Warning: This post includes spoilers for The Mad God's Playground.
The Mad God’s Playground is now the second story I’ve written without plotting it out ahead of time, and I think this method will be the way forward for me. There’s a definite sense of unease at the beginning of the process, “What if I can’t come up with enough material?” but so far that hasn’t been a problem. In fact, in both stories I’ve had to resist including everything I come up with.
Zealots and Ascendants was the first story I wrote this way, and I’m really pleased with how both of these turned out.
If plotting out stories is like architecture where everything is planned out ahead of time, discovery writing is more like going on a journey with the characters to see what happens. One of the problems I’ve had in the past with plotting out novels is that it gets kinda boring to tell a story when I already know what happens. I also think working from a plan doesn’t allow for spontaneous creation or diverging paths (unless you’re better at plotting than me).
Of course, I’ve been thinking about these stories and this world for more than a decade now, so in a sense the architectural piece is already done for the world and the scenarios, if not the individual stories.
The basic idea for The Mad God’s Playground was: Avril and Ranora have adventures in the wastelands before finally heading to Rasan City and Lord Obdurin.
This one is an entirely new story that in Avril’s arc fits between two stories that already existed, The Bastard Cadre and The Godslayers’ Legacy. In the original version Avril went with Sorros at the end of The Bastard Cadre to Rasan City (then called Peak City) and The Godslayers’ Legacy picked up from there. But in Cogs, Avril isn’t quite the same character, he’s a bit older and more stubborn, and he’s less like to go somewhere or do something unless he’s decided he wants to or he doesn’t have any other choice.
Harlan is a character I’ve known about for a long time, though until now he’s never appeared in any of the stories and the details were fuzzy until I got him down on the page, but I’m pleased with his introduction.
Everybody else in this one (well, almost everybody else) turned up unannounced, unknown, and unexpected.
I didn’t even see Dom’s very Australian, “Yeah, nah, mate,” coming until it was on the page, and by then it seemed right. How could he possibly express himself any other way?
Charsa was a pleasant surprise. She’s in the original Bastard Cadre novels, and we’ll catch up with her again in The Godslayers’ Legacy, but she wasn’t supposed to be in this one, though she’s rarely where she’s supposed to be so maybe it makes sense that she's here after all. When I was a handful of chapters into Avril’s story, I realized I was missing an opportunity to explore another story alongside (and intertwined with) his.
In the original novels, there were hints of something gone wrong for Charsa while on assignment for Valan, so I decided to see if I could work that in. On top of that, I didn’t really expect Charsa and Feldarsin to cross paths or to hit it off in quite the way they did. These are the sorts of developments that wouldn’t happen if I tried to spend a day or two planning them out ahead of time.
Chronologically this is the first Cogs story that has featured other realms (though there were mentioned in Malicious Designs 1.22 Other Worlds, when Avril woke up groggy and in a strange place and wondered if the dead grith whose skull he stood next to had pulled him into another realm). We’ll see more of the realms in future books.
Next, I’m heading into the unknown with a new story which either follows Laurill after the events of Malicious Designs or picks up with Ethan Godkin immediately after the events of Discarded Gods; I guess I’ll decide in the morning when I start writing for the day.