So I had my first official "meeting" with my literary agent Harry today (it was a phone call and not an in-person meeting, as he is based in Canada), and wow, do I have a lot of work to do.
Remember that plot outline I was working on a few weeks ago? Yeah, probably going to be tossed. My assignment for the next two weeks is to flesh out the landscape of my world (which means I have to draw a map! Eep), put together sketches (of the written variety) of all the major characters and write the plot outline for THE ENTIRE SERIES.
Yes, that's right. I'm planning out every single aspect of Sam, Tristan and Braeden's world. In two weeks, I'll know who shall live and who shall die, who shall perish by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by beast...
Oh wait, I just quoted the Old Testament. It's a surprisingly appropriate quote.
Writing, especially writing fantasy, is a little bit like playing God. You have to create an entire world from scratch, its creatures and its people. It's kind of fun to rule your own little universe but man, is it hard.
I've mentioned before that I'm not really a planner. I wrote the first 15 chapters of Paladin without planning ANYTHING -- not the characters, not the plot, not even the romance. It's probably why the first part of my book is less focused than the rest.
I got stuck at chapter 15, and so at the advice of Eileen Gormley, co-author of The Pleasures of Winter (it's like the 50 Shades of Ireland, but much better written) and otherwise known as Ctyolene on Wattpad, I wrote the synopsis for the rest of the story.
I didn't stick to the synopsis exactly--plot elements changed or happened in a different order, or new plot elements cropped up (the rupture in Braeden's tattoo and that first kiss were completely unplanned, for example). But having it there as a guide was tremendously helpful in keeping me on track and avoiding plot holes...and probably most importantly, in avoiding writer's block.
Speaking of plot holes, they're a big part of why Harry says I need to plan out the entire series now. If you don't know how the whole story is going to unfold, you might find yourself with plot issues in later books that are insurmountable. It's also hard to use important literary devices like foreshadowing when you yourself don't know what's going to happen. It's one thing when your first book is just published on Wattpad -- it's easy enough to go back and make edits. But once your first book is published in the traditional sense, making changes later is impossible.
The approach he suggested is interesting: rather than write three plot outlines for three separate books, I'm writing one long plot outline, treating it like one contiguous story. I can figure out where it makes sense to break the story into separate books afterward.
So, depending on how much story there is to tell (I don't know yet; I haven't started planning), Paladin could be a 3-book series or it could be 10 (although I sincerely doubt it!).
To that end, Harry also said not to worry about word count. As an amateur writer, pretty much everything I've read says that for your first novel, keep it under 100,000 words. To put it into perspective, Paladin, as it currently stands on Wattpad, is 110,000 words.
One of my concerns has been how to add to the story the missing elements (more on that later) without also adding a significant amount of text. Well, since my agent has thrown that out the window, for the time being, I'm free to write as long and as much as I'd like. As he pointed out, some of the Harry Potter books are over 700 pages (175,000+ words). I would argue that I'm no J.K. Rowling, but I'm eager to be able to write Paladin without constraints.
And I do expect Paladin to be much, much longer. Harry told me he likes the core plot of the story (the Sam/Braeden/Tristan story arc), but it's too narrowly focused on them. What about the politics of my world? I mention a king in passing -- he's a king in a feudal system, which means he must have some degree of real power. Why does he not have any role in the story or how events unfold? What is the dynamic between him and the High Commander? Here, Harry pointed out I'm missing out on a great opportunity to create more tension and add richness to my plot. There needs to be more going on in the world than just the conflict between the Uriel and the Paladins.
So yeah. I have to design a political system now. Good thing I've got a degree in political science (unfortunate that I don't remember a thing I learned in college beyond how to do a cartwheel...I got an A in Circus).
Harry's other major criticism is that while Sam, Braeden and Tristan are well-developed characters, the rest of my characters are not. The story needs to stay their story, but that doesn't mean other characters can't have larger roles. Once again, we'll use Harry Potter as our example -- the books are focused on Harry, Hermione and Ron, but there are many, many other fully developed and memorable characters, like Dumbledore, Snape, Sirius Black, etc.
One suggestion Harry made that I latched onto immediately was regarding my little thief boy, Charlie, from Chapter 19. He said he really connected with Charlie, but then Charlie was gone a chapter later. What if Charlie were to join Sam, Tristan and Braeden's entourage for the rest of their journey? I love that idea.
There are a few other potential characters we discussed having a more significant role that will have a pretty significant impact on how the story unfolds, but I'm not sure how much of that conversation I want to divulge. I want you to be surprised when you read the new version of Paladin.
I will promise you this (and my agent agrees): whatever changes I make, the parts you like about Paladin will still be there. I'm adding to the plot, not taking away. Some minor things might have to change from a logic standpoint (let's be real--how practical is it that Braeden uses knives to chop off demons' heads? A knife is six inches long--it would take forever!), but I want to keep the heart of my story the same.
On a semi-off topic note, thank you to everyone who has been recommending Paladin to friends. After months of falling out of the top 10, Paladin has returned to the #1 spot in Fantasy and Adventure, and that's entirely because of you. I feel like I don't say this to you guys enough: I love you!