The novel I’m currently working on is a high/epic fantasy called The City Of Tears. Set in the magical, fantasy world of Feld, a planet somewhat like our own. There is one large, main continent on Feld, called Pangraal, which translates as “many blood”, due to the plethora of races living on it. There are also several islands off the coast of the supercontinent.
- Novel Progress 12.5%
Over the last couple of days I’ve been reasonably prolific with my novel progress, writing over 3,500 words and completely rewriting my second chapter, which is based around the Mage character of Heiron.
In the chapter, Heiron decides to take up the offer of a local guide to show him a shortcut through the forest. This will get him back to the city in less time than the more public route, be quieter, and the guide will show and explain interesting flora and fauna along the way.
Not being overly fond of crowds, and always looking to learn new things, Heiron agrees. However Heiron is not stupid. He is to become an Arbiter – a Mage that serves as a detective for crimes involving magic. His suspicions raised, he creates a tracker spell and attaches it to the guide who pitches the deal and takes Heiron’s money. The lad runs off toward a local inn, telling Heiron his guide will be with him shortly. At least if no guide shows up, Heiron can locate the lad and get his money back.
To his surprise, a guide does indeed turn up and they set off on the path cleared through the forest. As they travel, Heiron’s suspicions are raised again as they hike and the guide misnames a type of tree. On its own, that could just be a mistake, but the guide goes on to get a couple more facts wrong. Just before they enter a clearing, Heiron’s tracker spell pings him to let him know that the lad who ran off to the inn is now just up ahead.
The lad had mentioned that the guides worked in shifts – perhaps he was to take over for the next leg of the journey, but Heiron begins to think that something else might be going on …
Heiron is an interesting character to write. He’s a young human Mage, fresh out of college (which the chapter does touch on briefly,). He’s seen by his peers and in fact by most people, as a bit of an odd duck. He has an unusual way of seeing and thinking about things that many others struggle to relate to. Some readers may relate to that, I know I do.
His particular quirks have advantages though. It means he excelled at college due to razor-sharp focus and determination to succeed at his chosen field, to an almost fanatical degree. He made his mind up to become an arbiter, then did everything he could to realise that dream and once he gets back to the city, he will be starting his new role – the “culmination of seven years worth of work.”
The Invisible College
The chapter also introduces the Invisible College, the educational establishment for Mages, run by the Magister – the Guild of Mages that also operates as government, judiciary, policing force, civil service and various other roles that permeate the administration of the city. In the world of Feld, if you want to be a Mage, you study at the Invisible College. Why would you want to? Being a Mage gives you a stable and respected choice of careers, as well as other benefits, like housing on one of the upper tiers in the city.
What’s next for Heiron? Is he walking into an ambush?
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One of the biggest mistakes I ever made in my past writings was not to have an end goal in mind.
This has caused more unfinished manuscripts than anything else – for me and I suspect many other writers.
“But wait,” you say, “I don’t know the ending to my book! I want to discover it as I write!”
Well, me too for the most part, but having an end goal and having the ending of your story plotted out or outlined are two separate and completely different things.
Having an end goal means you have some idea of how long your story is going to be, in general terms. It can be a variable – I think of my book’s meta information as a living document, that can be updated at any time, and that contains guidelines rather than hard and fast rules.
The “Average” Fantasy Novel
So for example, I was reading something the other day that said that the “average fantasy novel” is approximately 100k words, divided into 40 chapters. You can contest this any number of ways. For a start, there are many fantasy novels that are way longer than 100k words. However, having a rough basis to start from means you start the project with an end goal in mind. Write 40 chapters, comprising about 100k words.
Previously I’ve been more of a ‘seat-of-my-pants’ writer, i.e. start writing, and keep writing until it’s done. With this novel, I am working much more to a structure that follows story structure rules. I’ve figured out my four acts, the structure modules they contain and the number of chapters per module. This is based on some good info and advice from some published authors.
This gives me not only and end goal, but also an idea of where I should be at any point in the story, AND what needs to happen next to progress the plot.
The attached diagram took me an hour or so using Scapple, but you could use pen and paper, or any mind mapping software.
How This Helps
Once I’d completed it to this stage, I could see an overview of the novel, as well as a rough timeline. The most important thing for me was that I could actually SEE an end to aim for. The next step for me is to write out short chapter descriptions, then a rough timeline. Timelines are not always linear in novels – look at Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut for example – so having one could prove useful.
You could also include arcs alongside the timeline for each of your POV characters, graphs displaying tension over time through the novel or pacing – whatever will help you get the book finished.
Suddenly through doing this simple task, my novel became achievable. 40 chapters – that’s not that bad. Definitely do-able. Instead of being this seemingly endless task, breaking it up like this into smaller chunks, is recommended by psychologists and motivational speakers for any large task, means that there’s less pressure to write the whole thing. Just focus on the chapter in front of you.
Even if you get stuck, the structure should help you to figure out where the story needs to go next. If you’re really stuck you can always jump ahead and write a cool scene for a bit, safe in the knowledge that you know where it will go in the story and that you will be able to find your way back afterwards.
Definitely no more ‘Pantsing’ for me.