This week has been busy. I have finished my work as a reader for a short-story contest, which was an awesome gig, I am nearing the end of an editing project, and I am continuing to discover who my characters are in my current first draft. I am 70,000 words into this project, which is slated to be a duology. This means I am about a third of the way through it.
When I published the Tower of Bones series, I learned a difficult lesson. As slowly as I write, I need to have the entire series fleshed out and in the form of the final draft before I begin editing the first novel or it will take three years for the next novel to be published. That isn’t acceptable—people want the follow-up books in a timely fashion.
The entire two-book story arc is now laid out, and some sections are complete, but some of the characters are still raw and unfinished. I don’t really know them the way I need to for this story to come to life. After all, I can say they are charismatic all I want, but if the readers don’t find them that compelling, the story will fall flat.
At this point, I am still fleshing out my main character as a human being. He and I have come far, but I still don’t know him as well as I know his father and his brother. I am beginning to get a grip on him but some aspects of his character still elude me—he is still at what I think of as the “he-went-he-saw” stage of development.
When writing the other characters, I asked them to “talk” to me, asked them to tell me who they are and what is most important to them. So that is what my protagonist is doing this week. I have him as an old man, sitting on his porch and telling me what really happened. This is a short story, but it will never see the light of day.
This 2,000 – 5,000-word exercise is all backstory and will go into a file labeled as such. When I go back to writing the actual novel, this information won’t even be a part of the story. But because I have talked to my protagonist, Alf, and gotten to know why he thinks the way he does, his actions and reactions will be organic and natural. His motivations will become clear, and the reader will feel that Alf wouldn’t think any other way.
My antagonist, Daryk, will also have the chance to talk to me this week in the form of a letter written to me. He will tell me who he is and why he should really be the protagonist rather than the bad guy, as he is really the good guy and I have it all wrong.
I discovered this method during the rewrite of the Tower of Bones series. I knew who my main character and his companions were, as I had designed the original game story line around them. But I couldn’t get a grip on why my evil guy was so wicked and why he was convinced he was the good guy when his actions were so reprehensible.
What I finally did for Stefyn in Tower of Bones, was this—I had him write a long letter to me, explaining his reasons and trying to convince me that he was the real protagonist. Having read his reasons, Stefyn’s motivations were easy for me to understand. His commitment to his god’s path was fundamental to who he was.
My new antagonist must also be that committed, but he comes from a completely different culture than Stefyn, who was raised to be who he is. Daryk was once my protagonist, Alf’s, dearest friend and companion. Caught in a mage-trap during a battle, he has been turned against his will to the path of the dark god. Now he has abandoned the path of Aeos and has become Tauron’s highest priest.
In my current work, Neveyah has recovered from a global disaster. The war of the gods brought three civilizations to their knees five hundred years prior. Additions have been made to the maps, and some places that are there in Edwin’s time are not there in Alf’s.
Humanity has emerged from the ruins, but the world is a different place. The tribes were sundered from each other, and the southern tribes no longer remember their roots—a source of tension between the two different cultures.
Now Neveyah is poised on the edge of another cultural change no matter which deity wins this skirmish in their ongoing battle. To survive, the disparate societies will have to work together under a strong leader. Who will that leader be, Alf or Daryk?
I have written the overarching story and the plot. The side characters are clear in my mind and on paper. The two most important characters, Alf and Daryk, are equally matched in abilities, but only one can succeed. The path before each character is difficult and the differences between them is clear. Alf’s companions are his greatest strength, and they serve Aeos beside him as equals and follow him out of respect. Daryk has only one close companion, his wife, and she is under a magic geas (spell) to serve him and his god.
Alf leads by reason and example—many times he has difficulty swaying people to what he believes is their only salvation. Daryk leads by force of will, and when that fails, he compels his wife to use her mind-magic to “make them understand.”
Historical figures of the stature of Alf and Daryk must embody personal charisma and great leadership ability. People must wholeheartedly believe in them and desire to dedicate their lives to following them. My current mission is to understand what makes these two people charismatic enough to be great leaders and figure out why each one could win. That final battle will decide the future of a world, and if I don’t make it epic, there is no point in writing the tale.
Epic battles require epic characters. Hopefully, over the next few weeks of getting to know these characters, I will know why each one deserves to succeed. My hope is that finishing the first draft of these two books will only take half a year—although it could take longer.
As I mentioned above, I do write slowly. This is because much of what I write ends up being rewritten based on beta readers’ comments–and new ideas that pop into my head at 03:00 in the morning.