For the month of April, I’m going to be doing something different for Fiction Fridays.
Normally, I try to upload a piece of writing each week. I’m not great about that, but it’s more or less worked out. But this month I’ll write about Aspects of Sand, the fantasy novel I’m writing for Camp NaNo. It’s posted to Wattpad and Penana if you want to check it out.
Because I’m finishing my MFA, I’ve been a little less available to get work done on the novel, and I don’t think I’m going to finish it this month.
The first six chapters of Aspects of Sand are now up, if we count the prologue.
I started this project hoping to upload a chapter a day, and I’m getting something closer to two chapters a week at the current pace.
The good news is that the basic writing process is going faster than that.
The bad news is that I’ve been struggling to get writing ready to publish.
Some of this is just a consequence of lack of experience.
However, there’s a major issue with me having too many things on my plate. I’ve been writing a lot of blog content, and that’s a mixed bag.
On one hand, my personal blog is strictly a passion project. I use it to unwind before I go to bed, and it helps me sleep.
I’ve been writing for it daily, but I think I’m going to move to a non-daily schedule there and give myself some breathing room.
Then there’s this blog. I don’t plan to reduce this, because my writing here is a direct product of me studying and contemplating craft. If I’m going to be an excellent writer, that will be a perpetual practice.
The hardest part of the blog is figuring out what I’m writing, and I feel good on that for a while.
I had a clear thrust to the central plot when I started writing, and I’ve had some good luck in stumbling into minor plot points that have brought things together.
If we divide the story into three acts, my goal is to work through two side-plots each act.
Aspects of Sand is in first-person, so everything has to be seen by the protagonist.
In Daughter of Spades, I got around this by making the side-characters have chapters from their perspectives, but I’m not doing that for Aspects of Sand.
Instead, what’s important here is giving Zefra a little taste of other peoples’ stories and having them develop in an arc tangential to her.
Because the world is apocalyptic, this is difficult. People don’t do a lot of stuff outside Zefra’s arc.
Some of the side characters come and go. For instance, Menir and Ramir, who we’ve already met, both leave by the end of the first act.
I’m not sure how well I’m going to communicate these side-plots.
But the idea is that a few side-characters will have a development arc that serves as a side-plot.
Further, some external threats will brew off-camera and threaten the main plot’s execution.
Ramir and the Priest’s Journey
I want to try this with Ramir, but his character has been a little all over the place.
When I revise Aspects of Sand, he’s going to be a very different character. He’s been a little all over the place, being both somewhat cynical and lax in his faith and also hardcore and devout.
One thing that I want to capitalize on is that he’s coming from an entirely academic background.
My experience with religion is that there is danger in flying too close to the sun. People who have the greatest background in theology often lack fervor.
The reverse–zeal without knowledge–can be a problem too.
I’d like Ramir to develop from a cynical theological expert to someone whose experiences force him into a confrontation with the gods. That would give something authentic to the character.
Also, it could help Zefra, since Ramir stays with the Oracle when she carries on into the second act with a new set of companions. Their conversation about his reconciliation with the gods could be helpful to her.
I’m not sure how much of this will make it into the first draft. He’s not currently set up to do that. I haven’t written the scenes in which this conversation would take place yet, but I think it would feel awkward with the current version of Ramir.
I might do it anyway and make a note in the comments, while saving my efforts for a future revision pass on the first introduction to Ramir.
Hanun, Ramir, and Menir
I had been playing with the idea of having each of the characters serve as a foil.
And the problem is that they change too much in the initial confusion of the first act.
At the start, Hanun is the true believer while Zefra is faithful but lacking in zeal.
Then he suddenly gives up on the gods, and Zefra fills with doubt.
I think there is too much cynicism in the initial section as it currently stands.
Ramir and Menir are too indistinct. Ramir is like Zefra on steroids; he wouldn’t deny the existence of the gods (which, given the setting, is wise), but he’s absolutely about the low-effort life.
Menir is more faithful, but he has sort of a wiggly element to him.
Clarifying their roles will be important in the revision process.
Mihca the Orphan
This side-plot came to me spontaneously. I want Zefra to reveal her character as someone who will sacrifice.
That’s important to me because one motif in Aspects of Sand is sacrifice. The consequences of not sacrificing and the rewards of prudent sacrifice pop up throughout the work.
For instance, in an early scene Hanun sacrifices himself by turning back to Ehram after he is bitten, so that he cannot harm his companions when he turns.
She meets Mihca after she is invested as the Aspect of Akkun. This happens when she meets the Oracle, which breaks between the first and second acts.
Technically speaking, Akkun chooses her before this. But that is not as significant to the plot.
At first, I wrote Mihca as a complication for Aheddin, where Zefra would need to rescue her from the hordes and watch her while the bandits were going about their business.
