I don’t think this is clear to people who haven’t been following me for very long, but the version of The Elementalist: Rise of Hara (TEROH) that I sent out to my beta readers recently—as many flaws as it still maintains—is actually not my first draft. Technically, it’s not even my first novel.
Granted, I still have a good amount of work to do on the manuscript, not having consulted outside eyes until I felt I had a solid understanding of the story’s soul, but the point I want to make is that this novel (and the series it continues to spawn) has not only seen several rebirths of its most basic concept; it’s also seen numerous cycles of development to a minute level of detail, which has allowed my subconscious brain to make connections between my ideas in ways that wouldn’t have been possible if I’d only spent one or two years on this project.
There are several reasons for this.
1. TEROH is the cumulation of my life’s interests.
This project is a jam-packed jambalaya, if you will, of almost every major idea that’s ever captured my imagination. (See my Wordle above.) Everything that’s in that visual word soup has made it into my novel in some way, shape, or form.
Part of the reason it’s taken me so long to lock this story down (the first installment, anyway) is that I’ve been trying to mix a lot of seemingly random stuff together using a very organic process—i.e. trial and error. (We all know how tedious the pantser process can be.) The one time I did attempt to outline the story, it came out very dry and was too heavily focused on getting from point A to B to C through Z. It felt procedural. It lacked heart and soul and characters I felt I could (and should) genuinely care about.
That’s when I learned two very important lessons: (1) I still needed to work on character development, and (2) I was actually telling the story from the wrong angle. (I also decided an outline wouldn’t get me where I wanted to be with this particular project, so it was back to square one. Again.)
2. I wasn’t ready to do TEROH right when I first started it.
Certain life experiences, which have proved to be very influential on this story, weren’t available to me in the early stages of this project back in 2007 (when I was still calling it “Element 7”)—namely some encounters with certain men, going to college, being an entrepreneur, and generally more exposure to this absurd thing we call “being an adult”.
I don’t think I’ve ever really liked ginormous organizations and corporations on some inherent level (now does it surprise you I’m writing a conspiracy story?), but going to a big university really opened my eyes to how easy it could be to brainwash a mass of impressionable minds in one fell swoop of an “education”. (I’m not getting into details on this one. Trust me, it’ll get way too political—and I don’t do politics on this blog if I can help it.) Also, had I known that dating and involving myself with men beyond friendship would be as problematic as my experiences have been to date, then honest to God, I would have never started dating. (How’s that for cynical?) Naturally, this has all influenced my treatment of relationships between characters as well as the fictional big organizations and businesses in my novel.
Sometimes, a story idea comes to you at a time when you’re just not ready to write it. This has very much been the case with TEROH.
3. TEROH is my final conceptual stab at many different versions of the same elements that came before it.
(Haha, get it? Elements, The Elementalist…? No? Okay.) Well anyway, since this was my first novel and I was tackling it alone, I was learning the craft of novel writing from scratch with no training. But that’s not even the important part because a lot of writers do that.
Here’s the important part: instead of writing one story, putting some effort into it then moving on when it didn’t work out, I stuck with it…all the way to its 9th+ draft (and counting; actually lost count after a certain point). Now, not each of those drafts was a complete draft, mind you—only a couple were while the rest ended at various levels of completion—but each was a different version from the last somehow. You see, without me even realizing it at the time, every single draft was an attempt to learn more about a different element of storytelling—that is worldbuilding, plot, characterization, narration, writing style, and so on. (Not necessarily in that order.)
Couldn’t I have just moved on and learned the same lessons with a new novel? I kind of did, in a way, because the soul of this story—the combination of essential themes, characters, worldbuilding, major plot points, style, etc.—has altered at least three times in three very big ways.
The first concept centered around the idea of a journalist journeying to a primitive island, coming across elementalists for the first time—only to bring one back with him to the city to experience “civilization”. (I told you this project was my first attempt at a novel.) The second concept centered around the same journalist as before, only this time he finds an ancient book that leads him to a world of magic (or elementalism)—jumpstarting his investigation into an aviatrix accused of practicing witchcraft. Now the third concept, the current version of TEROH, is instead about an elementalist (the aviatrix) who doesn’t even know what she is but thinks she’s just sick, only to learn later (from a journalist and now covert government agent) that her illness is not only a lie but the result of a coverup for something else entirely.
Yeah, definitely not the same story.
If the evolution of TEROH were a reincarnation story, then both Voi (my aviatrix and elementalist character) and Ronny (my journalist character) have lived out several lives. But here’s the thing: all three concepts were set in a make-believe world about elementalists, and both of these characters have consistently contributed to the “soul” of this story. Their lives always seemed to be fatefully intertwined, which I find interesting.
Same elements, different concept. Each version was an opportunity to learn something new about writing.
To Sum Things Up…
So when I say “TEROH is not my first draft (or novel)”, I’m not saying I don’t have anything left to learn. What I’m saying is that I didn’t recently just finish sitting down to take my first-ever crack at writing a novel. Technically, I’ve written more than one, but it’s only been this latest version that I felt was coherent enough to start sharing with others. Honestly, I had no real idea what I was trying to say when I wrote the earlier versions. (In other words, I was still exploring themes.) Sure, I could have shown them to some people anyway, but (1) I like learning things on my own up to a certain point, and (2) those early versions just wouldn’t have made sense to anyone but myself.
Here’s something essential that readers should understand about me: I was the kind of person that was usually quiet around others (outside of my family) while I was growing up because I did most of my thinking quietly, inside my head. However, when I felt like I’d put my thoughts together well enough and had something meaningful to say, then I’d go ahead and actually say it out loud—and when I did take the time to say something out loud, people tended to appreciate what I had to say.
So why am I sharing my story with readers now after almost 11 years? Because I’ve thought a lot about something I’ve been wanting to say for a very long time—and now, I’m actually ready to say it.