Coming from academia, I’m no stranger to the twists and turns of the writing process. My current scholarly project has suffered from no shortage of detours. I realized last fall, for example, that my initial concept had been turned on its head. Instead of working on a project about the ritual of the white wedding, using etiquette books as my case study, I realized that what I had on my hands was the exact opposite: a study of etiquette books, using the wedding as my case study (more on that madness can be found here).
I won’t lie — I threw a bit of a tantrum when I reached this happened (there’s nothing like watching a formerly established research plan go up like a puff of smoke to make one incredibly cranky) — but it was clear that I had two choices in front of me. I could go back to the drawing board and redo the project to follow the original path that I had anticipated, or I could be a bit adventurous and try something new. I chose the latter, as it was also the most practical choice (telling my thesis advisor that I needed to throw out 2 years worth of work definitely wasn’t an option), and I haven’t regretted it.
So when Path to the Peacock Throne took an unexpected left turn, I did the only thing that a resigned passenger can do: sit back, buckle up, and brace myself for sudden bumps in the road.
Granted, I’m ultimately the one in charge of my work, but both my scholarly research and my experiences with fiction have taught me that sometimes it’s okay to pursue an unexpected idea, no matter how strange or off-course it might be. In this case, I think my “off-roading” just might pay off.
Path to the Peacock Throne began as the coming of age tale of Liandre Hallivere, the reluctant heir to the throne of Vao Artan. One of the problems I kept running into was trying to figure out the source of her reluctance. I didn’t want to justify it with the explanation of ‘adolescent angst’ or ‘teenage rebellion.’ Either of those could have worked (particularly for a YA audience), but they just felt too worn-out, too tired and lazy. My solution draws on another trope (the “kidnapped princess” trope), but I actually think it’s fitting for a tale based on Campbell’s “Hero with a Thousand Faces” arc. The current plot, then, looks something like this:
Liandre Hallivere is the only daughter of Queen Vaedyn of Vao Artan, and is kidnapped by men from the land of Peridion, across the sea, at the age of 4. Vaedyn and the others in Vao Artan believe that Liandre has been killed, and so are never able to retaliate or hunt down the missing girl.
The impetus for Liandre’s abduction have to do with her magical heritage. Vao Artan is steeped in magic (including, of course, the women’s ability to charm and control birds), and Peridion is a land where magic has faded away. The royal wizard of Peridion has been charged with finding ways to return magic to the land at whatever cost, and so Liandre is seen as a potential conduit, a girl who may grow into the same powers that the women of her country reportedly possess.
Liandre is raised as the daughter of King Rupert of Peridion, and believed to be one of the king’s bastard children, and the half-sister of the crown prince, Edric Xavier. She’s ignorant of her true origins, and though she exhibits some interesting characteristics as she grows up — a beautiful singing voice, a penchant for birds, — she doesn’t display any signs of magic like the royal wizard was hoping to see.
The story opens, as I currently imagine it, with the death of King Rupert and Edric’s ascent to the throne. Concurrently, some event occurs that brings Liandre into the sight of the Vao Artan seers, and it becomes evident that she isn’t truly dead. This will set into motion a number of events that will result in Liandre being told the truth of her parentage (the royal wizard of Peridion and the old king, I imagine, were the only 2 who knew the truth), and being sent back to Vao Artan.
Once she’s in Vao Artan, there will be a whole new urgency to the completion of her princess quest (she’ll have to prove herself worthy of inheriting the throne through the quest). Her relationship with her mother, I think, will also take on a new level of complexity as she strives to figure out who she is, and tries to reconcile her old self with this new identity. Having Liandre come into Vao Artan as a stranger will also have the extra-added benefit of allowing us to “see” the world through her eyes, which I really enjoy.
This is the short version of what I have in mind; in the coming weeks I’ll be fleshing out the world of Peridion, including an overview of the country’s history and culture. I’ll also have to conceptualize the system of magic that’s at work — what it used to look like, how it disappeared, how it’s slowly returning, etc. Answering these questions will help me to better understand why Liandre is kidnapped and brought to Peridion. It will also bring the character of the royal wizard into the forefront of the conflict. I imagine that he will end up becoming a formidable adversary for Liandre, though again, there are lots of unanswered questions.
In my horrible, over-achiever sort of way, I have imagined how this could actually be a two-part series, with Part One dealing with Liandre’s quest and her assimilation into Vao Artan society, and Part Two handling the threat posed by the wizard. However, the very idea of a two-part novel is asking a lot from someone who has hardly ever finished a story before.
I think shifting gears a bit has helped me to move past the issues I was having with characterization and plot. There’s always the possibility that I’ll find holes in this plan as well, but I’m willing to take that risk.
George Harrison, I think, articulates my feelings best of all: “If you don’t know where you’re going,” he sings, “any road will take you there.” I’m not 100% certain where this story is headed, but I like to think that it’s the process (and the adventure!) of getting there that’s the most exciting.