Jeff Seymour - Author of Fantasy, Literary Fiction, & c.: Craft Breakdown! Soulwoven Chapter 3

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Craft Breakdown! Soulwoven Chapter 3

Quick update on the cover situation: Cover variant #3 is leading variant #1 by a few votes, so it's most likely to be the one I put up on Sunday when the next chapter of Soulwoven goes up on Wattpad.

But for now, here's what I was trying to do with Chapter 3 (spoilers below! Go read it first!).

Chapter 3 starts off immediately after the events of Chapter 2, but it takes place in Ryse's head instead of Cole's. As it starts off, Ryse is recovering from and trying to remember what exactly happened to her before the brothers Jin arrived. Before she's really got her feet back under her, she starts trying to heal people and save lives, which leads to her seeing a vision of the dragon that's now in danger of being released. Eventually, she leaves the brothers and returns to the Temple, where she gets raked over the coals for seeing the broken heart dragons, lies to protect Litnig and Cole, and decides to run for her life.

The biggest thing I'm doing in Chapter 3 is expanding the narrative. There are other things going on as well (introducing Ryse, introducing soulweaving, continued worldbuilding), but Chapter 3 is the point where the story really starts to balloon in scope. In Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, we're following two brothers who are really only concerned with their own lives---they have no reason to be concerned about anything else. In Chapter 3 we get a third p.o.v. character, and we get a powerful one. Ryse is a magic user. She has access to the corridors of power in Eldan, and through that access she and we learn that some weird and dangerous things are happening in the world. Most importantly, Ryse is the type of person to do something about it. When she sees the heart dragons broken, she can't just keep quiet and hope that everything will be alright.

I want to talk briefly about how I introduce Ryse, because in my last revision I learned something about how to do it that might help others as well. The sympathy for Ryse (I hope) comes from two angles: her selflessness in helping people in the graveyard and her identity as an orphan who came from nothing. In the last draft of Chapter 3, neither of those things was apparent right away. Ryse spent the whole first page thinking about herself and what had happened to her in the graveyard, and we didn't learn about her past in the slums until close to the end of the chapter.

So I moved the revelation that she's an orphan up and combined it with her selflessness. It feels a little unsubtle to me, but I think it works---the reader has an immediate reason to care about Ryse. And the reader always needs a reason to care about a character. Without it, his or her interest will wane dramatically.

It's also worth talking about the introduction of soulweaving in the chapter, which was a little difficult to do as well. In my opinion, the easiest way to introduce magic is from the point of view of a character who's just learning it, because then he or she is experiencing everything for the first time. Because the sensations are new, it makes sense for him or her to describe them.

Unfortunately for me, nobody learns soulweaving for the first time in the first book of Soulwoven. So I was left to describe magic through Ryse's eyes. I was able to do that effectively (I hope) because she's in a calm, slow, introspective moment. She's just had a traumatic experience, and she feels a little skittish and nervous, so she moves slowly with her soulweaving and takes her time making sure everything feels okay with it. Then, after something goes wrong (she sees the dragon), she has extra reason to be wary of the magic, and because she distrusts it and there's tension coming from that (both she and the reader are wondering whether she's going to see the dragon again when she soulweaves), it again makes sense for her to be thinking about and describing the magic.

When I'm reading submissions as an editor, I often find that writers go bananas describing their magic as soon as it comes into play, but that doesn't always make sense. Someone in the middle of a fight for his or her life, for instance, is unlikely to have time and headspace to start spouting out elegant descriptions about how they feel. More on action scenes when we finally get to a proper one (Chapter 13, I believe), but for now, that's worth noting.

Finally, themes and tension. I mentioned in Chapter 1 that one thing that drives the tension in the first scene is that Litnig is worried and his father, who's the adult and should be the protector, isn't. The same dynamic comes into play again and again throughout the book, including in Chapter 3. Ryse is worried that the heart dragons are broken. The Twelve, who are supposed to be the responsible ones and the protectors, do not seem to be taking it seriously, and react threateningly when Ryse lets slip that she knows what happened. So that's tension from the same type of dramatic situation, which, I suppose, is one way of describing a theme.

The tension itself comes from several sources, each of which blends seamlessly into the next. First, it's "What happened, and is Ryse okay?" which is a holdover from the last chapter. Then, as that question is answered, it's "What's this dragon? What do these visions mean, and why are the characters so scared of them?" That question is answered as well, and then it's "What is Ryse going to do about this, and what is this Twelfthman going to do with her?" There's a brief interlude of "Will Ryse give up Litnig and Cole?" and the chapter ends with "How is Ryse going to escape? What will she do? Where will she go?"

There are plenty of things I'm not completely certain about in this chapter. The worldbuilding, in particular, I'm just sort of crossing my fingers on. I introduce a lot of new concepts and organizations (the Twelve, Twelfthmen, the heart dragons, the legend of Sherduan) and two antagonists (Aegelden Elpioni and Sherduan itself). Because of that, I run the risk of the reader getting lost, and I find as a writer that it's very hard to figure out where exactly to draw the line on how much information is too much. As a rule of thumb, I try not to do more than one new concept per page, but that's kind of an arbitrary choice and I still worry about how well it works.

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