On the Amazon page for every novel there’s a little section with the heading “From the Author”. I didn’t know this section existed until after the book was published, so I didn’t have anything to put there until just now. All that is to say, here’s a note from me, the author, about The Asymptote’s Tail:
I wrote this novel as a challenge to myself. I had been reading the Song of Ice and Fire series and Casual Vacancy–two seemingly unconnected stories, perhaps–around the same time, and what I found myself most impressed with, which was lacking in all my attempts at writing a novel thus far, was both authors’ ability to juggle such a large cast of believable, well-rounded characters.
Keeping that in mind, in November of 2013, I started the first draft of what was then called Outland, hoping to come up with a hefty cast of fleshed out characters of my own making. My first attempts were bumbling and undirected. Unable to find the story because the only things I knew I wanted were an expansive character list, a story full of political intrigue, and a unique futuristic science fiction setting, I discarded those attempts and set to building the world properly while the story composted in my brain.
I studied and restudied story structures all the way from the basic three act, to Campbell’s monomyth, to Harmon’s (Dan Harmon of Community fame) circular story structure, eating up every bit of theory I could, and as I did, I came across a transcription of an interview with China Miéville–whose work I still have yet to read, I’m afraid–in which he gave some advice to new writers trying to get started. Among other things he said:
“Think three-act structure, you know. Think rising action at the beginning of the journey and then some sort of cliff-hanger at the end of act one. Continuing up to the end of act two, followed by a big crisis at the end of act three, followed by a little dénouement. Think 30,000 words, 40,000 words, 30,000 words, so what’s that, around 100,000 words. Divide that up into 5,000 word chapters so you’re going 6/8/6. I realise this sounds incredibly sort of drab, and kind of mechanical. But my feeling is that the more you can kind of formalise and bureaucratise those aspects of [your novel’s structure]. It actually paradoxically liberates you creatively because you don’t need to worry about that stuff.”
And I took that advice to heart. So I came up with seven characters, each with seven different backgrounds and seven different perspectives of the future world I had created, and I decided that each character would get three 5,000 word chapters from their point of view, adding up to a little more than the 20 suggested by Miéville but something that could be made to work along the same lines.
And as I started to write, I did feel liberated creatively. I could see all the characters’ timelines intertwining as I went, and though I’m sure I didn’t perform up to the standards of the legends I was trying to emulate, I feel like I’ve created something I can be proud of, and I’m certain I’ll continue to improve as I write more novels in the future.
So if you’re a fan of the political intrigue and cast size in works like Game of Thrones and Casual Vacancy, or if you’re into classic dystopian science fiction like The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451, or even if you’re into absurdism of the likes of Tom Stoppard and Albert Camus, think about giving The Asymptote’s Tail a read. I believe the cast will become your friends, the decisions they’re forced to make will give you philosophical contradictions to mull over long after reading, and most of all, you’ll enjoy yourself.
Thanks for giving me a read, I hope you’ll join me in the future.
-Bryan “with a Y” Perkins 06/04/15