Storytelling Maths: One book = One series
Or could it?
I’ve always had a safety net to protect me from worrying about this. Samurai Kids White Crane began with just one sentence: “My name is Niya Moto and I’m the only one-legged samurai kid in Japan.” Another one soon followed. “Famous for falling flat on my face in the dirt.” And for a long time that’s all I had. That and the increasing desire to tell Niya’s story – his friends, his teacher, his school and his adventures. I always figured if a book could come from a sentence than surely a series could come from one book.
Because White Crane was a stand-alone story (originally titled Samurai Kids) there were no hooks in place for future stories. But I did have a rich cast to work with – six very different characters each with their own idiosyncrasies and spirit guide – and their eccentric but much loved teacher. I had the action and adventure of samurai and ninja. I had swords, shuriken stars, and a quiver full of arrows.
And then I discovered an accidental hook after all. In White Crane Niya thought Sensei might be a Tengu – a mountain goblin priest with supernatural abilities. Was he? And if he was, what did he do? A human becomes a Tengu as a result of some terrible deed. Now I had a problem – I never intended to answer this question. In fact I didn’t even know the answer. But if there were more books, it was obviously the key to many things. I do know the answer now but I can’t tell you or I would have to give you a Wakizashi dagger and a seppuku mat and well… if you know the rest – it’s rather painful and messy. So you are better off not knowing.
In Samurai Kids: Owl Ninja the kids travelled across Japan and learn ninja skills. They faced the Dragon Master once again. The final chapter saw them standing on the shore, a greater journey about to begin. From here, the series started to tell itself. The geography of the journey dictated the next stop, the location dictated the martial arts skills that the Kids would learn and Sensei’s history created obligations and risks.
When the Kids went to China in Samurai Kids: Shaolin Tiger, history put them in a time and place when the Hwang Ho River was due to flood Kaifeng, the Shaolin Temple was under threat from the Imperial army (and would soon be destroyed), the Mongols were threatening to invade and the Manchu were on the horizon. How could I not find a story there? Especially when Qing-Shen walked in. Tall dark and dangerous, Sensei’s Chinese ex-student had a vendetta to carry out.
I didn’t intend it to happen but although each book is told by Niya, the plot revolves around a different Kid. Probably because they are all equally good friends. Each step the Kids take into another book, the story writing process is no different. Samurai Kids: Monkey Fist is set further north, in The Forbidden City of Beijing. Like a good reporter I follow Sensei and the Kids around and write what I see. And what Niya and Sensei tell me to. Right now I’m writing Samurai Kids:Fire Lizard and we’re in Korea.