Kylie Chan talks about Sustaining Plots

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.

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12 Responses to Kylie Chan talks about Sustaining Plots

  1. Pingback: When friends have books coming out … «

  2. Tarran says:


    My favourite character would have to be Emma,she is so diverse and fun. I really love that she is into Sailor Moon ( MY fav anime) and she has hidden depths to her that we are only just seeing. She inspires everyone to be the best they can and loves unconditionally.

    Thank you!

    I will link this comp onto the A&R blog!

  3. My daughter and I love your books, Kylie! Can’t wait to read Hell to Heaven…. will have to put my foot down and bags it first before daughter gets hold of it.
    And oh, it’s so hard to choose a favorite character. I’d have to go with Simone. She’s a child of two worlds and just such a fascinating character. I look forward to her coming into her own and kicking some serious demon butt, LOL.

  4. Naomi says:

    I have to say my favourite character would have to be a toss up between Leo who has such a pure heart but is real in the sence that he has a lot of issues, his life isn’t perfect by any means and he just keeps going. or John who just rolls with the punches that life has given him and tries to make the best of it. He isn’t judgemental and he takes people for who they are but he isn’t a push over and I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of him.

  5. Beth says:

    My favourite character would be Michael. He’s got that complicated family history, just like Simone does, only it’s coming out more slowly. He’s inherited a quick temper from Bai Hu, but he’s mostly better at controlling it than his father (excepting their epic arguments). Plus, his older brother-but-also-bodyguard dynamic with Simone is such fun, because the two of them act like siblings constantly… right up until the moment something gets in the way, and Michael’s got to go into bodyguard mode. In some ways, he’s a lot more aware and accepting of his position as a Shen than Simone is (the extra 10 years of maturity do help), despite not finding out til his mid teens, though he’s less than impressed with his father’s legacy.

  6. Leanne C. Taylor says:

    The Demon King, because he’s fun, and so nonchalant about everything. ^_^

  7. Joccoaa says:

    Xuan Wu – easily, he is the most complicated character who impacts on everyone else in the books – i am so excited this book is out!

    i’m hoping it answers some questions that have been considered many times when reading all the books

  8. Jess says:

    Emma!!! I love a kick ass heroine and she covers all the bases for me.

    She is strong but vulnerable, Funny but serious. Emma just really appeals to me and I find her such a well rounded character.

    Cant wait for the next book (ok I lie, I cant wait for the next 5 books :P )

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  10. Hi Guy,

    Just waiting to hear back from Kylie so we can announce the winner. Will post the winner here in the comments as soon as we hear from her.

    Cheers, Rowena

  11. Katie says:

    Its really hard to say who my favourite character is because I love them all but if I had to choose, I would probably have to say Emma, closely followed Simone. I love Emma because she is strongly opinionated and very very perceptive, always being able to tell when something is wrong or when there is a ‘fake’/demon. She’s also very trusting, big-hearted and not jealous at all. She can listen to people talking about Michelle, and John’s early life and instead of getting upset, she’s genuinely curious and asks questions to try and understand John and Simone better. She also puts the safety of her loved ones before herself and often risks her life trying to keep them out of danger. I love how she doesn’t let anything keep her down and rises up against all negative judgements towards her and tries to prove them wrong. She is strong willed and definitely not a push-over. She is sassy, witty, honest, trusting, fair, patient, caring, respected, smart, humble, has a great sense of humour and is a true blue Aussie!

  12. We have a winner. Kylie says to give the book to Beth because ‘she wrote a very thoughtful and descriptive reason for liking Michael’.

    So Beth can you email me on rowena(at)corydaniells(dot)com

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