Mark Charan Newton, author of the excellent Legends of the Red Sun series has a clip and a muse on the great question almost every author gets at one time or another (1): Where do ideas come from.
That got me thinking. Technically, my published long fiction to date represents only a single set of initial ideas – that’s the advantage of a series. The original elements of Shadows of the Apt turned up in the early 90’s when I ran something that looked a little like the current Insect-kinden setting as an RPG at university. Looking back, it’s quite surprising just how much of that original campaign actually made it into print. For example you would probably recognise:
(Some minor spoilers for the early books)
1. The map of the Lowlands from book 1, that ispretty much the same as the one I actually used for the campaign.
2. Stenwold and Tisamon as major NPCs going under those very names (though no ‘Maker’ for Stenwold, I think). Stenwold was just an artificer, not a statesman, but Tisamon the Weaponsmaster hasn’t changed all that much, as we see him in Empire.
3. Scuto and Kymene in something quite close to their final forms, but not those names, and indeed the plotline of Kymene as a prisoner of a fat Wasp governor of Myna was played out in the campaign, so I suppose poor old Ulther is one of my original cast too. Scylla was also there, with her face-changing tricks, although primarily as a thief and not a spy.
4. The Darakyon, very much as seen in Empire.
5. Drephos, sort of. The campaign never actually got that far, but a crazy half-Moth artificer with an unusual arm was planned as a later villain.
6. Snapbows, again sort of, although they never got into wide circulation in the game.
7. The Shadow Box, its theft (thought from somewhere else entirely), and an auction in Jerez where it would end up.
8. The grand majority of the kinden found in the books. I even have some thoroughly dreadful concept art from the time. (2)
9, The Scorpion mercenary that Thalric fights alongside the Wasp sycophants in the governor’s palace at Myna. I know that’s ridiculously specific for a character that doesn’t even have a name, but one of aforementioned pieces of art was that guy.
The precise tech level, politics and starting status quo got firmed up a lot for the books, but having developed the world for the game I had a very well-rounded understanding of the world which proved invaluable in writing. A lot of other elements, such as Lake Limnia and its contents, were sort of waiting in the wings. The actual plot itself just evolved out of the world – once I had worked out my starting point everything fell into place – and has continued to fall into place, domino to domino, ever since. I take pains not to get underfoot, really, whilst my characters drive the plot between them, war and angst and all.
There is still a great deal of planning, replanning and going at the whole business with a spanner and a fire-axe, in order to make narrative sense of the train of ideas that flow naturally from the previous books, but within the series, simple causality, the inherent logic (3) of the setting and the pre-existing dispositions of the characters determine a great deal of what will happen next.
Of course, providence willing, there will come I time when the book I am advancing across the chessboard (4) will not be an insect-kinden one. I’m working on book 9 of 10 at the moment, and so my thoughts are naturally turning to the future, and what the next project will be, assuming anyone is insane enough to let me. Whilst I do intend to return to the world of the kinden in time (5) I’d like to visit elsewhere for a while – and that will be an interesting step given that I’ve lived in the one world, with the one set of characters for so long. The ideas are coming, though, and have been for some time (6) – but where do they come from?
Having now got to the point in this post where I intended to actually begin, and to follow up Mr Newton’s own post, I find I have gone on far too long. Another time, perhaps.
(1) No, not ‘why isn’t this available where I live.’ That is a good question though, and particularly annoying to have to ask it.
(2) I also have some rather better concept art from when I was planning Sea Watch, which may even see the light of day.
(3) Giant insects, mad clockwork flying machines and people who can fly notwithstanding.
(4) The chessboard of mixed metaphors, that is.#
(5) As further evidence of my insanity I would state that I have at least three books of extra story not connected to the current arc.
(6) And believe me, it’s imperative that you always write them down. I’ve lost at least a couple of book plots from imperfect recollection later on.