“The Hunted One” was a long, slow evolution. Looking back over the six years it took me to write the book, I don’t recall any great flashes of inspiration. However, I do remember lots of frustration and half-finished versions of the book.

My central character, Michaela, is my own take on the Biblical Archangel Michael. But she didn’t start off as such. Instead in the earliest drafts of the book, she began as a paranoid schizophrenic girl with a drug problem. The very first day I started writing I knew I wanted a redemptive story about a young, beaten down girl who rises from the dirt and grime of her life to become something extraordinary.

I wrote many versions of the book, and all of them were dead ends but one – the final one. In the finished version, Michaela doesn’t have drug or psychological problems, but I think I stayed true to my desire for a story about redemption. Michaela’s evolution from a druggie to an angel was a very dynamic character evolution I, as the author, had to go through. Readers will never see the early versions of the book where Michaela was a drug addict, but I had to let go of those old ideas about my characters in order to write the new story about angels.

I wasn’t too worried about having angelic characters, because this was a story about their flaws and mistakes. Any human can write about that as we can all relate to it. But I was worried about the world building for Heaven and Hell. That was daunting to say the least.

But it had to be done. So I started with a map. I sketched the way Heaven needed to be laid out for my story. In “The Hunted One,” Purgatory is right outside of Heaven’s gates and serves as a waiting area for the souls waiting to be judged. It took a while and lots of alterations, but eventually I had everything in place so that my characters could move from space to space logically and without confusing readers.

After that, I needed to figure out what everything would look like. I guess I could have just regurgitated the descriptions from the Bible, but I really didn’t want to do that. I took some basic landmarks like the Tree of Knowledge and the pearly gates and worked them into my story by giving them my own twists, which was oftentimes the hardest part of writing a book.

I learned to get out of my own way and just let myself be original even though I was dealing with a setting like Heaven, which is a “place” everyone has their own ideas about. It was hard at times, but when I got everything worked out, it was worth it because I had something truly original.

One of the most important things I learned while world building in “The Hunted One” was to keep things simple. I found that it was easy to get carried away and start adding all these levels to Heaven. But by adding all that complexity, I was creating confusion in my writing. My characters weren’t even interacting with these settings I was trying to work into the story. Once I realized my mistake, I cut those parts out and just focused on having readers experience the settings as my characters moved through them.

The most important aspect of world building is giving the reader room to imagine the rest for themselves. This was really important for me to learn along the way. It’s impossible to include every aspect of setting in a story. And you wouldn’t want to for the sake of your reader.

In the end, I wanted to create a story about angels that was completely different from every other “fallen angel” book out there. I tried to apply that notion to every aspect of the story, and it started at the very basics with world building and carried through to the character development, plot, and even how the characters move and speak.

Fingers crossed I achieved my goals with this story!

 

**This guest post was originally published at http://www.marilynalmodovar.com/

The Road to a Novel: World and Character Building