The Trail of Bread Crumbs

Hey everybody, just a few quick things that I wanted to write about this morning, some general thoughts that have been banging around inside my skull. The first is just how strange it is to go back and re-read something that you wrote two years ago. I think this is generally an issue, though a pleasant one, for every writer; each work should make you stretch and learn new things. That process makes you into a different writer, and going back to read earlier works can be like returning to a childhood home. It all feels familiar, but without the original context it leaves you feeling kind of weird and empty. Sometimes the words don’t feel like ones that I even wrote.

I’m talking about this because, as Pathways of the Dead draws to a close, I’m going back through and reading Corridors to ensure that Pathways answers the most important questions from that novel. So far I’m pleasantly surprised. The original plan covered the broadest questions, and those are all either answered or advanced in Pathways. Sure, there are a few “color” details that are missing from the first draft of Pathways, such as certain nicknames, but it’s actually pretty interesting to see how well my plan worked out, especially when it came to unforeseen eventualities like the death of a certain character.

And that brings me to the topic that’s really on my mind: the trail of bread crumbs. When you build a series like this, with so many intricate, interlocking parts, you have to go into the thing aware of how it plays out on a general scale – the largest A to B to C points. I’ve known the ending of the series from the beginning, and I had a vague idea of the large beats that got to that point. I also built a series bible of sorts that lays out the different groups involved, their motivations, and major players from those groups. During the creation of Corridors, I kept a running list of major questions that were posed and the answers to those questions. Not all had to be answered in that book (in fact, three major dangling questions are very important to the books that follow), but they needed to at least be acknowledged.

So why talk about all this? Well, first, I firmly believe that this is all you really need to create a successful series, but I also think this is the best way to build a world with lasting appeal. Even as the author, I’m finding a lot of interesting little tidbits in Book 1 that foreshadow events in Book 2. One character, for example, causes signature events in the world whenever he appears. A reader who has finished the series and understands the whole thing could then go back and find the hints hidden in Book 1 regarding the nature of that character. They’re not necessary to understanding the story overall, but it adds a secondary layer to the story once the bigger picture is understood.

The early seasons of Lost did this very well, but I think they may have overreached by the end. It’s part of what built the sense of mystery and kept it going; even now the series is eminently rewatchable just to catch those little moments. That is the “trail of breadcrumbs” of which I speak – the little nods to the readers who know what’s going on, to show them a larger story on the second go-through. Fun stuff, and I hope that someone catches these one day.

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