Discipline, rewards and direction...
This past week Jaysin’s Song grew to 7000 words with drafting of the first two chapters. Like the previous two books, the average chapter length is set between 300-4000 words for consistency of story reading. What I’ve learned over the thirty years since first writing a fantasy novel is the chapter word limit is not constraining but a form of self-discipline and a reward.
The discipline comes in making certain that each chapter is a self-contained moment (or collection of moments) that advance a section of the story as a whole. This makes me focus on keeping a tight plot and related subplots as I draft. Sometimes ideas flow freely, and I end up drafting way over 4000 words in a chapter. I discipline myself to then rework the writing until it fits within the word limit. Sometimes, not often, a chapter falls short of 3000 words in first draft. Again, I review the chapter and work on it until it meets the limits. This is not about padding out a story, but about adding richer detail and sometimes even pursuing a character or plot development that otherwise might be cut or altogether ignored.
The reward comes in seeing the structure of the novel grow as each chapter draft is completed, knowing the story must fit within an overall word limit. The reward is simply a set of tangible targets.
I like to open a novel creating a hook; an event or information that I hope will stir the reader’s interest and encourage them to know what will happen. Jaysin’s Song opens with the dragon, Harmi, flying into Machutzka with a warning that a war is raging to the east and the Empress is sending troops to pressgang young people from outlying towns and villages into her Great Army. This sets an immediate tension, threat and dilemma for our central characters.
For Jaysin in particular, now fifteen and an aspiring sorcerer, additional dilemmas and challenges arise in the opening chapters. First, he is keen to have recognition for his ability, but everyone reveres the dragon, his sister, Tamesan who is a wizard, and his warrior brother, leaving him without a clear identity. Second, he learns that important books of magic are locked behind a metal door in a building in Machutzka – locked there forty or more years earlier by Eric who was the Harbin Herbal Man, and wizard and companion of the dragon, Claryssa. The key is lost. But Jaysin is learning an ancient spell that might enable him to access the entombed texts.
Already, despite notes and planning ideas for the book, it has taken its own direction. For example, the concept of Machutzka having a library and a librarian was not in my original planning, but now Shika the Librarian has entered the tale. I wanted Jaysin to become increasingly more powerful, but was unsure of exactly how to give him access to arcane knowledge. He could, of course, learn it from Harmi, but the dragon is quite ethical, and she would be tempted to control what she allowed Jaysin to learn. After all, sorcerers don’t exist – Jaysin is an oddity. The world of magic belongs to dragons and their lifelong wizard companions.
Thus, the story has begun. Let’s see where Jaysin’s fortunes lie.
Writing is my passion. Ideas, opinions, beliefs, experiences expressed through language - through words and images - pervade and create my life. Writing is my voice, my soul, my self. My dream is one day writing will sustain my life...