Jaysin's Song passed the 25,000 word mark this morning, a quarter of the draft novel completed.
Word length is an interesting challenge when writing. From the outset, way back in 1990, I was advised a fantasy novel should be around 150,000 words. Why? I honestly don't know. I remember, at the time, being told multiple reasons: traditional practices (whatever that meant), reader expectation, print binding issues. As time proves, none of those reasons are valid. Probably the only validity for why a novel is a certain length is the story being written.
Research and industry practice identifies the following divisions when determining the form of a creative prose fiction piece:
For The Last Wizard series, the word length of each novel is determined predominantly by the story being written, and partly for consistency. The original novel, now first in the series, was 98,000 words, so I've set a similar target for the subsequent novels. In unedited draft, for example, Chasse's Song is currently 93,000 words, which gives me space to add and embellish aspects when I do the next edit of the draft.
A word length target also provides a level of discipline to the writing process. For this project, the chapter lengths are set loosely at 3,000 words. This compels me to ensure each chapter is focused on a specific aspect of the story eg a day, an event, a key moment, even a sequence of fast-paced events that make a whole event. The discipline enables me to progress the story/plot in 'logical' chunks (the word 'logical' isn't exactly accurate to describe the aggregate parts of the story), and sets me progressive challenges to meet when I write. In the same way, at a macro level, an overall word length creates a project target and challenge to meet, and forces me to focus my thinking of the story as a whole.
Given that I work fulltime (and more), and the precious nature of time to write, word targets serve a powerful goal and sustainer in the writing process for me. They can be as arbitrary as challenging myself to write 10,000 words in a week (almost unachievable in my circumstances), 3,000 words at a sitting (ie a chapter or a couple of sittings - a common approach for me), and they allow me to predict a timeframe for completing a draft. In the case of this current project, this past week saw an additional 5,000 words added. At that pace, Jaysin's Song is a 20 week drafting project. The Last Wizard four book project then would represent 80 weeks for draft completion at that pace. Then there is re-reading and editing and editing again. Writing fulltime, as I did for the original novel back in 1993 on leave fom teaching, the 98,000 word project took 10 weeks to draft.
Out of curiosity, since starting this blog project, the blog posts from Dec 2018 represent 24,000 words of writing.
Texts to Concepts to Images...
Kirsi Salonen has completed two of four book covers for The Last Wizard series project. This post explores a little of the process we undertook together for creating the covers. It’s a lengthy post. Grab a beverage for the read and relax.
For the reboot of the original novel, retitled Tamesan’s Song: The Last Wizard Book One, I imagined an image of Tam from the opening chapters, standing on the mountain overlooking Harbin village, watching the dragonship return. I also wanted to pay homage to the original Otto and Chris colours, along with the references to amber throughout the story (and all of my fantasy novels). I shared this concept image, along with the sections of text from the novel with Kirsi. In return, Kirsi asked a series of key questions around Tam’s posture, hair, clothing style before she sketched an initial image. After the initial sketches, we consolidated clothing style and Tam’s hair. Early on, Kirsi floated the notion of a dragon motif in the clouds. The idea waned in subsequent updates, but we both loved the idea so it re-emerged in the later versions and I think it looks amazing in the final.
I intend to publish the series in 9x6 format, so Kirsi has designed the cover art with these dimensions in mind.
While Kirsi was developing the cover art for the first book, I was drafting the second; Chasse’s Song: Book Two of the Last Wizard. By the time she completed the final version of the first cover, I was ready to send concepts for the second cover. Because it is Chasse’s point of view, I sent text and ideas for scenes with Chasse as the central figure, but I also included a third scene where Chasse watches his younger brother, Jaysin, engage with a wolf pack and especially the cubs. In discussions, Kirsi and I were both enamoured with the wolf cub scene and she began developing a concept around it. Her research led her to a beautiful painting as an inspiration and she used it and a range of references to build the preliminary sketch. Again, her use of light in the scene is stunning and carries connection between the first cover and this one. We discussed referencing Chasse watching the scene and I suggested we don’t. Kirsi worked details into Jaysin’s face, the forest, the cubs, plants – it would be fair to say this cover became a labour of artistic integrity and beauty. Each preliminary sketch shows how additional detail was steadily worked into the final. Kirsi has documented her process at this YouTube link.
In the end, what emerged in the second piece was not the cover for book two but a unique cover for Jaysin’s Song: The Last Wizard Book Three, the draft I am currently developing. Jaysin does re-encounter wolves in the third book and rescues a wolf cub to become his companion, so the scene is very apt.
I appreciate the collaborative process Kirsi and I engage in to develop the cover art because as a reader I like books with great covers that mirror imagery within the story. As for the cover to Chasse’s Song, well, we start that one again sometime soon, when we both have time to commit to it.
