As I’m writing this post, I’ve just finished writing the twelfth episode of Blood Magic, marking the end of the first season. If you’re confused by that, since the episode is already live on the site, don’t be. I deliberately scheduled this post to go live after the full first season was available on the website, so that I could talk freely about my experience writing everything, including the final episode. Although I don’t intend to reveal major spoilers about the series here, this will contain some references to things that occur in the later episodes, and I will also be assuming a level of familiarity with the terminology of Blood Magic, so if you haven’t already read the first season, I highly recommend you do that before continuing with this post.
This post is loosely inspired by Brandon Sanderson’s habit of posting complete annotations for many of his novels and stories, detailing how the story changed and evolved throughout his planning and revision processes, as well as what thoughts went into certain key decisions. I’ve found those annotations incredibly helpful as I’ve been working to improve my own writing, especially the copy of Sixth of the Dusk in which he includes complete drafts from various stages of the writing process. My goal is to offer something in a similar vein here, aimed both at fellow writers, and those of you interested in learning more about what goes into bringing Blood Magic to life.
I’ve written before about how Blood Magic started, and how I came to the decision that I should go ahead and post episodes live here on the site, even though I knew I would not have time to put them through a thorough revision process, so I will not belabor those thoughts further. I think I’ve also mentioned that I wrote the first two episodes a couple of years ago, and then let the series collect dust. At the time, I had decided that I wanted to focus more on trying to write novels, or stand-alone short stories, rather than a series of loosely connected short stories. That decision is somewhat responsible for the existence of Fo’Fonas, so I don’t regret that choice, but as you can tell I did change my mind and return to Blood Magic.
Part of the reason for putting Blood Magic aside like I did is that I had started a third episode not long before I had some computer problems in which I lost some of my more recent documents, including my nascent third episode. I tried a handful of times to go back and recreate what I had written and then lost, but I was never able to do so to my satisfaction, which played a large part in my decision to put the series aside. The fact of the matter was that at the time, I was flailing a bit with ideas for the episodes, and didn’t have a good idea for what I really wanted to get out of the series.
When I started this site, I knew that the best way to increase my traffic would be to post content consistently and prolifically, and so I turned to the library of finished stories that I had developed over the years. Unfortunately, I found that I was dissatisfied with most of them. One of my tests for if a story of mine is good or not is if I can go back to it after I’ve all but forgotten about it, and enjoy rereading my own story. Most of the stories in my “library” were failing that test. The Grounds Warden did not, which is why it was the first story we posted on the site. To my surprise, the first two Blood Magic episodes also fit the bill. But how was I going to release these? Sure, the episodes were finished, but there was no series, no additional content, and I had two dissatisfying paragraphs of a third episode.
It took some serious thought on what my goal really was with this site to convince me to try an experiment. This site, I decided, was my way to put my work out in front of a wider audience, even if that work was not perfectly polished up and pretty, ready for “publication.” I know that my writing is not as good as it will be in the future, but the only way to improve is to practice, and that means more writing. What’s the best way to do that? Write more stories, on a deadline. Posting a new story on the site on a regular timeline would force me to write to that deadline, to always be working on something, and it would also give me the opportunity to experiment and try different things, as long as I was comfortable with my mistakes, typos, and rough drafts being available for anyone to see. That took some getting comfortable with, but I decided to give it a try. Blood Magic seemed perfect for this kind of purpose. I had a world established, two episodes already written, and I wanted to write more of it, even if I didn’t know what more looked like yet. Plus, I had received good feedback on it (including one earlier draft reader who claimed that it should be adapted into the next Game of Thrones-style television series, which I suspect is an exaggeration). In other words, the stars seemed to be aligning for me to put in the effort to bring a Blood Magic series to life on IGC Publishing.
However, I agonized about my decision throughout most of January. I decided that if certain things had not come together by the end of the month, I wouldn’t go through with the project. Mostly, that was series infrastructure: I needed to build pages on the site dedicated to the series, I needed some kind of symbol or logo for it, and I needed a map. Those pieces slowly came together over the course of the month, but I was still missing the single piece that could derail the entire operation. I still didn’t have an idea for the third episode, much less an outline for the whole series, which was my final requirement for publishing Blood Magic.
The problem was that I was still caught up on my original third episode start, the part that I lost. In that draft, a massive army from a distant land set out to conquer Merolate. It took realizing that this was a horrible plot for the third episode of this series for me to finally sit down and begin writing up an outline. It also took me changing how I was going to structure my outline. Instead of trying to write up a standard outline for each episode, I wrote brief summaries, like you see with television shows before you click play. With those changes, I outlined three seasons of twelve episodes each over the course of two days.
