On Creating an Epic
A guest post by John Hudspith
Define `epic` – ambitious, grand, classic, larger-than-life.
This is what I wanted to do - produce something big, ambitious, classic, larger-than-life, a stage as large as our own where my stories could be played out, with enough space to keep on growing and growing.
So how did it happen? I started with failure. My first attempt at a novel went prune-shaped about three quarters of the way through. I lost the plot. Too many holes. Ineffective opportunities to link the important plot points and bring conclusion or closure. I’d failed through lack of planning, wasted a whole lot of time. Turning this negative into a positive was a must.
So I started anew and got down to some serious planning.
Since early childhood, when my parents revealed to me the secrets of the movies, about how special effects and monsters and film ghosts were all just trickeries of makeup and clever filming, my interest in the paranormal world was instilled. Always a sceptic, I loved, over the years, looking into news reports of UFOs or poltergeists or strange, unexplained happenings. Knowing The Truth was Out There, I realised I had the means to create my stage – an otherworld where everything paranormal lives and works and can be accounted for.
This world would exist in another dimension and be called Heart (an anagram of Earth) because Heart is the control centre of the mixed up Earth, its population of Balancers and Adepts forever striving to right Earth’s wrongs.
I made a list of the paranormal, supernatural, and mythical, and began slotting them into Heart’s physiology, inventing a plausible cause/history and a meaning for being, for each element, slowly realising that ghosts went well with aliens, and went well fairies and piskies, and things that go bump in the night.
This was taking shape, and I realised more layers could be added. Heroic balancers who had become adept at the art of mojo manipulation became just that – heroes of achievement, each in their own right yet each with fallible sides and promise of chaos.
Every edit and rewrite brought fresh ideas: I worked in the nods to my inspirations and to my family and friends. I worked in some symbolism for numbers freaks, worked in some history and some grins for older readers, worked in more ingredients that even Mary Berry would have been proud.
This plan, this supposed epic, was looking good, but I had to be careful not to copy or become cliché.
So my witches and wizards became balancers, magic became mojo, fairies became mice with wings and my stage was looking promising. It was time to add some props and some flesh to the world of Heart and I began with some four feet x three feet cardboard sheets, applying notes, sketches, clippings of the latest paranormal events happening in our real news, pictures of celebrities to help my story characters take shape. Stephen Fry played the part of Mr Purse, the Sky at Night’s Sir Patrick Moore took the part of Charlie Babbage, Billy Connolly played the giant: Big Sue, Christina Ricci fitted the part of Stella – the list goes on – pictures of these slebs were taped to my boards and my characters began to take shape.
Then I found Kimi - in the form of Farrell Smith from 2009’s Britain’s Got Talent. She fit the bill and got the starring role. My sketches and ideas grew. I wanted to use everything paranormal, wanted to link it all together, wanted to go one step further and bring aliens and dimensional time-travel into play, wanted to THINK BIG – ambitious, classic, larger than life.
One year later and my new world stood before me. Its history, culture, and science all firmly in place; its inhabitants bustling with their lives and traditions. The stage was set, and, by this time, I also had my story. Well, not a full story. I had a start and an end. It was time to write.
After a few false starts I unleashed the first two chapters on my peers. The critique was not what I’d hoped for: `nice idea, poor start` seemed to be the consensus.
I followed the steers of my peers and eventually found the right line, that line of believability where reader is willing to suspend belief because writer has convinced him to do so.
Another year to write the story, and while I was doing just that, something unexpected and wonderful happened. Anne Stormont had read the opening chapters on YouWriteOn. She said she was excited by the writing, could see potential, and invited me to be virtual resident author for her school’s writing groups. After handing Anne her hand back, we all got stuck in. The pupils pushed Kimi further than ever, made their demands on how the story should go, how Kimi should act. They told me what they loved and what they didn’t; helped give Kimi a better polish than I ever could have on my own.
Another few months to chip and mould and polish.
And then I took a step back and looked at my epic. I was satisfied. It was a good production. Solid. I liked it, and my beta readers begged for more. It was time to submit.
After many rejections, one agent took a nibble. They loved the writing, and the story, but wanted it condensed, stripped by 40%. Production costs need to be kept down, they said, especially for a debut author.
I took this as good news, looked over the plot to see how I could take some things out and reduce page time to others. Yes, I thought, this is achievable. I went to work, stripping away from scenes, removing scenes, all the while with my eye on a heavily reduced word count.
After five chapters – I stopped. This was not my book, my way, my story, was not Kimi. So I slept on it for a day or two before declining to go any further. I wanted Kimi the way it was. It had to be that way. It was my classic. My epic. Vain and stupid? Maybe.
The opening chapters won one of youwriteon’s BOTY awards along with the offer of publication, so I decided to take their offer and get Kimi out there.
Then a second magical event. Nuance Words asked to get involved with Kimi, to help get Kimi seen by the many. After handing the wonderful Jill Marsh her hand back (I was becoming apt at hand snatching), she and her team got to work, and in two shakes of a dodo’s tail Kimi had a website, a Facebook page, a podcast, a soundtrack, and the activity continues…school competitions are about to start, there’s a wee film being made, press-packs being put together, and Kimi is out there growing a fan base and making good sales.
But not tremendous sales. I knew it wasn’t `commercially formed`, knew that I’d flushed instant gold down the pan by refusing to have vampire lust in my writing, knew that Kimi might, to me, be classic and epic, but that by her very nature it might take some time before Universal Studios pick up the phone.
Kimi is not selling tons like the romance writers, nor is she selling truckloads like the blood writers, but she is selling, is being enjoyed, is bringing home great reviews, and her first Amazon pay check bought a slap up family meal from Mr Wongs and a few bottles of plonk.
Kimi is being read, and that for me, is simply the best.
I’m now writing a second adventure for Kimi, and finding it to be a breeze. Having the stage and props already in place, the characters fleshed and still recovering from their previous escapades, all makes getting the story down so much easier. I’ll let you know how I get on.
Read Kimi's Secret
Kimi’s very own website: http://kimissecret.wordpress.com/about/
Kimi at Portree Primary School: http://www.portreeprimaryschool.com/index.asp?pageid=358078
On twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/John_Hudspith
Nuance Words: http://www.nuancewords.com/
Anne Stormont: http://www.annestormont.co.uk/index.html
Jill Marsh: http://jjmarsh.wordpress.com/about/
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