Love it or hate it, that's the end of the book. It was a story that took about three years and around 640 pages to tell, but it's finished. Where to now? The publisher, hopefully, after a lot of rethinking, retyping, and rewriting, natch. ToSS is still very much a work in progress. The first nine chapters or so are way too short at an average of twenty pages each compared to the later chapters which were anywhere from two to seven times that, making ToSS look like a very skinny man with an immensely fat ass. So yes, when fully completed ToSS will be even longer, which doesn't bode well for my chances of getting it published. Or I could just omit the chapters entirely and let it flow more naturally.
As for what happens next, well, ToSS is hopefully one in a series. I have three more books about Orenda and chums planned alone along with a myriad of ideas swimming around involving unrelated characters in the Sun Sin Universe.
Fortunately for Fictionpress, it probably won't be seeing at any of these Frankenstein Monsters of literature. If I can get ToSS published I wouldn't want the readers . . . reader to spoil anything. If I can't get ToSS published, well . . . I love the idea, but at the time of writing this I'm nineteen and not getting any younger. If I want to live the fevered dream of artists everywhere and live off my work I have to accept that there just might not be a gold nugget beneath the copper plating. If ToSS doesn't work out I'll have to explore different ventures, perhaps even different genres, until I find an idea that does. A guy's gotta eat.
It's extremely unreasonable to expect my first attempt at getting published at such a tender age to lead to success, let alone income enough to live off of and some claim to fame. Sure, Paolini did it and all he had to do was rewrite Star Wars, but even if his ideas aren't worth much he's still the superior writer. All I can do is hope that my own piece somehow stands out against the piles of other rejects and catches enough readers' attentions to make ToSS a series of repute.
ToSS will stay up until I'm fully finished with it and find a publisher, if only for the sake of keeping FictionPress' likely useless copyright. I don't plan on putting any of the improved chapters up, but I would appreciate a little feedback as to what you think ought to be changed. Reader input played a tremendous role in shaping ToSS into the moderately acceptable fantasy piece it is today. Below are some of my ideas on how I can improve the storyline and overall plot. Feel free to comment and contribute your own.
Changes in Setting: The following things will be or already have been changed in regards to the Sun Sin universe
-The year of Earth's disappearance will now be kept ambiguous for reasons that should have been obvious to me since the beginning. It won't change the story much, since I pretty much forgot the year from the beginning and didn't incorporate it into Orenda's timeline.
-Half-breeds will share characteristics of both parents. Mongrel-angst is too rich of a resource in fantasy to bypass, and since I have at least three characters who have parents from two separate races it would be stupid to try and work my way around it.
-Certain ideas, such as the origins of demons and gods, will either be altered or expanded upon.
Orenda Winchester: Orenda started out fairly popular but gradually lost fans as the story went on, leading me to believe I got worse at writing him as the story progressed, which would be tragic. Spending three years in Orenda's head has been very tiresome, but I doubt the story could have worked under anybody else.
Orenda has become less morally driven as time goes on. At first he had a pretty standard, albeit flexible, set of principles. As time went on, though, it becomes obvious that he is, in fact, a huge douche bag with very little moral fiber whatsoever. Sometimes I like those change and sometimes I hate it. Not sure if it ought to be kept. I do know he has to be less eager to kill, though.
In case readers missed it, yes, Orenda inexplicably aged six years since the beginning of the book. A seventeen-year-old Orenda, while perhaps more befitting of his attitude and mannerisms, is simply unfeasible. I have a couple of wonderful readers to thank for pointing that out to me.
As of this writing I've yet to find out the reaction to the big reveal of Orenda's past. Amnesia's amnesia no matter what disorder I dress it up as, and the story takes a turn for the melodramatic at that point. I dreaded writing that scene ever since I really found out what ToSS was, and I'm not sure if it'll stay. I'll have to do a lot of rewriting to omit it, but it's something to consider.
Orenda was originally meant to be confused about his feelings for Celia, namely on the subject of love. A reader pointed out that I failed to accomplish this entirely, as all the characters in the know (voices in his head among them) teased him about his obvious love. It didn't help much the scene in chapter 12 didn't cast much doubt on Orenda's affections. I know by the end of the book (probably in chapter 16, Broceliande) Orenda will confirm that he doesn't lover her, but I'm not sure whether I should rewrite the previous scenes on the subject to make it more clear that he's uncertain or give up on that entirely and make it one-sided from the beginning. I want their feelings for one another to have an inverse relationship. Orenda starts off with a very obvious, perhaps stalker-ish crush on Celia, which she treats with uncomfortable indifference. As they get closer and he saves her life time after time, her feelings for him grow to surpass his own, making him feel edgy . We'll see.
I'm torn on the subject of Orenda's hair. Mood ring hair is, of course, a joke on mood ring eyes, an unprofessional cheat fantasy writers often utilize. Some readers have asked for the aspect of Orenda's appearance to show up in the text more often, but that's missing the point. Its meant to mock how inconvenient and pointless the idea of physical manifestations of emotions are supposed to be, not serve as a childish flashcards that act as gateways into the depths of his soul. I do, however, enjoy how his hair, being indestructible and quite vicious, occasionally lashes out at his enemies and wins the day. It might be something I use more often.
