As some of you may have noticed from a post a few days ago, I just finished the first draft of Unnatural Causes, my fantasy-mystery novel which I've been working on for some time.
Unnatural Causes began with a simple concept: I wanted to write a mystery novel in a secondary world fantasy setting. It seems to me that most mystery-fantasy mashups, at least at the novel length, take a contemporary setting and a "traditional" mystery, and then add fantastic elements (Harry Dresden / Jim Butcher, I'm looking at you). I wanted to go the other way around: take a fantasy setting and paradigm, then add a mystery element. I decided to have the crime be the murder of a mage and made the investigators her apprentice and familiar. To invert expectations a bit, I decided the familiar was the primary investigator and the apprentice more of the sidekick.
Initially, I had a very traditional Holmes-and-Watson kind of dynamic in mind. All that changed when I started developing the world and particularly, the origin and role of familiars. I posed to a writers' board the question of which had more possibilities: familiars as extraplanar beings, or familiars as constructs with various animal features. Someone said, "Why not both?" and that started me down a path that created the alien world where the Light - what familiars call themselves - live.
At that point, I had a choice. I could stay with my original concept and make the apprentice the viewpoint character, or I could delve deep into this new consciousness. The experiment of trying to write from the point of view of a very alien character appealed to me; that choice won out.
This turned out (I think!) to be the best choice. The way I had created the Light already put my familiar at a disadvantage: they were fundamentally constructed to have difficulty with falsehood. The apprentice would often have to translate human lies and politics (... same thing?) for her. Also, had the apprentice been my narrator, the pair would have had to be together for the entire novel for the reader to observe the full investigation. Instead, making the familiar my narrator allowed the characters to explore different paths ... and allowed her to get into trouble that would have disappeared behind the scenes otherwise.
I enjoy doing character profiles in advance, but I've noticed a tendency: I always write one or two that I end up not using, and a character that I either wrote about only briefly or never planned for ends up playing a large role in the novel. Both happened to me this time. Duvalis, familiar to the foreign ambassador, was always meant to be a side character, but he leapt to life as a snarky counterpart to my narrator. Their prickly banter was one of my favorite parts to write.
There are issues I know I need to cover in editing, some of which I can't mention without giving the plot away, but I'm taking a breather and basking in the satisfaction of a tale finished ... for now.