Reflections on Greysons Arc III


Through Arcs I and II of Greysons of Grimoire, I did monthly check-in blog posts on the story and the writing process. In Arc III, I ditched that. For one thing, I felt like it was kind of a silly use of my time to keep writing a post about the story every twelve chapters.

For another, I just had a really rough time writing Arc III. It was a messy story that I struggled with a lot, so I wanted to focus my time a lot more on writing the actual story than talking about it, especially when talking about it wouldn’t feel so great to do.

But here we are, and you know what?

I really like Arc III. I think there are things I would have done differently if I could go back in time and start it over, but it ended where I wanted it to end with what I feel are a fantastic pair of chapters, and sets things up really well for what’s to come while wrapping up a gigantic, sprawling Arc of the story that I, frankly, wasn’t as prepared to tell as I thought I was.

But first, in the spirit of the last Arc “look-back” blog posts, a big fat number to look at: 259,473.

That’s how many words were in Arc III at its conclusion. Compare that to 138,414 for Arc I, and 271,458 for Arc II. Honestly, I was surprised when I compared the numbers – Arc III had 75 (including Interludes) chapters, compared to Arc II’s 69. But taking a step back, that’s not so surprising. Arc II went very smoothly, and part of that manifested itself as some really long, dense, impactful chapters.

Arc III, in a way, was more similar to the first Arc of the story. It was messy, it was touch-and-go, it was highly improvised, and that led to a number of fairly short chapters that, as I looked back over the story after its conclusion, could have easily been folded together into single chapters.

One thing I haven’t done before is compare word counts here to word counts in other books. I like numbers, so let’s take a brief look at some stats!

·         Greysons Arc I: 138,414

·         Greysons Arc II: 271,458

·         Greysons Arc III: 259,473

·         A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth: 593,674

·         War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: 561, 304

·         Les Miserables by Victor Hugo: 530,982

·         The Lord of the Rings (complete trilogy) by J.R.R. Tolkien: 481,103

·         The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: 364,153

·         Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling: 257,045

·         The Neverending Story by Michael Ende: 96,000 (estimated)

I included The Neverending Story for irony’s sake, and The Order of the Phoenix specifically because that’s the longest book in the Harry Potter series. Also important to note, these word counts are estimations, not exact fact – I found a few different figures, especially for the longest novels, but they were all fairly similar, so consider these very accurate but not perfect estimates rather than exact numbers.

I also put up this fun list just because it’s interesting to think of books in terms of something other than page count. Depending on font size, page size, and formatting, the page count in a novel can change drastically across different versions, and a five hundred page book on one shelf could actually be much shorter than a three hundred page book on another shelf. Word count is a far more accurate measure of a novel’s length, and while length is far from everything, it’s a very interesting factor to think about when considering the books you have or haven’t read.

Anyway, enough with the stats! It’s time for thoughts!

The first thing I want to touch on in regards to Greysons’ third Arc is its concept. Going into “Defenders of Grimoire,” I had actually planned it to be much shorter. Arc III was only going to cover the lead-up to and preparation for the battle during the Lunar Festival, while Arc IV would then be a very focused (and short, again) Arc centered on the battle itself and nothing else.

In the end, I folded them together. Thinking about a book that’s nothing but build-up and preparation didn’t entirely sit right with me.

But I didn’t come to that conclusion – combining my planned Arcs III and IV into one – until more than thirty chapters into Arc III.

So we get the mess.

Furthermore, a lot of Arc III hearkens back to my original plan for Greysons. I originally went into the story thinking that it would take place almost entirely within the city of Grimoire, and be centered around the schemes, politicking, and conspiratorial machinations of the different factions of Grimoire’s mages. Isabelle was an early idea as well, along with Hollow Island, and her arrival would set into motion a huge conflict among Grimoire’s mages.

But with the idea of Hollow Island came a lot more. And when Isabelle showed up in Chapter 7: The Girl in the Library, the wheels of my brain started turning. Thus the Enchanted Dominion – and all the wonder within it – was born.

I give this background largely so that you can understand my mindset – and my struggles – in writing Arc III. Because while the story through Arc II very naturally leads to a conflict within Grimoire, a lot of the actual things that happen in Arc III aren’t born from the story so far.

