Friday, June 2, 2017

The Shattered Drum

Although The Vermilion Bird is far from done, I have a complete story and am working on my fourth draft. A friend is checking the text for historical errors—or will be when she has the time. As I feed chapters to my writing group and receive comments, I make adjustments, of course, but since they too have busy lives and writing of their own, it will be three to four months before they can get to the end. So I decided, this past week, to use the down time to think about the next—and last—Legends novel.

Usually when I start a new project, it takes a good six months of back and forth before I make serious progress: planning, writing, research, rewriting, sharing, more rewriting, fill in the blanks research, character development, new writing, and so on. This in-between time seems the perfect opportunity to start planning a structure, identifying potential story elements, settling on major characters, defining their goals and motivations as well as the obstacles in their path—all the stuff that goes before actual writing begins. I’m not ready yet to shift my focus from the hero and heroine of Vermilion Bird, and without that, actual writing would be wooden at best. But I am ready to start imagining how the next, or in this case familiar, hero and heroine must struggle to reach a new set of goals.

Being a pantser by nature, as noted previously, I don’t get any closer to a detailed plot than a list of things I’d like to see happen. That changes as soon as I sit down to write. Still, having a sense of where I’m going is helpful, even if my characters do tend to take on lives and wills of their own. I love the surprises they deal out when I’m least expecting them. And having a sense of who those characters are at a given moment, even in a series that has already been underway for nine years, is a definite must—although that, too, evolves over time.

Here, in Legends 5, I find the list of story elements relatively easy to construct. A series can’t just stop, after all; it must tie up the major developments of the earlier books, adding a sense of general closure to the resolution every story needs even as it establishes a clear direction—beginning, middle, and end—of its own.

But I also find myself reluctant to say goodbye to these fictional people who, by the time I finish The Shattered Drum, will have enriched my life for over a decade. Can I bear to let them go? Will the new series slowly coalescing at the back of my brain, which follows into the 1540s and beyond certain characters who never received their due because the world isn’t quite ready for 1,500-page novels, make up for having to reduce my favorites to cameos and walk-ons?

I don’t know. In a sense, I’m not sure I want to find out. But that sad day remains a year or two away. For the moment, I’m looking forward to putting my fictional family through its paces one more time. I hope that one day, when I reach the end of that road, you’ll enjoy the results.

Images: Nomadic Girl, screen capture from Myn Bala; Butterfly and Chinese Wisteria Flowers, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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