Monday, March 27, 2017

My Writing – Agram Awakens

I thought today I’d step back from handing out advice and shine a bit of a light on what I’ve been doing with my own writing for the last few months.

Since I use this book as an example for many of my blog posts, I also thought I’d talk a bit about it. Today, I’m going to talk about Agram Awakens, which is my most precious story.

Stage 1: The Beginning

Agram Awakens has been a long time in the works. Back in 2013, I wrote a low-fantasy novel titled “A Merchant’s Guard”, which too this day no one is allowed to read and I hope those who have read it will not judge me by it. When I finished it, I had a long list of ideas I wanted to write next. This list included novels I’ve finished, such as Asher’s Song and Barnslow Died and The Elenivir, as well as ideas I’ve not yet started such as The Biography of a Very Bad Man and A Perfect World.
On that list was also a very vague idea which I knew I wanted to write, but didn’t know what it was yet. In my list of ideas, it was simply titled “fantasy novel”.

My ideas for it? “I want to write a high fantasy novel that prods at the clichés of fantasy and pushes the boundaries of theme in that genre.”
Oh yes, real clear, right?

Well, in 2014 I began to write down different ideas for characters, plots, and worldbuilding. I began to seriously worldbuild that summer, creating a few dozen nations and a dozen cultures in their varying facets. I building a magic system (or two… or three), religions, government and economic systems, races and flora and fauna. I continued to flesh out characters and their settings, but still didn’t really have a plot I wanted all these characters to connect to.
All I knew was this: I wanted this to be big.

Stage 2: The Outline

One night, I had an idea: what if I took every cliché in the fantasy genre and turned it upside down.

So I found fantasy clichés: “the Chosen One”, the Prophecy, and others, and threw them together in a cliché plotline about my six main characters.
Then…. I flipped it. I used the inverse. I twisted the clichés so that they bore a resemblance to those clichés, but also broke out of their molds and pulled in new twists, motivations, and resolutions.
There’s now only a husk of the “Chosen” cliché, a hint of the Prophecy cliché (well, perhaps slightly more than a hint), and whispers of other clichés (AKA dragons) in the background.

Great. I had the plan.

Only… it was going to take more than one book.
And… these books were going to be long.

Oh well. I began major outlining in winter of 2014, finding myself looking at a series of 10-14 books (the number changed daily). I finished the outline for the first book, Agram Awakens near the beginning of 2015. Things were looking up. I attending writer’s workshops, learned everything I could about the writing craft, and wrote novels in practice.
This work was to be my crowning achievement. My story to end all stories.

Stage 3: The Rough Draft

I don’t have too much to say about this one… I wrote the book over the course of eight months near the end of 2015 and beginning of 2016. I took a break and wrote a novel in November for NaNoWriMo, and finished in July of 2016.
It was done.
All 202,912 words of it.

Go me.

I felt… dissatisfied.
Don’t ask me, I still don’t know why.
I wrote over 200,000 words in eight months and felt like it wasn’t complete.

I walked away from the book for two months, edited Barnslow Died and submitted it to a contest (it placed as a semifinalist). I gave Agram Awakens to a friend who read the whole freaking thing and critiqued it.
Then I came back, to figure out what I wasn’t satisfied.

Stage 4: The Second Draft

Starting in October, I began editing. I was in college, which meant the work went slowly. I used the critiques given me to edit and fix rough draft problems: plot holes, character inconsistencies, emotional and conflict lapses, and basic prose issues.

I forged the book into something better. Not great, not yet, but something better.
I finished the second draft March 7th, 2017.
Three and a half years and three other novels later, Agram Awakens had a second draft.

And I knew why I hated the rough draft.
Here’s the thing about flipping clichés: it’s easy to forget to keep them flipped. I’d made the mistake of going lax in my fight against clichés about mid-December, during the middle of Act Two of the book.
I let the clichés in, and it hurt the story.

I discovered this a month into the editing process, when I reached the end of Act One and realized… I love the first Act. Love it. The characters act believably, the emotions and conflict run high, and the world and plot hang just where they need to be.
Then I realized that I hated Act Two. I disliked chapters or even whole character arcs.
And I figured out why: they were cliché. The very things I’d written this book in a protest against were filling the pages.

I edited the second act much slower than the first, taking my time to eradicate plot holes and clichés that littered some of the chapters.
It got better.
Slowly, slowly, I found myself becoming more and more satisfied.
By the time I finished Act Three, I found myself content. Not with the way the prose is, but with the way the story worked.
It told a powerful tale.

So What IS Agram Awakens?

I’ve been rather vague, so let me sum up what Agram Awakens is about:

“Agram Awakens is the story of six people struggling through their own personal dreams when their plans are interrupted by cataclysmic events set off by their own choices.”

That’s my log-line. It’s not perfect, yet, but it does fairly well in summing up the first of ten books that are 200,000 words long.
To give you a bit more detail: Agram Awakens is a high fantasy novel about six characters: a slave running from her masters, a knight fighting a religious war, a thief leaving behind the world he knows to see what’s out there, a noblewoman whose plans are upturned, and a merchant forced to take a dangerous trek through a desert.
It’s about their hopes and dreams colliding with their pain and suffering. Agram Awakens is about power and weakness, racism and equality, death and life. It’s about questioning truth and finding either hope or nothingness, and the consequences of each.

That’s Agram Awakens. That’s my brainchild, the story I hope I can impact the world with. That’s the art I want to create.

What Comes Next?

On March 8th, 2017, I began the sequel to Agram Awakens. I’m not near done editing it, but I needed to set it aside.
The sequel, Slave to Prophecy. It’s going to be thirty-two chapters longer, according to my outline (94 chapters versus the 62 of Agram Awakens) and I hope to take the themes and plot and characters of the first book and dig deeper into them while introducing new ideas and plots and themes.
I’m going to be writing this book until the end of May, when I’ll switch back to editing Agram Awakens, which I hope to finish draft three of by mid-August. From there... back to Slave to Prophecy which I’d love to finished by March of 2018. We’ll see how it all turns out.

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