Once I have written the story, the work begins. Editing. I edit for StoryShopUSA and also take on freelance editing clients, so editing is a huge part of what I do, and I enjoy it immensely. Editing my own work is not as easy as editing other people’s; however, I try to be as ruthless with my own manuscripts as I am with anyone else’s, in spite of my emotional attachment to my stories.
The first part of editing is writing the second and third drafts. At this stage, I’m looking for story continuity and character development, adding and deleting scenes, and fixing the big things. This is often the point at which I choose a title for the work, as well.
I don’t often start a work knowing the title; it suggests itself as the story progresses. Rose got its title long after the first draft was complete. War had its title from the beginning. Fire stared me in the face for several editing passes before I clued in that the title should be the gimmick of the series—duh! Promise wasn’t assured until I published. The Curse of Caledon was titled from the beginning. Guardians of Caledon (Book Six) had a title from the second chapter.
Once I’m satisfied with the story itself, it’s time to focus on the finer details. Now I will watch for passive language and eliminate as much of it as possible. I look for overuse of character names within dialogue, and for how my speech tags are working. I like to read the story aloud to make sure that the words flow cohesively and realistically, and aren’t awkward as they roll off the tongue.
I continue to look for plot holes and inconsistencies within the story and fix them, even tiny ones. For example, at one point in Myrhiadh’s War, I described how sound was spilling out the open door of the Brass Rebel Pub. I explained how Myrhiadh peered through the window and heard Sam’s challenge to darts. Then she turned around and opened the door to go inside. A few paragraphs had passed since I had mentioned that the door was open, but this was a critical fix. The setting being flawless is just as important as the mechanics of the English or the character development.
Character development is critical. I don’t want a character to do something so unpredictable that it makes zero sense to the reader. The main characters must start in one place and finish in another, and follow a believable path to get there. Ciara starts her story as an uncertain character who doesn’t like making decisions. She is forced to take over the rule of Caledon when Kerrion falls ill, but only comes into her own when she defends her sister from the Mystics. Here we see a Ciara we have never seen before, but we believe her reaction because of her tremendous love for Mya, which drives her to confront the Archmystic. From this moment, she grows into herself until she becomes competent at ruling and everything that goes with it, including circumventing the law.
Once the book has endured a couple of editing passes, it’s time to send it to my Beta Readers. I have four Betas who tackle the story at various stages of writing and editing. One gets the book as soon as the first draft is done, and gets every draft after that. She is my primary “research” checker. She catches historical inaccuracies that jar her, or words that seem out of place, or characters that don’t ring true. My second Beta gets the story at about the third draft. She is my copy editor: she catches mechanical errors and makes suggestions for story improvements. My third Beta is my husband. He is my logical, never-gets-lost-in-the-story-just-points-out-all-the-mistakes reader. He notices if a character is flaky or unbelievable, and he picks up on discrepancies in the setting and storyline. All three of those Betas might be asked to read the story more than once. My final Beta gets the book just before it’s ready to go to print. She reads it and lets me know how she likes it. She comments on twists that surprised her, things she liked about the book, things she didn’t like, and gives me the confidence boost I need to launch the book out into the world.
But just because the book has been to my final Beta reader doesn’t mean I’m done editing. At this point, I feed the book through Grammarly, the app I use to help me catch mistakes, one last time. (Usually, by this time, the manuscript has been through Grammarly at least once already, sometimes more.) I triple-check historical accuracy. At this point in the editing game, a pitcher of lemonade exited The Rose of Caledon (lemons and sugar were too expensive for peasants to drink,) and I extracted a grandfather clock from Myrhiadh’s War (they weren’t invented until about 1680.) Rarely do major changes happen at this stage, but Myrhiadh’s mother, Molly, did not become almost-blind until two days before the book went to press; an unusually significant last-minute change.
The most frustrating thing about editing is that it’s really never done. I could do pass after pass on each book and still find things to tweak and improve. At some point, I have to decide that the story is finished and release it, hopefully with very few mistakes that will bug me when I read it after publication, and even fewer that will bother readers!
With a plot in place, writing can begin. I love writing. It’s my favorite part of writing. I immerse myself in my story while I am developing it. It fills my head waking and sleeping, and can sometimes cause downright embarrassing lapses in memory and attention in public places.
