So, since my last post, I've started on the first book of the Institute Arcane series. Working title is Novices.
And my thinking on the setting has developed. I said in the previous post that when I came up with the idea of the magical Great Work being a network of canals, I felt like it maybe should be something with more sensawunda. Well, Fred (Damon Knight's name for the subconscious assistant that all writers have) has done good work, and sensawunda is now all over it.
There's still a network of canals, inspired by the British canal system that helped launch the Industrial Revolution. But now it's a network of air canals, with constant winds, contained within invisible force fields, propelling levitating air-barges and rapid courier boats. A kind of magical hyperloop, if you will.
The original dull stone cube of the Institute Arcane itself has become a thing that I love: a magical castle with bizarre, even whimsical architecture, making full use of the magic system's ability to play with gravity and set up constant movement in air and water. I'm sure it will get even more strange and fun as I develop it (while remaining carefully distinct from Hogwarts, which has a high proportion of whimsy for its own sake).
I often read fantasy novels - mainly ones set in a version of our world, rather than a secondary world like this one is, but sometimes secondary-world too - where I feel like the magic that's described doesn't make enough difference to the world at large. It's as if it's only been worked out just enough to cover the central plot, and not all of the things that are off-camera or in the background. I don't want to make that mistake here.
We see the Institute through the eyes of Gwin, a student who's dreamed of going there most of her life, and who is all about the sensawunda of it. She thinks the Institute is just terrific, and even though I plan to have her become a little bit disillusioned with some aspects of it, the place itself is still cool.
So far I'm almost 10k in. I'd toyed with the idea of doing NaNoWriMo with it (since I'm in a NaNo Storybundle at the moment with my nonfiction book The Well-Presented Manuscript), but I've had some issues with my old shoulder injury which are limiting how much I can type, so I'll probably not get much further than that in November. That's fine; hopefully I can rehab my shoulder and do a bit more when I'm on my Christmas-New Year break.
Because the sensawunda is strong with this one, I'm taking my time getting to the inciting incident, but it will come soon. And it's not coincidence or luck that brings the characters together - they've been selected for a project; nor is it a battle against any kind of Dark Lord, but (as per my earlier post) the creation of a Great Work of magical wonder, the abovementioned air canal network. While I'm at it, I'm undermining some romance tropes, as well. I know exactly what readers will be thinking by this point, and I am going to gleefully subvert their expectations, in a way that I hope will not be a disappointment but a thought-provoking twist.
Most importantly, I'm enjoying this new world and what I'm doing with it. The characters are emerging, are distinct from one another, and will mesh well together. I'm still a touch concerned that I don't have quite enough plot for later on; but I'm sure Fred will come through for me again when it counts.