The Birth of “Tears from Iron”

As we begin a new year and look forward, I thought I’d look back instead.  How is a story born?  What are the moments that see its first formation in the mind of the author?  For this article, I’m going to try something a little different… hopefully you like it.

**********WARNING! This article includes significant spoilers.  I strongly encourage that you only read this if you’ve finished “Tears from Iron.”  This article doesn’t give away the heart of the story, but it includes several hints and reveals that may diminish the pleasure of discovery as you make your way through the novel.**********

As I’ve mentioned from time to time, my first vision for “Tears from Iron” was quite different.  I had the same basic setting… a fledgling empire of the Syraestari in the latter days of the Cataclysm that depended on human Kalilaer for menial labor and human t’Okaedrin to secure its borders from being overwhelmed by Wildmen tribes.  Originally, however, Belarrin was a Wildman who was attacked and dragged off into slavery.  He was sent to work in the mines from which he eventually escaped to join the Scions and fight to bring freedom for humanity.

That was the story I began in the autumn of 2012.  But as I finished up the first act and moved into the second, I began to lose my way.  Something was wrong and I couldn’t figure out what it was.  As chance would have it, 2013 was the first year that I began keeping a journal.  I looked through my old journal notes and found a few which chart the shift from the story that might have been to the story that “Tears from Iron” became.

January 29, 2013:

I am in largely uncharted territory now and am, to some degree, writing by discovery learning.  There are enough variables that it feels like I need to let the characters speak for themselves and drive the plot rather than developing an outline first.  We’ll see how it goes.  It could turn out awesome, or I could write myself into a corner.  But even if I do that, I think I’ll learn a lot of value.

Uh oh… I didn’t know it at the time, but I was about to lose my way.

February 6, 2013:

My path ahead is a lot grayer than it was in Act I and that is disconcerting.

February 16, 2013:

It is really rough going because my goal points are so vague right now.  I’m not sure how to tighten them up exactly, though. 

These are only a sampling journal entries that record my growing struggle.  But the storm was about to break.

February 18, 2013:

My work on my story is getting very frustrating.  I’m bogged down.  I’m not sure where to go from here.  I was working on defining various character goals in order to organize my sequence better and it struck me that a cool character type would be an Iron-Man who infiltrated the Children of the Fallen Tree in order to call down attacks on their camps.  Then it struck me like a lightning bolt… that should be Belarrin!  I’m telling the wrong story!!!

So I did some plotting on that idea to see if it went any further, but I’m still stymied. 

February 19, 2013:

Still in dilemma mode.  I did some more dabbling with the alternate Iron-Man Belarrin plot to see if that would really solve it.  That story is getting closer, but not the original.  Sigh.

February 20, 2013:

I’m still trying to figure out what to do.  I did a rough plotting of both books and managed to come up with ideas.  The old version still feels weaker but I think I could make it work.  I’ve been praying for help figuring out what to do.  I’m feeling like I could theoretically do either, so it is more a matter of which story is right and which one is wrong.

This turned out to be the pivotal day.  In my writing exercise, I arranged both versions in a rough chapter sequence to compare them side by side.  What amazes me now, looking back, is how close that sketch remained to the final story.  But I wasn’t there yet.

February 21, 2013:

I am seriously itching to do some real writing but am facing such a limbo right now.  I think I will try to complete the alternate Chapter 1.  Maybe at that point I’ll have a better feeling for each angle so I know what to do.  For tonight, I did some research on the Janissaries as the only major slave warrior organization I know of.  It wasn’t particularly helpful.  The Janissaries are almost nothing like what I envision my Iron-Men to be.  After that I began writing a document about who the Iron-Men are.  I especially want to figure out their indoctrination and their belief structure to make it as realistic as possible.  Regardless of which path I choose, this will be helpful.  It will be critically necessary if I choose the newer method.

February 22, 2013:

I’ve decided to try writing my alternate Chapter 1.  I’d dabbled with the first few paragraphs already, but I pushed it forward to a full page and a half.  The pacing does seem to be a good bit faster than the old opening, though there is more thrown at the reader, too.  I’ve got five characters (one who’s already dead).  But I don’t think it is so much that it can’t be handled.

The original sequence I refer to here actually closes the final version of Chapter 1.  I subsequently realized I needed more time for the reader to be drawn into the story before plunging into the action of the initial Scion raid.

This is the last time I refer to the “alternate” version.  From here on, there is no mention of my old story again and there is no hesitation on my part that the new path was the better one. 

February 23, 2013:

I have to do a lot of rethinking on Reigliff.  I’m still not exactly sure where I’m going, indeed I feel like I’ve taken another step backward, but at this point I have to step back in order to step forward in the right way.  So I am pleased.  Reigliff may become a co-protagonist or even THE protagonist, but I don’t see how I can do that.  He is so enigmatic and solitary that it will be hard enough to move him into a co-protagonist position.

In the original story, Belarrin was the protagonist while Reigliff was the primary supporting character.  This also held true as I began planning the new version.  While he ended up holding a critical role, his primacy was eventually supplanted by Lady Ninanna.

February 28, 2013:

I began a list of “Themes” and “Authorial Discoveries” including that Reigliff is, at this point, the only Shadow-Servant but during the story he will recruit Ninanna.  That Ninanna will see Reigliff’s face.  That Belarrin’s possession of Isi’s Tear will be a key part of the prophecy.

This was the first mention of Ninanna in my journal, though she did exist in the original story.  In those early versions she was very different.  She was a minor Sword-Whisperer, not their founder, and she was indifferent to humanity rather than their champion.  Honestly, I don’t recall when that shift happened… maybe I should do a “Behind the Pages” on Ninanna and see what I can figure out.

March 3, 2013:

As I was reading through my Reigliff notes, I found my earliest commentary on Reigliff killing Isi to save her from being devoured by Cydion.  I came up with that idea in 2000 and now, 13 years later, it is my prologue!  How is that for cool?

I had to conclude with this entry because I still think it’s cool.  So with that, I’ll wrap up this look into the past.  It is interesting how quickly all the right pieces can fall into place once you know the direction to go.  This isn’t always true and it wasn’t always true for “Tears from Iron.”  As of February 2013, I had my direction and my plan, but there were still many times that I grappled to bring all the strands of the story back into a cohesive and satisfying whole.