Come back tomorrow to see what Jason Zandri has to say about his process!
The Prophecy of Hope Saga began as an intensely private form of grief. The idea came shortly after my brother’s sudden death and for a long time it remained just an idea. Eventually that idea became my debut novel, Sgarrwrath, Prequel to the Prophecy of Hope, which in turn became the gateway for an entire saga. Arising, Prophecy of Hope Book 1 was released in 2014 and I am currently hard at work on Mhorag, Prophecy of Hope Book 2 with plans for at least five more books to wrap up the saga.
The process of writing these stories does not consist of any set “rules,” per say, but is just a step along the journey of the soul. Writing for me is such a personal thing that I often say the story is being written upon my heart before it is ever written upon the page. This is my first standard for story and characterization. It is important for me to know myself in the story.
Though I write fantasy, the journey of the soul is a very real one, and in it I find the heart of the story: the major themes, the nugget of truth that grounds the entire course of the story. Obviously hope is a major theme in the Prophecy of Hope Saga and will carry over throughout the whole, but each individual book in the series has a major theme in conjunction with that broader theme, and each character has their own smaller story arc within that general frame. Allow me to share an example of this. My character, Sgarrwrath, had a very rough beginning. Many of the characters in the Prophecy of Hope Saga were first created as part of high school creative writing projects but not Sgarrwrath. Oh, I knew he existed but I never wrote his name; I never acknowledged his story yet without him there never would have been a series, and without my brother, Isaac, there never would have been a Sgarrwrath. Why did I avoid his story? Well, the answer is not an easy one for me to talk about. You have to understand that keeping him in the shadows of my imagination was first and foremost a form of protection. He is everything that I fear. We all have fears. Mine came from watching, rather enduring, the effects of drug addiction tearing my family apart. Imagine it: a little girl who was surrounded by love, hope, security . . . just a few of the things she thought would last, and they didn’t. These words, even now, fall so short of the heart of the matter yet writing fantasy lets that wall of protection weaken and heal. Why does the wall need to weaken and heal? Because walls cut us off. The block the journey and trap us. Step by step, the process strips through the dead places and makes them new. The darkness and ultimately the sorrow written upon me through that history and really through the relationship with my brother eventually allowed Sgarrwrath to find his voice, and hope had its nemesis at last.
Cast down from the Kingdom, Sgarrwrath was cursed, condemned, stripped of flesh, bone and identity for his crime. He has become The Ones Whose Name is not Spoken, the bane of the Light. He has long existed in formless Darkness, held in check by the Guardians’ dominion but he has never forgotten the object of the lust that first birthed him into being. His desire? Sanctus’ Orb of Power. Within the Orb is contained the Source, hidden in Flame, who is the most mysterious and powerful entity in the universe. Sgarrwrath craves this prize above all else yet has always been beyond his reach, until now…
More questions follow, and soon my debut novel is written.
For my debut novel, Sgarrwrath, Prequel to the Prophecy of Hope, I employed no other method of character development. It was one of those stories that so took a hold of my imagination that every single part basically wrote itself. What was unique about the writing of this book was that there were two versions of it, written simultaneously: Option A and the slightly larger, more complex, Option B. I loved both for different reasons. It was true they had much in common and so my first reader was given both drafts. Option B was edited and published in 2011, and that was the wisest choice because Sgarrwrath wasn’t done telling his story, and Option B laid the foundation for all that is to come. Though Sgarrwrath’s voice may seem rather insubstantial within the greater story, this book was key to setting him and the saga free.
The saga began with four Guardian brothers (Cadclucan, Fyrdung, Azolat and Arawn) taking a journey back in time to protect what is theirs by right. Flame—the most mysterious substance in all of existence is the heart of the Guardians (dragon- super human shape shifter beings), who breathe and wield it for the good of all, yet there is a greater Source who is the true prize of the universe for it was he who gave all Flame. The dark entity known only as Sgarrwrath has long coveted access to Flame, which is the only link to the Source who is his first and truest desire. Flame is life, power . . . everything, or so he believes and Flame is finally within his reach because Arawn is not like his brothers. Arawn is young, untested, and wants more power though the prophecy reveals the predominance of the Flame belongs to another yet to be revealed. Stalked by living Darkness, the Guardian brothers must risk everything to confront Arawn’s demons and purify his heart Flame, or turn their backs on him forever. All moments bare a price. All must choose. The Guardians refuse to abandon hope. They journey into Darkness yet how far will they go to save Arawn? Will they have the strength to do what must be done even if they are forced to turn the full extent of their power upon Arawn? Or will Sgarrwrath destroy them all?
The character, Arawn, took a surprising twist throughout the novel. I both loved and hated him. His story arc did not go exactly the way I was expecting it to yet it is Arawn’s choice that is catalyst of a dark and epic adventure that will unfold around the far-reaching Prophecy of Hope. I could never have fully nor accurately “planned” this character, which brings me to my second true standard of story and character development, and that is this: it is the characters’ story; let them tell it as they want to tell it! If I try to force the story that is all it will be, a forced story, and I won’t even want to read it. Shall I admit now that I am a bit of a perfectionist?
Arawn’s choice at the end of Sgarrwrath surprised me, and led to some interesting complications going into the writing process of the next installment. Arising, Prophecy of Hope Book 1 was going to be very dark; I could see that going in. Sgarrwrath’s quest of dominion was beginning to really take focus yet from Time’s conception the Guardians had led the way. So, with the foundation firmly in place, I turned by attention to the question, what comes next?
