Guest Post: Rowena Cory Daniells on story length and writing King Breaker

rowenacorydaniells-kingbreakerRowena Cory Daniells was one of my favourite discoveries of last year. I mainlined all of her books published by Solaris and I also reviewed the supernatural crime novel she published as RC Daniells. So King Breaker, the concluding novel to the tale begun in the King Rolen’s Kin trilogy, was very much one of my most anticipated novels for this year. But the way The Usurper ended and the fact that I thought King Rolen’s Kin would be a self-contained trilogy, left me rather confused. So with King Breaker just released, I asked Rowena for a guest post on why this series developed the way it did. 

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Q: How long is a piece of string?
A: As long as it needs to be.

Mieneke wanted to know: Why did you decide to extend the trilogy and why did you end The Usurper the way you did?

Every story has its own natural length and when you write a story it is either craft guided by instinct, or instinct guided by craft.

Plotters know exactly what is going to happen and, even before the book is written, they can tell you the details of the pivotal scene in chapter eight. Then there are the Discovery writers. They discover the story as they write.

To be a Discovery writer you have to trust your writing muscle. We grow up surrounded by story. There are the fairy tales and nursery rhymes of our early childhood. Then there are the school books we wade through and the afternoon TV programs, where a problem is introduced and solved in half an hour including advert breaks (Except if you’re on Gilligan’s Island, then you never get to escape).

So we grow up with this sense of story. I believe story is hardwired into our minds. It is the ultimate puzzle. Small children constantly ask Why? because they are trying to make sense of the world. We are constantly seeking to understand the world, looking for patterns. As a species it was our ability to recognise patterns that gave us the advantage, enabling us to anticipate events and plan for the future. What is story but a pattern? (If you’re George RR Martin it is a pattern with 30 narrative points of view).

We make sense of the world through story. We’ve all heard of the islanders who survived the 2004 tsunami because they remembered the stories the old folks had told them: If the sea goes out, run for the hills. My mother told me a similar story when I was a child. Back when she was 7, her family had gone for a holiday at Burleigh on the Gold Coast.

Burleigh Beach 1939

Burleigh Beach 1939

She was on the beach one day when the water went right out. Then a big wave rolled in and ran right up the beach. When the wave retreated it took everyone’s towels and umbrellas out to sea and several people including her cousin. Luckily, the life-savers were right there and they saved everyone.

Modern Australian life-savers. They do a wonderful job. Find out more about them here

Modern Australian life-savers. They do a wonderful job. Find out more about them here

I’d never forgotten her story and when I heard of the Boxing Day tsunami and how people had gone out to investigate when the water retreated instead of running, I wished they’d heard my mother’s story.

Our ancestors sat around the campfire telling stories and those stories contained the tribe’s shared knowledge. It was a matter of survival to pass on those stories. In a new fantasy series I’ve been working on, one of the main characters is the village’s apprentice story-teller. It is his job to remember all the stories of each branch of the village from the hunters to the weavers and the healers. When our survival depends on recognising danger, remembering information is made easier by embedding it in a story. We care about the characters so we remember what happened to them.

Even if we aren’t readers of big fat fantasy books, we are hard-wired to understand story. And then there are those amongst us who have a strong storytelling muscle and see the world through this lens. If we go to a movie, we think about the characters and imagine what happened to them after the movie ended. If we hear a news report about someone in danger, we imagine what they are going through and how they might escape.

You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m a Discovery writer. I have an idea of where the story is going. I get to know the characters then I turn them loose and see what happens. In the King Rolen’s Kin books I wanted to take three siblings and their best friend and test their relationships in the face of adversity. There were things I set up in the first three books that come to fruition in book four. By challenging Byren, Piro and Fyn I force them to take action and their actions reveal their true character.

King Breaker covers events in five kingdoms. To do this I needed two more point of view characters. Believing Cobalt sent Byren to be executed, Florin sets out to avenge his death. And Orrade’s younger brother Garzik, who was captured by Utland raiders in The King’s Man, tries to get back home to Rolencia to help Byren defeat Cobalt.

So to answer Mieneke’s question, it was never my intention to write a stand-alone trilogy. King Rolen’s Kin was set up to be a series in which I could explore the bonds of friendship and family. I hope readers find the trials and tribulations of Byren and his friends and family as fascinating as I do.

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Rowena300Bio: Rowena Cory Daniells lives in Queensland, Australia, by the bay, with her husband and six children. She has devoted five years to studying the martial arts Tae Kwon Do, Aikido and Laido. She has served on the management committees of two Australian national genre awards, the Queensland Writers Centre, the Brisbane Writers Festival and Fantastic Queensland. Her first trilogy, The Chronicles of Kin Rolen’s Kin, was a bestseller in 2010.

You can find Rowena online at her website and on Twitter.

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