Sunday, March 5, 2017

Organic Growth in Novels

Today I want to muse on the benefits and joys of organic growth in novels. This will be a stream-of-conscious thing so it may be a little disorganized. Anyway,

The organic growth that can occur in a novel's development is quite delightful. To find those surprises in development is like receiving a present spontaneously on a normal day. Seeing everything come's like gears meshing and creating harmonious music.

 Circumstances that I never ever expected will turn up as natural as you like. I roll with those. For instance! There was a moment in the first draft of "Looming Shadow" where I realized that there were only two possibilities going forward: 1.) Eric is killed by his current enemy or 2.) Eric defeats this enemy but, by way of Geo Effects and Dangerous Forbidden Technique, he turns into a monster.  I had already ruled out "convenient rescue by a deity" in-universe and this was an important plot point so I couldn't overrule it. Likewise, Eric's allies were either occupied elsewhere with no idea where he was or unable to help if the previous two conditions were not present. I was scrounging for a way out of this apparent corner that I had written myself into when I thought, "if the most likely outcome that still allows for Eric's survival is mana mutation, then he will become a monster." So I let the story follow its natural course and Eric transformed into a savage beast known as a "grendel". This one decision led to tremendous character development for my protagonist, splendid world building, and, most significantly, the entirety of the following book "Mana Mutation Menace".

Characters! Characters that I created to be minor expand their scope as more is revealed to me. Others that I had planned to be important, even the central villain, don't materialize. The organic progression of the story determines the characters that are important. Put into another phrase, the characters determine their importance by pushing forward the story on their own narrative weight. Another example is Zettai. When I introduced her into "Looming Shadow" it was to demonstrate Ceiha's harsh "justice" system. Then she and The Trickster bamboozled me into adding her to the main cast. Then she plays a critical role in book 4, Transcending Limitations. I even have story ideas where she has the staring role.

The prewriting sees this happen a lot. There's this one story that I'm working on (which, in fact, inspired this blog post) where I thought that the protagonist would be this character. Then, as I continued creating possible characters for this world, I thought "no, it will be that character...". Then AGAIN I notice the enticing possible chemistry between a second pair of characters and thought "I would have to make them the primary characters to fully develop this" and that's where I am now. This second pair also provides opportunities to develop the original idea for this particular story and in a richer and more direct way as well. I love it when that happens.

It's not easy. It takes many drafts to see the connections and how everything will play out. It takes an open mind and flexibility. It's fun.

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

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