This is a follow-up to the situation detailed in “The Current State of The Solune Prince.”
In April, I graduated from university with a degree in English, and I was eager to return to working on the hulking mass that is my second novel, The Solune Prince. But I won’t go into the details of the early stages of that transition, but if you’re interested, you can click on the link to the blog where I get into it above.
The conclusion of the aforementioned blog stated “I actually don’t know when I’ll get back on the rails with this. . . . I’m thinking readers can expect a new chapter online in 3-4 weeks.” I don’t recall if I managed to keep that prediction, but what I do know is that, like many things in my life, getting back on track took a lot longer than I expected. May passed in frustration, and June was no different, except that I started editing the more recent chapters, setting up the story so that I could continue (since I had left it in a bit of a mess before stopping for school).
The Great Solution
It wasn’t until July that I had the epiphany I needed to thrust my story into the next writing period. That was, I finally made concrete the reason why Ryann, the Lussa prince, needed Chloe, the Solune Prince. And, perfectly fitting for a story that focuses on politics, drama, and law, the solution was this. Ryann found an ancient law that lets family members join the parliament to vote on certain matters. He also found out about an ancient schism, a split in the Sollussa people; his ancestors. The Sollussa became the Solune and the Lussa. So, he tracked down the Solune, hoping that they still held the royal line.
And they did! This means that Lussa royalty (like him) and Solune royalty (like Chloe, the main character) are actually related, and he can invoke this ancient law to win the parliament in his favour.
Armed with this new, strong, specific underlying reason for EVERYTHING IN THE STORY SINCE CHAPTER ONE, I shot into the next few chapters. The rest of July was spent cleaning up the end chapters, cutting a few of them, and attaching new chapters with this new underlying premise. I wrote the big scene where Chloe meets the Lussa prince for the first time and learns of this quirk in Lussa law—and then I got stuck. But I persevered, and now I’m more or less on the right track here. And, through all of this, I actually developed how I do things as a writer; at least in this novel.
The New Process
Which of the Two Approaches?
There are a lot of ways to approach a novel, but people often create a dichotomy between spontaneous writing, and outlining then writing. (Yes, it’s commonly known as “pantsing vs plotting,” but that’s such a tired terminology…) My first novel, Alice and Finch, was completely spontaneous, and somehow it worked out quite nicely. Probably because I knew what the two characters wanted (to reunite) and what stood in the way (the guards exiling one of them), and all I had to do was to address the block and get them back together. Really, I let the characters do all of that, and the narrative came together naturally.
The Solune Prince, I’ve always known, was going to be a large and complex story. That’s why I decided to outline first. No, that’s actually not true. The Solune Prince was actually my first proper attempt at a novel, and twice I tried to write it spontaneously with no planning, and both times it went all over the place and it kind of sucked, and I had to stop. What really happened was when I sat down to do attempt three, I decided that I needed a new approach, and that approach was going to be planning it all out.
The Major Issue
…Is that it turns out, I don’t follow my own outlines. This isn’t only because I absolutely do not infringe on the free will of my characters (whatever that really means. Just be philosophical for a moment, and follow along), but apparently I just deviate because. Just because. So in the first few months, I would make an outline, shift away from it as I wrote, and then make a new outline, deviate from that, and so on.
And I did that again the next summer, when I picked the story up again after breaking for university classes.
In fact, it’s been years now. I started The Solune Prince in the summer of 2017, and it’s now nearly fall 2021. That means, for nearly four years I was struggling with an outline and only now have I figured out what I really have to do to make this all work. And all along, it had been hiding in an old part of my process I’ve been doing since the start of this draft…handwriting first, and typing second.
For those four years, I had been using this approach mainly for basic editing. I would clean up a sentence or two from the handwritten draft, and fix spelling issues going from paper to word processor. But rarely did anything important change from the page to the screen. Sometimes, I would wonder what the point was, and there are a handful of chapters which did skip the handwritten side of things altogether. Some of those are horrible, and have been completely removed. Maybe putting pen to paper does have some diffuse effect of adding robustness to my work, I don’t really know. Because of that though, when I started again this spring, I started by filling my fountain pen with ink, and opening up the old notebook.
This new process didn’t happen right away, but it gradually started when I began on that infamous scene I talked about above, Chloe meeting prince Ryann for the first time. There was a lot of information, situational, emotional, political, and legalistic, all being conveyed at once. On top of that was stylistic concerns, and, very importantly for me, that I not lose the reader in all of it. The final result came out great, but I know that this section will be improved even further when I go into the editing phase.
But something happened there, and then it happened again in the next chapter. I had to cut a lot of things out and save them for later, and on top of that, as I was transcribing, I had new ideas that fit perfectly into the scene, so I added them in. Essentially, there was a bit of spot-editing going on as the story transitioned from the physical page to the digital one. And it really worked. In fact, the result was so satisfactory that when I had the urge to add to a scene in the next chapter, I let it run wild and ended up with a beautiful and thoughtful interaction between Chloe and her new sister-in-law, Senica. I deepened their relationship, and also discovered that Senica is quite politically minded herself, and also a bit of a philosopher (like the ancient Roman figure she’s named after, Seneca).
So I finally did it. I, who likes ever so much to be unique and different, can finally say that I’m no plotter, and I’m not a “pantser.” I have my own method which includes both planning and a lot of spontaneity, and even integrates a third element, editing, into the mix without getting hung up on it.
To put it cleanly, my process is this:
- Know where the story is going; have an end in mind that the characters are working towards. This includes some outlining, but not a lot.
- Know the characters, and let them act autonomously, without infringing on their “free will.” This includes some character planning, but far less than one might assume.
- Handwrite the first draft, keeping 2-4 chapters ahead of the typed version. Keep space in the margins or the opposite page open in case you need to fix or add things.
- Type the written version, adding, removing, and cleaning up as you go. Do this intuitively; you are not editing right now, this still technically the writing stage, editing will come later. Stay focused.
And that’s it. It looks like a lot, but it’s really only four steps. And no, I don’t do it all the time. Many scenes still go straight from pen to computer without much change. But for more complex scenes, or chapters that just aren’t working on the first go, using that liminal space between the paper and the screen is doing wonders. I’ve created a new vessel in my process for deliberation and thought, and it’s great so far.
The New Project
Before I finish, I just want to point out a new project I’m working on, likely a novella length narrative. It’s called The Solune Sovereignim and it’s about Chloe Rhye’s parents, Rhye and Gwenhime, and how they met over a millennia ago. This is a side project I’m working on when I don’t quite have the energy or brainpower to dig into The Solune Prince. When I was writing Alice and Finch, I had a similar side project, Evidence. The benefit of this is that I keep my writing sharp, and my habit consistent.
What’s relevant here, apart from the shoutout (please check it out! The chapters are short!), is the process. The Solune Sovereignim is being written much like Alice and Finch, spontaneously, but to an end. There’s no written copy, it’s directly typed. The result is quite interesting, the writing comes out differently. I hope people enjoy both stories, and perhaps even see and appreciate the differences like I do.
Until Next Time,
This is all I have for now. Please feel free to enjoy the current draft of the novel. Hopefully some day soon it will be polished and published!
Thanks for reading,