Marcia Lockhart: It's inexplicable how the character who's the most cliché is somehow the most popular. Marcia is clearly the slightly tomboyish but shmexy Amazon Princess mixed in with a bit of wise-cracking klepto thiefchick. When I tried to diverge from that formula with adding a soft spot for a love interest (albeit one that was horribly thought out, executed, and made the Tough Girl look like a Sniveling Pratt) I was met with a fair bit of protest.
The number one complaint about Marcia is that her relationship with Songhart is unrealistic. I'm writing this before Songhart's eventual betrayal and have no idea how readers will react to it, but with or without that scene I'm inclined to agree. That doesn't mean that the relationship will be omitted in the rewrite, mind. Marcia needs a reason to care about the adventure, it's essential to the plot, bad relationship decisions is a flaw (which Marcia is in need of), and the story only ends on a bittersweet note because Orenda and Marcia's mutual loneliness adds a drop of honey to the tea.
So instead I'm going to try to make the relationship as true to Marcia as I can. Among other things this will mean delving more into her back story (yes, she has one. All the characters do, in fact. Orenda just never feels inclined to ask). She'll elaborate more often on what she finds attractive about Songhart, and her reasons will often be different or even contradict each time to indicate that she really has no idea what she's looking for in a man and just simply thinks Songhart's it. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Marcia's EpicFreakouts™ whenever someone speaks ill of her hubby will be limited to about one, namely in chapter ten right before they get wasted (she'll probably get a little irked when Orenda opens the can of worms again in chapter thirteen, but it will be a much less extreme case of hormone dump). To accompany this, I'll also try to hint at the reason Marcia gets so upset when someone questions her relationship with Songhart is because she doubts it herself.
Her friendship with Arthur is three parts protective sister and one part concerned mother. Marcia comes from a world where children come out of the womb jaded, so she feels naturally protective over the one person in the world who might just be the exception to the rule. I think it helps her ignore cynicism and doubt, which are two things that Marcia would detest in herself. I love the sort of one-sided dynamic the two have.
Marcia's blue hair may or may not go. There just aren't enough characters in legitimate western fantasy with blue hair. I personally like it, and think it became the character's trademark, but initial reactions to it have been poor at best.
I'm also changing her last name. Lockhart is, of course, way too similar to Songhart and there's no excuse for that. Her last name doesn't really have any significance anyway, so that goes without second thought.
Arthur Tez'od: Feedback for Arthur has been entirely positive, actually. He's an annoying, flat character, but I've got a couple of comments from one or two different readers praising him for these aspects. He's by far the least dynamic of all characters: he basically has one set of dialogue recycled over and over again for comedic effect. Still, he is popular to some and not unpopular to others, so why screw with a winning formula?
He's a lot of fun to write, partly because he's not that difficult to write; one of my reviewers, a much more talented writer than myself, can write Arthur as well as I can without any practice or preparation. Aside from a few subtle idiosyncrasies most readers wouldn't notice he's a terribly simple character, and most people seem to like him that way.
Adonis Atriach: In contrast, almost nobody has anything, good or bad, to say about Adonis. Nobody seems to care about him, which is odd considering of how in-your-face his personality is. Then again, Orenda and Marcia are more vocal than Adonis, so maybe he looks quiet by comparison.
There was a point where I was considering writing Adonis out of the book completely, but the more I put him in and the more instances I gave him to shine as both an anchor to Marcia and Orenda's silliness and as a highly competent adventurer the more I grew to appreciate him. At first Orenda's appraisal of Adonis' abilities were well founded. The more and more Adonis proves himself the more evident it becomes that Orenda's distaste for the titan is entirely petty and personal. I need to give Adonis even more heroic exploits and chances to shine. Among other things it means that the duel between the two in chapter three will have to come much closer, or perhaps be omitted entirely. His bout of self-pity in chapter eleven might be axed, too, or given a more comprehensible transition.
What I want to achieve from Adonis is a character who's used to being the hero of every story only to be made a secondary character in someone else's. Adonis is the perfect action hero: immensely strong and foreboding, moderately charismatic, and ruggedly handsome, and I think it irks him to no end that he plays second string to a skinny, obnoxious wizard. I don't want Orenda to trump Adonis, as that would be missing the point entirely. Even though Orenda is the main character he can never come out ahead, he can only get some of the perks and all of the slack that would rightfully fall to Adonis, the character who should be the main character of the story.
Adonis' dialogue will be touched up on a bit. His is right up there with Gwydion's as the hardest to write. His vocabulary is impressive, but not extensive. People expand their personal dictionaries by reading, and the only thing Adonis ever reads are ballads and epics about himself. His word choice always has to be powerful while falling short of being evident of some higher intelligence. It's pretty challenging.
