Saturday, August 06, 2011

Project Report 1 Water/Stone/Light: Genre and Characters

I thought I might make a few posts chronicling the passage from idea to novel for a new work I just started. With luck, I will have all the pre-work done before NaNo. It's hard to say if I will get there. The more I work on this one, the more I see that I need to do. If I don't get all the pre-work done in time, then this might hold over to be my first novel of 2012.

Let's start with 'Where do ideas come from?'

In many cases, they just grow out of an amalgamation of things that meld together over time and suddenly hit me over the head. This is not quite the case for the new fantasy novel, Water/Stone/Light (titles are apt to change). I can trace this one directly to C.J. Cherryh's blog ( talk about their two new kitty friends along with the older, more sedate cat. The first new kitten needed a playmate so he would leave the older cat alone. They brought in a one year old from a cattery.

And this is what happened on my end:

July 25th, 2011 at 1:31 pm
I came awake this morning with an odd idea for a story. Something about an elderly queen saddled with an untamed, unruly young heir. In a fit of desperation, she orders that a noble house send him a companion. One house has a young man they’d just as soon be rid of — timid, scholarly, and useless (so they think) in a land where they’re guarding the dangerous borderland. So off he goes to live at the High Court.

Intimidated by the queen and worried that he might overstep the line with the heir, he finds he must call on the military training forced on him in previous years to take command and on his love of all things scholarly to draw the attention of the boy.

And then what? Does the young heir, tired of the life he never wanted, take off and the companion has to find him? Is the boy kidnapped? Is it all part of a plot and the prelude to an invasion? Are they the two who must go back to rescue the queen?

AAAAIIIIEEEE. I really don’t need a new plot bunny. But there it is, staring me in the face. I wonder if I could twist this around into an sf story, despite the fantasy feel. I am overrun with fantasy right now.

Hmmm. Or an Urban fantasy of some sort?


So, there is the basic core moment of inspiration. What has happened since then shows how stories grow, morph and change.

The first point was to settle on a genre. While I felt I had a lot of fantasy ideas lately, this one just called out for epic fantasy. I tried it out with a couple other genres, but every idea I got to add to this story went right back to fantasy, so I took that as a sign.

Next was to look closer at the main characters, the queen, the prince heir and the companion. It was with the companion where I started making drastic changes from my original idea. I kept the companion who came from 'seclusion' to take on the heir. But the Queen isn't stupid -- she can see the boy is going to need a firmer hand. So she sends for the Queen's Spy (oh? And who is this?) and tells him to get her sister's illegitimate son who is known for being able to take care of himself. I think she has word that something drastic is going wrong, and she wants the boy to have the sort of companions who can help him.

So now I had a triad . . . and I decided I really wanted a female character to offset them. I have some servants to deal with and a few are female, but they are going to have a special role. I wanted . . .

Ah. The Prince Heir needs to be betrothed. And the first ties of betrothal are done with magic so they can get a slight 'feel' for each other without being intrusive. This means the betrothed is aware when the three plan to escape the castle.

No, I'm not entirely certain why they are escaping yet. I have a vague idea of the trouble, but right now I'm looking at the very basic little steps of character creation.

Okay. So I have:
Queen Omi -- In her 40's, married the King when she was quite young and he was older. The King has been fighting a border war for a number of years, and she has her hands full with the running the kingdom. Their son died in battle and she had to call in her daughter's son as the new heir. (Does this mean no female can rule? No. I decided the boy's mother isn't suited to rule.)
Prince Zuki -- Spoiled, sixteen year old who has no respect for women (based on his bubble-headed mother and a domineering grandmother on his father's side). He has moments when he can be reasonable and even likeable before something else sets him off. He is untrained in anything resembling court etiquette and he does not want to be at court.
Fatim (Companion 1) -- Son of border lord and not suited to the kind of warrior life that the lord and his sons face. He's been secluded in one of the temples. (Start of world building and magic began here, but I'll show that in another post.)
Kontor (Companion 2) -- Son of the Queen Oni's younger sister and an unknown man (Though the father is believed to be a foreign envoy. The rumor is wrong, of course.) He's a rogue, troublemaker and can take care of himself. And does he owe the queen some service? A favor?
Amira (Betrothed) -- One of the Queen's Ladies in Waiting. The Queen needs to get the Prince Betrothed immediately. He's already over the age where it should have happened, and she chooses Amira because she is headstrong and can, hopefully, handle him. She is also from the mountainous northlands and she's used to hiking, hunting, etc. She is not going to be a wilting court flower when they are out on their own.
There are a number of other characters I need to work up, just so I have an idea of who is around and how they influence things, even if they are not present. Oh yes, this means King Sefu, of course. My big question (and one I have not yet answered) is why the Queen feels she must have this done right now, with the heir in place and so many decisions made immediately (like the betrothed). That will come with the plot. I work with characters first then look around and ask 'why are you doing that? What's the problem?

The Queen's Spy, the Vizier, Fatim's father and brothers, a number of servants, court officials (and a battle there between her people and the Vizier's people, as they rival each other for power within the court structure) . . . There can be very many lesser characters here.

And I have not moved out of the court yet. However, in order to do that, I had to start world building, which I adore. I'll cover the basics of that in the next post on this project.


Lianna Williamson said...

Thanks for this! I enjoy reading about other artists' process as they develop their ideas.

Zette said...

Thanks for coming by! I've spent a lot of time watching others as well. I thought it would be fun to do a short listing of what I'm doing.

The process, of course, is way more than this, but most of it is in making odd connections in my brain. It's interesting just to try and write it out.

Lianna Williamson said...

I recently began a new novel, which has gone from first flash of inspiration to almost completely outlined in six weeks. It's been exciting to watch it grow so quickly! Usually I have a long gestation period and mull an idea over for years before I start working on it. This one just mushroomed from the merest suggestion of an idea.

Zette said...

That's wonderful! I love it when the story just suddenly comes to life. I bet you're anxious to get started on it!

I am working on a novel that took me years to do the background work on, and I still dont' think I did it justice, but I am finally writing the first draft. I'll understand better what I still need after I get a full story in my hands.

This one is going together well. if I didn't have other things I must get done, I'd be playing with it every waking hour. (grin)