Warning: This post includes spoilers for Zealots and Ascendants.
This is the first book where I’ve really embraced the discovery method of writing over plotting the story before starting to write. I’ve played with the process in previous arcs. The Tyrant’s Throne was partially plotted (the first dozen or so chapters, at least). In a couple of other stories I’ve plotted by thirds, so plotted the first third of the book, then when that’s written and I have a deeper understanding of the story, I plotted the next third and so on, but this is really the first time where I’ve let whatever happens in one chapter dictate what will happen in the next. Of course, as the number of chapters start to add up the number of choices for the rest of the story start to narrow as it becomes necessary to resolve the earlier parts of the story.
Still, this was a new way of working for me. The hardest part was keeping the doubts away.
What if things don't work out?
I think it means the escalation is more serious for the characters. If I already how the hero will resolve things in the end, some of that confidence might come across in the heroes attitude. Hopefully some of the anxiety I felt writing this (Fuck, how does Ethan fix this?), comes across in Ethan's attitude and makes his plight worse and more believable.
The only thing I really knew about this one before starting was that it picked up where The Tyrant’s Throne ended with Obdurin covered in Benshi’s blood and Rhysin Heart on his wrist, AND that the story was about Ethan guarding Obdurin to get him through his first night as Rhysin’s chosen.
Everything else came from thinking through the consequences of Obdurin’s ascension:
- The other chosen will be interested.
- People will see Obdurin as weak and try to take Rhysin’s heart for themselves (perhaps Rhysin would even encourage this).
- Ethan will feel responsible.
- The cadres will need to renew their oaths to the new lord of Rhyne.
The revelation that the first-sworn are more instrumental in a new chosen’s ascension than most people believe was a surprise I didn’t see coming, and when the assassin turned up in Obdurin’s tower, I had no idea who he was working for, though I suspected it would be one of the emissaries.
Writing this way is both exciting and daunting.
Duman is a character that I’ve known about for a while, and I thought this would be a good place to introduce him. If you’re particularly eagle-eyed, you might have noticed his name come up when Ethan shared a drink with a chap by the name James Tardson on a rooftop in Eliz back in Discarded Gods.
Once I figured out what Kian’s game was, I knew I needed him do his whispering trick three times, once off-screen (when Ethan fell asleep in the tower guarding Obdurin), once on-screen but with Ethan forgetting (in the diplomatic suite with Linden), and then a third and final time when Ethan should have just done as he was told, but thankfully, Kian underestimated Ethan’s feelings for Maria.
The mass hypnosis at the end didn’t occur to me until Ethan was already in the tower with Duman at his side trying to figure out what he was going to do, but once they were in there, it seemed like a natural extension to Kian’s and his cadre’s talent, which also allowed me to sneak in they can’t make anybody do anything they don’t want to do, which of course reveals Obdurin’s and his first-sworn’s uncertainty about Obdurin’s position.
As I approached the end of the story, it was necessary to gather the threads and figure out how I'd tie it up. I wanted Maria to be more involved, though not as a damsel in distress, but when I examined those loose ends in the lead up to the finale, I realized she’d gone off to reactivate the security systems, and Maria being Maria she’d use that opportunity to poke around and see what else she could learn. It’s only natural that would get her in trouble.
I suspect Maria will take on a more prominent role in the stories between (chronologically) this story and Discarded Gods. I have ideas for a sequence of stories that explore Lord Obdurin's early years as Rhysin’s chosen and how Ethan supports Obdurin and eventually earns the name Godkin. Those stories will likely include the godslayers and the events that lead up to the Cleansing.