Like Marcia, I'm thinking of changing his physical appearance. His white hair was originally supposed to be part of a joke on how more characters have white hair than not in fantasy stories. In retrospect, few people are going to get the joke and nobody will think it's funny. Besides, white hair just isn't the stuff of epic heroes, at least not when it's on a large black man.
Gwydion Gwendolyn: I'm fairly content with how Gwydion turned out. He's a character that somehow still remains the villain even after it's revealed he's a good guy. and yet he's so innocent about it that the readers will never know quite where he stands on the great chain of being. I think I pulled that off reasonably well.
There have been hints here and there that some readers think he's too overpowered. I personally have no objection to overpowered characters provided that they're either villains or don't do anything. Most fantasy settings have omnipotent gods that exist and yet escape criticism on the grounds that they never contribute much to the world of men. Gwydion's sort of like that. He does help on a few occasions by providing exposition, but he uses it to hinder in the same way. Whenever he plays an active role in events he usually only hastens the inevitable.
I'll have to improve Gwydion's dialogue. He was the toughest character to write in terms of speech patterns and vocabulary. It's difficult to make a character sound immensely intelligent without bestowing them with pretentious eloquence. Sophisticated word play isn't Gwydion's style, nor his area of expertise, so I had to make him sound less of a pompous ass than Celia while still better spoken than, say, Marcia. I think I started catching on when I decided to make his speech patterns more erratic with monosyllabic sounds used to signify his breaks in concentration
On that same note, his mannerisms need some touching up on. Before I really got to understand what I wanted to do with him he had some noticeably human quirks. For example, in an early chapter Gwydion rubbed his chin to express thoughtfulness. This contradicts what Gwydion is meant to be; a human who is only technically human with a body that's simply a formality. He doesn't smile when he's happy or laugh when he's amused because those are all expressions of the physical form, which Gwydion has no real use for.
My conception of how Gwydion looked was pretty vague when I wrote him. Needless to say the more I grew to imagine what he looks like the less content I was with his given description. Among other things he's going to lose the horns and demonic parentage. Making him a cambion was a decision I made before I really started thinking about the history behind the Sun Sin as an organization, back before I thought of making Merlin a character. It was also back when I thought Gwydion needed an established back story and pedigree, when he really doesn't.
Celia: Good God, Celia. Nobody liked Celia. I doubt anyone ever did like Celia. She started off as a very obvious Mary Sue and ended up as a slightly less obvious Mary Sue. That's not character development, it's just half-assed back peddling.
I'm content with the way she is. To be honest, I always have been. But part of writing is accepting that the fans, fickle and judgmental though they may be, might just be right. No matter what I decide she's still going to be gorgeous and brilliant- that's the only way she'd be Orenda's primary love interest. Maybe I'll play up her jealous qualities more to balance it out.
How Orenda and Celia's relationship would end was a point of contention for me. The ending you've read was more or less what I had planned from the beginning, with Celia leaving Orenda and Marcia coming along to cheer him up. I would shift between that ending and one where Orenda would chase after her, with the two ending up together for reasons that, quite honestly, I never thought through. People's negative reactions toward Celia actually made me favor the second option more than the former, but by chapter eight or so the first ending had become concrete. Celia would leave and never return in this or any other book. The moment I decide to bring her back is the moment I would have to accept that I'm just not cut out to be a writer.
Her fondness for the color red is just a character trait. No symbolism behind it, though I'd be really happy if people tried looking for it.
The reveal in chapter eight is a little too abrupt and melodramatic. I'm going to see what I can do with that. All in all, though, I'm happy with my semi-unique "sealed evil in an organic can" approach to her back story.
Her first appearance needs a bit of rewriting. She really hit her peak around chapter twelve or so, where she becomes more articulate (read: insufferably pretentious) and disgusted with Sun Sin politics.
It's difficult to say why a woman like Celia would be attracted to someone like Orenda. Actually, that's a bit inaccurate. It's her hero complex. She wants one, and in his better moments Orenda embodies heroism pretty well. I'm just not sure if that's an acceptable reason. Either way, it needs to be played up more; it's too subtle as is.
Songhart: Nothing said here that really hasn't been said in Marcia's section. He's a perfectly fine character, I think, it's just his interpretation within the story that's off. His vampirism was planned from the start, though I did feel kinda iffy writing it. His unique dialogue actually came pretty easy to me, and was fun to write.
Thomas Cratius: It probably isn't good writing to follow up one surprise traitor immediately with another, but both of them had been planned for the start and, frankly, I'm pretty okay with how Thomas' betrayal turned out and how his motivations came across. He may need to appear once more within the story, or at least have his appearances be more prominent, but the only way you can have an unexpected traitor is by killing them off in the early chapters or by never, ever speaking of them. If there's one thing the reviews for ToSS has taught me, it's that people suspect everyone of being the secret bad guy. And you can't meet those expectations, which is part of what I think ToSS is all about. We'll see.
And that's it. Go home.