One of the common questions I've gotten over the last eight and a half years has been, "Will, you craven cretin, how far in advance do you plan major plot points?"
I had this exchange again on Reddit recently, and as I responded, I realized it would make a good blog post. Did I know about Dross and Ghostwater before I wrote Unsouled? Do I know how the series ends?
This is going to be spoiler-free for Reaper, though it will contain plot spoilers for some of the previous books. If you haven't read through Wintersteel, probably steer clear.
Please help me in this and keep Reaper spoilers out of the comments as much as you can. Some people don't read their books in seconds by placing their hands on the cover, like I do.
SPOILERS FOR BOOKS 1-8
Isaac_Xander, on Reddit, asked me: "How much of the major plot points (Orthos, the Jai Long fight, Undersage/Overherald, Dross, etc.) were planned from Unsouled or Soulsmith? Do you ever 'write on the fly' about major plot points?"
My direct answer was: "Honestly, yes and no. 'Yes' in the sense that yes, I absolutely make this stuff up on the fly all the time, but 'no' in that it's often not the plot points you might think."
Then I went into detail, and I will go into greater detail here. I'm mostly focusing on the introduction of major characters, but I'll get into other things too.
Eithan - As I mentioned on stream recently, I had developed Eithan's character before even Lindon's. He was a fun mentor character that I really wanted to write, and had developed for another series, but thought he was a great fit for Cradle. One of my regrets in Unsouled was that we couldn't meet Eithan yet.
Orthos - I knew from Unsouled that I wanted Lindon to develop black dragon powers and have a corresponding animal companion, but I decided to make Orthos a turtle and gave him his powers while planning Blackflame.
Mercy - I always intended there to be a female companion named Mercy, and it was a quick decision to make her cheery and upbeat to contrast with the usually dour Lindon and Yerin. I took the opportunity to tie her into the Akura family, whom I developed while working on Blackflame, so that I could show them off.
Hunger arm - Pretty early on, I knew I wanted to give Lindon the ability to absorb the power of others. Had a lot of plot reasons for that, but the main reason was that it was cool. The tie-in to the Dreadgods was, of course, a natural fit.
I originally wanted Lindon to lose one arm and one eye, to play up the "duality" theme of his character design and reflect the two cores, but the nature of how he lost his arm and his Goldsign being eye-color-changing made me reconsider the eye thing.
Dross - From before starting Unsouled, I knew I wanted to do a pocket world arc. It became an underwater-themed pocket dimension simply because I love the underwater aesthetic.
I knew I wanted whatever the "prize" of the facility was to be relevant to Lindon if he ascended, and I knew I eventually wanted Lindon to develop his own Presence, but it was a friend of mine who suggested those two things should be one and the same. That was when I was working on Ghostwater.
Prior to that, I knew I wanted all those things, but I hadn't combined them.
Undersage / Overherald - This is another one of those points where I knew I wanted certain things, but I found the opportunity to combine them.
Lindon's connection to the Void Icon was something I had set up from the very beginning...sort of. I laid the groundwork one step at a time, knowing that I wanted Lindon's powers to be thematically linked at the end, and I even knew the "void / emptiness" theme. That part, I'd been setting up for a long time.
But I didn't figure out how to tie all that together in a neat little bow until working on Wintersteel. I also knew that at the end of the tournament I wanted both Lindon and Yerin to reach unique advancement stages, though it wasn't until I was designing the UKT that I had a flickering lightbulb over my head and realize we should be preparing Yerin for the power-up Lindon's going to get and vice-versa.
That swip-swap thing (that's a technical literary term, take notes) was a last-minute stroke of inspiration. I usually don't trust sudden inspiration, but this one brought cookies, so I let it inside.
Ozriel - Of course I've known Ozriel's location from the beginning of Unsouled. There was no other way to write the story.
If I didn't know who he was, I wouldn't have put Suriel on a series-long journey to find him, I would have pulled an Elder Empire and had the entire premise of the series be "The most powerful guy in all existence is dead, so now what do we do?"
End of the Series - Naturally, I knew from the beginning that everything was leading up to a rap battle between Lindon and the Mad King. These hot bars have burned inside me for years, and I can't wait to let them out.
Summary - Reading it all laid out like this, I think it comes down to this: I often know vaguely what I want to do, in general terms, but how I do it is usually up to my last-minute imagination and fickle whims.
Usually. Some scenes are burned into my mind years in advance.
P.S. Remember to keep Reaper spoilers out of the comments as much as possible, thanks! I wouldn't want to have to send my flock of loyal ravens after you. They can find you anywhere, and they hunger for toenails.
(2nd in length)
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