Kylie has kindly offered a Giveaway of her latest book ‘Hell to Heaven’ for one lucky reader of this blog.(See the question at the bottom of this post).
When I originally started the Dark Heavens series I had a basic plot line for three books – the main character, Xuan Wu’s departure, return, and then a big final confrontation.
When the first book, ‘White Tiger’, had already hit three hundred thousand words and he wasn’t even close to departing, I realized that it would take me slightly longer to produce the story than I expected. I think it’s basically because I talk too much, and the story ran away with me.
So the original single novel of a departure turned into three: ‘White Tiger, Red Phoenix, Blue Dragon’, and the single novel of a return became three as well: ‘Earth to Hell, Hell to Heaven, Heaven to Wudang’. I’m currently working on the third book of the second series, ‘Heaven to Wudang’, which in my head is book six of nine and I refer to as ‘Book Six’ most of the time anyway.
Each novel follows the standard writing format of buildup – climax – resolution, with a similar energy happening across all three of the novels as well. So the end of book three, ‘Blue Dragon’, has an absolutely massive climax and conflict, and a resolution that is satisfying but still leaves a few questions unanswered – and a couple of main characters gone. Then I’ve started with book four – Earth to Hell – and built the tension up again.
I keep the world building consistent by writing myself copious notes and reminders in a little folder. Each list of ‘remember this, include this, tie this thread up’ is about a page, and I delete them as I deal with them, then add to them as I go back through my own writing. I continually re-read the stuff that’s gone before, keep my timelines very straight in my head (that’s a three-page excel spreadsheet, month-by-month starting November 2001 which is when the story begins) and make sure that I never leave a plot thread hanging.
I also keep a list of the chapters and an overview of the plot running in my notes, and mark the action/characterization/slow/fast sections so that I can keep the balance. For ‘Hell to Heaven’ I actually added a list of ‘who’s dead when’ so I didn’t have dead people popping up before they were supposed to! I was asked about this in a seminar recently – ‘Leo’s dead, how can he be back?’ and I was delighted to be able to use a Joss Whedon quote – ‘he got better’.
‘Earth to Hell’, book four, starts eight years after the end of ‘Blue Dragon’. This is me skipping the boring bits, and being held to my own plotting. In ‘White Tiger’, the first book, I state that the minimum time it will take for Xuan Wu to return is ten years. I don’t want to write eight years of ‘they waited for him to come back’ so I skip to the interesting part, just before he’s due to return. This of course means that a main character who is six years old at the end of ‘Blue Dragon’ is now fifteen – a major leap in her characterization – but fortunately the readers haven’t complained at all.
I do have an over-reaching arc for the whole series, from the original three novels I plotted way back when the first was being written. Despite the description I’ve given above of copious notes, however, I don’t do much in the way of plotting – it’s generally wind the characters up, let them go, and write down what happens to them. I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer with a very general idea of where things are going – but I’m very definite about where the end is. I know exactly where this story is headed and have written the end of book nine, which doesn’t have a name yet.
I did an unusually large amount of plotting for ‘Hell to Heaven’ – it was six lines of text. And in the end I didn’t follow it exactly. So most of the plot is in my head, I only have trouble keeping up with it once it’s on the paper!
I have made changes to the premise of the series as I’ve gone along. The basic points, however, of what people ‘really are’ (fans plaintively ask me ‘what is Emma?’ and I refuse to answer) are exactly the way they are since I first started – very badly – writing the beginning of ‘White Tiger’. I think this is what makes the series so popular; I know exactly where I’m going and the readers are happy to go along for the ride, confident that I’ll tie up all the threads and reveal everything they want to know when we reach the end of the ride. And when we get there, I have no idea what I’ll do next!
The Giveaway question is: Who is your favourite Dark Heavens Character?
Leave your answer in the comments. This competition will be over until Sunday 31st July, when we will announce the winner.