So, you start a series of books, and
you’ve got a plan. Your pivotal events have been envisaged, and then carefully
plotted to happen in a logical way. Revelations and twists all get sequenced
in, and you try and imagine each scene from everyone’s point of view, so they
What impels it all forward, though, are
characters, and like real people, your new imaginary friends have personalities
that mature during the story, meaning that by the time they arrive at your main
scenes, they are likely to be different people from those you envisaged when
you imagined the scene originally. They’re therefore prone to do something
unexpected, dragging your story down other paths and making a tangled mess of
one’s nicely structured plan.
Before I’d written a book, I’d heard
writers say much the same thing, and I’d listened and thought, ‘MATE, THEY’RE IMAGINARY.
AND YOU IMAGINED THEM. If they’re not doing as you planned, don’t blame them
like they’re an external party. Your story, your mess.’
Now I’ve tried it for myself.
The thing I have found is that as you
spend time thinking about a character, imagining their face, voice, behaviours,
motivations, fears and aspirations, you do start to get a sense of a person,
but what really solidifies them is actually writing their scenes – and they ALWAYS
turn out a little different from how you imagined them. And when you place that
person in your pre-determined scene, you start to see that scene from their
perspective. And yep, like actors reading a George Lucas script, they start
saying, ‘No, I’m not saying that, and in fact I’m not going to do that thing
you want me to do either, because if I do as you’re telling me, I’ll not be being true to myself.’
At that point, something has to give, and
almost always the best answer is to let the character be true to themselves,
because (1) inconsistent characterisation is a massively bad thing, and (2)
adjusting the character’s persona would mean going back to every preceding
scene they are involved in and re-interpreting it in line with their ‘new character’,
which is a pain, and fraught with continuity risk.
So, like a battle plan, my story plan
didn’t survive first contact with the enemy, and you get a fantasy version of ‘Mission
Scope – Quest Creep’, if you like!
Certain characters in The Moontide Quartet
who I thought would be more important faded to incidental, others who I found
it easier to work with stepped up. The more complex characters kept finding new
angles on situations to expand their role. Certain characters survived planned
deaths, because they still had much to offer and my relationship with my wife
and editor might have been terminally damaged.
But – and this important – the overall
plan didn’t shift much. The big landmark scenes still came to pass in much the
way I’d intended. Most of the character-driven shifts in plot were important
but not vital – they still dovetailed with the big picture, and (hopefully) helped
make the flow of events feel natural. There’s a balance in all this obviously,
and as there’s a lot of trial and error, a lot of trusting your instincts, and
a lot of self-reproach and re-work when you try something and find it doesn’t
If I were to get specific in a (hopefully)
Seth was going to be the lead
character of the Lost Legions thread, but Ramon (originally scheduled to follow
Alaron around) put his hand up and basically said, ‘Hey, I could have much more
fun over there!’
Cym similarly was also supposed
to accompany Alaron; but when Zaqri walked into the room, everything changed.
Zaqri was more or less made up on the spot, and their thread became an
exploration of the joys and follies of following your heart instead of your
Kazim was never originally
going to head for Javon, and was going to be the shihad’s ‘boots on the ground’
character, but that left the plot feeling cluttered, so he pointed at Javon and
said, ‘Send me in, I’ll sort it out.’
Cera kept growing as the story
progressed and she was forced to confront more and more difficult situations.
And I only actually realised her sexuality in that scene. Originally she was going to end up happily married to a
(pliable) Jhafi nobleman.
But Alaron, Ramita and Elena all stuck
pretty much to script, as did their rivals Malevorn and Gurvon. Probably this
is because their threads were very much at the heart of the main story, and
there was less wriggle room, but also because their goals were never ambiguous.
For Elena and Gurvon, because they are complicated people, the means sometimes altered, but not the
motives or outcomes.
I’m really excited to have reached the end
of that story cycle. I learned a lot, and thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Working
with Jo Fletcher has been an absolute privilege – working for the best in the
business is a wonderful thing. Already my head is deep into Book One of the new
series – The Sunsurge Quartet – with
many new characters and new situations to plot/plan/adjust. And just like
Moontide, the Sunsurge characters are fully alive in my mind, fighting their
corners and determined by hook or crook to be the lead character, or at the
least, avoid that knife in the back in the penultimate chapter.
See you in the Sunsurge!