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The Most Challenging Novel I Wrote So Far

When I’m writing these words, it’s been only a few days after I had finished the first draft of my standalone fantasy, Memories of Sorcery and Sand. There’s still a lot of work ahead of me, but the most important bit is done: I have laid what I hope is a solid structure to probably the most challenging story I attempted to write up to date.

And to be honest, part of me still can’t believe I pulled it off.

A story from a quarter of a century ago

In some aspects, Memories of Sorcery and Sand stem from one of my earliest novel ideas, a fan fiction I played around with back in my teens. It was one of those “favorite stories” that stuck with me, but I never considered it feasible as a “serious” novel material. It had too much of everything—reincarnation, time travel, lost memories, teleporting swords, characters from the books that inspired the story, and other things I probably prefer not to remember. It was fun, sure, but it suffered from that over-the-top-ness some fan fiction suffers from.

If I wanted to write it, and if I wanted to make it mine, something more than fan fiction, I had to make some serious changes.

The merciless cutting

First, I had to examine what was necessary for the story: which elements had to stay, and which could go (in case you’re wondering, the teleporting sword was gone). Second, I had to simplify. Actual reincarnation and time travel were out of the picture (and along with the latter—all the nasty time paradoxes I could have written myself into). With a lot of juggling, I replaced them with more logical and concise dual world setting.

I also did away with the original characters from the series that inspired me. One of them wasn’t necessary for the story I had to tell, and the other needed adjustments anyway, so I created someone who was similar, but ultimately—mine.
After all that, I don’t think anyone could tell easily which fantasy classic Memory of Sorcery and Sand stemmed from… unless they picked on the few hints I couldn’t help leaving within the text or they scour my blog posts about books I’ve read in the past and measure them against the actual story.

The intricacy of the storytelling

Memories of Sorcery and Sand are, at their core, a very intimate story—one that doesn’t deal with saving the world or other grand events. It focused on relations between four (seven, if I want to push it to minor characters) people.
It tells a story of a woman who had lost her memories, and to regain them, she has to work with her father’s rival, unaware of the past that tangles them all together.

The story starts much earlier than the novel does, and if I was to write it in chronological order, the main character would lose her memories somewhere midway.

Aware that it creates no tension for the reader (they would already know what the lost memories are), I knew the book had to start after that loss. Yet, it meant that half of the book would be told in flashbacks that had to both be relevant to the “present” time line and revealed in an order that would ensure they didn’t spoil any secrets too soon, thus ruining the mystery around the events that took place.

I have to confess, I’m not fond of too many flashbacks as a reader, so I had to snicker at myself for writing a flashback-heavy novel, and one that didn’t simply reveal the past, but also affected the outcome of the present events. Every piece of information the main character learns not only changes her view on what’s going on around her, but also… distances her from her past self.

Does it work as a novel?

To be honest, I still don’t know. I did my best to put all the pieces in the right places, in the right order. But it doesn’t mean there aren’t issues with pacing or the balance between memories and present scenes isn’t jarring (due to the story’s needs, they do not appear in a structured manner, for example, one memory for one scene in the character’s present time). I also know that I’ll have to do more work with it: dive deeper into the character’s mind, tighten the magic, and add some scenes and descriptions.

The book is with my trusted alpha reader at the moment, and I hope he’ll be able to tell me that “it’s working”, and I should dive into extensive revisions Memories of Sorcery and Sand will need. Or, perhaps, I’ll learn of some fatal flaw that might cause this story to be not salvageable.

Until then, I will work on finishing my epic fantasy series instead, and enjoy that eerie feeling of I can’t believe I pulled it off.

Joanna Maciejewska

Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games. Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English. Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Lissa Johnston

    I know it makes it more complicated, but I think you’re right to structure it this way so that the readers don’t know the memories too early.

    1. Melfka

      The structure works well (very well, if I’m to believe my alpha reader). It was just such a pain when I was writing it… 😉

    1. Melfka

      It is! Two months later I’m still excited about getting back to that novel Sadly, it won’t be any time soon–but at least it’s for equally exciting reasons.

    1. Melfka

      That’s good to hear. 🙂

  2. sjhigbee

    Congratulations! And sorry for the looong absence… Delighted that you’ve managed to get this one landed – it’s such an odd feeling when it’s done. Oddly, my latest book also features a chunk of flashback. I’m guessing the alpha reader has now finished and you are now letting it ‘simmer’ before starting the editing rounds… Best of luck!

    1. Melfka

      No need to apologize for the long silence, Sarah! I disappear more than regularly too. And, in the way, this is what I like about blogging: it’s like meeting friends when you have time and you want to, not feeling obliged to respond quickly like with instant messages or phone calls.

      The alpha reader has finished indeed, and if I’m to believe him, it’s as good as I hoped it would be. Of course, there’s a lot of work to be done on it, but it tells me that the time invested will be worth it. Though I’m not sure if I get around to MoSS this year. Too many other things to do first.
      And I’m looking forward to hearing about your (not so) new book. Is it mentioned in your blog posts? Will I read about it as I catch up? 🙂

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