They’re born from my earliest ideas for this story as a whole.

Up until Arc III, I’d been doing a very good job of sifting through my many ideas for this story, the world, the characters, etc., and throwing away or repurposing a lot of what wouldn’t work. A lot of ideas never even appeared in this story, and won’t by its conclusion. And that’s a good thing! Some ideas just don’t fit with the story you’re telling, and you can’t fit everything in without it feeling like a bloated, confused mess.

But coming into Arc III, I went back to my original ideas. And for some reason, I struggled to cut or repurpose a lot of them. I’m not sure how much that shows through in the story itself, but I know I at the very least dropped hints to story threads that didn’t – and won’t – get expanded on or resolved. More than that, up until this point I’d been writing an epic fantasy adventure story. Now, all of a sudden, I was trying to write some sort of… political thriller?

I wasn’t prepared to do that. I became very aware of my limitations in this “write three chapters a week and don’t look back” method of writing Greysons, but also, the story wasn’t entirely prepared to go there, and I think especially in the early chapters of Arc III, I was trying to force it into a place that I didn’t have a lot of business going to. For Arcs I and II, I was following where the story and characters led, I was working with the story and characters. Moments when I tried to force something to happen were quickly pointed out by my fantastic editor and nipped in the bud, sending the story to much more interesting and wonderful places than it was planned to go.

But in Arc III, I dropped the ball on that. And while I think a lot of individual elements of Arc III work well, and there are lots of things I love about Arc III, as a whole it was…


Really messy.

Like, just, wow, what a mess!

I think a lot of that comes down to missing what Greysons is about. At its core, it’s about family, and about light and darkness, good and evil. It’s about self-discovery – deeper than the modern sort of “be yourself” shallowness bandied about so much today – about finding who you’re meant to be and what your purpose is. And it’s about adventure and exploration in a crazy world that’s bigger than anyone imagined!

And Arc III… had bits of that (particularly with Delilah). But it also had a lot of… well, I suppose the best way to put it is it had a lot of “Tpaul trying to be clever.” While not my very favorite genre, I do love watching thrillers, I love suspenseful, twist-filled, wild webs of plots that leave me guessing until the very end! They’re fantastic!

They also require a lot of planning, and revising, and all that stuff that I’m not doing in this web novel format. More than that, while I love experiencing those types of stories… they’ve never been my forte as a writer. They’re not, I suppose, where my heart is, and I find nearly every story I write is character-centric – suspenseful thrillers tend to plot-centric – and focused on adventure and sprawling, imaginative worlds and abilities, rather than intricate machinations and scheming. I’m more drawn to creating personal, emotional, intimate motivations and conflicts, rather than heady intellectual conflicts. Often, as with Greysons, even when I plan for an intellectual conflict fraught with calculated machinations and plotted schemes… they end up turning into those personal, emotional conflicts of character and moral values.

That’s likely in part because the main reason I write is I have stories that I can’t escape, that come bursting forth from the heart, ways of expressing through fiction and adventure the things that matter most to me. And while I can explain my core values and ideals on an intellectual level, that barely scratches the why of these things, the reasons these are my core values, the reason these things matter the most to me. It’s one thing to know something, but it’s, in my mind, even greater to both know and feel that something. If it strikes only the mind, it’s easy – at least for me – to say “yes, this is true” and then mostly discard it, letting it sit in the back corners of thought. But if it strikes the mind and the heart, then it sings, it resounds, and I cannot for a moment let it go. I think it’s when it sits at the core of your being and affects your entire existence, when it resounds in both heart and mind, that truth really sticks, and you’re far more likely to hold it as something precious, something to treasure forever.

That said, I’m not all that upset that I tried writing this kind of story. If nothing else, I learned a great deal, and grew a lot as a writer!

All that is a long way of getting to this: if you enjoyed Arc III as a whole, great! If it struck to the core of your being and made you feel things, wonderful! I’m really glad, and thank you! And on that note, I want to talk about the things I like, or even love, about this past Arc. There’s a lot of good stuff here, I think, just in a much messier package than previous Arcs.

