Monday, June 27, 2016
Finding a New Foundation
Warning: this post contains spoilers for Whispers of the Dead, and I recommend reading the book first. Also be warned that this shows the ‘sausage-making’ aspect of writing, which some of you may not want to know about.
The original version of Whispers was like a dream house that hadn’t lived up to expectations, and when I decided to build again, I not only demolished the old structure, I tore up the sketch I’d worked from. (That’s a more apt analogy for a discovery writer than a blueprint.) I still had the same basic premise, but I would develop the idea for the story from scratch. And the first thing I had to do was lay a new foundation.
One of the most important aspects of any tale is the backstory, most of which you never see but which informs every detail of the plot, setting, and characters. The background I’d developed for Whispers had become the basis for my Slowpocalypse series, and after writing three of those books the fictional future history in which Whispers took place was fuller and richer. And I used that palette to paint a better backstory for the new version, one with more vibrant colors.
These books would be all about beating the Batsu, so I tackled them first. The history behind who built the Gaku and how and why remained the same, but I developed a new story about exactly where and when things had gone wrong and how, why they’d decided to call themselves the Batsu, and the way things had deteriorated from there. I worked out the details of how they used debt to control their own citizens, how their entire economic system was designed to regulate their society as well as influence those living on the outside. I realized the role their technology would play in this and created the three types of screens which would exist.
All of that gave me new insight into the effect the Batsu regime would have. It helped me better understand Teresa’s character and the nature of her rebellion, and see specifically what she and Roshike would be trying to accomplish in the new version of the initial scene where they break into the Batsu’s Osaka headquarters. The details would change, but more importantly the meaning of what was happening and why it played out the way it did would subtly shift. And my new grasp of how the Batsu operated would bring greater definition to Roshike’s backstory and the challenges he would face going forward.
He would still be the central character, and so I also needed a new understanding of the people who’d raised him. First I developed a detailed history and culture for the Kyoushi. That would make Roshike a stronger character by giving him their code as a guide and the work of a hakken-ya to help him survive in the city after he’d left them.
Then I created the ‘Yes Network’ – the loose association of Kyoushi who’d left the mountains for the cities. Roshike would still be the same man and essentially a loner, but now he would have some much needed support and wouldn’t be on his own to the degree he’d been in the original novel.
That ‘Yes Network’ would also make the new story much more fascinating to me. It would provide an extra layer of tension between the Batsu and the good guys. And not only would it improve Roshike’s story, but I was already finding new supporting characters with more interesting histories and personalities, fresh and exciting actors emerging from the new background who would take the book even further from what I’d written before. And I was eager to get to know them.
Next: Part 4 – Changing the Cast