Guardians: theirs is a position and a duty given by Sanctus, earned by Trials and kept by Right. They are a force beyond the confines of nature, immortal, wise, just and fair in their ways, and above all, powerful. Their supremacy has been a Golden Age when every Race, nation and living thing were united into one great society led by the wisdom and Light innate within them. But that glory has been breached from within by Arawn's choice. Now Darkness comes.
In secret Darkness has festered since the dawn of time but with the shields of the earth crumbling, bringing chaos in the wake of the Great Guardian Exodus, everything is changing. A world hangs in the balances. The earth has turned against its inhabitants; its seasons have been wrung out of their courses and the Sun grows weaker by the hour. A Resistance gathers yet who can tell friend from foe, reality from illusion or even hope from despair? Time passes—its measure diminishing with the Light as both fade more and more into Darkness. Generations rise and fall too soon. No one is safe. Not even the timeless wielders of the Light whose access to the eternal Flame is at the heart of it all.
Flame—the most mysterious and valuable substance in the universe. It is life, power, and the promise of so much more yet it is not the prize, but the tool, and Sgarrwrath has the heart of Arawn. A new age has dawned. For Darkness too has access to the Flame, so begins the Time of the Prophecy of Hope. Only with the Light fading away, Hope is just a word. All life is bound up in a new kind of war; its only front is the soul; its only weapon is temptation, and there is only one way out, survive the illusion! No one is immune. Not even the Guardians themselves. Darkness grows more and more, and then disruption comes…
A complexity had developed at the end of Sgarrwrath, which had to be carried over into Arising, Prophecy of Hope Book 1. An entire cast of dynamic characters and such big themes as love, loyalty, duty, greed, honor, and hope were in play as well as a roughly formed “world”. Sgarrwrath was very focused in on the smaller picture, but Arising’s offered an opportunity to see the broader picture. I knew this book was going to expand out making the first challenge that of creating this fantasy world beyond the Light and Darkness and Flame while continuing to develop upon them as well. First I had to know who lived in this world other than Sgarrwrath and the Guardians? Races had to be created/ developed. This was done by creating one character from each race with questions and more questions; then carry over storylines were brought in to be picked up and woven into the new. For this book, I found Character Interviews and an Outline of the Bare Basics of the story I wanted to tell to be invaluable. I did not plot out every little detail, or a full flow of events because quite frankly I didn’t know them all when I started writing, which brings me to my third standard of character development. Do not be afraid to let the story, the characters, or the outcome surprise you! The goal is to have a fully developed plot, a complete character who “think” for themself, and that means a character might just surprise me. I live for it! I love to have my “control” over the story taken away because that means this character has a mind of his/her own, and it is their story!
In this saga, I have no main character in the traditional sense and instead focus on several characters whose lives and stories will ultimately be brought together. Some come and go in the telling; some carry through the entire planned series to ends yet unwritten but there is one character who is at the very center of the saga. The Light always whispers, “Let the Light shine forth and awaken hope. Let Mhorag arise. Let the Promised come.”
No one life is more entangled by the Prophecy of Hope than that of Mhorag, the Source of all. His name is whispered throughout all the universe yet the young godling remains the hidden prize kept high in the heavens where he watches and dreams. When the saga begins and four Guardian brothers take their ill-fated journey back in time in a final attempt to deliver one in their number from the clutches of evil Sgarrwrath, a single choice sets the course of the future. It is only a matter of time before either the forces of Light or Darkness will have to arise to lay claim to the soul of the Source. For now there is no greater hope than the sound of Mhorag’s name, but can it last? In the end will Mhorag be a peril, a promise or just the beginning of something so much greater? And so, the saga continues …
Entering into Mhorag, Prophecy of Hope Book 2 (my work in progress) I felt lik a juggler teetering on a precipice, trying not to drop anything while trying not to plunge over the edge either. The saga had grown. The characters had grown. The history of the fantasy world I had created had grown and changed all in the course of a single book. For a time, I felt like I did not know this story anymore, which brings me to my fourth standard of story and characterization. Do not be afraid, or disturbed by the silence. Use it. I came to realize that it was not the story I did not know; it was myself. Of course, the fantasy world had gone silent! I had brought them to the deepest, darkest place imaginable. I had thrown their world into utter chaos. Fear was running rampant and fear can paralyze. This was not a dead end, however, but an opportunity to find out what is really inside oneself! Broken people can still be strong; they can get up; they can fight; they can survive. When all else in this world seems to have fallen, the Prophecy of Hope still stands.
In conclusion, let me share my fifth and final standard for story and characterization. Trust the story; trust your characters; trust what has already been revealed to take you where you need to be. Remember: each new beginning comes from an ending. Growth is a good thing! The Prophecy of Hope Saga continues to grow. The mythology and the characters continue to grow and surprise, and I would invite you to join the journey. Who knows where we might end up!
You can read free excerpts of Sgarrwrath, Prequel to the Prophecy of Hope and Arising, Prophecy of Hope Book 1 at www.sgarrwrath.com
For now, farewell, and thank you for taking a little time out to read this. I am honored. Let the dragons fly. Let the saga continue . . .