Formulating my story, The Books of Alexandrea, happened primarily over a single week. While the majority of the story seemed to come to life fully formed, I did have to work through some of the details to connect dots and create a story that would fill a novel. While I’m normally a “plotter“, on this project I took a chance as a “pantser”. My wife recommended that I just try writing, no outlines: no net. In this instance, it’s worked out great for me and I’ll stick to this in the future. Because of this, the deeper details of the story – the connective tissue that lies beneath the surface – was discovered as I wrote. I know it sounds cliche, but there are elements of a story that write themselves if you pay attention.
The initial premise was to write a YA urban fantasy about witches. Just seeing it written sounds so lame to me: nothing I’d choose to write, much less read. I dug deeper, not into the story, but into myself to find what passions and personal mythologies I could scratch and twist and make fit to bring life to this premise.
“What if?” is a great game I’ll play in my mind as I make these explorations. What if witches are real? What if only women can have innate powers? What if there’s something to “Mom’s kiss making it all better”? What if this story were set here, right now? What if men didn’t have magic but could take it? What if men took so much magic over so many years that women didn’t have magic anymore? What if women’s magic originates emotionally, yet when men steal it, write it into books, it loses that nuance? What if I could use this as a metaphor for misogyny: men fearing and condemning women because they are actually the ones with the power? What if one young woman could change it all?
I played around with mythology, not just the Joseph Campbell hero’s journey stuff, but ideas of femininity, the goddess, to weave into a story whose themes are representations of experiences in modern life. I wanted both the theme of the story, the motivations of the characters – especially the villain – to be extremely relatable. Hopefully, my readers won’t agree with the villain, but I want them to understand him, to see that his actions are guided by a set of truths that they can not only comprehend but question if he has some merit, misguided though it may be, to his reasoning.
I knew my first chapter had to catch my reader, demonstrate my creativity, but it didn’t need to appear to have much bearing on the rest of the story.
Once I had the basic rules, I set out to start writing. I had only one characters’ name and as she met other people I would take a moment to figure them out: The plot is important but it’s secondary to the characters, and understanding how they interpret their world helps me define them as individuals. I had the rules by which this world functioned; that was it.
With that, I set out to build my world. What better way to introduce a protagonist than by killing her? And so….
Chapter One begins: Alexandrea stopped breathing.