This post is the third in a three-part series. You can find parts one and two at these links.
Most of the conventional wisdom directed at developing writers says to finish your early stories, pat yourself on the back for having completed something, gather up the lessons and the practice you came away with, shelve it, and move on. That’s probably good advice.
I have not done anything remotely like that, and there’s something interesting that happens when you re-write the same story from the beginning a whole crapton of times, assuming you chuck the previous versions and work from memory. A couple of interesting things, really. One is that as you retell and retell and retell, the story takes on this folkloric quality in your mind, like you’re handing down your remembered version of a tale that was handed down to you by someone else. Another is that as you inevitably forget details, only the essential survives, and the skeleton of something new emerges.
Phase Three: rebirth
I’ve written before about the bleak, dark period of 2006-7 when I was so burned out that I lost the ability to do most everyday tasks. Luckily for me, because I’d by then spent literally decades developing the Asrellion sandbox, it took practically zero effort to pop in there to mess around with bits and pieces of what I referred to at the time as “Asrellion crackfiction” – writing that I wasn’t thinking of as canon, just a bit of light fluffy entertainment with an intended audience of exclusively me, to take my mind off of how much I hated everything that was happening around me.
Thing of it was, I eventually realized that, uh, I actually had some good material there that I would hate to waste. Kind of unintentionally, I found myself thinking about what would have to change in canon, exactly, to make this stuff usable.
And just like that I was mentally drafting a complete overhaul of Trajelon.
As soon as I realized I was serious about actually doing it, I also had to face the unfortunate facts: there would be little point in writing a sparkly brand-new fantastic version of Book 2 in a series that at that time began with an admittedly weak Book 1.
So there it was: write the whole trilogy all over again, or finally move on with new stories and let these lie in the past. Which, to be clear, would have been a legitimate choice that is often the correct one. But I was, I realized, too excited about this theoretical new Trajelon to walk away now. Which brings us back to Mornnovin.
Okay, so, there’s no point rewriting a book for the fourth time if you’re just going to tell the same story all over again. That much seemed clear right away. And because in 2008 I was neck-deep in the fanfiction community, that was basically the height of my awareness of both popular and unpopular tropes.
Something that everyone who has ever met me knows is that I have a real defiant streak. I say streak, but it would probably be more accurate to say that I’m like at least 85% composed of pure no at the DNA level.
I state this as a matter of fact devoid of value judgment, not to make the claim that being a stubborn asshole is a desirable trait, but to explain how it is that when I sat down as a mostly-grown pseudo-adult to think about what a reimagined Mornnovin would look like, a significant factor at this stage was a desire to flatly call out, deconstruct, reclaim, revamp, discard, update, and/or examine the well-known tropes of the fantasy genre. If Mornnovin redux had any one single guiding principle at the drawing board stage, it was this.
As an outgrowth of this mindset going in, it wasn’t just the plot or the characters I submitted to re-examination. It only makes sense that as the work progressed, I found myself re-litigating every single established element of the worldbuilding that had gone into creating the world of Asrellion to that point. Some past decisions made the cut. Many did not. Some that did, I felt needed some expanding in order to explain why that would be the way things are. Maybe more importantly, I questioned established staples that I’d never even thought to question before.
(Why would the calendar in another world begin the year in the dead of winter like ours? Like, it could, but what would the reasoning be? Why would months directly correspond to ours? Is the year even the same length as ours? Should it be? Why would there be the same kind of color-based racism that we have on Earth? Why do I assume as a matter of course that historic Earth sexism would be the norm throughout all cultures of a fantasy world I’ve made up from whole cloth? Why is everyone white? Does a conlang need to gender its nouns just because the foreign language I was learning at the time that I started creating it does? Would it even make sense for the language of a culture with no strong delineation of gender roles to be built on heavily gendered foundations? I mean that one was a clear nope, what was I thinking. Etc.)
In general in my life I would say this was a period of refining my assumptions, deepening my understanding, maturing my ideas, and consciously attending to the direction of my personal growth. That translated directly into the evolution of Asrellion. The heavy lifting was already done; this was (and is) the time of fine-tuning.
Of realizing that writing Fantasy well doesn’t mean simply replicating what the genre has already established, but deciding what sort of reality I want to project into the world, what sorts of things I want to be saying, which stories are important to me. And because of my defiant streak the size of the Grand Canyon, this has meant a lot of deliberately rejecting What Is Done.
