One of my most satisfying writing adventures was creating the plot, characters, settings and themes for my Young Adult trilogy, The Golden Highway, The Diamond Pathway and The Emerald Treasure Chamber. When I wrote the first book in the trilogy, I implemented some good advice from the AFDA film studio: when creating the plot for your film, brainstorm keywords, then write down their opposites. I decided that this technique might work just as well if you were planning a novel, and so my exciting journey began.
I had enormous fun jotting down words, words and more words – the association of ideas trick worked very well and kept the ideas flooding into my brain - not only for my plot, but also for my themes and characters. Even the settings I was creating benefitted from this approach.
Before I had even begun to write the first word of my fantasy trilogy, I had pages and pages and lists and lists of enticing words and potential plot conflicts to choose from. Basically, I had highlighted key character traits of my protagonist and antagonist, discovered compelling themes and explored a range of unusual but enticing settings. An additional advantage of all this brainstorming was that it banished writer’s block from my brain. I was never stuck for a creative idea from the very first sentence I wrote, “It was dark inside the cave and Julia felt chilled to the bone” to the very last sentence of the trilogy, which I’m not going to quote as I’ve never believed in spoiling an ending!
Naturally, I had to embellish, explore and expand on all these ideas that were buzzing around in my brain. As a high school English teacher, I had read too many essays during the course of my career which were like a staccato style on the piano – a little bit here, a little bit there, rather abrupt, no logical flow. Because with every fantasy, I believe that a good structure is crucial: in the opening pages of your novel, give your readers a hint/a clue/a suggestion – but not an obvious one – of what could happen later. Like every good detective, a good novelist will lay clues, the significance of which will only be discovered much later in the story. Lead up to your climax; make something of your dramatic moments; don’t squander the crucial events by not getting into your characters’ heads and really feeling the significance of what is happening with them.
The settings I explored with my characters were all places I had visited, and which had made a deep impression on me. The Sterkfontein Caves in Gauteng, the desolate Skeleton Coast of Namibia, and the mighty pyramids of the ancient pharaohs were all treasure-troves that I could venture into with my characters.
And in the time-honored tradition of Young Adult fantasy novels, in my trilogy, my characters are at war, fighting the evil forces that are swirling around them. Will good triumph over evil? Will their quest result in success or failure? And will they be sufficiently resilient to triumph in the face of temptation?
What an exciting adventure fantasy writing is. I have tried my hand at many different genres, but I found that exploring moral choices and having fun doing it was one of the most enriching experiences of my writing career.