Back at the start of 2015 I got serious about writing, publishing the first three book in my Dominions series in mid-2016. And now (May 2021) the series is complete—nine novels, and a few short stories and novellas.
It hasn’t always been easy, and I’ve learnt a great deal in these six years—about writing, editing, story, marketing and so much more. There have been a few sudden moments of realisation, but many of the lessons have been gradual.
I thought I’d take a moment to go through some of these.
Improving as a writer has a down-side
After putting out well over a million words, my writing’s improved, on both macro and micro levels (story-wise and sentence-by-sentence). This is clearly a good thing, but it does have a draw-back when writing a series—later books are better than earlier ones.
I want people to read and enjoy this series, and the natural place for them to start is at the beginning. This means they’re starting with the weakest books. If that first book doesn’t grab the reader, why would they bother continuing?
This hit me a couple of years ago. In preparation for a new book, I re-read the series so far, and wasn’t happy with the first book (Dark Glass). I pretty much re-wrote the whole thing, producing a second edition that was far stronger in both story and writing than the original.
This meant I had a stronger starting point for the series. But the next couple of books still had issues. And the ones after them—well, they’re not bad, but in retrospect there are things I could improve. And even though I’ve recently finished the ninth book, I’m certain that, if I re-read it again later this year, I’ll cringe at some of the amateur writing.
That’s the nature of improving—older stories will be inferior to current ones, which in turn will be weaker than future writing.
But I can’t continually improve already-published books. I need to work on new stories. In retrospect, working on a nine-book series as my first serious writing project was a mistake. I should have gone for a trilogy, or even a stand-alone. But I can’t change that now. I have to accept the situation, and move on.
Things won’t go to plan
When I grew serious about writing, I realised that I couldn’t make up a story as I went along. I tried, and that book was a mess—too many character viewpoints, too many pointless diversions, too sprawling. So I planned. I worked out the story, the characters and the settings before I started writing.
Planning was the key to finishing Dark Glass, and I’ve planned every book since.
But nothing ever goes to plan. The final version of a book is always different to that original plan.
Take Dead Flesh, the second book in the series. The original idea had Rodin saving Genna at the end. But for Rodin to do this, he needed to change. I planned a few early scenes where he was forced to confront his own beliefs, but it was only when I started first-drafting that I realised such a radical change couldn’t be glossed over so quickly.
The first half of the book grew and grew as I followed my new ideas. If I’d continued, Dead Flesh would have come in at around six hundred pages—twice the length of Dark Glass.
I stopped, and returned to my planning. I focused on Rodin’s change, and set Genna’s part of the story to one side. The new version, solely Rodin’s story, was far stronger. And, even at the end, Rodin wasn’t quite ready. So the third book continued his character arc. At the end of Deep Water, he’s finally ready.
And the discarded story-line concerning Genna? That was merely put aside, and used as the basis for book four, Riled Dogs.
Plans are useful tools, but they’re never set in stone. Writing is a constant process of change.
Inconsequential details can be important
When I came to write Rogue Wolf (the fifth Dominions book), I introduced a new character, Vanya. She was tough, and would become an important ally for Rodin. As I developed her, I recalled a character in Dead Flesh (the second book). I hadn’t named this earlier character, and she only appeared in two scenes, but she was important to the story.
I realised these two characters, the unnamed one and Vanya, were the same. Rather than invent a completely new character, I could develop a supporting character from earlier.
I’d like to say I planned this all along, but it was a happy accident.
When I came to write the final three books, I re-read all the older ones, looking for characters and settings I could re-use—not to be lazy, but because it would tie the books together. Incidental characters in earlier books became major players, and events and locations from earlier rose again. Because of this, the series became rounded, rather than being a string of actions.
Perseverance is the key
Writing is easy—put one word after another. Writing a book—a complete, coherent story—is another matter entirely. The first draft is only the start. Most ‘writing’ is editing and re-writing. Moulding those initial words takes longer than putting them down in the first place.
Once the first book is complete, there’s an expectation that the second will be easier. In some ways it is—you’ve done this once, so there’s no reason you can’t do it again. But there’s a drive to improve, to make the next book better than the previous one. And if that first book doesn’t reach readers, or doesn’t get rave reviews from the start, doubts can start to rise.
There are always doubts. There are always problems.
But the only way to overcome these doubts and problems is to keep working. To have a finished book, or a finished series, it is necessary to write. One word, then the next.
While writing Dominions I’ve also produced other stories. Six years on one project is intensive, and I needed diversions every now and then. I wrote short stories, and a sci-fi/horror trilogy. Once the sixth Dominions novel was out, I intended to take a break and work on something else.
I tried. I wrote the first draft of one story, and started another. But I couldn’t focus. Dominions lurked at the back of my mind. Eventually, I realised that I needed to complete that project before moving on.
I had to persevere. And I did, throwing myself into the final trilogy of Dominions. It was tough, but I think those final three books are the strongest of the series.
I succeeded. And this proved that I can persevere. Next time I’m struggling, I can remember this, and keep pushing through.
Finishing Dominions is bitter-sweet. For all it’s faults, I’m proud of the series. I’ve played in this world for the last six years, and a part of me doesn’t want to leave.
But it’s time to move on. I’m not ruling out a return to Dominions (I can see how I could expand the series quite easily), but for now I need a fresh challenge. I need to dive into a new world, to explore some different characters. I need to take the lessons I’ve learnt and apply them to my next series. And when the work is hard (as I know it will be at times), I can look back at Dominions and remind myself that I can do this. I can keep learning, and keep writing.