How to Make Worlds Explode by Shane Hegarty | Magazine | Children & Young Adult
worlds explode

Three years ago, while sitting on the floor of a packed train, I hit upon an idea for a book. It wasn’t even an idea, to be honest. It was half an idea. A shred of one. Not even that original. But it was better than having no idea at all.

It was this: a town was being invaded by creatures from another world and a boy would have to defeat them.

Pretty much immediately, the train reached its destination but I had the starting point for a book. Plus mild leg cramps.

Three years on and Darkmouth is six months in bookshops, the second book has just been published, and a third is being written (most days, anyway). That kernel of an idea has become a series about a boy, Finn, who is to be the last Legend Hunter in the last town on Earth plagued by monsters of myth. And there isn’t a day goes by I don’t thank the stars that I haven’t had to come up with a second idea yet.

I am in awe of those writers, in any genre, who write a novel and then have go and think up a while new story, with new characters, new themes, new everything. I have one world I escape to every day. I’m not planning on moving just yet.

Nevertheless, a series brings its challenges and as I finish the third part of what is a four-book deal all sorts of questions accompany me to the keyboard every day. They include:

  • How do you grow characters across books? Not just the main characters, Finn and his friend Emmie, but pretty much anyone who joins the story and doesn’t leave?
  • In an action-heavy series, how do you vary the set pieces to avoid repetition?
  • When do you kill a character off? When do you introduce new ones?
  • How do you stop the books from getting longer and longer as they go on? (Check out other fantasy series. It happens more often than not.)
  • I like jokes. And silliness. And surreal moments such as the dog with false teeth that pops up in the second book, Worlds Explode. So how do I increase the peril and the darken the mood, while not losing that spark that attracted publisher and readers in the first place?
  • Is it time for another coffee yet? (The answer to this is yes. Always.)

Staff photo Archive Shane HegartyDo I know the right answers to these questions? No. I’m still learning a huge amount, guided by extraordinary editors and publishing team who make the writing, plotting, ideas, books, everything better. But what I have learned is to trust instinct. That if there is a distinct voice inside then let it out. Because this is the lifetime of reading, writing, watching, listening and cultural absorption that makes a voice ultimately distinctive.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me in writing a fantasy series aimed, officially, at 8-12 year olds is how much it’s allowed me to delve into all that cultural junk floating around in my brain, a mushy mass of stuff I visualise as being like the trash compactor scene in Star Wars, partly because I’m still not sure what’s lurking beneath the surface waiting to grab me.

So, while I try and answer those questions of plotting and character on a conscious level, I’ve found a huge amount of writing is about handing myself over to the subconscious.

I’ve always been open about my debt to Douglas Adams’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but I’ve since learned, either from my own observations or those of readers, that Darkmouth has been influenced and shaped by so many books, films and TV shows throughout my life.

The Narnia Chronicles. Doctor Who. Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl. Ghostbusters. Asterix. Alfred Hitchcock’s The Three Investigators. Marvel comics of the 1980s. Alan Partridge. Calvin and Hobbes. Bill Bryson. Back to the Future. Red Dwarf. Lost. Monty Python. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (but not The World’s End). Roald Dahl. Terry Pratchett. The dog who said “sausages” on That’s Life. Spielberg. His Dark Materials. Rentaghost.

Hold on, I’m just listing everything I’ve ever seen or read now.

But here’s one more. I had the pleasure of meeting Paul Durcan recently and couldn’t help but tell him how, as a young teenager, the important the cadence and flow of his poetry changed how I understood writing. And that it’s there now, in my own writing. Sure, it may be hard to see among the Rentaghost tones, but so what. I know it’s there.

So, as I head deeper into the Darkmouth story, its characters and world, a huge amount of the writing time is spent just letting all that stuff bubble up and spill over on to the page. Although, it helps that I am writing a fantasy series for an age group open to wild ideas and lurches from the serious to daft and back again.

And I am not claiming that reaching into the landfill of your cultural influences is a universal way of producing ideas and writing that work. All I know is it works for me, and only up to a point. It does not solve all those trickier problems of structure and judgement when writing a series, some of which I’ve already mention but to which you can also add:

  • Should I write in “trilogies” to refresh the series after the third book?
  • Are cliffhanger endings a cheat or an enticement for young readers?
  • How much should each book be standalone even as the story arcs over several books?
  • Should I have another Fig Roll with the coffee, or are five enough already?

(c) Shane Hegarty

Shane Hegarty is writer of the Darkmouth series. The second book, Darkmouth: Worlds Explode (HarperCollins), has just been published and is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here!
About Worlds Explode

The second book in the monstrously funny and action-packed new series: Darkmouth. It’s going to be legendary.

The adventures of the most unfortunate Legend Hunter ever to don fighting armour and pick up a Dessicator continue…

On a list of things Finn never thought he’d wish for, a gateway bursting open in Darkmouth was right up there. But that’s about his only hope for finding his missing father. He’s searched for a map, he’s followed Steve into dead ends, but found nothing. And he’s still got homework to do.

But soon Finn and Emmie must face bizarre Legends, a ravenous world and a face from the past as they go where no Legend Hunter has gone before. Or, at least, where no legend Hunter has gone before and returned with their limbs in the correct order.

Read out one of our top Junior reviewer’s thoughts on Darkmouth here.

Watch the trailer here!

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