Sunny Moraine‘s short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, and Apex, among many other places. Their work has also appeared in the anthologies We See a Different Frontier and Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. They are responsible for the novels Line and Orbit (co-written with Lisa Soem) and the Casting the Bones trilogy, as well as Labyrinthian (coming January 2015). In addition to occasional authoring, Sunny is a doctoral candidate in sociology; their academic alter-ego is a regular contributor to Cyborgology, concerning technology and fiction and reality and lots of other things. They can be found making words at sunnymoraine.com and on Twitter as @dynamicsymmetry.

Roads Through a Sequel

by Sunny Moraine

Ravenfall is not the first sequel I’ve written, but it’s the first I’ve had published, and like any part of the writing process, it’s taught me a few things.

I don’t exactly recall what I thought going in, but I believe it was something on the order of “this is simply a continuation of the story I began in Crowflight”, and that turned out to be a massive oversimplification. Whereas you have to get worldbuilding established and a complete plot developed and out there in a single novel, you obviously have to draw clear, coherent lines in a sequel, but you also get an opportunity to expand on your existing worldbuilding without having to reestablish all of it, and that led to a process of discovery that I didn’t expect.

I don’t tend to plot things out very rigorously beforehand, in part because I almost always end up surprised, and I’ve learned that the best approach – at least with my own working style – is to go in with as few expectations about how things will go as possible. So almost immediately what happened was that entirely new parts of my world and new aspects of my characters were opening up before me, things about which I had little to no idea previously. It was a little like having a vague, incomplete map created by legend and hearsay – coastlines that were little more than rough squiggles, mythical cities that might or might not truly exist, areas marked here there may be dragons, we’re really not sure. And yes, sometimes there were dragons, and the journey turned into an expedition of natural history. Sometimes there were cities, and I became an archeologist. New people came to greet me, and had many strange stories to tell. Old friends accompanied me, and I learned many new things about who they were.

I don’t necessarily buy into the idea that I’m simply taking dictation from someone or something else. I’ve seen other writers describe the experience of creation in those terms, and I think we all go through different things, we travelers in uncharted territories, and we all find difference ways in which to make sense of everything. But for myself, the idea that resonates is that this is fully mine, something I’m constructing that’s coming from me, and I have complete control.

But there’s still discovery and adventure. And I feel like that’s one of the greatest, most thrilling parts of what writing can be, that combination of craft and revelation. Those moments where something clicks, and the path that was once obscured is made clear, even if you still don’t know what’s on the other end.

More than that, however, I learned what didn’t work, the signs that you aren’t headed in good directions. Building on something pre-existing frees you up to spend time and energy on other things, yes – in that way it almost felt to me like writing fanfiction of my own stuff – but it also constrains. Like I said above, the lines between the books have to be there. The tethers have to be strong. I learned to sense when they were weakening. But making them clear and robust was a job in itself. In a vast landscape, you can lose your way. You have to double back, take stock of where you were. In that sense, the frightening parts of an adventure come through. Few of us enjoy being lost, and retreading ground is frustrating.

In the end, I had Ravenfall. And I had a foundation for the third book in the trilogy, Rookwar, coming this December. As I’ve been writing it, it’s stood out to me how different it is, writing a third book in a series, and how much the second one taught me, how much clearer the map is.

It’s a marvelous adventure. I’m looking forward to the end, but I wouldn’t give up the journey for everything.

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