Today’s blog post is brought to you courtesy of Janna G. Noelle. I didn’t know what to write about this week, there’s been so much non-writing life going on that I didn’t feel I had something profound to say but she rescued me, just in time. Janna blogs over at A Frame Around Infinity. I ran into her via a post on pantsing versus plotting and she’s been leaving pithy, insightful remarks here ever since, as well as posting some of my favorite posts. She was tapped to be part of Writing Process Blog Tour by Eric J. Baker, and subsequently tapped me. You should check both of them out!
These questions are supposed to be for a current project. I currently have three. Hm….for brevity’s sake, I shall stick to my largest project and disregard the others.
1. What are you currently working on?
An epic fantasy series titled, Silence of Elysium. It will be at least six books. I’ve been working on this WIP for five to six years. It started out as a single book while I was locked up by cold weather in a Nanjing University dorm. The story was a mess in its first several iterations. I laid it aside for two years, realized I had to release it to be as large as necessary and got back to it. Now the first book, Skere, is actually published and Criminal and the Gathering, books two and three respectively, are starting to come together. It took some more life to take me as a persona and a writer to the place where I could wrap my hands around the story.
Following Janna’s example, I’ll log line the project. Since its a series, this feel really daunting! Let’s see how this goes.
An emperor discovers the modern religion is false. He and some misfits, unravel the foundations of their society and fight the powers behind the lie.
Twenty-five little words. Ouch! That was difficult. Good exercise. I’m going to rest my eyes on this inviting scene from Kyoto.
2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?
Being unique in fantasy is difficult. Someone has tried almost everything.
From my own view on current books being published, I’m writing fantasy from a different point of development in the civilizations than many. I work with a world much closer to the hey day of the Roman Empire, with a strong imperial capitol but other strong kingdoms on its periphery. Many other writers are working in a medieval setting, which I think it wonderful, but I’m not working in it myself. The society in Silence of Elysium is in one of the small up and downs of it’s life cycle, not collapsing and not rising, but I also work in the span of the social history, because it informs current events in a very immediate way.
Also, books I see these days focus on the politics of their world, the pure adventure of the Tolkein ilk or a single character who is at odds with their world.
In Silence of Elysium, my characters are integral to the world, not at odds with it. They literally define it. The plot drives questions to the base existence of the world. It’s not that they are at odds with their world, they have to choose what it will be. There is no single leading characters and good and evil is subject to interpretation.
My work is heavily informed by my travel in other countries, my struggle with the human element of religion, and my views on relationships- familial, romantic or platonic. The rough drafts are written as if everything should be labeled NC-17 for sex, emotion, political provocation or anything else you can think of. I do not censor myself. If I can force it out of my fingers onto the keyboard, then it’s in the MS. It’s all in there, bruises the color of the rainbow and pleasure colored black.
The goal is raw realism painted so that the beauty of existence shines through.
On the technical end, some serious research and study has gone into the world creation. When I’m designing Namur and the other states and regions, I was thinking of scholarship by the likes of Jared Diamond and his work Guns, Germs and Steel or Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations. I mentally walk through how people groups would have come together or split and how the land masses would have affected movements of species. Without my year of study into the Dark Ages of Europe, I’d never have the depth of information or clarity of my Namurian Empire that I do. I heartily recommend some serious reading into world history for any author of fantasy or sci-fi. There’s so many plot ideas and strange new versions of humanity lying in the distant past. Some of my strangest ideas are by no means original! Reading scholarship on societies and history keeps me in stock with fresh ideas and helps me not drip in my own preconceptions. Visiting museums also helps! This scene is from a palace in Seoul.
3. Why do you write what you do?
It’s a compulsion. Walking away from this story isn’t something I can really imagine doing. Even if it doesn’t end up selling, I’ll finish, though probably more slowly.
I write fantasy and fantasy related genres because of it’s incredible flexibility to story telling, allegory and exploration. In how many other genres can you play around with the Mother Goddess contracting amnesia? I write to let myself out of my head, to entertain, and to provoke. My hope is to let my readers escape their world and dream but leave them with something that applies to our world to consider and maybe even take action on. Issues of racism, control, religion, the boundaries of romantic relationships, and loyalty come up frequently and are very important to me. I don’t believe I can change the world but I’m pretty sure I can change someone’s world.
4. How does your writing process work?
I half outline, half pants. There’s a destination for each book in my head as I write and I may mark out chapters in Scrivener to be written for the next week, especially as plot points get thicker and timelines become less forgiving.
Mostly I rely on mind maps, large, wall sized pieces of paper taped together and scribbled over with a pencil. It’s my cast of characters that will get me in trouble the fastest with this series, as there are so many bastard children, half siblings, people impersonating other people, and those who simple don’t remember who they are. I once discovered that two people were half brothers as I wrote a scene with them. I was as surprised as they were! That was a while ago. Now everyone is mapped out. Seeing the complex of the setup for the world almost writes the plot itself.
I start with character every time. Once I really understand my characters, the story starts to unwind under my fingers. If my characters and I aren’t communicating, the story stops or is just plain pathetic. I recently had a wonderful conversation with my alpha reader. She got in my face and pointed out that I didn’t like a certain character and it was making the entire last third of the book sour. That was a hard pill to swallow but the complete truth. Plot is easy, for me. Characters are essential. Real, living characters have motivations, fears, hang-ups, relationships and goals or paranoias. They will drive the plot by their shear life force.
That said, my writing process goes something like this:
– Settle on a particular idea and chew on it for a few months.
– Write the rough draft, very rough. Lately, this has taken about forty to eighty days for a ninety thousand word MS.
– Set is aside for at least two weeks. Hate it, wonder if I should even look at it again. Fall in love with it again and then get scared to death to look at it in case I fell in love with something that isn’t there.
– First edit. Check time lines, make sure characters don’t show up in improbable places and try to make the MS readable for my alpha reader. Sometimes I haven’t been able to write certain scenes and have to brace myself for it. There was a torture scene in Skere that took me forever to face up to. I finished those here.
– Send it to my alpha reader and have a long phone conversation with her.
– Apply everything my alpha reader caught.
– Send out to beta readers and proof readers. Adjust as necessary. Give it one last go over.
– Compile into a mobi file in Scrivener.
So there, that’s the answer to these four simple questions of the Writing Process Blog Tour. The three writers I’m tapping are: mobewan over at Not a Natural Writer, Lyn at Lyn Gala, and Candace Habte at One Writer, Many Heads. All are excellent bloggers and I’m excited for each of their writing careers! Of course, it’s entirely up to them if they want to write, please do not feel obligated! Feel free to give the whole thing a pass, should you have other posts planned or simply don’t want to do another project.