Book Breakdown: "Point of Fate" (final draft)Image Not Found.
Welcome to another book breakdown, a blog in which I discuss the process of writing a particular draft of one of my books and give an overview of content. POINT OF FATE released in digital formats in August and paperback in September. To celebrate, I published a postmortem in two gigantic Twitter threads. That postmortem--one of my book breakdowns by another name--can be found in its entirety right here.
POINT OF FATE, book 2 in my series for #YA readers, is out in paperback and digital editions from @TycheBooks. This #postmortem thread covers writing & revising the book. Link to series: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07FCRV6VH #amwriting #writers #yafantasy #sff
I wrote the first draft of POINT over 8-10 weeks in early 2006, a couple of months after finishing HERITAGE. A lot changed, but one constant was a focus on several characters rather than just Aidan, the prince who matured and claimed his kingdom in book 1.
POINT follows 5 characters: Nichel, leader of the western tribes; Christine, daughter of the realm’s highest-ranking Cinder (magic user); Daniel, Aidan’s BFF; Edmund, Aidan’s father; and Aidan. Their goal: Unite the 4 realms of Crotaria for war against a common enemy. Edmund was not featured in the original draft, or if he was, we only saw through his eyes for a chapter or two. (I wrote the first draft 12.5 years ago, and I’ve forgotten these details.)
I let POINT OF FATE’s first draft cool for 9 years. I didn’t revise it sooner because HERITAGE went through a lot of changes, and I saw no point in tinkering with POINT until the dust had settled in Book 1. (Also, I saw no point in revising the second book in a series until I’d sold the first book. I did draft a 10,000-feet-view outline for POINT so I’d know more or less what I wanted to do once HERITAGE found a home.)
I revised POINT from June 2015 until January 2017, in tandem w/ two other books as well as freelance articles. The revision’s initial story arc was ponderous: follow the 5 characters as they prepare Crotaria for war; show the war; end on a “ZOMG!” climax to set up Book 3.
By October 2015, I knew that arc was way too big for one book. I talked with Margaret, my editor at Tyche, about stopping right before the war begins. That seemed the best breaking point for one key reason: All 5 characters would come out half-baked (or worse) if I didn’t give them time to work through their issues before the brouhaha. Stopping right at the start at the war would let me explore all 5 story arcs to a satisfactory degree before heads started rolling.
Those story arcs took shape as I wrote POINT. Aidan would continue to grow as a king, learning that leadership means making hard decisions that put the interests of many ahead of those of the few.
My goal w/ Aidan has always been to make him a sympathetic leader more than a likable character. Someone who you may disagree w/, but who should make you say, “Okay, I get why you had to do that… but, ugh.” HERITAGE and POINT are YA novels, and young adults face tough decisions every day. They learn, as we all do, that they can’t always make everyone happy. That’s Aidan in a nutshell.
Christine and Aidan are in love, but have separate tasks. She returns to where she grew up: The Territory Bridge, a camp where the oppressed Sallnerian people have been segregated for 800 years. They’re preparing an uprising, and they want Chris to lead. Christine’s arc became topical as the political scene in the U.S. unfolded. That was unintentional: My plan for Christine’s arc was set long before Donald Trump ramped up his repugnant practices toward immigrants and children. Chris is there to save the day, but at a cost.
Aidan and Nichel have been betrothed since before Nichel was born. Trouble is, she hates his guts because she thinks Aidan murdered her parents. Nichel, like Aidan, buckles under the weight of leading her people while sorting through lies to determine Aidan's innocence.
Representation and inclusivity have always been important to me, but it wasn’t until POINT that I felt confident enough in my writing to really dig into those themes. POINT deals with systemic racism, particularly in Christine’s and Nichel’s stories. I was eager to explore systemic racism (spoiler: IT’S BAD), as well as tie that theme to religion, a theme from HERITAGE. HERITAGE was inclusive, but narrowly, though not out of any attempt to be exclusive on my part. HERITAGE was centered on one character, his worldview, and how it changed over time. Showing more of that world through the POV of different characters from different backgrounds and cultures became another of POINT’s core tenets.
I enjoy worldbuilding, but my work in that area stems from character development. Everything—worldbuilding, cultures, magic systems, themes—stems from characters. I dream up a story arc, and assemble the world around it. If a character decides to change midway through writing, or even on the last chapter, everything else gets shuffled around to accommodate them. Character always comes first. Everything else is window dressing.
