Andy Cooke, Author Shadowlands Chronicles.
Published 26 October, 2020
Last time, I described how the basic concept for the Shadowlands came about – emerging from my subconscious and then being beaten into shape until it came blinking out into the light of my conscious mind.
How did it get from that to a full-on story?
I had the two worlds, the “different sky”, the Cave as a portal, a couple of major characters, a theme I wanted to develop, and the place. That’s not a story, though. That’s an incomplete pile of ingredients. It’s not even half-baked.
What makes a story? You can get a whole bunch of books describing things like: “Three Act Structure” or “Five Act Structure”, “Call to Adventure”, “Build to Climax,” or whatever. But the thing is – if you’ve read widely and immersed yourself in stories, you already have a grasp of this below your conscious mind.
Good job too, really, because my subconscious mind was working on it for me. In most of my stories, one scene comes out of nowhere, and acts as the grit in an oyster that builds the pearl.
In Cave Between Worlds, it was actually the first scene. I saw Freddie in my mind’s eye, a thirteen-year-old boy, saying: “I see faeries,” in a tone that made it very clear that he really did not want to see faeries, while his cockier older brother was sat in a tree, unnoticed, watching him. And I knew that Tom also had the same ability, but had managed to deny is so hard he could no longer consciously see them.
From there, I was away. I had my lead characters (Freddie and Tom), I had David, I had both Malachi and Genarri and their conflict emerging from the concept level I mentioned last time. I had the starting scene, and then the scene in the Cave itself came along – and I knew there were other characters there.
Remember “write what you know”? Well, I knew those other characters had some more archaic skills: fencing and archery. I knew at least one of them was a science whizz. As I had experience of both fencing and archery, I could call upon that.
When I was fencing, one of the few people who scared me a bit was a late-teenaged girl who was savagely quick with a blade (fencing is one of the very few combat sports where males and females compete with each other). And there was Abi. I also knew that she was the science whizz. Don’t ask me how I knew. Ask her, maybe. She’s cleverer than me.
When I was younger, I did archery. I was beaten in the final of a local junior competition by a dark-haired girl. And Charlotte walked onto the page.
Hallowe’en was the next scene to come about. When you read it, you’ll see why it HAD to happen. The final climactic encounter was the next to emerge in my mind’s eye, with the final scene of the final chapter falling over in its haste to get noticed. In those writing books, they’d probably call them something specific and technical. I just knew that they were scenes I had to get to.
I had all the characters.I had the themes and the key scenes. And knowing what happened in those scenes and what had to happen to connect them all up made the plot itself fall into place. The rest was writing it all down.
And editing it. They never tell you how important that is. Going over all your words with a ruthless eye and winnowing down all the purple prose, the excess adjectives, the wandering digressions – machine-gunning huge chunks of your hard-earned story into nothingness. It’s difficult and sometimes heart-breaking, but it turns a flabby and rambling draft into a fit, stream-lined novel.
With that (and months of effort and writing), I’d gone from a few words in a daydream to a completed novel.