Instead of drafting this post on Tuesday, I drafted it on Saturday. I needed the variety of tasks that day while riding out the aftermath of my second dose of vaccine. I received it late Friday morning and only suffered strong side effects (severe chills, moderate fatigue, and mild fever) for a few hours. Unfortunately, those side effects arrived at midnight Saturday so I was tired all day.
How bad was it? By Sunday I took a walk and did yoga.
It’s strange the sequence of events and thoughts that led to my topic this week. Because I was tired I was easily overwhelmed by big tasks. That made me think of the difference between writing a standalone novel and Riparia’s series of five novels.
Yes, the characters in the series are like family that I love to return to, but writing a series is also a huge burden. All the more so because I vowed in the beginning that each book wouldn’t be a retread of the one that came before it.
That (yes, this keeps going) led to me recalling how, back in 2019, I knew I needed a break, to create a novel that was completely different. Part of different was to write a simpler novel, meaning less epic. Each novel in Riparia’s series is a great adventure that serves the greater story.
That (now we’re there) led to recalling the moment during the summer of 2019 when that thought crystalized as, I need a smaller story.
My second thought came right away. Good gosh, Christina, what do you mean by that?
That required pondering. Pondering is my superpower. The answers cascaded. I wanted to contain the tale so it remained smaller, meaning one POV (I miss that about Riparia’s Bk1). I wanted even more focus on the characters. I wanted the story to take place in a relatively small location. One town or city, for example.
At that point, pondering plunged me over the falls. What would the perfect story look like? The answer? A story that contained all the elements important to me.
It was one of those moments when I’m overjoyed at my cleverness and horrified because I’m facing a huge question. I’d always approached story from a singular seed that grew. My question wanted me to handpick all the seeds I was about to toss (outside of the specific plot, of course).
That led to, Sweet mother of all, Christina, I have no idea what all those would be.
It was time to find out, and it’d require a little time.
Or so I thought.
I’ve kept a bullet journal since January 2018. The majority of what’s in it is devoted to writing, though I do track exercise, doctor’s appointments, and so on. I sometimes create two-page spreads that are usually devoted to writing tips, but sometimes used for brainstorming purposes like when I was developing Pannulus.
Pannulus was an important connection because that smaller feel I was looking for is evident in my Pannulus short stories.
So, what turned out to be my most valuable spread ever was created in August 2019: Stories: What’s Important to Me. It was a list, each item containing a short explanation. It was all the elements of story I love to write about and look for in the books I read (this turned out to be pivotal because it cut across genre lines).
The list grew faster than a grass fire with a tailwind. I was stunned. Once unleashed, the ideas popped up with annoying (and welcome) frequency.
Too, that list started writing Protecting the Pneuma Key for me. Already thinking of Pannulus, I’d look at the list and the elements kept trying to coalesce.
Even more shocking to me is that I haven’t talked directly about this before now. I really can’t stress how important the act was. It’s also critical to write down anything, even if it seems obvious. You’d be surprised how writing down one led to others.
So, the list? I’ll share a glimpse with you.
*In case you’re interested, yes, epic is on the list, but was ignored for the novel that followed because Riparia’s series is already satisfying that element (and some of the others).
Some of the items wouldn’t be surprising to anyone who’s read my blog before. Magic. Fantasy world. Hope. Finding purpose. Mystery. Romance.
Some required a little more explanation, even for myself. For instance, my desire for the setting to be unique in some way that makes it memorable. The towering volcanic plugs of ebony rock in Cather. The fog of Duskspell. Like that.
Vitally important to me were found families, female friendship, an animal sidekick, and mistaken identity or fake identity. Another was magic technology, which fit perfect with the Roaring Twenties-esque feel that’d been stirring in my brain for months. It was a logical next step beyond my short stories, which have a Victorian-esque focus.
The difference? Motor cars!
The list is a lot longer than what I’ve shared here (and has grown to 23 items), but you get the idea. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done and helped, too, when I wrote Case of the Deadly Stroll. It’s also influenced Riparia’s series to a limited degree, and vice-versa. Her books already contained much of what’s on the list.
Needless to say, there’s a small handful of elements that I’ve struggled to ever find, or haven’t found at all, in the books I read. Too, there’s always a new twist I can put on any one element, or I can place extra stress on any of them.
It’s a fun exercise to do and works best if you’re brutally honest about what you like and don’t like. Trends become irrelevant. It’s also valuable for examining what you’ve already written, but are editing. If you’ve felt like something was missing, doing this might just tell you what that is.