Crafting a Series

In one of my first blogs I wrote that I enjoyed writing a fantasy novel that was stand-alone. The story was completely encapsulated. In Ahvarra the mystery at the center of the story is resolved, and each of the characters finds resolution. I have always been fond of Guy Gavriel Kay’s works, because most of his works are also stand-alone.

However.

Several of the first handful of reviews on Amazon indicated liking the world I’d created so much that they hope for sequels that will explore more of it. And so I indulged my imagination and started down the path of what that would mean. Should I write a direct sequel? What would the conflict be? Which of the key characters would it involve? Would it require going back through the Heart again?

And I came to various conclusions. The first is that, yes, the world on the other side of the Heart can support additional stories. The second is that, no, those stories do not require all the same characters. 

What I have, therefore, is an idea that will span four books. The first, obviously, was Ahvarra. I am busy writing the second, which will not involve characters that were in Ahvarra. The third book won’t involve characters from the first two either. But, like Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere universe, the world-building, magic systems and terminology inherent in Ahvarra will stretch across the series. The fourth book will, in my mind, bring characters from the first three together for one epic conclusion. 

So, three separate books, separate stories, separate characters, all in the same world with that world’s rules. With a fourth that brings matters to a head, as it were. 

One of the more interesting trends these days is major writers using self-publishing to bridge major books in their series via novellas. Brian McClellan is doing this successfully with the Powder Mage series and Patrick Rothfuss has also gotten into the mix with a novella in the Kingkiller Chronicles. Which of course gets my imagination flowing. Because certainly how each of the story threads–and the characters who will retain importance in the world–will need to get from their point of origin to where book four finds them, may be of interest to fans. And so telling those stories might also involve novellas. 

For those of you who think “ugh, another series” fret not. Like Ahvarra, book two will be stand-alone. And so will book three. You could read them by themselves and be entertained. Book four will likely be a challenge, as familiar faces from the first three will return. 

All in all it’s been a fun challenge over the past couple of months, seeing how readers have responded positively to Ahvarra and setting my imagination to how to craft more stories from its world. I hope each of the books entertains the readers as much as imagining them–and writing them–entertains me.

World Builders, Start With Your Characters … and Build Their World Around Them

“Good fantasy fiction: … explores real human conditions through fantastic metaphors which universalize the characters’ individual experiences to speak personally to us all.” 
― Laura Resnick

 

A writer of fantasy fiction will always keep the setting of his or her tale in mind while placing characters within it. But as I come across comments on forums or within articles, I see that many build the setting before understanding the characters who will populate it. World-building is certainly an art, and there are rules to the worlds we build that must be followed by its inhabitants. But I’ve often found that starting with a world — whether it be new or old, far away in space and/or in time — limits the story that will be told. So many want to re-capture the imagination that Tolkien used to build Middle Earth, but starting there, on the outside looking in, with god’s brush in hand, calls into question exactly what will happen in the world being built.

Stories are about characters, who are people. Many of us have arguments with our characters, or find ourselves wondering what this one or that one would do in certain situations. If caught in a traffic jam, would Alynna just get out and walk? Possibly. Almost certainly if the distance were not far. 🙂

The difference between fantasy fiction and general fiction comes down to how your characters interact within the world you’re building. But first there must be characters, and they must have goals and ambitions, a reason for being alive. And those ambitions must be placed in direct conflict with the ambitions of other characters, who want goals that are the opposite. In conflict there is story, and conflict is not created by whether a wizard can shoot fire from his hands or whether a river forks just so around a mountain pass on a map, thus creating a border between battling nations. 

Understanding who your characters are and placing them within your world, at the right time, where an event will serve as a catalyst to the tale, that is the foundation from which to build a world. Cast your hero on his quest, but keep in mind his strengths and weaknesses. Find him friends and enemies, but always understand why those friends would provide aid, and why those enemies choose to thwart.

In short, build from the inside out. Start small, in the thoughts and aspirations of a single character with a single goal, and allow the world that character will inhabit to develop around him or her. That is where the story begins… now where in the world will it lead?