One of my favorite places for developing scenes, storylines, and characters is out in the pasture, mucking up after my horse. Mucking is mindless work. You can wander anywhere in your head and not risk screwing up your task, and no one’s around to overhear you talking to yourself.
I live for the point in the day when I can justify putting aside my housework and other responsibilities and write. My family and I call it “going to Caledon,” and they know that once I’m there, it’s tough to draw me back to the real world again.
I can “see” my characters as I develop the story. They hang out with me wherever I am. They can get downright pushy about wanting me to work on a chapter, even when I have other stuff to do. Sometimes I have to give in and start writing when I really should be doing something else. I ride a roller coaster of thrills and emotions with each of my books and put myself into the shoes of each character as I write their point of view.
I try to limit the points of view that I use in each story. Hearing too many characters’ thoughts becomes a confusing cacophony. I like to use no more than three points of view at most, though I was forced to violate that for The Brigand’s Promise, where I required four to tell the story properly. The Rose of Caledon has only one viewpoint; that of Kate. Myrhiadh’s War and Dragon’s Fire both have two. Less is more when it comes to getting into the characters’ heads.
When I write historical fiction, I do a lot of research before I begin writing, but for historical fantasy, I can research as I go. The internet is an excellent source of information. I also have an extensive library of books, so I rarely have to leave the house to find what I need. Sometimes my research takes five minutes. Sometimes it can take a few hours.
The details make the story. For example, in Myrhiadh’s War, Andrew hands Myrhiadh his handkerchief. She uses it. Then she and I both froze. Now what does she do with this soiled piece of linen? Twenty minutes of Google searches later, I had learned that she would not have given it back, nor would he have asked for it, even if the handkerchief happened to be his favorite, silk, monogrammed one. So she stuffs it into her pocket—a total of thirteen words in the book. But very important to the story.
The dates and moon phases in the Dragon’s Fire Series are all correct. Historical clothing is mainly accurate, though I have taken some liberties to design certain outfits in some cases. My heroines do more independent horseback riding in the first three books than would have been common in their eras. The time required to travel between points on horseback, by train, and by ship at varying speeds is accurate. I have been careful to keep track of how far apart cities are throughout the series for consistency. I keep a “dictionary” of Caledonian, so if you follow the stories closely, you will be able to tell what the characters are saying without the benefit of an English translation in the text, or at least you will be able to pick up on words and phrases that I use frequently.
Some writers talk about this weird thing called “Writer’s Block.” I can honestly say that I have never experienced this; or at least, if I have, I have never let it get the best of me. Some parts of a book can be harder to compose than others, but my attitude is, “Write something. Write anything. Come back and change it later,” and I have never been “stuck” in a book.
On the rare occasion that I haven’t a clue what to write in a scene, I will put down a few notes about what I am hoping to achieve. And then I move on to the next part of the book and keep going. Eventually, often with a manure fork in my hand, the missing pieces will come to me.
The Brigand’s Promise had a giant, gaping plot hole that haunted me for months after I finished the first draft. I let it sit while I worked on Book Five and started polishing the first three. When I was completing the editing process on Myrhiadh’s War, the idea for how to fix Brigand came to me, while mucking, of course, and I was able to fill in the hole.
The Rose of Caledon was the first book I wrote in this series. I had the whole story planned out in my head long before I started typing it on the computer. And when I sat down to type, I had no idea how to begin. I knew I could stew over it and never write anything, or I could write something stupid to get me going and start developing this great story that was spinning in my head and needing to come out. I succumbed to beginning the book with “Once upon a time.” You can read the original opening of Rose in my archived blog post from November 2017. It was horrible. But it got me going. And over time and rewriting and editing, the beginning morphed into something that was nothing like what I had first written!
So when people ask me how I handle writer’s block, I say, “Write something, write anything, fix it later.” But I don’t believe that I have ever experienced writer’s block. And I’m grateful for that.
There is little more satisfying than words that flow through my mind as quickly as I can type them onto the screen, and those, “Yes! That’s perfect!” moments when something in the story clicks into focus and comes alive. Writing new scenes that took shape in my head throughout the day is a thrill. I’m working my dream job. I’ve never had more fun writing anything than I’m having writing the Dragon’s Fire Series. And I won’t be stopping anytime soon.
