Jo Sandhu is an amazing writer who was very supportive of me in the early stages of my career, which is why I’m so pleased that her beautifully written Tarin of the Mammoths series (Book 2 due out next month) is doing so well.
In today’s post, Jo generously shares her Five Step Approach to Story Development … and I review her beautiful book, Tarin of the Mammoths – Book 1.
Jo grew up in the Tweed Valley in northern NSW, close to the beach… and she’s still there. She’s married to Sarj, and has two boys, Chris, 21 and Alex, 19.
Jo has been writing on and off for over 15 years and her short stories have been highly commended in numerous competitions. Tarin of the Mammoths: The Exile is my first published novel.
JO SANDHU’S FIVE STEP APPROACH TO STORY DEVELOPMENT
I’ve always loved a Quest story and I’ve always been fascinated by history, so it was probably inevitable that I would one day write an historical adventure story. It only took me ten years! Of course, my first draft was very different to the story that was finally published, and these are some of the steps I took to develop a trilogy from my initial idea.
First, I started with an idea and a protagonist.
A boy travels to a mountain with an Offering from his clan.
Simple and straight forward. Then I played with that idea – I asked questions and posed problems.
Who is Tarin? Why is he going to the Mountain? Why him? What happens if he fails? Does that make him still a hero? Does anyone want to read a story about a boy who failed?
From these questions came the picture of Tarin as a member of a Clan or Tribe. I hadn’t set the exact time period yet because I was still playing with ideas around his character. He was going to be the weakest member of the Clan, because I like the idea of the Unlikely Hero. And there would be wolves and river rapids and danger, but somehow, he would ‘save’ his clan. Obviously, still lots of plot holes at this stage of development.
Step Two: Refine the details.
My next step was to make some decisions about Tarin’s world, because that would determine the nature of his Quest.
Where is this happening, and most importantly, when?
Two elements came together here.
Firstly, I had always loved Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series and wanted to share it with my children, but they were too young for such an adult book. Secondly, I already knew a lot about the Paleolithic Era from my own non-fiction reading. The two combined to give me my time in history – a time about 30 000 years ago, when the last of the Neanderthals were disappearing and mammoths and bison still roamed the tundra in large numbers.
I then had to decide about place. I had spent a year in Finnish Lapland as an Exchange Student and still remembered the forests and deep winter. This would be my landscape.
As my picture of Tarin and his world grew, so did my plot. I have to plot a story before I begin writing, otherwise I get a bit tangled up and lose focus. I think a good plot outline is like a map – I might wander off course sometimes, and even find a trail that is better than my original plan, but if I don’t have that initial map to keep me focussed on my destination, I could end up anywhere!
At this stage I had Tarin reaching the mountain, rescuing the wolf pups, returning home and being hailed a hero. The End.
Step Three: Research – my favourite part.
I love research so much I tend to get lost in it. I wanted an authentic world, so I read widely on archaeological digs, scientific discoveries, customs of ancient civilisations, flora and fauna, survival skills, herbal medicine, hunting skills, and so on, and my historical details are as authentic as possible after 30 000 years.
Step Four: Write the story. Follow the map, but be willing to explore.
Step Five: Editing and layering.
Possibly my favourite bit after researching. This is where I take my raw story and shape it into something completely different. I take out extraneous words, adjust pace, swap chapters around, change characters names, delete whole passages in disgust – all the while using my research to add authenticity and richness to the world I’ve created.
I like adding extra layers to the story and I do this by dropping in small facts such as wolverine fur doesn’t allow ice to form, reindeer fur keeps the wearer warm and dry, and sedge grass can be stuffed in boots as insulation. I use Finnish words such as Kaamos for the long, dark winter when the sun doesn’t rise, and beaska is a Saami (traditional Lappish) word for coat. The herbs Tarin uses are all Scandinavian herbs and used authentically, although I created mustika, the plant that brings on trances or death, from the Finnish words for black and plant.
It’s like adding to a skeleton – muscle, flesh, then skin and finally, clothes. I find this is when the story really starts to sing.
I’ve really enjoyed writing Tarin’s story. Book Two, Clan of Wolves is out in October this year, followed by Book Three, Cave Bear Mountain next March.
You can find me at www.josandhu.com
Thanks Jo for taking us through your fascinating story development process and sharing your tips.
DEE’S REVIEW OF TARIN OF THE MAMMOTHS – The Exile
Tarin of the Mammoths – the Exile is a seamless work of historical fiction that immerses the reader so deeply in Tarin’s world that you feel like you are part of the story, sitting in the deer hide tent, or rubbing firestones together to try and get warm.
You can smell the broth being stirred with the bleached bone, and you can picture Tarin limping along, determined but frightened.
With extroardinary setting detail, author Jo Sandhu has captured the world of the Mammoth Clan completely.
Then there’s the main character, Tarin. Tarin is so believable, vulnerable and brave that he stays with you long after this story is over.
Tarin longs to be a hunter, but his twisted leg means he is feared and bullied. After a disastrous mishap, Tarin is forced to leave his family and travel alone across wild, unknown land to save the Mammoth Clan to which he belongs.
Tarin’s disgrace is even harder to bear because his parents are the leaders of the Clan.
He has so much to lose, his family, his honour and his life.
Readers looking for adventure, great characters and tension will love Tarin of the Mammoths – The Exile, and after reading the last page will be eager to know what happens next.
And you’re in luck, because the sequel, Clan of Wolves is due for release early next month.
Thanks Jo for visiting DeeScribe Writing, and sharing your writing secrets.