Possibly the hardest challenge I have faced in writing these books is the creation of the world in which they are set. There is something close to sadistic in the way I constantly push myself to take the story into strange and unknown places – developing an alternative reality with an Order dedicated to time travel (that doesn’t just feel like a derivative of DR WHO) with all the rules and regulations that surround it, is not an easy task.
I wanted the Oblivion Order to be an organisation that was steeped in tradition, like Gormenghast or Dune’s Great Houses, in which there was a sense of history and legend to each of the guilds. By segmenting them into groups I could create tension as well as explain the types of activity that the Order get involved in. What I didn’t realise at the time was how much work would be involved in creating believable backstories for each of them.
Take the Draconian training programme, which makes an appearance in the second book (spoiler alert), in my original chapter plan the notes were something along the lines of: “Trial 1, treasure hunt in 15th Century Spain,” admittedly not one of my most thought through cards (I use Scrivener and all my scenes/chapters start out as index cards) but I don’t like to go into too much detail as I like to ‘fail fast,’ as Andrew Stanton of Pixar would say, in other words – don’t spend all your time planning, get on and do it and get to the re-writes. So this twelve-week programme involves a deep dive into the Draconian order, their beliefs, training regimes and practices. I had a target of at least 15,000 words on the subject. It was one of those moments that I guess all fantasy writers must experience when you have nothing to base your idea on other than your own warped mind – when you are staring at a blank screen wondering which way to take it, and that’s when you have to just let go of the fear. Your first draft is going to be bad, or at best incomplete.
Sometimes I follow the characters and build the world around them, letting the needs of their journey help to shape the environment. Other times a scene or an object will just surface from the depths (usually inspired by some random article I’ve read on Chaos theory or The Kingdom of Navarre) and I follow wherever it takes me. Whatever happens in the first draft I try not to beat myself up when it doesn’t quite work, there is a future version of me that will come back to it and make it better – so that’s his problem 😉
The second book seems to have had more of these challenges than the first, I guess it’s because I’m digging deeper into the Order and its ways. I trust that by the fourth or fifth rewrite it will have aligned in ways I can’t even imagine yet. That, after all, is the best part of writing…