Well, folks, the end is here. No, not The End, but the end of Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, which, for us, is still pretty upsetting. With Dreams of Gods and Monsters, the third and final installment, Laini takes readers on one last wondrous ride with Karou and her friends and enemies. Today, Laini shares her thoughts on concluding her epic series and offers some sage advice for writers everywhere.
Once upon a time, I was trying to write a book about ballerinas on another planet being kidnapped by the military and turned into mutant flying soldiers, and for some reason it wasn’t going well.
I’m not sure why. Maybe I just didn’t know enough about ballet to make it ring true?
Ha ha ha. No, I do know why it wasn’t working, and it wasn’t because that story couldn’t be told or couldn’t be awesome. (I totally think it could!) It was because the characters weren’t coming alive. The reason for that is more mysterious. Where do characters come from? Who knows? I don’t. But I know that when I took a much-needed break from space ballerinas and gave myself a writing play date — a whole day to write anything, just for fun — Karou jumped onto the page as though she’d been there all along, waiting to be noticed.
It was magic. I’d never had a writing day like it. This blue-haired girl, she was so alive. And her father was … not human? Okay. He was a monster named Brimstone who sent her around the world gathering teeth for some obscure purpose. That was weird but cool. I didn’t look up from my screen for hours. I was in love. This had never happened to me before, not like this, so quickly and effortlessly, so entirely (except with my husband!). I had no plan that day. I certainly had no idea that five years later I’d be writing “the end” to a 1500-page saga that had grown exponentially to encompass worlds. All I knew was that these two characters were alive.
Those poor mutant ballerinas didn’t stand a chance.
I probably don’t need to say that there has never been another writing day quite like that first one. There have been good days, and there have been hard days. Overall, there have been many days. Writing a trilogy is a commitment, and like other kinds of commitment — marriage, say — you’d better enter into them with people you want to spend a whole lot of time with.
As writing advice, this can be filed under “Not Helpful.” How? How do you do that? Believe me, I don’t wait for characters to leap from the wings fully formed. When that happens, it’s a gift, but you can’t depend on it. Over the course of writing this trilogy, I’ve created a lot of characters, and I think that the most important thing that I’ve learned is to … lean back.
Let it happen.
As a parent of a young child I’ll compare this to watching your kids at play. At first, there’s the temptation to stifle them to keep them safe. Don’t climb that! Or: Play with that little girl instead, she seems nicer. But as they grow — and you do — you learn to lean back and let it happen, let them be alive and discover themselves. The writing equivalent to that, for me, would be to decide who your characters are and what they’ll do before you even set them down on the page. Lots of writers do this brilliantly, and maybe it’s for you, but for me it’s the equivalent of telling your two-year-old they’re going to Stanford. How the hell could you know?
Writing this trilogy has taught me to create situations for characters to move around in, and then let them. I try to approach scenes with a spirit of discovery, knowing I might not — and probably will not — get it right on the first try. There’s a richness and intensity to things that happen “naturally,” when you’re letting your characters drive the story. Sure, it’s scary when you have a big unruly plot to manage and no tidy outline to follow. It’s like the little girl with the little curl: when it’s good, it’s very, very good. And when it’s bad …
Well, you know.
That’s just the nature of writing something big: a trilogy, a series. With this series behind me now, I’m excited to discover whole new sets of characters and let them act up all over the page.
Unless they’re mutant ballerinas. They had their chance.
Don't miss out on this triumphant conclusion by purchasing your copy of Dreams of Gods and Monsters in stores and online today! And for more YA authors and books, visit our Everything Young Adult page!