This is the first in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers Association. You can catch up with them at https://www.niwawriters.com/ The topic today is my writing process. I had a difficult time formulating how I wanted to write this post. Finally, I asked myself 3 questions, as if it were an interview.
- What am I working on?
I am working on three novels and was seriously procrastinating on a fourth, until the plague hit. The one I’m now getting through the formatting stage of the publishing pipeline is an alt-medieval fantasy, Julian Lackland. It is set in Waldeyn, a mishmash of Venice, Wales, and England. While the characters from Billy Ninefingers and Huw the Bard have significant roles in it, each book in the series is a standalone book.
I love Julian and his story, but I had a hard time letting go of him.
The novel I have on hold, Heaven’s Altar, is a two-book subseries set in the Tower of Bones world of Neveyah. It is a prequel, set 500 years before Mountains of the Moon. It deals with a historical figure, Aelfrid Firesword, who frequently gets mentioned as a kind of superhero in children’s books. All three of my main characters in that world were influenced by these books as children.
Alf is not superhuman. He’s a young mage with a destiny he’s not comfortable with. At the outset, his wife has abandoned him, leaving him with a sick child. Along with that, he faces the disapproval of his people for having married a woman who was not of the tribes. Alf has a long struggle ahead of him to prove he is worthy of taking up his grandfather’s task of War Leader.
My third work-in-progress, Bleakbourne on Heath, began as a serialized novel and ran for two years on a now-defunct website. This tale is an inverted Alternate-Arthurian story. In their history, Arthur was a Caligula-like figure. The Druids conquered Rome, and the Church reflects that.
I have fleshed it out, addressed the inadvertent discrepancies and contradictions that writing and publishing a chapter a week and winging it inevitably generated. That experience of writing by the seat of my pants taught me that I really DO need to have an outline.
Now I am trying to end the story and am working on the final battle. Leryn (with Merlin and Bramblestein) must face the Demon Knight, Mordred.
A fourth novel has been pulled out of storage and dusted off. Surprisingly, this paranormal scifi fantasy doesn’t stink as much as I thought it did. I’m finding a lot of useful material here.
- How does my work differ from others of its genre? Why do I write what I do?
First of all, I write from the point of view of both a gamer and an addict for fantasy novels. I am a freak for the brilliant early Final Fantasy console games. Final Fantasy VII, VII, X/X2, and XII are among the great classics in gaming. I want to inject the action, the romance, and the drama of a full-throttle action/adventure into my books. I want it set in a sweeping landscape, with my characters beset by nearly insurmountable challenges. I want the philosophies and moral choices, as well as personal relationships, to mean something to the reader.
Gaming teaches us that magic has finite limits, and no character has unlimited power.
In my worlds, those limitations are what drive the action because the characters have to struggle to overcome them. The power of the story is in the struggle. The final redemption must justify the effort and the losses incurred as they struggle toward the conclusion.
- How does my writing process work?
Typically, when I first have the idea to write a book, I visualize it as the walkthrough for an RPG game. I spend days building the outline, the shell of the story. Because the Tower of Bones series began as the storyline for an RPG, I still have the habits developed in that industry.
I figure out the political and religious systems and create the rules for magic. Most importantly, I draw maps to keep my characters going in the right direction.
Each world is unique, and I want to know how my characters fit into their society.
My outlines are formed by the answers to these twelve questions:
- What is the inciting incident?
- What is the goal/objective?
- At the beginning of the story, what could the hero possibly want that pushes them to risk everything to acquire it?
- How badly do they want it, and why?
- Who is the antagonist?
- Why are they the enemy?
- What ethical choices will the protagonist have to make in their attempt to gain their objective?
- What happens at the first pinch point?
- In what circumstances do we find the group at the midpoint?
- What is their health like?
- Why does the antagonist have the upper hand? What happens at the midpoint to change everything for the worse?
- At the ¾ point, the protagonist should be ready to face the antagonist. Do I have the story set up correctly to this point so I can choreograph that meeting?
All stories must have a logical arc, but each character should too. It’s my job to make sure that the characters evolve and grow throughout the story. For me and my style of writing, the character arcs benefit most from the outline, even more than the overall story arc does.
Once I have that all done, I start at the beginning and write, connecting the dots between the vignettes. When all the dots are connected, I have a book—albeit a raw rough draft of a book. I set it aside and work on something else for several weeks before I begin the rewrite. Setting it aside is important because when I come back to it, I need to see the raw draft through unbiased eyes.
My work in the Tower of Bones series tends to be linear as it began life as the walkthrough for an RPG that was never built. Each protagonist has a specific goal or “quest.” Many obstacles hinder them on the path to achieving those goals. My task is to make it an emotionally gripping journey for the reader, so I have to be careful when choreographing scenes. I can’t go too over the top, but I need to be creative and logical.
The Billy’s revenge series has been anything but linear. The storylines in each could easily have gone awry, if I hadn’t had a basic outline to keep things logical.
I have to negotiate carefully between the two radically different series when I am writing, as I want to stay true to the intent and flavor of each. This is where having a writing posse really helps.
I hope your writing journey has been as satisfying as mine. Thank you for being a part of my writing life!
The next installment of this series will feature William J. Cook, who will be sharing some excellent advice for new writers. Look for his post on Thursday, April 9th. You can find out more about him at https://authorwilliamcook.com