As I start developing a story, I begin with the main character, a supporting lead, and a villain. After that, I populate the story with more characters based on the needs of the primary ones and the storyline.
The characters need to be likable and relatable. No one will believe a character who is flawless, who never, ever screws up, and who always responds to others with humility and kindness—and frankly, I find perfect characters annoying. Each character must have motivations to drive their actions, as well as likes and dislikes and unique ways of approaching a problem.
Each character becomes a living individual who resides in my head during the development of their story. They hold conversations with each other and with me, enact scenes, distract me from daily activities and from interactions I am having with others, and occasionally cause me to tune out what’s going on around me completely. Usually, I can mask that this is occurring; other times, I’m not so lucky and have to admit with some embarrassment that my mind has wandered, while mentally telling my characters to shut up. They seldom listen. They drag me to Caledon at all hours of the day and night and hold me hostage there. However, Caledon is one of my favorite places, so I don’t mind. I am guilty of talking to myself, though I try not to do it in public; I even hold conversations with myself, though if you were to get the opportunity to listen in, you would hear that two or more characters are interacting. Those conversations often make their way onto the computer and into the books. The more thought and internal chatter I engage in as I’m writing, the stronger the story turns out.
Most of my major characters in the Dragon’s Fire Series (with the notable exceptions of Kate and Mya) are introverts, and therefore very much like me. Up until this series, I never felt comfortable making my main character an introvert; perhaps they are a sign that I am finally content with who I am!
Myrhiadh is my favorite character; in almost 40 years of writing stories, I have never created a character I like better than her. Her name means “multi-faceted, having many aspects,” and I enjoyed working through her conflicts as we explored the concept of war together. She played a role in an external war, but at the same time, fought an internal battle with her past, her beliefs, and her inner voices. Myrhiadh haunted me from the moment I conceived her, and she still lives in my head. Even though her story is told and out for the world to read, she’s the one who lingers with me, and she will show up again in future books.
During the plotting stage, I often make up a cast list of the characters I know I will need, including their names, physical appearance, personality quirks, and role within the story. Other characters pop up as I need them, sometimes not until the second, third, or fourth draft. I had written seventeen chapters of The Rose of Caledon before I gave Kate a brother. Once I realized that she needed him, I went back and inserted James where necessary, because he couldn’t just show up without warning in chapter seventeen. A similar situation occurred with The Brigand’s Promise: the first draft of the book was completed a year before I added the character of Brendan—which made a fairly significant plot change in the story! These late-comers get stuck on like band-aids at first; a very noticeable insertion where they were not originally intended to belong. But through the editing process: writing, polishing, rewriting, and polishing again, they graft into the story and by the time the book reaches your hands, they look as though they’ve been there from the beginning.
Myrhiadh’s family is a major driving force for her actions throughout War, and she needed relatives for whom the reader would believe that she felt a tremendous sense of love and responsibility. The closeness and camaraderie between Myrhiadh and her mother and sister had to be evidenced entirely within the first chapter and a half but carry through the rest of the book—no easy feat. Myrhiadh’s mother had no visual impairment until a few days before the book went to press. I added that detail last minute when it occurred to me that some readers might view her as lazy since she was pushing her daughter to get a job to provide for the family instead of doing so herself. While in my view she was busy working at home—housework was extremely time-consuming back then—readers might not be so forgiving, and I needed them to like Molly. So her visual challenge was born, and her dependence upon Myrhiadh increased exponentially as a result, which in turn strengthened Myrhiadh’s need and desire to protect and care for her. A win-win situation for me and the plot!
The Brigand’s Promise presented a unique character challenge. I needed to tell this story from the villain’s point of view. When the villain becomes the main character, he/she has to be likable. How do you make villains likable and still maintain their place as the bad guys? Well, for starters, they have to have a problem and a goal, just like any other Main Character. They have to have some good points. They cannot be altogether repugnant. The reader must understand their motivation for doing what they do and care about them in spite of them—so their wickedness must have limits. Brigand presents a conflict of interest for the reader. We want the good guys to win, but at the same time, we don’t want to see the villains end up on the gallows or worse.
