John Irving or Stephen King?

The writing methods of John Irving (The Door in the Floor) and Stephen King (The Shining) couldn’t be more different. Both seem to have strong views about the right way to write. Last year I read King’s, Stephen King on Writing and was blown away when he talked about his writing process, but was even more impacted by how strongly he feels about it.

According to King, organization kills creativity.

John Irving, on the other hand, takes an approach that would make King’s eye twitch in barely contained rage and frustration. Irving’s first action is to write the last line of his book. He then outlines and defines every step that will be taken to lead the reader from page 1 to that culmination.

I developed my own writing style before I knew anything about King and Irving’s methods. In fact, I had never heard of John Irving until I’d already published my second novel. I ran across a YouTube video of a speech he gave where he described his writing process. It almost perfectly mirrors my own.

Later, when I read Stephen King on Writing and I learned how the master does it, I found myself asking, “How is that even possible?” (He starts with a blank page and just writes.) Of course, Stephen King is a writing savant. He could write a 1,000 page novel with one thesaurus tied behind his back.

My process can best be described as organized, linear creativity. I invent my characters and the things that happen to them in a series of brainstorming sessions, then I use an organized, methodical approach to refine those broad ideas into specific details.

When discussing my writing approach with readers and budding authors, I describe it by saying, “I don’t write novels, I write scenes.” This is because I outline my ideas down to the scene level during my planning and organization phase. Then, when it’s time to start cranking out the prose, I only have to write one scene at a time. It is specific, finite, and relatively small. I’m not overwhelmed by the intimidating scale of several hundred blank pages and the pressure of having to come up with a novel’s worth of creativity on the spot.

Most importantly for me, though, is I don’t have the fear that I’ll start down a creative path without knowing it will end well. Because I’ve already determined the plot, sub-plots, character development, protagonist-antagonist conflicts, setting, etc., I can write one scene at a time knowing it will all fit together in the end.

Hiatus, and my return from it

I apologize to my readers and followers for my lack of communication in the last two months. I bought a house and moved, and that has taken up all of my free time since mid-October.

The weather where I live has also been a factor, disrupting schedules and plans and being downright inconvenient.

Now that things are settling down and getting back into a routine, I will be re-engaging in writing activities. I have a fourth book to write, and two existing books to release on paperback. Stay tuned, and thank you for your patience.

Tank filled up, ready to write

Mr. Hemmingway, image provided by Getty Images
Mr. Hemmingway, image provided by Getty Images

After a summer break to refill my muse, and many many hours spent designing and conducting a Dungeons & Dragons campaign to play-test a plot idea, my creative fuel tank is full and I’m ready to get back to writing.

I have begun the conceptual phase of my fourth novel — holy shit, I can’t believe I’m writing a fourth book! — I hope to get my plot event list finished by Thanksgiving at the latest. I’ve confirmed my editor, Alison, will be on-board for the story editing phase, but I will likely need to hire a new copy editor; Alison’s schedule will likely keep her from being available for that phase of the project.

As with my other projects, my target for publication is in Q1 of 2017.

In other news, I am strongly considering releasing each of the first three books in the Taesian Chronicles trilogy as paperbacks. Currently, the only way to get those words in a dead-tree edition is to buy the whole trilogy, The Taesian Chronicles. Stay tuned for updates on this effort.

Subjective reader perspectives

As an author, I serve two masters: myself, and my readers. I want to write a story I would want to read, but I also want to write a story my readers would want to read. Within my group of readers, there’s no way to count the variations of subjective tastes and preferences.

After publishing The Taesian Chronicles, and getting feedback from various readers, I’m struck by the difference in tastes from one reader to the next. One reader will comment about my pace and level of detail during combat scenes, feeling it goes into Matrix mode where there’s actually too much detail. Another reader will commend me for my level of detail, often saying, “I can envision everything perfectly in my head.”

Although I’d love to please 100% of my readers, with 100% of my writing, I know this is not possible. When a plurality of my readers give me feedback that something needs to be improved, I listen and take steps to correct it in future works. When equal parts express joy and displeasure about something that is obviously a matter of subjective opinion and preference, I listen and see if there are any lessons to be learned, but I don’t stress about it too much. You can’t please everyone.

I could make the best chocolate ice cream in the world, but the vanilla lovers will still have a problem with it.

And that’s okay.

Writing and Playing Dungeons & Dragons

As those who have read my books may know from my author profile, I was exposed to the fantasy genre back in 1980 when I played my first game of Dungeons & Dragons. Not to date myself too much, but I was still in grade school. The game was a big part of my life until I was 25 or so, and for various reasons I won’t mention, I gave it up. The next time I played D&D was Christmas of 2013, when I ran a short one-off game for my family as a group activity.

Dungeons & DragonsThat game had a big impact on me. Although I hadn’t intended for it to be so, it inspired me to write my third novel, and even provided some plot events that made it into the book. I didn’t play again until just a few months ago, when I picked up the 5th edition Starter Set and the three core rule books (Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual for those unfamiliar with D&D).

I walked into Goin’ Gaming, a game and comic store in Troutdale, Oregon, bought some miniatures and got to know the owners, Alan and Becky Schmid. (See other posts about the store and the owners and how that factored into my writing career.) They host D&D games every Thursday evening, and the group needed more players. I showed up at the next game session and was warmly welcomed.

Other walk-ins saw our enthusiasm and the group has grown to seven players, all of whom I now consider to be my friends. We play at least once a week. After our current campaign wraps up at the end of June, I’ll take over as Dungeon Master, and that gets me to the point of this post.

Once I read through the 5th edition rule books, I began to get ideas for the plot of my fourth novel. My vision is to write three trilogies in the Taesia world, of which The Taesian Chronicles is the first trilogy. The fourth novel will be book one of the second trilogy. (Forgive the seemingly strange logic for the way I’m structuring the series; there’s a method to my madness.) I brainstormed the plot and am very happy with it. But, that plot would also make an outstanding D&D campaign.

With the group’s permission, I will switch from being a player to being the DM. Our current DM, Joseph, will become a player, and the group will run through my new campaign. In a sense, we will be play-testing my plot idea. I don’t anticipate the game campaign directly translating into a novel. That was done with Against the Giants, and what was one of the best modules ever written failed horribly as a novel. However, as what happened with my one-off adventure played by my family over a Christmas holiday, I think there is some wonderful inspiration to be generated by the game that can feed into the novel.

It is my intention to run the D&D campaign first, at least for several weeks, before I begin work on my fourth book. The creative energy required to write a campaign and the amount of time it takes to flesh it out severely limits my available bandwidth for novel-writing. I can do one or the other, but not both. I don’t usually write much during the summer months anyway, so work on the book probably won’t begin until autumn. At that point I will have a pretty good idea if my plot idea holds water, and I will hopefully also have some great source material from the game itself. Players often come up with dialog or creative solutions to challenging problems that make excellent material for books.

We’ll see how this goes. Stay tuned.