How To Write Magical Words – Writing Fantasy (and other genres, too)


Look. Yes, that’s it; right there, in the lower left hand corner of your screen. Yeah, yeah, that’s it; that little bit of red and grey goo there? See that? That’s blood and brains from when my exploded just now…

I’ve been working day and night, night and day, for nearly two weeks now on the Magical Words How-To book, trying to get it to the publisher in time to have it ready for you (yes, I’m talking to you (okay, I might be even punchier than I thought)) before the end of the year. With the exception of the couple of days I spent reading an unpublished MS written by a friend of mine (who I’m hoping is still my friend after my ruthless critique), and getting ready for a family trip to Boston for a baptism this weekend, the How-To book has been the focus of my days and nights, sunrises, noons and dusks.

I’m enjoying the work, don’t get me wrong. I’m also learning a lot in the process of putting it together. I just had NO IDEA it would be such an all-consuming effort.

David, Faith, and Misty (note the use of the serial comma there) sent me lists of what they considered their best material. Misty sent me 25 essays, which was exactly what I asked for. Bonus points for Misty. David sent me 27 (or 28, I forget), but three of them were on the same topic and could be combined, so we’ll call that close enough. No bonus points, but no minus points either. And though Faith sent me 35, she did ask first, as well as indicating the 10 she thought were most expendable, so I can’t really complain about that. Not out loud, where she might hear me, anyway. (I fear Faith.) 😉

Actually, they didn’t send me essays, they sent me links to essays. Fortunately following links and then cutting and pasting essays is brainless enough that I could do it while sitting in front of the TV watching DVDs. Season 2 of Supernatural, half a season of House, a couple of Buffy episodes, and a movie or seven later and I was done. Piece of cake.

Stuart, A.J., and I haven’t been doing this long enough to even have 25 posts yet, so I read everything and took what I thought we could use.

And then there was Catie (Murphy). We wanted Catie’s contributions to the MW site to be represented in the book, but she’s way too swamped to go through and pick out her own favorites. There was nothing for me to do but just dive in and read it all, picking and choosing what I thought would work best.

Having assembled all this wonderful raw material (nearly 155,000 words worth of essays and related questions and comments), the next step was to organize it. My first thought was to tease out all the essays on the business side of writing. No problem. We’ll call that section “Business.”

Step two was to pull the material on self-editing. That’s a step unto itself when someone is writing a novel, and should be covered accordingly. I’ll let you guess what I decided to call that section.

As I went through these essays, I also found some excellent essays on… well, at first I wasn’t sure exactly what to call it. Creativity? No, that wasn’t quite right. It covered everything from what to do what to do to recharge your batteries when your brain is fried, to an essay that’s actually titled “Why Bother.” I finally settled on calling that section “A Writer’s Life.” These are the bits and pieces of truth that might fall between the cracks of the more basic categories, but are of real value and importance, despite their difficulty in labeling.

What was left after assembling those three sections was lumped under a general heading called “On Writing.” Naturally this was going to be the biggest part of the book, because it’s a book about how to write. (One extra-large ‘duh’ coming right up.) The problem, however, is that I still had well in excess of 90,000 words. You simply can’t lump that much material under a single heading and have a prayer of having something useful, much less cohesive.

So back to the chopping block I went, trying to lop off another useful section or three.

The first one to materialize was “On Writing Fantasy.” Most of the material in this book will be beneficial to anyone who writes, regardless of genre. But based on the authors here at MW, a certain amount of material was inevitably going to be fantasy-specific. I thought it made sense to present that material separately, and voila, a new section was born.

With that section completed, the mass of “On Writing” was getting a little easier to handle. Still way too big to stand alone, mind you; but managable enough that I could see the next logical section: “Character’s, Dialogue & Point of View” (also known as ‘The people who live in your book, what they say, and what they think’ (except that would be too wordy)).

Good, good. Now we’re making progress. Now “On Writing” was down to fewer than 60,000 words. (Please note: that it’s fewer than 60k, not less than 60k. If you need someone to explain the difference, see me after school; my office hours and Monday’s and Thursday’s, from 3pm to 4pm.)(Sorry; I warned you I was punchy.) 

More progress. Very nice. However… (there’s always a ‘however,’ isn’t there?) I’m getting on an airplane around lunchtime today and still haven’t packed a thing. So I’m not sure yet how that last bit (clearly still too big) will be further (that’s further, not farther) broken down. It’s got to be cut at least in half, and preferably in thirds. How? I have no idea; that’s next week’s problem.

I’ve printed out everything I’ve got so far and it will be my airplane/airport reading while I’m travelling. Hopefully digesting this material will help crystallize how to proceed from here. Hopefully. 

In the mean time, I’ve also returned several of the multi-part essays back to their individual authors along with my request that they combine and trim them down to a single piece. There were some topics that were covered on MW in three, four, sometimes even five parts, and while those topics need to be included in the book, they do not merit 5,000 to 7,000 words. So, snip, snip, snip, my author friends. And when they’re done, it will be my turn to get out the heavy pruning shears. Because even with this beast of a book broken down into nice, neat categories, and a healthy handful of the essays distilled down to their purest essence, we still have way too much for a single How-To book. 150k+ is a lovely word-count for one of David’s Chihuahua-killing fantasy novels, but not for our current project.

On the other hand, maybe we can do a volume 2 some day. We’ve certainly got enough material. Oh yeah, I’ll get right on that — just as soon as I pick up the pieces of my shattered skull and stuff all the brain-bits back in. Because all of this stuff I’ve told you so far…? It doesn’t even begin to address the subject of the line editing I’ve been doing while I was putting together and breaking apart the various sections.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ll be in Boston for the long weekend. I feel a little guilty not being here to respond to your comments, but not guilty enough to skip the baptism of my brother’s first son. However, I do encourage you to leave me any thoughts or comments you may have about this How-To book and. I’ll read them all as soon as I’m back. I really do factor them in as much as I possibly can.


8 comments to How To Write Magical Words – Writing Fantasy (and other genres, too)

  • I know you know, but we all appreciate the hard, hard, hard work you’re doing. I can’t wait to see the results. Thank you so much.

    Oh, and I scooped up what brain bits I could from my screen. I’ll mail them to you.

  • Seconding what Stuart said. We are grateful beyond words for your hard work, but more than that, for your amazing talent as an editor.

    And yeah, speaking as the friend whose manuscript you savaged, of course we’re still friends.

  • Mikaela

    I look forward to reading the finished result! There was something I planned to ask, but my feverish brain absorbed it.

  • Guin

    Chihuahua-killing fantasy novels

    Me: *wipes coffee from screen*

    Thank you for that Saturday morning laugh! And for taking on this enormous task.

    *goes back to lurking*

  • Oh my. Edmund. Darlin’. I scare you? I’m all bark, no bite. Well, except when, um, nevermind.

    You are my hero. I know the How To will be fabulous with your special help, amazing gifts, editorial touch, and that sharp, silver, magical athame with which you have been cutting and snipping.

    I’ll be working on merging my wordy 5 or 6 posts into 2 tight posts starting Monday. I *plan* to send them back on Tuesday.

    And I promise not to eat any brain bits I find, though now all I can think about are Abby Normal (film reference) and zombies. If I see any, I’ll save them (your brains, not the zombies, which would rot long before time) and give them back at our next con! And in case it slipped by you, I’m loopy from the deadline that ended Friday. Whew!


  • Young_Writer

    I can’t wait until it comes out! I’m sure all of your hard- make that really hard- work will pay off. 🙂
    Misty, love the song!

  • Heh! Coulton’s awesome.

    And so are you, Edmund!