Brian McClellan: Five Things I Learned Writing Autumn Republic

The capital has fallen…

Field Marshal Tamas returns to his beloved country to find that for the first time in history, the capital city of Adro lies in the hands of a foreign invader. His son is missing, his allies are indistinguishable from his foes, and reinforcements are several weeks away.

An army divided…

With the Kez still bearing down upon them and without clear leadership, the Adran army has turned against itself. Inspector Adamat is drawn into the very heart of this new mutiny with promises of finding his kidnapped son. 

All hope rests with one…

And Taniel Two-shot, hunted by men he once thought his friends, must safeguard the only chance Adro has of getting through this war without being destroyed…

THE AUTUMN REPUBLIC is the epic conclusion that began with Promise of Blood and The Crimson Campaign. 

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FOR SOME PEOPLE, BEING AN AUTHOR IS MORE THAN JUST WRITING A BOOK

There are a lot of things I’ve known about for many years—little additional (and sometimes optional) bits to being an author that they don’t tell you about in most creative writing classes (I was lucky in that my creative writing class with Brandon Sanderson did tell me about these). Tips like creating a presence and persona on social media. Knowing when to keep your mouth shut in public. Looking for additional opportunities for yourself as a writer. Diversifying your income.

Now, I say that I’ve known about these things for many years and I have. But knowing and doing are two different things. I took to a few of them early on, like Twitter and Facebook.

But it’s only been since I started writing Autumn Republic that I focused on how I could be an author and a businessman. Autumn Republic was the end of a trilogy and that made it the end of an era for me. Once that book was out I knew I wouldn’t be getting any more advance checks and was unsure if or when I’d get royalties. If I wanted to keep working full time at my art, I had to do all those other things I’d been avoiding.

Being a businessman became part of my artistic passion, and looking for new opportunities, self-publishing my short fiction via ebook, managing a bookstore on my website, or commissioning print runs of my Powder Mage novellas have all become a fun part of what I do every day.

THERE ARE UNIQUE COMPLICATIONS TO PLOTTING EACH BOOK IN A TRILOGY

A trilogy is a funny thing. Every book needs to stand on it’s own merit—a closed novel with a clear beginning and end. But as part of a trilogy each book also needs to take on a distinct role. Treat, if you will, the whole trilogy as not three individual books but one giant, single novel. Book one is the opening chapter, book two the deepening of the plot, and book three the climax.

In this way, Promise of Blood was the easiest to write because it was the framing story, the opening salvo with a definite plot arc. I had vague ideas about where I was going but I could worry about that later. Crimson Campaign was that “later” that I referred to in the previous sentence and was by far the hardest book in the trilogy to write. It was the first time I’d written a sequel and I was terrified it would bomb. I was also keenly aware of that mid-series slump of slogging through the plot that so much epic fantasy seems to suffer from.

The Autumn Republic ended up somewhere in between. It was the most clearly-plotted of all the books (because I had to know where I was going), which made a lot of the writing zip by. But I had to wrap up as many plotlines as I needed without it turning into a grind and writing the climax to a trilogy is a lot of pressure.

SOMETIMES AS AN AUTHOR YOU HAVE TO DOUBLE DOWN FOR A PAYOFF

One of the viewpoints in the Powder Mage Trilogy is a young laundress named Nila. She kind of snuck into the Promise of Blood, with only a handful of scenes compared to the dozens of scenes for each of the other characters. I knew right from the beginning that she was going to be important, and I had an inkling of the direction I wanted to take her, but I wasn’t 100% sure where her road would lead. Most fans seemed fairly ambivalent about her and I was tempted to cut her role in Crimson Campaign.

But I knew she was going to be important. I left her in book two and gave her a couple more scenes. The consequences of her actions had a little more impact, and this had the desired effect: people seemed to become more attached to her journey. But they weren’t too attached to her. I was still tempted to minimize her part and let her plot line peter off.

Then when Autumn Republic came along, Nila managed to surprise even me. She was suddenly one of the most enjoyable characters to write, with cool, powerful scenes and a stronger plot arc than I’d given her in both the previous books combined. By simple word count, she wound up with more viewpoint screen time than any of the other characters in the book.

YOU CAN’T WRAP UP EVERYTHING AT THE END OF A SERIES…

The Powder Mage Trilogy, all told, is about five hundred thousand words long. There are four main viewpoint characters, hundreds of named side characters, and dozens of small dramas that play out over the course of the series. Many of those dramas only last a single chapter, while others span the entire trilogy. As an author, I’ve asked countless questions via the narrative that the reader expects to be answered by the end.

Problem is, you can’t answer all of those questions. First of all because you don’t have enough space—even epic fantasy readers want the story to just finally end already (a memo that some epic fantasy authors haven’t yet gotten). Secondly because the narrative might not let you. There is a cadence to storytelling, a minimum speed at which you can progress the plot and still keep the reader interested, and going off on side tangents to answer every little question a reader has will destroy the cadence of your book.

There was one particular plot thread from the middle of The Crimson Campaign that I had meant to answer by the end of that book. But it just didn’t fit anywhere. So I decided I’d answer it in Autumn Republic but what do you know? It didn’t fit there either.

Funny enough, it will get answered in the next Powder Mage Universe series, but that’s a story for later.

 …NOR SHOULD YOU

It’s a good thing to leave some plot threads unfinished at the end of a series. Not the main ones—you want to clean those up to a large extent, and part of being a writer is developing an instinct for which questions the readers must have answered and which to leave a mystery.

If you wrap everything up too tightly in a nice little box with a bow on it, there’s no mystery left at the end. The reader will just shrug and move on with their life. But if you leave some questions unanswered they will keep returning to your books, pondering, rereading, enjoying, and curious what might have been or what might be.

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In addition to being the author of the Powder Mage Trilogy and a variety of related short stories and novellas, Brian is a beekeeper and avid player of computer games. He lives with his wife in Cleveland, Ohio.

Brian McClellan: Website | Twitter

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