Sometimes the best advice is the telling off you give yourself
The trick has been to ask questions of both myself and my characters. The "Whys" that I mentioned earlier.
So on one sheet I had my story going forwards - the normal plot that you need to write for any story.
On the second sheet I had the story going backwards - every thing that must have happened BEFORE the story for the story to make sense one and a half million words later.
For this to work, I also needed to change the way I wrote up my plot. It wasn't a big change, but it was an important one. All I did was keep adding the word why. Here are some genuine examples:
- Johnson Farthing is blond and his sister is a redhead. Why?
- He is travelling by dragon, but dragons don't normally carry people. Why?
- Slavery is unheard of where he lives, but does happen where he is going. Why?
Not wishing to spoil my story, I am only going to look at one of these and that is the second. Why don't dragons carry people?
My writing has a comic element to it so my first solution was that dragons used to carry people until one rider bought a saddle for their best friend, a dragon. Agreeing to carry someone is one thing, being treated like a dumb horse is another. Big argument, loads of fall out and dragons have refused to carry people ever since.
In a novel, that is a fun plot element and makes for some running gags too, but this is not a novel, this is a saga, and I have already decided that a saga has to have a much bigger stage and has to be set against a history, an entire world even. A simple gag just doesn't work, but I rather liked it.
On my second sheet, therefore, I worked out what was behind the gag. The saddle incident had happened, but actually it was minor and the real reason behind the not carry people thing was the centuries long breakdown between the dragons and the humans that had resulted in dragons turning their backs on their human neighbours and the communities growing every further apart. The notorious saddle incident has therefore become a symbol for this long running dispute, the straw that broke the dragons back.
Oh, but this is a saga, again, and I cant just say communities got pissed off with each other for no reason. Needless to say by the time I had explored all the whys and wherefores, my second sheet of paper was becoming a book in its own right! But I now also had the foundations of a much stronger story. My characters had reasons behind their actions that were routed not just in reaction but in history and conditions. Just as we do in the real world.
So, my first lesson to myself was to justify everything I wanted to say, not just in the present, but in the past too.
Next: Who Died? »