I’ve soured on this idea.
Zefra should meet her before Aheddin, probably in a minor city along the way.
Although the story of Mihca and how she came to be an orphan is tragic, she serves as a wholesome point of light in a dark world.
Mihca serves several roles:
- Provides a proto-daughter figure for Zefra, who takes on a sort of older sibling role to her as the novel progresses.
- As a foil for Zefra and company.
- She is a sign of hope for the future should the plague go away.
- A burden that is worth carrying.
- An echo of Zefra.
For her part, Mihca has spent a week or so surviving in a town full of husks before the protagonists arrive, so she’s not entirely helpless.
But she is raw potential.
Mihca needs care. Each of the protagonists during this stage has contributes skills to the quest, including Mihca who’s stealthy and cunning.
Zefra and her companions all provide some mentorship to Mihca over the course of the story.
In the end, Mihca becomes a significant character because she follows Zefra’s footsteps, but promises to rebuild a world without the tarnish of the Glassmakers’ influence.
One of the central conflicts is between faith/tradition/nature and magic/progress/artifice.
Mihca can be firmly devoted to the gods in a way that even Zefra cannot. Since all the adults in the story grew up in the world of the Glassmakers, they cannot be untouched by their influence.
The counterpoint to this is that in a theoretical sequel, she becomes both the inheritor of Zefra’s role and the antagonistic force.
Innocence and Loss
Mihca is innocence undisturbed by the central crisis of the plague.
Some of this is because her age insulates her and she does not understand. However, she is also naïve in a positive sense.
She’s not prone to the same denial of reality that Zefra falls into. While she does not always confront problems, this is because of limitations in her awareness.
As the story continues, some of this has to go down. After the protagonists rescue Mihca from husks, she follows them to Aheddin. There, she sees the fighting and conflict. This forces her to grow up quite a bit.
By the time Zefra is heading into the final confrontation, Mihca should have grown to be essentially her apprentice. She is something that Zefra can positively orient herself toward when the hour of decision arises.
The Bandits of Aheddin
The central conflict of Aspects of Sand is Zefra against the gods. It’s really Zefra against the plague (which was sent by the gods) or against her own limitations, depending on how you view it.
But the gods caused the problem, and she needs to sort it out.
As the central conflict of the novel, this is too high-concept. I’d have to basically make the entire story unfold inside Zefra’s head, and the stakes would seem off.
It would be difficult to achieve physical action.
It also lacks a human element. The protagonists have human interests and motives. But the gods, personified forces of nature as they are, do not.
The second act features the first real human antagonists, a bunch of bandits who are operating in a city called Aheddin.
What’s a Heddin?
Aheddin is the focus of much of Act 2. It’s a major port city, also known by the epithet “the City of the Gods.”
As the traditional seat of the pantheon for the setting, it’s a place that I want to visit and explore in some detail.
But because it’s a major city and has Glassmakers, the plague hit it.
However, the Glassmakers are less influential in Aheddin, in part due to persecutions from the temple.
When the city fell, the guard and local organized crime worked together to establish a safe enclave.
The city’s survivors are now divided into three factions.
There are a bunch of people on the outskirts who are basically surviving out on their farms.
Then there are the survivors in the temple, who are hopelessly beset on all sides and desperate for help when Zefra finds them.
And there are the bandits.
Why Include Human Antagonists?
I wanted to include the bandits because they speak to what would be the precisely wrong way to act.
They’re making out well despite the husks. By the time Zefra arrives in Aheddin, they’ve spent a couple weeks decaying.
The bandits are basically the meanest people around. In addition to those who they are sheltering directly in exchange for payment, they extort the rest of the survivors.
Zefra’s first exposure to them comes when she visits the farms on the outskirts.
Then they become something to avoid. It raises the stakes, because not only could shambling hordes threaten the protagonist but there are more cunning adversaries about.
However, the bandits don’t know of Zefra, and they’re not numerous enough to watch every part of the city.
This creates a tension through stealth.
Once Zefra finds the temple, she has to confront the bandits on behalf of its inhabitants. Only then can she get what she needs.
This creates a barrier, which helps raise the stakes, but also builds a relationship between Zefra and her world.
The Third Act
I don’t want to talk too much about the third act because I don’t want to spoil too much, but I think it’ll be interesting.
I also want to leave myself free to change everything if I have to. Right now it’s too close to Daughter of Spades for my taste. Given that I’m likely to publish my first three books in the inverse order of writing, this may be worrying about something nobody would notice.
I haven’t made a lot of straightforward progress this week, but I’ve been working on fleshing out a lot of the story.
While I probably won’t finish the novel in April, I’m hoping to finish it up in May and start the revision process to get it self-published with a couple additional pieces of content by the end of the year.