So I’ve just recently started what I hope will be the last round of proofreading for my first book, In Honor’s Shadow, so I’ve been contemplating my journey from the story’s beginnings to here. Getting this first book out has been a long time coming, in large part because I procrastinated constantly. Granted, I’m also hampered by this being my first book and thus trying to muddle through without knowing exactly what I should be doing. Regardless of how long the trail has been, sharing it seems a nice start.
First Steps: Rohai
The true origins of my book lay in an ambitious (at the time) project I started several moths after college. By that point I had completed a mini-series of short stories. At the time this was mostly to give me something to do while I hunted for a job. At the time I’d been reading a lot of fantasy, especially high fantasy, but found that George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series a nice change of pace with their low fantasy feel. Quite honestly, I wanted to write a low fantasy story. (Note: I am aware things become more supernatural as the series continues.)
I called the project Rohai, mostly because a friend suggested it, and I thought the word sounded interesting. It was set on the border of a feudal kingdom that was something of an analogue to Poland. The main character was to be returning from a crusade, disillusioned by his treatment and how brutal the crusaders had become. He had performed well enough to be raised to knighthood, but the already established nobility snubbed him. At his side would be several others who were returning from the crusade, a few from his home village, who had formed a modest band of mercenaries.
Another major character was the princess of the kingdom, who is upset she will be passed up for succession because of the feudal inheritance laws. Though her father believes she would probably be the better leader, the son is an arrogant and impulsive man, he also recognizes that going against the succession laws will cause significant problems with the other lords. Even so, she gets him to agree that if she can find enough support before he dies, he will name her his successor.
The last major character, and the one least developed by the time I stopped work on Rohai, was a spiritual leader for her tribe on the steppes. Although she didn’t have much time in the story yet, my plans featured her prominently as she would have ultimately led her tribe west to escape a nomadic hoard.
There was also a multitude of supporting characters. The knight had two close friends from his village and a heathen. The princess had her father, her brother, and a loyal bodyguard. All of those characters had at least a couple “chapters” devoted to them.
I continued working on Rohai even after finding employment, generally in a notebook during my lunch break. When I got home everything I’d written would be typed up. The response I got was greater than I ever expected, especially since I was basically just writing and posting my work on a public site without advertisement and minimal editing. This encouraged me to keep going longer than I would have on my own.
As the story went on, however, I started to notice something: with each new character’s perspective I added in the more difficult it became to keep a handle on the plot threads. When I started writing, I really liked the idea of showing (almost) all of the story, allowing the reader to see every event that had a significant impact.
The problem with this, for me, is that it really doesn’t make sense to write only one scene from a character’s point of view and then never revisit them. That is possible, and I know some authors use it to good effect in their books, but it didn’t feel necessary in my story. Each character I wrote was a somewhat important secondary character at the very least, so it felt difficult to justify only writing one scene through their eyes. On the flip side of the equation, I also didn’t want to put in additional scenes which didn’t progress the narrative as that would simply pad the story with unimportant fluff.
In all, I had written from at least 6 different perspectives by the time I’d reached chapter ten (or so) with even more characters planned in the future. Around then I was also starting to hear about how authors that write stories told from many different perspectives end up having to take extra care to keep track of all the plot details, something which makes the writing much more difficult. While this can result in very good stories, it seemed like a bad idea to go that route for my first attempt at a major story.
While I considered the implications of having so many characters other things came to my attention as well. Most notably, my writing style had improved between the first scenes and the later ones. This shouldn’t have been a surprise, by that point I was writing at least a little every day and thus improved rapidly. Gratifying as it was to see my progress, I found myself dissatisfied that the earlier chapters were so much worse than those that followed.
Related to this, I was also coming to question many of the decisions I’d made during the opening scenes. Although they were fine on their own, they had set me on a path I wasn’t sure made for a good story. The end goal was still good, however in between there was a lot of dead space. No matter how I looked at things there were only 2 solutions to that problem: either have time skips or change the story to avoid the lulls.
The last “problem” wasn’t a thing I needed to fix, but rather a realization. People liked my story. More importantly, they liked my writing. While I wasn’t able to produce something I considered worthy of a commercial product, perhaps it was within my grasp. At the time the big e-book revolution was still a couple of years off, however, and I knew that publishing houses generally want first rights on any book. That being the case, it was quite possible that even if I fixed all the problems with Rohai it would be impossible to publish if I continued to share my progress openly.
All of these factors combined convinced me to put Rohai on hold. Though I continued to write shorter stories, for the most part I put the book on the back burner while I figured out how to fix what I thought was wrong.
This has gotten pretty long, so I’ll stop here and continue in the next post.