Butterflies and Hurricanes: The Importance of Throwaway Lines


Writing prequels, I’m finding, brings unique challenges. Like sequels, they are to an extent dependent on the book(s) written previously. However, there’s a small-but-important difference.

For a sequel, Hapax would be a jumping-off point. For Strix, it’s an end point. Anything and everything I write in Strix has to plausibly lead to the events in Hapax. And since Hapax is published and out, I’m utterly bound by what I already wrote.

Mostly, that’s fine. The vague, overall eschatological arc was kind-of-sort-of in place when I wrote Hapax, and since I was relatively sure I would be writing a prequel during the proofing stage, I did get to go over sections referencing Strix’s time period with a fine-tooth comb. I was very aware that once it got to print, that part of the narrative would be set in stone.

It’s those darn throwaway lines and details that get me.

At one point, I was merrily filling in the gaps of Aelist liturgy, imagining how pre-flood Aelism differed from post-flood. I was mostly reusing material from Hapax. And then I stumbled across Serafine’s line:

Where there was no time, before there was any place, the first Word of Ael sounded. And all the vastness of eternity shuddered.”

First line of the Tablet (the Aelist religious text). No big deal, right?

Except then she continues speaking: “I’ve never heard the Hapax described like that.”

A complete throwaway line. Honestly, I don’t remember why I chose to have her say that. But it has several important implications:

  • If people were describing the Hapax that way before the flood, Serafine would have known about it.
  • The fact that she did not tells us that people were NOT using that language to describe it at that time.
  • Therefore, this version of the Tablet post-dates the flood.
  • So, what changed in the interim, when, and why?

I ended up finding a reason that pleases me, and (hopefully) adds more to the story than, “The Tablet just always started that way.”

There are many other examples. There’s a brief reference to Islanders at one point; Gaelin assumes Serafine is one of them, mostly based on her name. I never developed the Islanders beyond surface allusions to their emphasis on kin groups and beer drinking—since they were a red herring, it wasn’t necessary.

Except now, in the rewrites, I need to explore the history more fully. Who are these people, that they would still be willing to name their children after the Beast? Who were they to Serafine? Suddenly, three facts become the basis for a whole culture.

It’s often the little details that provide the key to the greater story. Like the proverbial butterfly causing hurricanes halfway around the world, word choices can affect things far more than you would ever imagine.

It’s a lot of fun, making sure that the threads between prequel and sequel align. In fact, it’s exactly the kind of detail work that I love. But it goes to show: you can’t take anything for granted.

Posted on May 8, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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