I shared a full deleted scene from Blackflame yesterday, and today I just wanted to give you some backstory on why I have so much deleted / unused material for Blackflame in the first place.
Was it because I hated my first draft and started over? Did a complete copy of Blackflame fall through a crack from a parallel universe and cause me to re-think it from the ground up? Did a future version of myself travel back in time to stop me from writing my original vision?
Yes to all of the above, but also...
As I mentioned a few days ago in my Soulsmith post, I did not expect Cradle to be "the next big thing." It was supposed to be a low-effort side series I wrote in my spare time.
Although the phrase "low-effort" needs to be held in the most massive quotation marks you can find, because while that was the intention, I ended up putting way more time and effort into Unsouled than I promised I would.
It worked out, though, so it was totally intentional all along.
(Click Read More to read more!)
Anyway, by the end of Soulsmith, it was clear that Cradle was way more popular than I had any reason to expect, and I was feeling the pressure.
This was where I knew I had a chance to distinguish myself from generic cultivation novels and define Cradle as a distinct entity.
To be clear, I always intended to start the series in a manner familiar to any cultivation novel-readers and take it further into original territory as Lindon got farther from home. But with the series' unexpected reception, I really wanted to make that transition work.
This was where I did a lot more background work on the world as a whole, including detailed profiles on all the Monarchs and their factions, histories, and relationships. Everything necessary to the "main plot" of Cradle I had decided back in Unsouled, and of course I'd done some auxiliary world-building as well, but this was where I really fleshed out Cradle as a world.
At least in my own head.
As a result, though, quite a few things were left by the wayside.
For one thing, the original vision for this "arc" of Lindon's journey was a lot more like the standard cultivation novel journey. My original outline, pieces of which I'd already written, took me in directions I was no longer happy with.
Yerin had a sub-plot in this book that I've alluded to before: there was a Truegold impostor going around the Blackflame Empire claiming to be the Sword Sage, and she was tracking him down with the full intention of turning him into sandwich meat.
But not only was she still weaker than him, it would also become clear over time that this guy had learned from the Sword Sage, he had just never been an official disciple. He was one of the many people the Sage had idly tutored for a little while.
This was going to involve Yerin learning more about her master and the history of her Path, but ultimately I cut it for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the outline was looking pretty chunky already, and even without this sub-plot the book ended up being the longest Cradle book until Wintersteel.
For another, while this would flesh out the Sword Sage's history and personality a little bit, none of that really had a significant impact on Yerin's core understanding of herself or her master.
If I have one ironclad philosophy about what to include in a book, it's this: "If it doesn't advance the reader's understanding of the characters or the forward motion of the plot, cut it."
One of my weaknesses as a writer is that I tend to over-value the latter and under-value the former. There is value in scenes that do nothing but inform the viewer's understanding of a character, but my experience has been that most scenes intended that way actually don't further the reader's understanding of the characters at all. They tend to just waste time.
Therefore, I'm always cut-happy when it comes to pure character-building scenes, but I do occasionally throw some babies out with all that bathwater. And the ideal is that every element should both reveal character and advance the plot, but that's much like a gorilla seesawing with an origami swan: hard to balance.
A lot of people assume that Lindon's fight with Jai Long was intended to take place at the end of Blackflame, and that I moved it to Skysworn because I ran out of room.
Interestingly enough, that was never the case.
Even in my original Book 3 outline, I was going to end with the completion of Lindon's training before the duel. Because while Lindon's motivation is to fight and defeat Jai Long in this duel, Jai Long is not the antagonist of Blackflame.
In order to end Blackflame with Jai Long's duel, I would have had to structure the story differently. To be the antagonist, either Jai Long or Jai Daishou would have to work against Lindon throughout the events of the book in order to stop him from growing strong enough to compete. At which point the duel would be the climax of the conflict.
But that's not really what ended up happening, because neither J.L. nor J.D. (as they're known to their friends) have any reason to believe they're going to lose. So why would they oppose Lindon's training? They don't care.
There are other ways to structure the story ending with the duel, of course. There are always infinite ways to tell a story. But that's if you come at it looking for the duel to be the climax of the novel.
Lindon's goal in Blackflame is to become a real sacred artist. You could say he doesn't have an antagonist in this story, as there's no one actively working to prevent him from achieving that goal, or I guess you could argue that he himself serves as his own antagonist.
Either way, the climax becomes him completing the trials, bonding with Orthos, and using those powers to fight real enemies. Which demonstrates that he is now an actual sacred artist, and has the potential to one day become an extraordinary one.
I don't have huge write-ups like this one for the next few books in this series, by the way. Now that you know the story of the first year-or-so of Cradle, you have most of the necessary context. I don't intend to write a blog post that could be summarized as "And then I wrote another book," so I'll probably just be sharing the behind-the-scenes information with maybe a quick explanation from now on.
Having said that, maybe I'll remember something cool and end up over-writing about it again.
If this series of posts demonstrates anything, it's that I can't predict what that darn Future Will will end up writing.
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