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.

Summer Break: Refilling the Muse

For various reasons, I don’t spend much time writing during the summer. To be more accurate, I don’t spend any time writing during the summer. That doesn’t mean I’m not being creative or productive, though.

I am refilling my muse.

To me, writing is an indoor sport, something to be done when it’s cold and dark and rainy outside. A winter sport. During the summer, I spend time outdoors, often traveling by motorcycle or sleeping in a tent next to a stream. Scenery is my muse. Visiting small towns and meeting new people is my muse. Zooming along a narrow winding road as it follows the curving contours of a mountain river is my muse.

This summer in particular, I have added Dungeons & Dragons to my creative fuel tank. I have been the Dungeon Master for a group of eight players that meet once a week to seek adventure. I have designed a campaign that will last several months and is intended to play-test a plot idea for my next book. I am allowing the dynamics of an active D&D adventure to provide inspiration. So far it has been productive. I am learning what aspects of my plot will work well in a book, and what parts of the game must remain part of the RPG itself.

Every author has their own voice.

The Taesian Chronicles has been available for several months now and I continue to get feedback from readers. Although all of it has been very positive and encouraging, I have learned there is a reason why there are 31 flavors at the ice cream shop. My take-away from this experience is that my original intention of writing a book I would want to read is the best approach as an author. Every author has their own voice. If I write to please my audience, I will be traveling away from my genuine self and the story will suffer for it.

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.

Writing a book is as simple as C, D, E and F

I have been working as a programmer since I was 16. In my career, I have been paid to write code in 25 languages on 8 different major platforms. Being a programmer isn’t just about writing code, it’s about being organized.

Being a writer has a lot of parallels.

When writing a large application, software developers go through a C D E F process. Each letter represents a different phase of the project: Conception, Design, Execution, and Finalization.

Writing a book isn’t just about putting words down in sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. It’s that, for sure, but that’s just the Execution phase. Do you see where I’m going with this?

When I start a new book, I begin with the Conception phase. I keep a notebook or my iPad handy and I jot down ideas as they come to me. These are often single sentences that describe scenes or characters. I have also written down lines of dialogue. Once I have some big ideas and have decided to run with one, I spend some time brainstorming more detailed ideas along that book’s theme.

After I have conceived my book idea and written down the main ideas of what the book will contain, I organize and flesh out those concepts into a plot event list. This is the Design phase.

A plot event list is what many authors call an outline. I don’t call it that, because it’s not in outline format. Mine is a list of single sentences, each describing an individual scene. I then organize those sentences into the chronological order they will appear in the book. (I don’t group scenes into chapters until I’m actually writing the book.)

Once I have the plot event list finalized, I turn to my favorite writing tool, Scrivener. I create a text card for each scene, and copy-past the scene sentence into that card’s notes field. Once Scrivener is all set up, I begin writing Chapter 1, page 1.

I have now entered the Execution phase. This is where I actually write the book. Because of how I have organized my plot event list into separate scenes within Scrivener, I only have to mentally and creatively worry about one scene at a time, rather than worrying about the entire book. This also helps prevent Blank Page Syndrome. It also allows me to write scenes out of order if I need to.

Once the book is written, we move into the Finalization stage. This is where I hand off my manuscript to my editor for a plot level review. She reads what I’ve written and gives me feedback on what happens in the book. This includes identifying plot holes, inconsistencies, and areas that need to be expanded based on their reader’s curiosity. I then make revisions based on that feedback and turn the revised manuscript back over to the editor for another plot review. I also hand the book over to 2-6 beta readers for their feedback.

Once revisions are made, the editor goes over it again, this time for a line edit. This is where the mechanics of my writing is critiqued and corrected: spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. Nothing changes as far as the plot goes.

The last part of the Finalization phase is publication. I submit the book to my various outlets (e-book publishers, like Amazon.com and iTunes, etc.) and then announce its availability to the world through social media and my blogs, including this one.

When writers cheat

Writers cheat. I’m not talking about blatant or even subtle plagiarism. I’m referring to taking short cuts when it comes to plot devices. How often have you read, “It is written…” or “It has been prophesied that…”? I see this technique as a way to explain away why something happens without really explaining why it happens.

There’s nothing less exciting for the reader than inevitability.

As I begin writing the sequel to my first novel, Ohlen’s Arrow, I have imposed upon myself the requirement that I answer “Why?” for every character motive in my story. My process involves making a plot event list, which is nothing more than a sequential list of events that occur in the story. Each event is a single sentence that translates into a scene in the book. I then organize those scenes into chapters.

When I state, “The monsters attack the castle”, for example, I must answer the question, “Why did the monsters attack the castle?” What is their motivation? Simply declaring, “They’re monsters, that’s what they do!” is nowhere near good enough, and would easily come across to most readers as transparent and cheap. If a character gets promoted to a position of power, how unoriginal would it be if I declare that it was prophesied by the mystic elders of the First Millennium? This makes it sound inevitable, and there’s nothing less exciting for the reader than inevitability.

Answering “Why?” requires that I do some backstory research, which can be described as Iceberg Tips. Even though a great deal of the backstory behind my character’s motives won’t actually appear in my book, there will be hints of it and the discerning reader will glean why Argo the Orc hated Prince Ruprect with every fiber of his ugly hide. Without the iceberg, there can be no tip.