My Writing Process

Last week, one of my CPs, Liz Parker, tagged me to post about my writing process. Here we go!

What Are You Currently Writing?

Right now I’m working on the second draft of FIRE, a YA apocalyptic epic fantasy about an eighteen-year-old girl named Aimee who has to take her mother’s seat on her city-state’s oligarchic ruling Council after Aimee turns her mother in for practicing illegal witchcraft. I first got the idea for it when I was writing a paper about medieval inquisitions, and while it was originally supposed to be a dystopian, I realized pretty quickly that I sort of suck at writing things set in our world so I ended up repurposing it for a high fantasy. I’ll end up retitling it at some point since there’s already a pretty well-known book named FIRE, but for right now I’m not even worrying about it.

I’m also continuing to query SHARDS. Which mostly consists of sending emails and sitting around, so it would be a pretty boring thing to blog about.

What Makes Your Work Different?

I put a really big focus on setting in my stories. Setting is usually the first thing that comes to me when I’ve got a new idea; everything else that comes after is just a product of whatever my setting is.

Also, even though my fantasy worlds are strongly grounded in history, I usually blend a few different periods together. For example, the politics and religion in SHARDS are rooted in medieval history, while the social aspect is based on Victorian England. In FIRE, the city-state idea is based on Ancient Greece; the mage trials are inspired by the Spanish Inquisition; and the technology, fashion, and so on will be based on the Old West (although I need to do a lot more research so I can flesh that aspect out).

Why Do You Write What You Do?

I write fantasy because those have always been the books I’ve gravitated toward. I love being able to explore different worlds with their own sets of rules. And studying history game me a lot of ideas because I can take different things that interest me and go “what if?” with them. I guess I could easily do this by writing historical fiction, but I have too hard of a time sticking to one time period and not including some fantastical elements.

I write YA because of how interesting that age is. There are so many things you’re just starting to figure out, and often you feel so alone. I write YA so teenagers can hopefully see themselves in these characters and feel less alone.

And finally, I write about women because there are so many conflicting messages for young women from all directions. I would hope that if I’m lucky enough to have teenage girls following my characters’ adventures someday, they will realize it’s okay to think for themselves, trust their instincts, and that there are all kinds of ways to be strong.

What Is Your Writing Process?

Like I said, I usually start with the setting. I actually have a Word document for future ideas that is made up of ideas for future settings. Then, I build up my main characters and the conflict around that. My plot then follows, built around questions such as what my character wants and what her main conflict is.

When I write the first draft, I only know the beginning, the end, and maybe a few key plot points in between. I don’t outline until after I’m finished, and my first draft is usually only a glorified outline that I use to get inside my MC’s head and explore her world. I outline on index cards so in the next draft, I can get the plot sorted out. I use revisions to flesh everything else out – subplots, characters, setting, etc. And then once I’m feeling pretty good about those and I’ve got a thumbs up from CPs and beta readers, I go through one more time and focus on the little things like sentence structure and grammar and word choice.

Rewriting is my least favorite part, so I’m progressing really slowly on FIRE because of that. I usually send out a few chapters at a time to CPs because I know they’ll keep bugging me for me. My favorite part is revisions, because now I’ve got the hard part done and now I can flesh things out! I tend to write very short drafts, and then flesh things out a lot in revisions. (SHARDS, for example, went from 49k to 70k. I’m aiming for 50k with this draft of FIRE, but I could see it easily being 80k when I’m done with it.)

Thank you for tagging me, Liz! Next Monday, two more of my CPs will share, C.E. Darrell and Ifeoma Dennis!

That time I accidentally finished writing a book.

Before I start a first draft, I sketch out a rough outline with a beginning, an end, and a couple major plot points in between so I at least have some vague idea of where I’m going. I got to a certain point in FIRE and realized it just wasn’t going to work as one book – I had way too much story for that. If I want to tell the story I envisioned, I’m going to need to split it in half.

At that point, that left me with only a chapter or two to finish out this part of the story. Which is how I accidentally finished the first draft of FIRE.*

FIRE is the third book I’ve completed (hooray!). And, like the others, I’ve learned a lot from it.

  • My first book, AN UNFORGIVING LAND, I finished during NaNo in 2007. It taught me how to finish something. (And it will never see the light of day, at least not in the form it’s in.)
  • My second book, SHARDS, taught me how to stay committed to something. It was the first time I bothered getting feedback/rewriting/revising/editing etc.
  • FIRE is teaching me that this whole writing thing doesn’t get any easier, and that each book has its own set of challenges. I struggled with Calanthe’s voice in SHARDS, but Aimee’s voice came to me really easily. World building came to me ridiculously easily with SHARDS, but I’ve got a whole lot to figure out here with FIRE.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t take me as long to get FIRE in a not-crappy state as it did with SHARDS!

*I have a tendency to do things on accident. Like graduating from college. I did that on accident. It’s just a gift, I guess.

I’m writing something new and it’s terrifying.

I’ve referenced it only briefly on the blog, but I finished revising SHARDS a week ago. While I’ve been playing around with the sequel, OPAQUE, I’ve also redoubled my efforts to finish a draft of FIRE because I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket.

As it turns out, working on something that’s not SHARDS is terrifying.

I’ve been in the same world with the same characters for the past five years. Nilea is home and Calanthe, Vantandal, Ethan, and the rest are all my friends by now. I know these characters. I know how Nilea works. And now I’m starting something completely different with completely different characters I don’t know anything about, in an entirely different world I’m discovering alongside the characters. I guess the best way to describe it is it’s like my first day at a new school and everyone’s staring at me like I’m the new girl.

But all of the things that are terrifying about writing something completely new? Those are also the things that make it exciting.

Process: Using Setting to Generate Story

People have different ways of coming up with stories. Some people have an idea for the plot first, and they fill in with characters and setting later. Some people have characters first, and just need to come up with a story for these characters.

And then there are people like me, who have a setting in mind first, and everything else comes later. Although, I haven’t really heard much of anything from this camp…surely I’m not alone?

When the first kernels of a story idea are coming to me, usually the first thing that comes to mind is the setting. For example, for SHARDS, it was the whole Victorian Era meets Wars of the Roses thing. For FIRE, it was a dystopian city-state with witch trials. Another idea I have percolating right now involves ethnic conflict and potential genocide. Basically…settings with room for lots of conflict.

After I have that in place, I start filling in, usually with characters. What sort of characters would I be likely to find in that sort of setting? For SHARDS, knowing that my Victorian-inspired setting isn’t likely to allow women much freedom, I can fill in the picture with Calanthe, a teenage girl who’s being married off against her will, and who feels trapped because of her perceived lack of choices. From the Wars of the Roses element of it, I thought about what if her family belonged to one of the houses fighting for power? How might that impact her?

Knowing my setting helped me generate a lot of questions about my characters, which I then used to help me generate my plot. (For more on how this works [for me], see this post.*) What does this character want? What choices does this character have to make? What conflict(s) do(es) this character face? Once I’ve got all that in place, I’m ready to write.

What comes to you first when you’re getting ready to write a new idea? Any other setting-first people out there?

*Ignore that post when it says I always have characters first. Obviously, it’s full of lies. However, the rest of the post still stands.