What I finally came to terms with in creating the outline was that I didn’t need to keep raising the stakes on each episode. The pilot episode had fairly low stakes, since I used it mostly to introduce the key players: Kiluron and Doil, Borivat and Wezzix, and of course the Isle of Blood. The second episode dramatically raised the stakes, with demons, magic, and some pretty intense action. Continuing at or above that level of tension would require changing the nature of the series to something that was no longer episodic, which was not my intention. So I needed to create some episodes in the middle of the series that were smaller in scope. It was okay that the second episode was bigger, so that I could introduce more of the magic and show how people responded to stress, but I needed to walk that back.
Thicker Than Blood was intended to be a return to the pacing of the first episode, focusing on developing the political relationship between Merolate, which is a union of disparate provinces on the continent of Lufilna, and the other nations on the continent. Originally, the plot arc involving Doil’s “sister” was supposed to be unrelated to Kiluron’s involvement with Ebereen’s princess. I struggled with this episode so much that it cost me my two-month lead time in episode development, and I barely had it ready in time for it to go live in March. I would have liked to go back and revise the Doil plotline, but I didn’t have time. Maybe in some future re-release of the series.
I hoped that episode four would prove easier to write, but it proved almost as difficult as the third episode. Quite frankly, I had a lot of trouble coming up with a good conflict for this story, other than Kiluron not wanting to be at the ball. The real purpose of the fifth episode was exclusively to introduce Lady Fetrina. Despite my struggles with the third episode, I actually think the fourth episode may be the weakest of the season one, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.
Though Far From Home also gave me some problems, I felt much better about this one than the previous two. For one thing, I was back to dealing with blood magic, which is one of my favorite parts of this story. It also allowed me to explore more of Kiluron’s character, and how he interacts with the rest of Merolate’s leadership. To make it even more interesting, I was able to introduce readers to new parts of the Blood Magic world and their unique cultures. This one stumbled a bit at the ending, mostly because I wrote myself into a corner. The foreigners were simply too powerful, and Prime Wezzix’s character too rigid, for the ending that I really wanted to write. It feels like a compromise, which I suppose it is, but I do wish the ending was stronger. Actually, I think that in the course of this season I have identified endings as something I need to work on a lot more in my stories. They end a little too abruptly in most cases, which is only sometimes intentional.
With A Prime’s Place, I wanted to write all about Kiluron. Most of my readers have said he is the most relatable character in the series, and I always intended him to be the series’ primary protagonist (with Doil a close second). This was also one of my most experimental episodes, from a writing perspective. Some readers complained that it felt rushed and confusing – which was exactly the point. This was supposed to be a very tight view of a very focused event that helps exhibit Kiluron’s character as a person and as a Sub-Prime. Although an initial reading might indicate that the antagonist is the weather, the real antagonist is Kiluron himself. This was supposed to be an episode about leadership, and when it’s right for a leader to put him or herself in danger with his or her people, and when it isn’t. That is something that I have long debated with myself, and although this episode doesn’t fit as well with the rest of the series as I would like, I actually think that on its own it is one of the stronger episodes in season one.
When I wrote the outline for episode seven, I intended the main plot to be Kiluron’s date with Fetrina, with Doil’s interaction with Borivat humming along in the background to keep blood magic as a story element fresh in readers’ minds. In fact, that was originally just going to be a deeper exploration of the scene we see at the very beginning of the pilot episode. That didn’t last past the first line, which I quickly deleted and rewrote. Instead, this episode became primarily a Borivat flashback, with a few narrative framing devices. Quite frankly, it was a lot of fun to write. I like Borivat a lot as a character, and the interplay of the Isle of Blood and the Blood Priests with Merolate and its government is one of the more interesting parts, in my mind, of the world I’ve sought to create. This episode gave me a chance to explore both.
Arguably, episode eight continues what I started to do with episode seven: it begins ramping up the tension leading up to the season finale. This wasn’t the original intent – my main goal with this originally was to have Doil be obliged to covertly visit the Isle of Blood, sort of following in Borivat’s illicit footsteps – but it just made too much sense as I began writing. Plus, I was able to explore more of the magic system. As the astute reader may have noticed, I did drop hints and references here and there throughout the first season that foreshadowed or contributed to the events of the season finale. Unfortunately, though I think this story is quite strong, the ending is a bit clipped, because I was afraid that a longer conversation with High Priest Yorin would reveal too much information about the Guardian.
Going into Unbalanced, I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do, at least when I wrote the outline. That was before both episodes seven and eight, although standing on their own, became significant contributors to the plot of the season finale (remember, I wanted to avoid a lot of serialization, so each episode is supposed to be a self-contained story, but the episodes are sequential, and I don’t quite reset completely at the end the way something like Star Trek does). With both seven and eight building up the tension for the finale, I wanted to make the ninth and tenth episodes a little more independent. So I decided to do a little exploration of faith and how religions can start. Contrary to what some readers thought from the “strangely organized weather patterns,” they really are just coincidence. Statistically, it’s bound to happen. The so-called “prophet” had no ability to see the future – he had an in-world condition similar to arthritis that made him sensitive to changes in barometric pressure, which is how he was able to “predict the weather.” Unfortunately, because the world of Blood Magic is an inherently magical one, I don’t think that this was conveyed as well as I would have liked. It was too easy to assume that there really was a new branch of magical powers being revealed.
