Author's Notes: The Emperor's Dream Chapter One

Hello and welcome to my first author’s notes for The Emperor’s Dream! These shorter notes will be my reactions to the chapters that I have posted. So if you like peeking behind the curtain, or if it’s helpful to hear how another writer looks critically at their writing, read on! If that’s not your cup of tea, don’t sweat this one. See you next week with chapter two.

If you just saw “The Emperor’s Dream” and you had no idea what I was talking about, no worries! It’s my ongoing epic fantasy novella that I’m sharing a chapter at a time here on my website. You can read it here. These are first drafts only, so the final published version might change a little or a lot, but hopefully you either enjoy or learn something from seeing the process.

Now on with this week’s author’s notes!

  • First chapters are tough. First chapters in a new world are also tough. I feel like I’m torn between showing and telling, between info-dumping and just letting the readers figure it out. I want The Emperor’s Dream (and the Mhong Chronicles as a whole) to be approachable for people who are newer to hard-ish fantasy, but I also don’t want to hand-hold people who are quick to understand a new world.
  • I had a hard time opening this chapter up. I knew I wanted Wanyi walking through town so I could introduce him and the world, but just walking through isn't super interesting unless you have lots of fun interactions like some kind of opening montage in a movie. So I initially put the dog in there, just so he could have something to do. It wasn't in my outline, but I figured I'd cut it later and rewrite chapter one. Initially the dog was male and named Lisoon. But THEN.
  • I realized I could go all in and essentially give our dog Ova a fun cameo. We'll see if she makes the final cut, but for now, just imagine this girl a little more grown up, and that's what Lishan looks like.
  • Regarding Lan Kuanghi, or beastlore, I hope I’ve been able to depict this okay. One of my worries is that people will get confused by the italics because I use them both to depict telepathic communication between Wanyi and Lishan, but I also use them for Wanyi’s thoughts.

  • Beyond that, magic systems are tough to describe in a way that gives the reader enough to understand without just dumping a bunch of mechanics on them. I've noticed that in a lot of the epic fantasy I’ve read, you usually have a main character who is just learning how to use the magic. So you can have a scene where they’re amazed at WHAT the mentor figure can do with magic, then the mentor explains to the main character how it works. But in this story, Wanyi’s already a master. And most of the other people around him are also very skilled. I don’t want to spend too long explaining the magic because it’s not in line with Wanyi’s thought process. It’s all familiar and instinctive to him. But I also don’t want to leave people behind. My hope is to leave a trail of breadcrumbs as the story unfolds. Wanyi already knows how it works, but I as the writer can add little bits of tasteful explanation so that readers can understand what’s happening as it happens.

    • I’ll just need to be careful to not break Sanderson’s First Law of Magic, which states that “an author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.” Which basically means I can’t use some obscure method of beastlore to get Wanyi out of a sticky situation until I’ve demonstrated it first. In some ways, it’s more about how well the reader understands Lan Kuanghi than how well Wanyi does.

    • PS: Lan Kuanghi = beastlore

  • Moving on through Shanshia, one of the things I love about East and Southeast Asia are the food carts and stands that line so many of the streets. And the markets. That’s a bit of what I’m trying to depict here.

  • My wife told me that the paragraphs describing the four Sentient races was a little confusing. I’m sorry if you also felt that way! This is one I’m still stewing on. Is it unclear because of the way it was written? Or is it mostly confusing because it’s the first time you’ve had all these new words thrown at you?

    • For me, it’s about deciding whether it would benefit most from a rewrite or if it’s actually mostly fine. It’s possible that these things will become clearer over time as you read more and interact with people of each of the races. Again, it comes back to the question of how steep do I want the learning curve to be?

  • I feel a little bad ending with the dramatic entrance of Ramreunya because readers won’t have any idea who he is. I’m not sure if it’s best to introduce him and his empire sooner, or to just let it come out of the blue (as it does for Wanyi). If I introduce the Tohk Empire sooner, I think I would have to add or rewrite a significant chunk of chapter one in order to give Wanyi a good reason for thinking about it.

  • I think that’s all for this week, friend! What questions do you have? I’d also love to hear your feedback. Let me know your thoughts!

And again, if you haven’t read chapter one yet, you can do so here. That’ll make this whole post make a lot more sense.

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Until next time!