We can thank the Modern Era of Asrellion for:
- the final map (sadly sans inter-dimensional portal)
- Tomanasíl’s relationship with Gallanas, which makes his whole deal finally make sense
- finally the realization that the denizens of a fantasy world need not be uniformly lily-white (and that it makes little sense for them to be)
- Gay Elves!
- final name changes for several characters (lookin’ at you, Cole)
- the current refinements to the grammar and vocabulary of Elven
- Sovoqatsu Farínaiqa. You’re welcome.
- this Katakí Kuromé – other iterations were your standard moustache-twirlers
- moving away from the standard “and then everything was solved with a really big battle” trope, toward
- resolutions that are more about character, relationships, individual growth and change, and cooperation over conflict
- Lyn’s colorful swear catalogue
- magic as science
- Narías’ temporal peculiarity
- most of the fun little magical doodads like rovanan, sound boxes, and the Nírozahé
- my voice, such as it is
- the elimination of certain yucky tropes and plot devices that no longer serve the stories I’m trying to tell
- more effective use of the in-world elements I’d put in place over the years
- whatever sophistication the work can boast of
- a significant reduction in Tragic Content™ (if you can believe it)
Obviously, my work on and in Asrellion is far from finished. With another book still to add to The Way of the Falling Star, several short stories still in the cards, and an entire multi-book series loosely outlined about the creation and early days of Asrellion, it goes without saying that things are going to continue to morph, shift, grow, come together, and fall away in the years ahead. New people, new magic, new histories are bound to emerge. And I’m not done evolving either, both as a writer and as a human who wants to say things.
It remains to be seen what the Fourth Era of creation will end up looking like, but it seems pretty clear to me that I am transitioning into a new phase.
Partly because it’s been five years now since I last did any major work in Asrellion, and those five years have been tumultuous, significant years both for me personally and in the larger real-world sense.
Partly because I’m now having to learn how to work with a cognitive disability that, it seems, can be managed but not entirely cured. (That remains a bit up in the air. I’m doing better on my current treatment regimen, but better is relative. Can we improve my cognitive function still further? Is this as good as it gets, now? Too early to say, but I am someone different now, as a creator.)
Partly because my living and working conditions are vastly different now to what they were the last time I did any real writing or worldbuilding in Asrellion and I have yet to see the effect that’s going to have on my process.
But also? Largely due to the way that the real world that I have to exist, think, and create in has changed. I haven’t completely teased out what that means regarding the direction I’d like to take Asrellion in from here, or the impact on the kinds of stories I want and need to tell. That’s one of the reasons why Book 3 has been so slow to coalesce.
I’ll have to get back to you when I do figure out what Phase Four brings to the evolution of Asrellion.
Who knows. Maybe we’ll circle back to the talking animals.
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potentially of interest re: calendar — even the Earth calendar system’s rationalization of the moment is also not of very longstanding. In the historical period I studied professionally, some cities had years that began on Easter (for instance) and the systems of calendars in Germanophone areas were so diverse that at some point in the 19th century a group of scholars wrote a “handbook of reckoning time” to help historians understand what events might have been happening simultaneously. And of course there are still divergent calendars (e.g., Jews say there are four new years: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/how-many-jewish-new-years/ ).
I enjoyed reading this series and thought your description was interesting — that Asrellion had become a corpus of material and you became its story-(re)teller. There’s something fanficcy about that insight, too.
Thank you for reading the series. I wasn’t sure if I answered what the question-asker wanted to know, but it was certainly an interesting exercise to look back at the history of my worldbuilding efforts and see how and why I changed directions on certain things. Of note, one of the real-life experiences that awoke me to thinking about the calendar was learning just how crazy and piecemeal our own Earth history of calendars has been! The more you exist in the world, the more you come to realize just how made up everything is. *Everything*. Really opens your eyes to just how much there is to play with as a fantasy author.
I remember when I learned (in grad school) that trains rationalized clock systems. Before trains, Boston was 8 minutes ahead of New York. I had known for a while that there were only a handful of time zones in the USSR, fewer than they would have needed, theoretically, but I attributed that to those evil Soviets.
And yes — there is a good argument for the constructed nature of reality (although we are seeing the limits of that argument right now).