I fear that some will accuse Blossoming of simply being too random. There is nothing deeper than what you see; this was purely a chance to explore the relationships between Kiluron, Doil, and Fetrina. I used the context of a kidnapping while away from the city to show this, which some might find farfetched, since I didn’t build out the existence of the brigands very much. However, since I had been reading Conn Iggulden’s Wars of the Roses series while I was working on this episode, it seemed semi-consistent with historical precedents (remember, Blood Magic is deliberately riffing on the Arthurian fantasy sub-genre). It also gave me the opportunity to explore a cavern system, which I always find fun, and ironically allowed me to use some vivid descriptions. It’s always interesting to explore how characters respond to stress, especially an unusual stress like blindness. I also used this is an opportunity to drop some tiny world-building hints that will become relevant in the second season, but you’ll have to read season two’s episodes to find out what I’m referencing.
Up to here, the season had its ups and downs. I fully admit that I got a little lost writing some of the earlier episodes, especially three, four, and five. Although I think that they improved from there, I felt that I really hit my stride with Who’s Afraid of the Dark. After that one, even the off-beat episodes, nine and ten, were relatively easy to write. That was a relief, because I wanted to be on solid footing going into the two-part season finale. Let this serve as a final warning to you if you haven’t read it yet: don’t let me spoil Old Blood for you.
Actually, I wrote the first scene of Old Blood while I was still trying to come up with exactly what the plot was going to be for episode nine, and although I revised it for continuity, a bit more detail and foreshadowing, and more emotional impact, when I went to actually write part one the basic outline remained the same for that first scene. The entire first part was basically getting the reader up to speed on things that had been happening in the background throughout the first season, and getting all of the players into place for part two. To do this, I leveraged alternative POV scenes more heavily that I did in any other episode. This was a little bit of an accident, and I was a little worried that people would be upset that I spent so many words on a character who we meet and then kill off within a handful of pages, but Daribro was too interesting to write for me to cut his scene, and his scene gave the reader important information. According to how I wrote most of the episodes, all of that information should probably have been in a scout report or something that Vere reads to Wezzix, but I needed to give my readers a more visceral introduction to the Guardian. This episode also involved the first extended POV scene for Wezzix, which was so interesting to write that I almost regretted what I knew was going to happen to him in the next episode.
From a marketing perspective, I really should have included another episode in season one, so that part two of Old Blood waited for the beginning of season two, but since they come out once a month and there’s no gap between seasons, that seemed unnecessary. Besides, I always got annoyed at television shows that split their two-part episodes across a season break. It also made more sense to conclude the season with Old Blood part 2 from a storytelling perspective. Writing this episode was, in an odd way, both more difficult and easier than many of the other episodes. On the one hand, I already knew the broad strokes of what was going to happen, and there was plenty of action to be had. We get Vere being an amazing swordsman, we get massive magical powers getting thrown around – these are the kinds of things that are exciting to write, and I hope that you find them exciting to read, too. So while there were a few decisions that were tough to make – when was Wezzix going to die (I knew he wasn’t going to get to retire comfortably), for instance – the plotting was mostly known and easy to write.
Yet I had a lot of doubts as I wrote part two. This was supposed to be a major climax, with a lot of emotional impact. Yet I had trouble knowing if I was succeeding in creating that for my readers or not. I’ve known since I first made the outline that Prime Wezzix would die in this episode, and that Kiluron would become Prime, negotiate with the Isle of Blood, and defeat the Guardian. This is a major character moment for Kiluron, and leads him to become a much more dynamic character in the second season. So I had trouble separating what I felt, which was almost a sense of impatience with this episode so that I could move onto writing the next season, from what a reader might feel. This is a big moment, and I worry that I didn’t do enough to make it a big deal in the reader’s mind. My writing style doesn’t help, in these cases, since I try to be fairly matter-of-fact in my writing, operating under the assumption that most of the time we don’t really recognize if we’re living through major events until after they’ve happened. That impatience, by the way, is why I don’t like to do very much outlining when I write. I find that if I outline the story too much, I get bored while I write it.
That wraps up the first season of Blood Magic. I really hope that you enjoyed the ride. We are doing a season two, which you should have seen an announcement about a few weeks back. I’ll plan to do a post like this when I finish season two, as well. Be sure to follow along to find out what happens as Kiluron struggles with his new role as Prime, and new players enter the Merolate stage. Thank you so much for reading and supporting the Blood Magic project.