[GUEST POST] What Finishing A Trilogy Taught Jo Anderton About The Creative Process

Jo Anderton lives in Sydney with her husband and too many pets. By day she is a mild-mannered marketing coordinator for an Australian book distributor. By night, weekends and lunchtimes she writes science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Her short story collection The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories was published by Fablecroft Publishing in 2013, and won the Aurealis Award for Best Collection. Her novel, Debris was published in 2011, followed by Suited in 2012. Debris was shortlisted for the Aurealis award for Best Fantasy Novel, and Suited was shortlisted for Best Science Fiction Novel! Joanne won the 2012 Ditmar for Best New Talent. You can find her online at http://joanneanderton.com

What Finishing A Trilogy Has Taught Me About The Creative Process

By Jo Anderton

In my original ideas for the Veiled Worlds Trilogy, scribbled on a post-it note and carried around in my wallet for days, Tanyana’s suit had an ultimate form that involved giant silver wings. Also, her main romantic interest was a mythical being known as the gatekeeper.

Let’s all take a deep, relieved breath that none of that actually happened.

I still have that ratty post-it note. It’s stuck inside the unfortunate notebook that the cat vomited on, but it’s legible. All my notes – every random idea, every comment from a beta-reader – are kept in a set of three notebooks. I guess you could call them the blueprints for the trilogy, each one a sketch of the novel they ultimately became. But they’re also a record of the creative process itself, how ideas begin life, and the way in which they change.

This has been on my mind lately, and it’s all book three’s fault. Not very long ago my lovely editor and I were embroiled in a not-really-that-heated discussion about the title. I thought it should be called Unbound. It’d been Unbound forever, so that was its name. The end. But she didn’t agree. She didn’t think the title suited the book at all. And you know, once I got over my initial reaction, I realized she was right. The book we were talking about wasn’t the same one I’d given that name to, and as a result it just didn’t have the same relevance.

But how did that happen?

And imagine my embarrassment when I went back to those notebooks, and you know what? It hadn’t actually been called Unbound forever. It used to be called Veil.

I’m not a plotter, or a pantser, I consider myself somewhere in the middle. I have notes for each of my stories, and I always start with a beginning, a few plot points for the middle, and an end. So back when book three was Veil, that’s exactly what I had for each book in the series. But those were early days, and the books changed with the writing of them.

My original plan for book three had a lot more to do with world building than the story itself. I was super keen on the ideas behind the world – pions, debris, Tanyana’s suit, and the veil – and so the plot revolved around big world building revelations. No wonder Veil was called Veil. The mysterious nature of veil was the lynchpin of the entire trilogy. So naturally, the third book would be about the discovery of that secret. Don’t ask me where the silver wings came in, but they totally did.

But then I started writing, and things changed. For one, I realized that Big World Building Revelations might be fun and all, but they don’t make for interesting plot points on their own. The more I wrote, the more the books started to become about the actual characters instead – Tanyana, Kichlan, and Lad to name an important few.

I also had this tendency to play my cards too close to my chest. Take the Keeper, for example (no longer gatekeeper, you might notice). In my initial notes, the Keeper was a Big Important Secret that I hid from both the characters and the readers until well into book three. But it turned out that introducing him in book one created some interesting conflict. And you know what? That’s a lot more meaningful than a Big Important Secret.

So the books evolved, and Veil became Unbound. There are huge changes afoot in the trilogy. Conspiracies, arms races, class struggle, that kind of thing. Through writing the first two books, Debris and Suited (whose titles never changed, by the way) I could feel them building to an inevitable, all encompassing conflict with a certain group of people at the centre. And those people called themselves the Unbound.

And then guess what happened? I got to book three, I started writing, and things changed. The focus narrowed, and the book became more personal. While the larger conflicts were most definitely still there, such as civil war in the ruins of a once-grand city, that wasn’t what the book wanted to be about. Rather, it was more interested in the smaller, individual conflicts of love and loss, sacrifice and duty. Even though some truly grand conflicts reared their heads along the way, with the survival of two worlds in the balance, they weren’t going to be battled out by armies in the streets. They were personal.

But in my head it was still Unbound. It took someone on the outside to see how that didn’t fit any more.

Now, book three is Guardian, and that is perfect. Because of love, loss, sacrifice and duty. And a personal tragedy that guards the fate of two worlds.

These title changes each represent a different time in my journey to understand what writing a trilogy is all about. You could say Veil was about getting down the world building, Unbound sorted out the pacing, and Guardian focused the narrative’s central conflicts. They’re also a journey towards understanding creativity itself.

I used to believe that one day, I would be a writer. I would write a book, and sell it, and hold it in my hot little hands, and that would mark the end of my journey. No more to learn, because naturally by then I would know it all. I’ve come to understand that this really, really isn’t the case. The act of writing, the creative process itself, is never done. Maybe it’s just me, but my processes are fluid, they grow and change with each word, each story, each book, even as the same thing is happening to me.

The trick is learning to recognize it, work with it, and strop trying to fight it.

3 thoughts on “[GUEST POST] What Finishing A Trilogy Taught Jo Anderton About The Creative Process”

  1. Hunh. I look forward to see how well that gear-shift works for readers as well as it seems to have suited you as a writer. :)

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