Inspiration, News, Publishing, Shifting Isles

The Prisoner

It’s amazing to me, even after five years of living and breathing made-up lives, that inspiration can come from the most unexpected places or in the silliest, simplest ways.

Now that I’ve got the next series — 14 books set in a fantasy world — more or less outlined, I’m diving into writing the first book, The Prisoner. Months ago, I’d already started putting down material for it, and got about 70 pages in when I hit a painfully hard brick wall.

The story just wasn’t going where I wanted, and I started losing interest. It seemed no matter what I did, I couldn’t get it to flow properly. So, I set aside those 70 pages in a separate Fragments file and started over.

The second attempt didn’t go much better. It was an improvement, true, but still lacked the proper plot flow. So I stopped again. I was quickly digging myself the same grave in which I’d found myself while writing Uncommonly Strong, and after that disappointing experience, I certainly did not want to slog through the same frustration again. I wanted the exciting experience I’d had writing The Lethean, and especially Hale and Farewell: the kind of experience where the story just flows because you love the characters and know exactly where they’re going, even if some of the details surprise you along the way.

Once I finally got a proper outline done for The Prisoner, that helped quite a bit, but I still couldn’t make myself sit down and continue writing. My love for the characters had simply died, and I wasn’t moved to tell their story anymore (not even that of the female lead, and it was her character that triggered the original concept, though she quickly got switched from heroine to antagonist when I realized the story worked better not centered around her character arc). I tried forcing it, and that just made it all worse.

It was getting to the point that I almost wanted to give it up — except for the fact that I’ve quit everything I’ve ever tried in my life and I’ll be damned if I ever allow myself to give up writing. Thus, I finally just made myself set the whole thing aside so I could get my mind on other things, and hopefully clear my head enough to re-attack it later.

I turned from writing to reading, and as I was going through one series, I became totally engrossed in a character who was beautifully complex and conflicted. Despite the fact that the plot really didn’t pull me in, I found myself still rapidly turning the pages because I was dying to know how things would turn out for this man.

The whole time I read him, I was picturing him looking something like Tom Hiddleston à la Loki — pale, dark, fierce, and a perfect fit for this particular character’s personality (in my mind, at least).

And that’s when it hit me: This was exactly what I was looking for in my own character, but all the while I’d been trying to picture him quite differently.

The Prisoner has gone through quite a transformation from the way I had originally envisioned, but once the male lead came into play instead of the original female lead, one of the very first scenes that I put down was inspired by an insignificant detail — probably just a word or a facial expression — in a Bollywood movie starring Hrithik Roshan, one of my favorite actors. Consequently, his appearance became the foundation for the character I was trying to write.

I love imagining my stories in movie form, camera angles and all, because it helps me play out the scenes and brings it more fully to life in my mind (I’m sure I’m not alone in this habit). When I first started writing The Prisoner, I was going through it with the idea of Hrithik Roshan playing this character, because that was how I originally pictured the lead.

Beyond that one scene, though, I just couldn’t fathom him in any other part of the story. I tried to picture his face, his voice, his movement, and it just flat wasn’t working. I couldn’t see this character going through the dialogue and motions of the story while wearing Hrithik’s form, no matter how much I tried to force it just for the sake of sticking with the image I’d chosen.

Switch to something closer to Loki, though, and the whole character just instantly blossomed to life for me. That face I could see in all the expressions. That voice I could hear in all the dialogue. In one scene, when my character is told to give up his weapons, and he replies with utter calm and self-confidence, “No, I think I’ll be keeping these,” I hear that line in exactly the voice Hiddleston uses at the end of Thor 2, when Thor walks away and Loki drops his Odin disguise, and says, “No, thank you.” That low growl of a voice. That is exactly what I hear in this character’s dialogue. It’s just an absolutely perfect fit.

My love for and interest in the lead character skyrocketed, and all because of a simple change of look and demeanor.

As I went back to writing, I started filtering through the old material that I’d set aside and, to my indescribable joy, found that almost all of it was in fact usable, just with a few detail changes and with a little shuffling of the scene order. Once I had the right look and feel for the character and my interest in his complexities, goals, and moral weaknesses had returned, I realized the only thing making those scenes non-functional was my own lack of interest in the character himself, since I couldn’t fully picture those scenes in all their necessary depth. Now I can, and they work, and the story is coming together nicely.

I went through the file of my third rewrite attempt (amounting to about 26k words), and filtered in all the discarded content from my Fragments file, putting it all in places better suited to the plot, and immediately jumped to 43k words. Those rearranged sections will require some hefty editing, but the overall concepts and scene flow work so much better now than I had originally imagined. I’ve got ideas coming out of my ears, and now the only struggle is deciding which scene to write first because I want to write several at once: I’m that excited about this story. It’s all I can do to put off writing the climactic escape because a part of me wants all the rest of the story filled in first.

What a beautiful problem to have.

I guess I should have paid better attention to my own writing.

“Not all prisons are made of iron bars.”

Well, amen to that.


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