Mainly, I want to talk about characters. Characters are the driving force for me as a storyteller, and it’s my characters who end up taking me down paths I never expected to go. We had quite a few new characters appear in this Arc, didn’t we? In particular we have Duo, who led into the utter delight that is Adelaide. Duo was very literally a last-minute addition. I had zero plans for her, but in Chapter 12, she just sort of… popped into existence. Surprised me, surprised Delilah, and led into an interesting part of the Arc that was a real “follow this thread and see where it leads” kind of story. In the end, we got some of my favorite pieces of my own writing, and I think some delightfully creative moments, like the “Dark Place” in Chapter 15 (that was a really fun way to explore Caleb’s abilities and problem-solving skills), or the chilling and fascinating shadow realm at the end of Chapter 20 and into Chapter 21, which capped off with a real trip of strange visions and foreshadowing for where Caleb’s story was heading.

Addie also led into Alice, the mysterious “Her” that Blaise’s Shadows would talk about but never name. And Alice is, in my mind, also a total delight. She’s clearly a strange sort of child with a very troubled past, and even in the final reveals about her abilities at the end of Arc III, there’s still so much mystery to her. I’m really excited about these sisters and where their stories are going. And I have a lot of fun writing her personality! She’s a very different addition to this sprawling cast, with secrets and mystery and a darkness packed into a snarky, unpredictable attitude.

Besides those characters, I have a lot of additions who fall into the category of “they deserved better.” Marcus, Isla, Jacob Crowley, Royal Raven/Madeline Crowley, Bronn, Stride… well, really all of the villains, I’ve struggled a lot with villains who aren’t heavily conflicted in this entire story. Blaise and the Radiant King are both fascinating to me, and I don’t think I’ve done a great job of getting across why yet, though there was definitely some strong progress made in Arc III. Marcus will definitely get his due, but I’m sad that both he and Isla were introduced and then kept vanishing for long stretches. I love their characters, and I don’t think I quite did right by them. Greysons has a huge cast, but that’s no excuse. I can and should do better. Madeline has some really wonderful moments coming up – Arc III was primarily about introducing her and getting her on her way to Fae, and I think her introduction was strong even if she… vanished for a really long time. A lot of characters did that in this Arc, didn’t they?

Will Rook is one of the biggest “deserved better” characters for me. When I’m jotting down notes about what’s to come, I have a tendency to write or type in ALL-CAPS WHEN I GET EXCITED. I have a lot of all-caps notes on my computer about Will. I’ve been wanting to introduce him since early in Arc I, and kept not having the proper chance to bring him in. So when I finally got to introduce him in Chapter 10, I can’t properly express how overjoyed I was. His mannerisms, his personality, his fascinating use of Energy Magic, I love it all and I really hope I can give him better moments to shine in the future.

As with all of these characters, if you enjoyed them a lot, I’m very glad. And I’m sorry if some of the new additions didn’t get enough “screen time” for your tastes. They didn’t for mine, either! As strange and surprising as it may be, I love having such a gigantic cast, and I love the challenge of making the most of everyone, so I hope you’ll bear with me as I continue to work on character management. It’s a tricky business!

One character I was tremendously pleased with in Arc III was Delilah. In truth, I went into this Arc with only a vague inkling of where to take her character. I think it shows in the final product, how she bounces around from one group to another, how she doesn’t know where she belongs, how she struggles with a purpose. And I’m so happy that she (and I in writing it) struggled through all of that, because where she is at the end of Arc III is a wonderful, fantastic, fascinating, exciting place. She’s grown a lot in 75 chapters! And her personal arc for this section of the story finally allowed me to introduce one of my favorite reveals: The Moon!

Maybe it’s because of my old memories of playing Final Fantasy IV, or recently playing Final Fantasy VIII for the first time, but there’s something really exciting to me about having a magical nature to the moon, about going there and finding out all sorts of amazing new things you never knew. Really, there’s just something very cool about the moment when you realize “wait… we’re actually going to the Moon???

And the clues were all there from very early on – lots of “Lunar” elements and naming systems for things in Grimoire, and of course the Lunar Festival, among other little nods and tricks, but I hope you were delightfully surprised by the revelation that, indeed, Delilah was flying to the Moon on the back of a giant magical whale. There’s magic in the world of Greysons, and it isn’t just in the Enchanted Dominion – there’s magic in the city of Grimoire, and there’s magic in the shining moon that floats over it.

