After the Mania

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Last week, I shared with readers a vision of the manic phase that hits me during the pre-creative process of writing. The *I have an idea, now what?* phase.  A lot has happened since then in the creative process. The idea found a direction and an outlet in a 4 page, single spaced outline, and then expanded into my usual 10-ish page outline. Yesterday, I started writing and now have 5 pages of manuscript at 1,700+ words, which have been rewritten twice. Not a huge heaping word count, but not bad either. And my agent liked what I did well enough to suggest that I send it on to my editor. I don’t always send initial pages to my agent first, but there are times when I do:

  1. When I am between contracts—essentially writing on spec
  2. When I am starting a new series or taking a book/plotline/character into a new direction and want all the feedback I can get
  3. When I can tell that I am not on the right track, but can’t see where I messed up.

 At this moment, with this book, I am between contracts. I do have a verbal offer, however, and sending this small bit on to my editor is a way to say, “See what I have? Isn’t it pretty? Don’t you want it? Hint, hint, hint.” At this moment (four o’clock in the morning. I can’t sleep) that sounds like a way to tease a cat into play, and I guess the analogy is relevant.

At any rate, I am past the desperate, pre-creative phase and am deeply into world-building. No, this is not a new series, nor a standalone, but a third book in an existing series, yet world-building, and world-setting is still necessary. I have to remind readers:

 

  1. What the world is
  2. What the rules are (rules of magic fall into this category)
  3. A bit about the history of the series
  4. Who the character is
  5. What she does for a living
  6. Where she is in her life (between relationships, current locale, etc.)
  7. Anything important that happened to the character between books
  8. Introduce the conflict/plotline.

I also have to intr0duce new readers to the world, character, subplots and all relevant history, without boring them death in the process. Doing all of this is part of the suspension of disbelief under which all fiction writers, especially fantasy writers, operate. Obvious, yes? But sometimes we writers forget that—especially in fantasy—world is everything. Every aspect of the story is dependent on the reader believing, at every single moment, in the world we have (and still are) creating. Anything that jars the reader out of the world we are creating also jars the reader out of the story. And hey, I really want to make the reader take my book with him to bathroom, keep it open beside him when he is eating, keep the pages between himself and the TV, and keep him up at night reading. That is my goal, and the goal of all the writers I know. Write an un-put-down-able book.

As an aside: The same concept holds true in scene setting. During the course of every single scene in a book, the writer has to help the reader stay grounded in story and scene. But that is for another blog. Hmmm. Maybe next week. Onward….

I can’t fulfill all my goals on the first page, all at once, without an info dump that would be little more than the disclaimer, “In previous episodes…” I know that kind of info remainder is necessary in huge, multi-character, epic fantasy series, and I want that kind of reminder in long epics. But it can be less, um…intense, or contrived, or heavy-handed in other kinds of series books.

To keep it from being nothing more than an info dump, I have to write a scene where there is time to introduce the main character before the first body appears on the page. It was easier, way easier, to do all this with the medical thriller series my AKA used to write. I just opened most books in the ER with the medical emergency rolling in on an ambulance, the doctor was on scene, and you knew instantly:

  1. What the world is: modern day hospital
  2. What the rules are: save the sick and dying, most likely to survive first, triage out the rest, and always protect yourself from possible contagion
  3.  A bit about the history of the series: her cop boyfriend called to the scene or following the ambulance was always a nice device
  4. Who the character is: age, gender are handled by the first person POV voice
  5. What she does for a living: every one calls her doc. Duh…
  6. Where she is in her life (between relationships, current locale, etc.): again handled by the people around her, though this is explained further and reinforced when the character leaves the hospital and heads home. Alone. To her dogs, her friends, and her sweetie living across the street.
  7.  Anything important that happened to the character between books: this was easy, as I usually didn’t insert a lot of time between books. I still don’t
  8. Introduce the conflict/plotline: this was much easier in medical thrillers than in other types of books because, hey— body alive but dying on the first page said it was a medical mystery, pacing said it was thriller. Easy-peasy.

It is harder to do all of this in a fantasy where the world, and therefore the world building and the characters themselves, operate under rules different from ours.

In book three of my current (Jane Yellowrock) series, in the first five pages, I need to show it is a modern world similar to ours, with technology similar to ours, yet with two kinds of supernatural beings on the same place/time continuum, that magic exists here that can be used for many purposes, including to kill or heal, that my character is a singularity in this world (a third kind of supernatural being unlike any other known to the world,) that she is a skinwalker-in-hiding-in-plain-sight, that in this book she is dating, give a *very* short history/aspects of the supernatural parts of the world, show where she currently is (she has previously been in New Orleans but this books opens in a different location) and then show the current conflict. A tall order. And a totally fun challenge. I did it, I think, better than I did it in the book to come out in January (Blood Cross), though that scene wasn’t bad.

You know…? I love my job.  Yeah. I really love my job… Back to writing. It’s time to BIC.

Faith
FaithHunter.Net
GwenHunter.Com

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8 comments to After the Mania

  • Glad to hear that you’re making progress with the new idea, Faith. I’m moving more slowly with mine, although in part this is because it’s a new series with a new world and new characters, so I’m having to do a lot of the bricks and mortar work as I go along. In any case, I appreciate the way you break down the essential information that needs to be conveyed in those early chapters. I’m starting to think about the opening of this new project and I’ll need to weave in a good deal without data-dumping.

  • David, I know it will be great when it together. Lately, however, I have seen an established author or two (read here people who can get away with anything b/c they have a readership that will follw them no matter what) take the easy way, do an info dump, and move on. Writing is a an art and craft and seeking to do our best seems to be a requirement of our souls and part of the gift we give our readers.

  • Faith,

    Wonderful post. You are a very good writer and you take time with your work and treat it like art. Thank you! Bravo! 😀

    I read a first book in a series by another author who has been a best seller, and I will not read another book in that series. It was awful, lazy writing. This author should read your work and take notes. 😉

  • Gee… Well… Thanks, girl! (grins) (happy dancing)

  • You’re more than welcome–it’s the truth! 😉

  • Faith, thinking a lot about writing routines and such lately, it’s really great to get a glimpse into how your process is unfolding, the moods it gets you in as you go along, and that excitement behind everything that seems to drive it. Your passion for the challenge of world-building and capturing everything with just the right level of detail is very impressive.

  • Hiya Hayley! Thank you. I have always been fascinated by the creative process — dance, painting, drawing, writing, song writing, music arrangers. I’ve been surrounded by creative people all my life and watching them work through it all is… um… fascinating. (grins) For me it is an emotional journey, played out in my body (sleeplessness, jittery-ness) my mind and emotions (sometimes dark thoughts or euphoria). For others it is an intense focus, or depression, or some other emotional reaction. I love the way creation plays out in us, as unique a process as each of us.

  • I often have trouble with the beginnings of actually writing a story, and I think your checklist is a very sound way to approach a beginning.

    Because I don’t tend to write your type of series, I can often skip 3 and 7, but even then, it is still a challenge to fit all the necessary parts into the first few chapters without major infodumping. As a secondary world sf/f writer, I have a lot of material to introduce, and I can rely less on reader familiarity. It’s a balance between immersing the reader in the world and immersing them in the conflict/story. This is true in all fiction, of course, but in most genres, the reader has at least heard of the place you are describing, and will have some form of expectations on what that place is like.

    I’m glad you seem to be managing this task well. I’m not sure I can claim as much for myself.