When A Novel Doesn’t Unfold As Planned….

Over the past few years I’ve devised what I thought was a pretty reliable novel-writing process. I’d spend some time in Scrivener outlining the relationships between major characters and each other, major characters and events, plot beats, and other worldbuilding aspects. Then I’d create a scene-by-scene matrix chronicling viewpoint characters, what each character intended to do in the scene, and where they were. The technique worked peachy-keen for a fast-paced set of cyberpunk thrillers, the second book of the fantasy series, and then a cozy paranormal book.

Then I started the process with Choices of Honor, the third book of my Goddess’s Honor series (or fourth — if you count the prequel, Beyond Honor. The other books are Pledges of Honor and Challenges of Honor. All are available on Amazon, Kobo, Apple, and Barnes and Noble). This time around I wrote several long worldbuilding sections that weren’t in Scrivener — I composed them in Word and they were based around the character and their interaction with the land’s magic, for example. Or they were longer riffs off of notes I had made in Scrivener.

After all that work, though, I started to make that scene matrix and…I ended up stopping the matrix about one-third of the way through, because something just wasn’t clicking. I knew what my three major plot beats were going to be, and that was good enough. It had been a long time since I’d just completely pantsed a book instead of plotting it — but I had written a novella, two books, and a handful of short stories in this world. I knew where the story was headed, had laid out the long-term plan several years ago. I could manage to pants this story while not plotting it out in scene-by-scene detail.

Or so I thought.

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Warning: the following sections are me thinking through the writing process in preparation for revisions.

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Boy, can stories turn on you sometimes. My subconscious started throwing things at me while writing Choices, adding in new elements that I hadn’t considered as possibilities. By the time I hit 60,000 words, I had this uneasy feeling that my points-of-view were out of sync and that I was not going to reach the ending I expected. There was no way that I was going to hit that third plot beat in this book, not with 30,000–40,000 words left and the second beat developing major complications that were spinning off their own beats.

I kept hoping that I would be wrong. I’d run into this experience before, with Netwalking Space. I’d thought that the final plot beat would take longer than the space I had for the last events to unfold, but the story surprised me and resolved itself much more quickly than I feared. So I kept hoping that Choices would behave more like Space…and the story kept throwing more complications at me in return. I’d be typing along in the flow, thinking my way through the scene composition, and then one of the characters would say something which resulted in me rocking back and muttering “now where did THAT come from? It makes sense but WHY?”

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Warning: here is a prime example of writer worldbuilding noodling around.

Basically, my original notion was that each character arc of the Goddess’s Honor series would conclude in a meaningful way in Choices. Katerin would go back to her birth land to make things right. Rekaré would confront past generations of the family history and meet her ultimate fate. Witmara would ascend to a leadership position as her father prophesied before his death. Simple, right?

Um. No. Here’s a brief explanation of what happened, without spoilers. Rekaré’s conflict alone presented issues, because she needed to make an ocean voyage to confront the family history. I needed to get her back from an inland battle and on the ocean…and meanwhile, Witmara got herself kidnapped and hauled across the ocean to discover that things in the ancestral country aren’t what the colonies thought they were. Katerin stumbled across a smoldering rebellion in her birth land and discovered that not only were things worse than she anticipated there, but an additional threat existed that no one anticipated.

Some of these changes resulted from me opening a Pandora’s box. In this book, I decided to focus more on the interaction of the land’s magic with its leaders. I started hinting at this in Challenges of Honor, as Rekaré discovers that the land is not satisfied with her — and then things happen to make the situation even worse. I started thinking about the implications involved if a nation’s leader needed to have the approval of the land’s magic. What did it mean if the leadership of a nation and the land were not in sync?

I’m still working that one out. We’ll see what happens in the rewrites, because in some cases I ended up getting way out on a limb with what I was doing.

Another element that created further complications. Outright war between the Gods. It was introduced in Pledges of Honor, becomes more prominent a factor in Challenges of Honor, and was supposed to become even more obvious in Choices of Honor. It…didn’t work out that way. As I worked, I realized that I needed to lay more groundwork before I could bring that concept forward and finish that arc. Otherwise it was just too much of a jump from one thing to another. Rekaré is meant to be the means through which this arc resolves, and she just wasn’t ready to go to that point yet. By the end of Choices, she is close to it — but not sufficiently close to wrap up the book. Witmara and Katerin have minor parts in this arc.

The other aspect I’ve been considering throughout this series (albeit very low-key) has been the interface between empire and colonialism. Until Choices, everything I’ve written in this world of Goddess’s Honor has essentially been a colonial setting — where the colonists were not only exiles from a problematic Empire, but they took advantage of a worldwide plague (caused by a curse from the Empire, as it turns out) to integrate themselves with the native peoples and become a new nation. Then, of course, problems arose between the original colonists reverting to type and the reaction of their children and grandchildren who have known nothing else and went native, in part because they attuned themselves to the land’s magic — which biases toward those who adopt a native perspective.

Not all of Varen was colonized, because the plague struck Daran as well, crippling that land for some time. The primary nation of Varen that was colonized was Medvara — and that fractured after a few years with a large number of the servants who had come over with the colonizers breaking off to ally with the nation of Keldara.

The method of governance borrowed from a traditional form in a large part of the colonies, where the leader wove a tapestry to represent the nation’s magic. When the colonists brought sheep that grew fleeces which carried magical energy of their own, using those fleeces to construct Great Tapestries gave the Leaders of Medvara, Keldara, Clenda, and Keratil greater control over their land’s magic.

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Anyway. I could go deeper into this background discussion, but then that just becomes an exercise in promotional worldbuilding, and that’s not what this essay is supposed to be about. But it’s a fine example of how worldbuilding while writing can go off the beaten path very quickly. I started working with this concept of the interface between the Tapestry and governance in Challenges, and brought it out a bit more in Choices — which also added to the dynamic that meant I wasn’t quite ready to wrap up the series arc in this book.

By the time I threw in the Divine Confederation and the Outcast God, I realized that I had another book’s worth of material left to work with. The more I considered this option of adding another book to the series, the better it sounded. It would allow me to expand more on the colonialist aspect, develop the interface between the land’s magic and the Tapestries, and set up my final conflict more effectively.

That wasn’t my original plan at all. Back in 2015, I had figured that I would wrap up the series with this book, and move on. Now I have one more volume to complete, and I suspect I could easily construct a second series in this world as well. So I guess it’s a case of all’s well that ends well, because up until I started this book I didn’t think I had more things to write about this world. It is a world I like to visit and write about, which makes me happy.

The next book will be called Judgment of Honor. I’m already excited about what it’s going to cover. I will need to do a lot more worldbuilding about Daran, and the land of the Divine Confederation, and the Outcast God. But the concept work as I start poking at the idea is exciting, and I think I’ve already got the beats put together for the book. Once I finish the rewrites of Choices and write a totally unrelated book, the alt-West Oregon Country, I should be ready to go.

I’m looking forward to the summer of worldbuilding, between Oregon Country and Judgment’s needs. But that’s yet another essay.

Author. Teacher. Horsewoman. Liberal country girl split between urban/rural life, writing science fiction, fantasy, poems, and essays from the wide open spaces.

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