Daniel’s journey takes cues from Aidan’s arc in HERITAGE: As POINT goes on, Daniel finds himself thrust into circumstances that make him doubt himself and his abilities. Leadership runs through all 5 stories in POINT, but Daniel’s is perhaps the most relatable. I wanted to follow an ordinary, rank-and-file soldier through a war and see how he adapted and rose to challenges, as well as how he deals with growing up and facing more relatively ordinary trials with so much turmoil going on around (and occasionally because of) him.
Each arc presented unique obstacles. Daniel was helpful in HERITAGE, but also provided comic relief. POINT deals w/ heavier subjects, yet YA books should be humorous and fun, too. The rub was balancing weighty and humorous material so that one didn’t detract from the other. Edmund’s struggle was one of the most personal for me. He’s grieving the death of Annalyn, Aidan’s mother and Edmund’s wife. My personal quest for Edmund was to show him processing his grief and working through it so he can either find a reason to live… or not.
In short: Edmund is depressed. His arc was personal for me. I’ve struggled with depression all my life (and I’m only 36, so I have so much more of it to look forward to!), but it’s been particularly trying over the past few years. Edmund and I worked through issues together. Edmund’s and Christine’s were the most difficult arcs to write. They’re touchy and emotional subjects that are important to me, and I hope I did right by them.
Given all the characters in POINT, Aidan is no longer the main character; he’s one of several, and has the lowest page count of any other POV protagonist. His scenes were difficult in terms of logistics. Aidan and Nichel are involved in the most complex scenes, the ones with the most moving parts, but also some of the coolest—equal parts spectacle, sword-and-sorcery romp, and thematic.
Christine started as a throwaway character in HERITAGE—a plot device, to my shame—who grew to became my favorite character in Book 1. Nichel took that honor as I revised POINT. Margaret from Tyche made several comments on Nichel’s scenes indicating that they were among her favorite. They deeply resonated with me, as well. I put a lot of thought and care into all 5 POV characters, but Nichel and Christine got the most attention.
I was raised, and am surrounded by, powerful women: My mom, my stepmom, my sisters, my wife. I was determined to do them justice. Nichel and Christine are flawed, because they’re human, but all the more powerful and independent because of how they confront those flaws.
Nailing down POINT’s structure was a nightmare. No chapter is overly long, so I didn’t want to jump between characters too often. I wanted readers to have time to wear each character’s boots (or sandals) until they were comfy, then slip into another pair for 30-40 pages. POINT takes place over 3 days in separate locations. Instead of worrying about things like time zones and segues during the first revision—I revised the book twice more before publication, though only the first revision was a complete rewrite—I wrote each arc separately.
Aidan and Nichel spend most of the book together, so I wrote their arcs together. When they were finished, I wrote Edmund’s. Then Daniel’s. Then Christine’s. I got stuck near the end of hers. By that point I’d been working on POINT for a year. I left Christine’s arc—and the book—unfinished. I spent the next month working on other projects and then returned for another revision, my usual practice. Another technique of mine: the first revision is a total, from-the-ground-up rewrite. All other phases are revisions.
I repeated the same process: Aidan and Nichel first, then Edmund, and so on. During this stage, I kept a concordance, noting details such as time of day. When this was complete, I evaluated my concordance to determine how to fit the five arcs together. I believe I achieved my goal. In POINT, you’ll spend 3-5 chapters with one character, then jump to the next. Some events happen concurrently, while other chapter “blocks” move time forward; this is made clear in prose when shifting from one character to the next.
I plan to use this method again when I write my next multiple-POV SFF book. Writing each character’s arc to completion allowed me to immerse myself in individual stories and character needs, whereas jumping from one to the next to the next would have been disruptive.
Before I wrap things up, here are some stats from POINT’s major drafts. I post these stats so that others (and I) can see how much a book changes from draft to draft.
- Draft 1: 517 pages, 148,867 words, Times New Roman 12pt font, double spaced, MS Word.
- Draft submitted to Tyche in Jan. ’17: 573 pages, 211,416 words, Times New Roman 12pt font, double spaced, MS Word.
- Final draft: 539 pages, 198,835 words, Times New Roman 12pt font, double spaced, MS Word.
That’s a wrap! I hope you enjoyed this book postmortem. Feel free to tweet or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions.