Thursday, December 03, 2009

Proposals and Series Vs. Standalone pt. 2a

Part 2a: Structure without planning—WebMage

So, as mentioned last time, WebMage accreted into a series rather than being planned as one. But what does that mean? How is planning for a series different?

Let's start with the short-story version of WebMage's plot and the things I didn't think about beforehand. The short story WebMage was all about Ravirn's successful escape after a hacking run. Because it was essentially a chase story, it really didn't matter why Ravirn had hacked Atropos beyond for the hell of it (strongly implied in the short). Fine motivation for a short story, but ultimately unsatisfying for a novel. Because it was a short the long term effects of the cost of that escape didn't matter when I was writing the short. So, at the end we have Ravirn with the enmity of one of the Fates, a knee that's thoroughly hashed, short a fingertip, and in no real shape to do anything but lie in bed and recover. Fine in a short, more problematic in chapter three of a novel with a whole book left for him to limp through.

Then there's world. In the short all I had to put together for the magic system was the rough framework and decorate it with the bits that I needed to make the plot work. A novel needs a lot more than that, and if I'd been planning for more story there are thing I would have made simpler or stronger. Names are another issue. At short story length I just grabbed cool stuff and didn't worry too much about making a coherent culture of it. Likewise culturally, the colors my characters wore and the pseudo-Elizabethan court structure, both done because they were cool and at short length coherence wasn't really an issue.

Finally, character. Ravirn and the Fates were basically perfectly workable characters for the longer run of a novel, so no real problems at the first order build-out level. Cerice and Melchior however both needed a lot more room to grow. A good part of the familiar underground subplot was by way of making the expanded Melchior make sense. As for Cerice, I don't think I really got her to work fully the way I wanted until book V.

So, a good deal of the structure of WebMage the novel went into mitigating and justifying the cost of the events of the short and into making that set of scenes make sense in a larger context. A fair amount of work also went into ret-conning the magic system to make it work for the novel. Culture had to be justified and characters twisted and expanded. I'm quite happy with the result but it was an enormous amount of work to get it there and I suspect that if I'd been planning ahead I could have achieved better results with less wordage, which in turn would have given me room to make things richer elsewhere.

There were similar problems moving from the stand-alone WebMage novel into an open ended series a piece at a time as I did, most notably with Cerice (who worked very well as a love interest in the original happily ever after ending of WebMage but not so much over multiple books), Tisiphone (who I straightjacketed in book I much more than I would have had I known how big a part she was going to play going forward), the magic system (see the handing off of the mweb system from Fate to Necessity), and plot (having your main character go up against Fate in book I doesn't leave you a lot of room to step back down into a more human scale of story or, on the other end, much space for a bigger badder baddie). Again, I'm happy with the results, and in particular with some of the choices forced on me by the original structure of Tisiphone, but I think it could have been done better with only a little more forethought.

I don't regret a single choice I made with WebMage but man, looking forward, a lot of them are choices I'm glad I won't have to make with the next set of books. Next up, application of the lessons learned, or structure with planning.

1 comment:

Keith said...

The amount of work you put into the series shows. I think that the growth of Melchior felt natural- just in just the right place - and I've enjoyed watching the transition from servitude to partnership.