As a writer, one core belief I’ve held to is that no writer is ever perfect, and it is vital to allow one’s writing to evolve and grow over time. It was perhaps one of my earliest lessons, back when I was ten years old writing my first-ever stories and thinking they were the best thing since sliced bread. (They really weren’t.)
Since then, there have been moments which marked significant changes in my writing style, almost always for the better. These moments are not happen-stance, they aren’t me stumbling onto what I consider to be better styles, they have always been intentional, deliberate, thought-out experiments in my style.
The year 2020 marks one such occasion, and just like I felt in those instances, I feel like it is a significant leap forward. How did it begin? What deliberate changes in my style did I make?
It began with perspective. Perspective inspired by my newest favorite author, Jay Kristoff.
One Vs. Many
Although I credit this as a change that occurred in the year 2020, it began in 2019, with an experiment after finishing re-reading Jay Kristoff’s Lotus War Trilogy. I’ve spoken of it before, but never truly went into detail about it – I wrote the first couple chapters of a rewrite of my urban fantasy book Chronicles of the Sentinels – Legacy.
The time has finally come to go into a bit more detail. Why now, you ask? For starters, not only did I finish re-writing Legacy early in the year, and have received extremely enthusiastic feedback from beta readers, but also as of two days ago, I finished the first draft of the second book in the Chronicles of the Sentinels trilogy!
So, what was so different about this new rewrite? For starters, the number of perspectives in the novel. That is to say, it is singular. I still wrote it in third person limited perspective, but unlike the original version, and almost every story I have ever written, I limited the point of view to a single character, the protagonist Christopher Tatsu (and if anyone is curious, yes, the mixture of culture in his name is intentional.)
The original Chronicles of the Sentinels splits time between the trio of heroes, Chris, Emmi, and Alycia, with an occasional hop into another character’s PoV. Back then (six years ago!) hopping amongst the trio’s perspectives was actually key to conveying the story, as each character began to explore their new powers and endure trials.
But much of the feedback I received involved matters that included, “the main protagonist is not interesting,” and “I’m not invested in any one of these characters.” I know that this feedback wasn’t just because of the shifting PoV’s between chapters, but my experiment in the rewrite began there.
The issue I honed in on specifically was Chris – he was essentially a blank face. Not literally, but he just wasn’t interesting. There was no reason to care for him. Nothing to pull at the heartstrings.
So I chose to pull back into his character, to give him a more unique personality. I also admittedly pulled some ideas from some other fiction to help in this regard, specifically Ready Player One and, more recently, The Iron Druid Chronicles. Chris is a geek. He watches anime, sci-fi and fantasy, reads books, plays video games, and he makes references to them often.
But there needed to be more, and going back to the example set by Jay Kristoff’s Lotus War Trilogy, I almost instantly knew the answer – family. Specifically, a tragedy that takes place before book one, but becomes a major factor throughout the entire trilogy, both in the larger story, and as something personal for Chris.
Sounds like a cliche when I say it like that, but I’m also trying to balance the desire to not give spoilers. Chris isn’t a tragic figure, he isn’t moping around (unlike how I had him in the original version of the book.)
In any case, that was the start of it all.
“But Jon, The Lotus War isn’t from a single perspective! So how did that inspire you?”
To be honest, there’s two factors behind that. First, relating specifically to Kristoff’s trilogy, whenever it switched away from Yukiko’s PoV, I found myself wishing fervently for it to go back to her. I wanted to know about her journey more than anyone else’s. This has been reinforced upon reading all but the last Iron Druid Chronicles novel – the first several novels are only from the protagonist’s PoV, but once it starts sharing time with one, and then multiple characters in later books, I found those PoV’s distracting.
Not to say there isn’t value in a story told through multiple PoV’s. Many of my favorite novels have switched between multiple perspectives (pretty much every Star Wars and Star Trek novel I’ve ever read, except for I, Jedi.) And I’m quite proud of the Sword of Dragons saga, which primarily divides time between Cardin and Kailar.
But that brings me to my second reasoning behind it – for Sword of Dragons, the many PoV’s makes sense, and is necessary to convey the epic scale of the story. There’s a reason Secrets of the Cronal is over 170k words long.
For Sentinels, I wanted it to be a much more personal journey. A singular PoV was the only thing that made sense, and only once did I break that, in the Epilogue. Based on reader feedback, that single break was actually well-done and absolutely necessary. I have likewise done that in book 2 – the entire book is from Chris’s PoV, except for the epilogue.
Speaking of epilogues, I think this blog article is already getting a bit too long, so I’ll wrap things up by quickly mentioning one of the other aspects I focused on in the rewrite, and that is making each character more unique and interesting.
For instance, both Chris and Alycia are geeks who enjoy quoting pop culture, but Alycia has other passions different from Chris. For one thing, she’s a cosplayer, something that I feel has not had enough exposure in sci-fi and fantasy. Aside from some books and movies referencing the well-known San Diego Comicon, there’s been a distinct lack of it. Alycia loves her cosplay, loves designing clothes, making armor, etc, and in fact, this plays perfectly into what her magic abilities turn out to be (*ahem* spoilers ;) )
Emmi is more of a fitness nut and metaphysical. In fact, between the core trio, Emmi is the one more willing to accept the existence of magic because of her metaphysical beliefs. She has a strong affinity with nature, which likewise feeds into what her magic powers end up being. But she also has endured a string of bad, failed relationships, setting the stage for what she endures at Nabu’s hands.
That’s all for today, but I hope you enjoyed this peek into my new writing process! And if you’re wondering about my previous post talking about the Sword of Dragons book 4, that story is likewise still in progress, and I’m applying some of my lessons learned from Chronicles of the Sentinels to that – there are fewer PoV’s (but still more than one) and I’ve adopted a shift in syntax and style that I feel tells a far more interesting story.
Until next time, stay safe out there, everyone!
Thanks for reading,