There was very little Fae, and only a little bit more of Shana and her crew, but I think both of those groups had some really powerful moments. Fae meeting a Dragon was pretty exciting, and her journey through the Nightmare Road was a defining moment for her – and for Mercury! The way those two overcame their nightmares together was beautiful, and I loved getting to write that.

On the note of Shana, I frequently listen to music when I write, but I rarely listen to vocal music. Throw in lyrics and singing and that makes it very hard for me to focus on writing words that aren’t what I’m hearing. So I’ll listen to a lot of video game soundtracks – they frequently have that sense of adventure and the emotional highs and lows that I love to write, and they’re also long (a big bonus as opposed to, say, film soundtracks – I can often finish multiple chapters and still not have listened to the entire soundtrack of a single video game). But something funny happened when I was writing one of my favorite Shana scenes, her flying battle on the Nightmare Road: a vocal song kicked in.

Tales of Zestiria’s “Rising Up” kicked in just as Shana was in her biggest moments of struggle against the condor in Chapter 45. Guess where that chapter’s title came from? The song was absolutely perfect for that chapter, and helped me find the strength in Shana to rise up to victory. Often when I’m listening to vocal songs apart from writing, they can inspire my writing for later, but this is one of those rare moments when listening to such a song while writing enhanced the process, rather than distracting from it.

Two other characters had really resonant moments for me in this Arc: Chelsea and Caleb.

Getting to dive into the tragic past of Chelsea and her parents was something already done to a certain extent in Arc II when Chelsea went through the shadow world, but here she finally found the full truth. It culminated a bit early with Chapter 6, but that’s still one of the chapters I’m most pleased with in the entire story so far. I haven’t faced personal tragedy on even a fraction of the scale that Chelsea has, but writing that chapter, and reading it over, was an emotional experience, and I hope it resonated with you as well.

For Caleb, I knew from very early on where his part in Arc III would end, but I didn’t know all the details, or how I was going to get there. For a long time, I’ve known that Caleb was the character who would win an award for “Most Likely to Pay the Ultimate Sacrifice for Those He Loves.” That’s very much who he is. And his extended, desperate Phase Step in Chapter 71 (aptly named “Time Stands Still”) felt a lot like a death scene.

But he’s not dead! He has a lot more ahead of him, but what his huge gambit to save Grimoire means, and what kinds of long-term effects it might have on him, remain to be seen. He’s had a very painful journey physically, facing injury and illness and brutal training. While there are a lot of characters in Greysons who have mental, emotional, and psychological struggles and difficult pasts, Caleb is probably the most emotionally and morally constant. So, unfortunately for him, that means he gets put through the physical wringer more than most. He brings it on himself more often than not, too, and that’s clear from the very first Chapter of Greysons, when he thinks about how Time Magic comes with a cost, but almost flippantly ignores that cost. More than that, it’s a cost he’s willing to bear if it’s in the service of protecting his city and his friends.

Maybe Caleb’s Arc III journey was so easy for me to think of in its entirety because his character’s been so clear-cut from the very start? He’s often been among the easiest characters for me to write. Regardless, I hope that even if you’re in the camp of those who feel “if no one dies, there are no real stakes!” that you are excited for Caleb’s journey and weren’t disappointed that he survived.

(A brief aside on that note – I think the whole “if no one dies, then there are no real stakes” is a pretty meaningless line to draw in the sand. There are plenty of terrible consequences that don’t involve death, and ultimately, for me, if there’s still more depth to be mined from a character, it’s worthwhile to keep them alive. That’s not to say no one will die in Greysons, but more to say that, if they do die, it’ll matter. And if they stay alive, that means they still have a valuable purpose ahead of them.)

And to totally fail the segue, let’s talk about those Interludes! Arc II introduced the idea of an “Interlude” chapter into Greysons, and Arc III upped the ante by having three of them in a row! They centered on Mister Midnight and Maribelle teaming up to dive into the heart of the Radiance’s stronghold in a gambit to save Sarabelle. They got more than they bargained for, and put into motion a huge shakeup among the Radiance. More than that, it also had one of many Arc III’s moments of duality.

