note before upping the antics a notch in the next one?
I gave Jason a decently sized challenge to bite into in book one, but decided to end it on a somewhat ambivalent note. Yes, you can read it as a stand-alone, but hopefully, I’ll have left enough unanswered threads, enough hints and questions that readers will want to proceed to the next book. I’m not yet sure how to end book two, or actually, I am. LOL Never lie! But I won’t tell you… It’s one of those things you’ll just have to read, in time. Next spring…
I think of how other books have been written, how other authors have handled it, or how stories are told, and yeah, I can’t shake the feeling that book two is the most challenging one to write because we all know there will be a third, where it all climaxes. Oh well, my problem. I’ll figure it out, somehow.
Why don’t you just plan it all out?
I can hear the question all the way here… LOL Yes, I can actually hear you think. I’ve asked myself the same question, more than once. I think it has to do with the concept of “plotting v pantsing” and I firmly believe that too much plotting will ruin my creativity. Now, don’t eat your panties, this is how I tick, how my mind works. But if I were to plan any of the events or scenes in my books in advance, my writing would become dull, and I’d probably end up not writing it.
So here’s what I do instead. I take an idea, like the one I have for the ending, and I do NOT write it down. I commit it to my subconscious instead, where it soaks, matures, ferments, rots (potentially) or dies in blissful forgetting. I never write any creative ideas down. Instead, my work documents are littered with dates, numerals (I sometimes have to compute ages, dates etc. to keep me on an honest trek) names, family trees, terms, and other stuff I will need again.
That helps me to quickly find what I need rather than having to go back and scour through an entire document to search for it. My laptop is smart and finds a ton of stuff, but yeah, that’s how I work. It may not work for anyone else, but that’s what keeps my mind alert, and it enables my subconscious to let my characters remain in the driving seat.
And I’m lucky (so far) that this approach has worked out for me. I sometimes type “the end” to a document and then fearfully go back to the beginning to see how it all ties together. Is there a story that is consistent? Is it any good? Are there massive plot holes to be filled. And so far, knock on a ton of wood (preferably my skull), it’s always worked out for me. I doubt this approach works for others, but yeah, so far, so good. The challenge here lies in trying to think of this trilogy more as one huge book of some two hundred plus K rather than three separate novels.
The Golden One – Blooming, releases November 15, 2018, from Beaten Track Publishing. The publication dates for books two and three have not yet been set. Have a great rest of your week. If you have questions, or comments, if you’d like to follow me on Instagram or Facebook, feel free to contact me.
Hans M Hirschi