Since I completed Food of Magicians in early December, I've been planning my next project. This novel is called Serango and it's going to take place in a world I actually created in high school. So, actually a lot of the creative heavy lifting happened a solid decade ago. It's an epic meteorological fantasy.
This Serango novel could be an utter failure, but I don't think it's useful to think like that during the planning stages. Every whim, every ridiculous set-piece or explosion, or character coming back from the dead—or surprise, twins!—demands your complete and utter loyalty. If you don't give these ideas your loyalty, they die on the page. Maybe they die before the page. Writing the completely absurd things requires faith or arrogance. I don't know or care which.
Serango might be the most fantastic, the most absurd thing I came up with. A decade ago, I didn't care about agents or what was right, or entirely rational, I just hurled myself in. There was, no doubt, a lot of good and a lot of bad. Those books more so than any others shaped the writer I am today. I've always looked back on that world, much of the premise, and told myself I'd come back when I was better. When I was worthy of it.
Well, I don't know if I'm worthy of it, but I want to play in that world again. It's an opulent world, where people ride flying horses and wield revolvers, and the cities float in the air and are surrounded by storms. The people walk on clouds. There are immortal monsters. Unfurling clouds and the magnificence of weather and the heavens.
The first book was a fantasy heist novel way before Leigh Bardugo made fantasy heist The Thing. That book was packed with every idea I ever had, none of it ironic, and the whole thing like a massive leap of faith before I thought of writing fantasy like leaps of faith. It always comes back to Serango, in one way or another. The Princess and the Fox Demon boasted immortal demons with penchant for animal forms. Those were originally the lopels of Serango. Food of Magicians was a character study of a fantasy city through an assortment of characters. Serango was the same. But with a dragon in a treasury and a heist.
I remember the weeks before I began my second series called Mabel's City, when I called my aunt in tears, frustrated with my inability as a writer. I wanted to go back to Serango and succeed with it, but I just felt like I wasn't good enough. But as a writer who had begun many projects and watched them die, I was worried that once I officially gave up writing another Serango novel, I would not be able to once I did something else. I remember my aunt telling me that I could always go back, that it would always be there for me. She was right.
Returning to Serango world-building is like greeting an old friend. A lot of the old things have been kept. The city is still built of floating rock. The revolvists, the military of Serango, still ride flying horses and use revolvers to fight against monsters. Everyone still wears insane patterns and colors with sashes to hold shirts shut.... (or not ;) And actually, much of the cast is the same, Yama, Mercury, and Nemesca all make appearances. But since it's a prequel novel to the one I wrote in high school, I'm writing these characters much earlier in their lives.
The main changes I've made relate to the monsters, called lopels. Once immortal shapeshifter with animal forms that fed on human flesh, now... Well, I don't want to spoil anything.
In many ways, the biggest world building change is that people from Below the sky city can visit via mountain. However, these visitors can only stay for a few months tops before the environment will kill them. People born in Serango have a unique physiology that allows them to walk on clouds and survive at the height, but they cannot go below. Having people from other places will allow me to play with cultures a little more, I hope.
But the basic premises of the world are completely ridiculous. They make absolutely no scientific sense. People can't walk on clouds or fly and humans would die at such a height... But there's a leap of faith. No apologies. People walk on clouds. They control storms. And true love takes many forms.
A mysterious count.
His beautiful male assistant who has a penchant for moving in and out of shadows.
A dubious king.
A classical dancer who daylights as a black market doctor.
A pair of busybody tour guides.
A prince covered from head-to-toe who just wants to feel... through his gloves and face mask.
A 15 year old prodigy sharpshooter and duelist.
I like to plan by repeatedly asking myself questions.
Usually there are possibilities in the questions and I continue to build whole paragraphs of questions, gradually answering them in my head.
After having multiple pages or paragraphs of questions, I sit down and start to write—more sanely—normal paragraphs summarizing the story. Usually in the planning phases I'm fixated on two questions. What does this character want? Where does this character ultimately end up?
While I'm working through these two questions, I'm also jotting down world notes. Fortunately for Serango, there's a lot I already know. So, I've been keeping focussed on the characters, listening to the same two opera songs, and praying that this outline comes together. I'm almost ready to start writing, I hope.