“Sisters and Sisters,” the third of the Interludes, alludes to that even in the title. There were the sisters of Maribelle and Sarabelle, and their bond that surpassed even a horrible Contract. Then there were the sisters of Athena and Artemis, who had a much more tragic fate. While Maribelle had a heartfelt rescue and reunion of and with her sister, Athena had a heartbreaking parting with hers. Duality was something I thought about a lot in Arc III, and maybe you noticed other moments of that sort of “reflection” – one character in one situation being a somewhat twisted reflection of another character and their situation.

On that mysterious note, I was very excited to give Anastasia a lot more “screen time.” She’s a fascinating character to me, another of many troubled souls in this story. I’ve been interested in diving into who she is ever since her duel with Chelsea way back in Arc I’s Chapter 23, so it was a long time coming, but I hope the wait was worth it!

Lots of characters, and lots of thoughts about those characters. And while I have misgivings about the total product of Arc III, I will say that I love how it ended, landing on a bit of a bittersweet note, with a hollow-feeling victory. There’s a lot unresolved, and many of our heroes are in flux – as are the villains! That’s what I was aiming for, and it was a wild and weird journey getting there, but I learned a lot, I’m proud of how it all fell together, and I’m excited for what comes next!

Speaking of characters, I’ve recently seen a lot of talk in videos and blog posts about the different ideas of writing fiction. Some people think that the idea of “characters coming alive and driving the stories themselves” is ridiculous. A sort of “you’re the author, you’re in control, aren’t you? Just make the characters do what you want them to do, don’t be a slave to them!” I’m paraphrasing, but that sums it up (and for some people, that’s not a paraphrase at all). The sort of dueling ideologies of “character-driven” storytelling and what I’ll call “author-driven” storytelling. And while I’m very big on the author’s importance to the story, especially in terms of themes, ideals, values, and worldview, I will say that I fall mostly into the character-driven camp. I can outline to my heart’s content, plan as much as I want, but when I sit down and start writing, my characters frequently pull away from that outline.

For me, that’s because the greatest and most loved stories feel alive, no matter how unreal they are. And that largely comes down to the characters. Do they act in believable ways that feel true to who they are? When I start writing, the best moments come from my characters stopping my ideas and saying “this is what I (the character) would actually do and say.” I’d say it’s more of a collaboration – my ideals, my hopes, my worldview, my values all play a huge role in the stories I tell. And my characters may take the story to places I never expected or intended, and they may fly off into wild, uncharted wilderness that I never knew existed. But they also do so in service to those ideals, hopes, values, and worldview. We’re working together, and while that often has me pulled in directions I didn’t want to go or didn’t expect to go, nearly every time I’m amazed at the view.

Because I keep ending up somewhere far better than where I’d planned.

I’m not alone in writing my stories. And there are plenty of others who have a similar philosophy. Yoshihiro Togashi, the mangaka behind Yu Yu Hakusho and Hunter x Hunter, said this in an interview:

“I think manga is more interesting when characters aren’t under control. When I write manga, I first think of a rough outline. But when I actually write the characters, sometimes they say things that are completely different from the storyline I thought of. But I think ‘This line really fits them!’ And then I have to give up on the original story. But I think it’s much more interesting when that happens.”

I too think it’s much more interesting when the characters can freely drive the story. And I think my biggest failings in Arc III came about by my own misguided desire to drive the story where it didn’t need to go. I muddied the waters with selfishness and stubbornness.

But I’m excited that I learned so much from this wild ride, and I’m excited for where we’re going! Arc IV, titled “Grand Tour.” Is it a bit of cheesy title? Yeah! Does it perfectly fit? Yeah! We’re going to a whole bunch of places in the universe, on a wild, sprawling, magical adventure! And we’ve left off in the perfect place for that. Caleb’s in a whole new strange place. Delilah and Alice have a whole adventure right in front of them. Chelsea’s heading off to meet Mister Midnight, who’s working with Shana to try and heal Nocta, and let’s not forget all the things in store for Fae, revealed to her so long ago by the Fates. She may have the biggest journey ahead of her out of all of these characters.

The wheels are spinning, the world keeps turning, and these characters keep moving forward. As always, I’m tremendously grateful to every single person who’s been along for this wild ride, and I hope you’re as excited as I am – or even more so! – for what comes next.