Alas, yes, this is another story about me stumbling and bumbling my way only to realize what I should have known in the first place. I should probably think of myself as the little whirlwind who could. I get things done, but it’s oh so messy. It’s me right where I’ve always been, a mass of contradictions, a true INFJ.
I just finished drafting Following the Essence Stone, my novel that bridges the gap between Carrdia and Pannulus. I’ve already talked about how finding a story for Ametha’s character was a chore that took a lot of years. This time, I’m happy to say, I found it. It worked!
In a way, then, that makes Essence Stone the fourth Pannulus novel, but today I’m talking about what has, in a way, become lost in the whirlwind that I am. I mean, the first Pannulus novel, Stealing Light.
Unlike Essence Stone, I didn’t struggle to uncover the story for Stealing Light. It flowed with ease. There were two issues and neither of them had anything to do with the plot. The first was that the poor novel, as I said, was the first I wrote in Pannulus so I was still working out a lot of the worldbuilding. That’s a problem to be expected.
The other problem, though, is the one that’s haunted the novel and led to it being the first drafted, but the fourth to have what I might call a finished second draft. The primary POV. It seems simple (there are only two primary characters, after all), but it’s wavered back and forth for one reason or another for several years.
First, a few details. The novel introduces a Pannulus series to take place at Thornwillow School for the Gifted. It’s located on the vast Karthington estate on Cape Caprice, which juts into the Vortex Gulf. The cape is the closest land to the country’s mysquanmic vortex (think of it as a fissure releasing concentrated magic). It’s impact on the entire island group is profound. It can be a great aid, but it also suppresses the birthrate—a lot.
The magic concentration means that life on Cape Caprice is a bit, well, wonky.
The school is housed in an abandoned fortress dating back to the nation’s first days. It’s a boarding school lasting for six years, ages 16 to 22. Students of the same year advance together. Within the years are small groups that include one student each possessing one of the five common gifts. Stealing Light introduces the first ever group to contain those five plus two with more rare gifts, one of which hasn’t been seen for over a century.
That was the backdrop for the series. The actual novel begins in the capital city of Arthune and brings together Seeker professor Tharlise Martavien and the abused, soon to be sacrificed (yes, literally) child of a crime boss and cultist who believes in purity. That child becomes Vistanna.
So, who’s story is it?
Version One was begun entirely in Tharlise’s POV. I’d envisioned it as an introduction to the series and would only be a novella. When I reached 40K I realized I had something far bigger and the story was contorting itself to account for what was happening to Vistanna.
Version Two switched the POV to Vistanna, but by 75K I realized that I was causing the opposite problem, that, yes, Tharlise was critical to the story. I scrapped that one, too.
Version Three melded the two POVs together to great success and enabled the story to move to its conclusion at about 125K. I still viewed it as Vistanna’s novel, though, and opened with her, though strangely it was a Tharlise chapter that ends the novel (more on that).
Following Version Three, a number of events occurred. The first was that I wrote six novelettes, one each for each of the other six members of the group she’d be included in at Thornwillow (she possesses that rarest gift). That not only deepened their characters, but also deepened the groups hidden purpose.
In an unexpected twist, placing the group’s purpose beneath a cloud placed more emphasis on Tharlise’s importance. It was why wrapping up the novel ended up in Tharlise’s POV. Thus, I found myself doubting my choice of protagonist—again. While Vistanna was negotiating teenage girlhood and freedom, it was Tharlise who was uncovering links between each of her charges (while weathering a stormy relationship with the school’s founder, Pamatha Karthington).
I also realized, as the group was coming together (the dynamics were far more than I could have hoped for, conflicts and bonds abounding) that it was Tharlise who was the glue. She’s a force to be reckoned with and fiercely protective of her charges. My efforts to move the novel’s focus to Vistanna towards the end then felt forced and rushed and required the odd last chapter in Tharlise’s POV.
So, Version Four happened last year where little of what existed changed. Instead, my focus was on adding to the story what I thought was missing regardless of the implications. Though wordy, and having expanded to 139K, the plot filled in. Beyond that, though, I left it alone.
When I returned to the novel this month there were surprises. The easiest to uncover, because it was numbers, was that the novel had become about 60% in Tharlise’s POV. In a key scene when Tharlise finally figures out the truth about the group (sweet mother of all, it was powerful and spooky) I knew. At that moment, there was no longer any doubt. Stealing Light was Tharlise’s novel because the plot points were all hers.
That key scene was a new addition, one that had been squeezed out of the earlier versions because I was trying to force the novel to be Vistanna’s. Instead of the reader seeing the revelation, it’d been implied. Whirlwind indeed.
Vistanna’s story is a great subplot, the expanded equivalent of the six novelettes. Too, at the heart of the novel was the relationship between Tharlise and Vistanna. As the adult caring for a traumatized teen, it’s Tharlise who’s the driving force in the relationship.
Thus was Version Five born, requiring one significant change to make this Tharlise’s novel. Want to know what that required? Ready for the big reveal? I switched opening chapters around. That’s it. I was stunned by how beautifully it worked. Tharlise sets up the introduction of Vistanna better than the other way around. It’s amazing how much easier it is to revise from my new perspective.
Connections are the centerpiece of this novel and Tharlise is at the heart of all of them. The story, too, is about her heart. Tharlise finding romance. Tharlise finding daughters. Tharlise finding a way to mentor seven exceptionally gifted charges who are sixteen year-old and tragically broken.
How they became that way is the link they share, each a spoke on a wheel where Tharlise is the hub. I’m ever so grateful that I finally found my way to realizing that truth, a truth I believe my subconscious, which was hiding at the center of the whirlwind, knew all along. It was my subconscious that made me uneasy when reviewing the story even though, on the surface, it was all okay. Like Tharlise, it took me several years for my head to convince me to trust my heart.