Update: Jaysin’s Song is now at the 20,000 word mark and going strong.
A Moment's Reflection...
The decision to resurrect a twenty-five-year-old novel isn’t made lightly. The Last Wizard’s publication in 1995 led to it being short-listed for Best Fantasy Novel in the inaugural Aurealis Awards, eventually being rightly beaten by Garth Nix’s awesome Sabriel. The original was always planned and written as a stand-alone coming-of-age tale, although the end also deliberately set the stage for a sequel. Unfortunately, that coincided with a tsunami of events in the ensuing five years – Pan MacMillan’s decision to cut its experimental stable of Australian fantasy writers, winning a job in Brunei, a divorce, and HarperCollins taking on the rights to the Ashuak Chronicles – all meaning The Last Wizard slipped into history. With one exceptional moment – in 1999, Robert Stephenson snagged Time Warner interest in a movie deal for The Last Wizard, and for six months it appeared the novel was going to grow wings and fly. Sadly, in early 2001, we learned the option was dropped. And I moved on.
Fast forward to the digital book revolution and my rather sad and messy experimentation in 2015-17 with publishing via CreateSpace and then Amazon Kindle. I really was wandering in the wilderness, looking to bring life back to the original Andrakis series and also to publish a couple of teenage novels that I’d allow to languish. The whole publishing process was fun – even the silly errors I made – but neither lucrative nor easy to complete because of the time and money factors. But what did ensue were conversations with readers about any chance of a sequel to The Last Wizard.
At first, I did not want to go there. The challenge of picking up characters and a fantasy world long buried in the past was terrifying and I knew there would be a lot of time and work involved in doing so. Besides, I have still way too much to learn about marketing in the digital world, and so little time to manage my work. And what would the sequel be? Tam’s continuing story? That made perfect sense, of course. But she had come of age. Her older brother was struggling with his identity. The younger brother was an offstage enigma. And there was the dragon egg. Which parts of the story should be told next? Whose story?
I know it will sound awkward, or foolish, or pandering, but I decided to not pursue Tam as a character, partly because I had written what I wanted to write about her as a model for my daughters at the time the novel was written – a girl finding her own voice and not being driven by social norms to conform to what men, and women, expected. Tam had emerged. Sure, there is plenty more she can and will learn as the saga unfolds, but as a writer I was no longer following her arc.
More importantly, I realised that a sequel – and a potential series – could focus one book at a time on the emergence of each character. The earliest iteration of The Last Wizard was titled ‘Tamesan’s Song’ because it was her story, her ballad. As the story unfolded, the working title that went to Pan Macmillan was ‘The Last Dragon’. We knew there’d been a martial arts film in the 1980s with the same name, but figured the associative reading audience wouldn’t be affected by that link, but then the editors decided the title was already too evident in popular culture, so the title was altered to ‘The Last Wizard’: ironic, because that in itself is a well-overused title.
Last year, I began toying with sequels, landing on the original title concept as the lever for the series – Tamesan’s Song, Chasse’s Song, Jaysin’s Song, Harmi’s Song. Each book would focus on the ‘coming of age’ of each character, dragon included. The titles are distinctive, original in names at least.
So, with Tamesan’s Song: The Last Wizard Book One, and Chasse’s Song: The Last Wizard Book Two fully drafted, and 12,000 words into Jaysin’s Song: The Last Wizard Book Three, the project has grown from a concept into a major work, and I’m confident the wider tale is taking great shape. But…where will it go?
My greatest fear is that because the first book was published so long ago in mainstream publishing that I won’t find a publisher willing to take the series on board. I do believe there will be a much greater and fresher audience for the books, because there is a generational change in the target audience and The Last Wizard never made it out of the very tiny Australian publishing arena back in 1995 (publishers were highly parochial about regions back then – that has changed, I believe). I have been out of touch with the writing arena for a decade or more as well, which means I am starting from scratch as far as working out who to send the project to. In the past, I would approach a publisher with the first book, seal the deal and write the rest after that. This time, I’d like to be able to offer the completed project. Ambitious? I don’t know. I still have to do the research to find out who would even want to look at it.
There is, of course, self-publication. Personally, I want to find a traditional publisher, but if the work doesn’t attract a publisher I’m learning enough through my experimentation and online guides to make a fist of publishing the project alone. That dilemma is still a year away on my estimations. I have two more books to complete first.
Next blog, I want to focus on the cover design process. In preparation for publication of the books, as I’ve said before, a friend and great artist, Kirsi Salonen http://www.kirsisalonen.com/ is creating cover art for the books. I’ll unpack how we arrived at the cover design for Chasse’s Song.
For my Christian friends, happy Easter! For my non-Christian friends, enjoy the long weekend break, if that is given to you, and stay safe.
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...