Sometimes I’ll change a character’s name after I create them. Usually, this happens to only minor characters, but Gwyneth from Brigand was originally Aria, a name I decided was too similar to Ava, and might be confusing for some readers. She is the most major character who’s ever had a name change, and I did it about a year after I had written the book. It took a while to get used to the change, and I referred to her in speech interchangeably as Gwyneth and Aria for several weeks, even though the edit in the manuscript was completed in seconds, and Aria was gone. King Rian was at first King Peter. Brendan was written in as Brian and changed when that name wasn’t working for me; partly because every time I typed it, I accidentally typed “Brain.”
One question readers frequently ask is whether or not I model my characters after real-life people. The answer to that is yes and no. If I notice an interesting quirk or behavioral pattern in someone I know, yes, that trait can be transferred to a character. If I see a quality that I particularly admire in someone else, that quality may mirror in a character. And yes, it’s true that if you tick a writer off, you may become a character who gets killed off in some way in a book, under a different name, of course—generally, the angrier you have made the writer, the nastier the circumstances of your death will be. Am I guilty of this? Yes, definitely. Is every character I kill secretly someone who has annoyed me? No.
My heroes take many of their character traits from my real-life husband, who happens to be an awesome guy. My personality is interwoven through almost every heroine to some extent, although the character I most identify with is Myrhiadh, and after her would be Teifi, who you haven’t met yet, but you will! (Her story is coming in Book Six.)
I do make an effort, however, to make sure that no character will be so like someone I know in both appearance and personality that the parallels are unmistakable. No character is 100% modeled after anyone I know. Nor am I going to admit who inspired any characters or who I killed off, so please ask something else!
Another question I was asked recently was, “There’s so much time between the stories! How do you detach from your characters and move on to the next book?” Short answer: I don’t. Every last one of them is still very much alive in my head, and some of them will appear in future books as the series progresses. (After Book Five I’m going back in time because there are still so many untold stories!)
Who is your favorite character so far from the Dragon’s Fire Series? Please share: I would love to hear your thoughts!
The next step in my writing process is to take the idea, however large or small it might be, and turn it into a cohesive story that will follow an intriguing path from beginning to end.
First, the story needs a problem. The main character (MC) must face a conflict of some sort. This conflict can be internal or external; caused by nature, an antagonist, or the character himself.
Stories without a problem are boring. I’m sure you’ve read some; I know I have. You turn page after page as the MC meanders through a pointless narrative, and you’re wondering, When is this story going to start? When is something exciting going to happen to this character? Sometimes you might persist to the end of the book and then feel like you’ve wasted a portion of your life. Other times, you toss the book aside and quickly forget it, and you never recommend it to anyone.
So a problem must be created, and the MC must be the one to solve that problem. It’s dissatisfying to see a secondary character bail the MC out or to have some circumstantial twist occur to make everything all right. (That’s not to say that the MC can never have assistance from others—just that the story should not be taken out of the MC’s hands entirely.) How the MC gets from problem to solution is the main plot of the story, and everything that happens to her along the way to help or hinder her becomes the sub-plots, twists, and excitement. But always that problem has to be before the reader, making them care about the MC and turn the page to see what happens next.
I always want to introduce the problem fairly quickly. I don’t want my MC to wander aimlessly for pages and pages before giving them a goal. Hence, Ciara becomes the guardian of the mysterious Dragon’s Fire within the first few pages of the book. Kate discovers her father’s selfish plans for her and decides not to comply in the first chapter. Myrhiadh is given her task for Zandor before 20 pages have turned. The problems in Books Four, Five, and Six come up within the first few pages of the stories. My reader never has to delve too far into a book before finding something to keep them intrigued. Once that problem has been presented, the story builds upon it, becoming something that, hopefully, the reader can’t put down.
Right at the beginning of the plot, even before the introduction of the problem, is the hook—the initial “grab” of the reader to get their attention and to keep them with me while I introduce the problem. Sometimes, the hook is the problem, but it doesn’t have to be—sometimes it’s part of a subplot or an exciting excerpt from a character’s life that will play into the main plot only slightly. It must belong within the story, however—not just be a gratuitous “thrill” that is never mentioned again.
I aim to hook my reader with my first five words. Sometimes I succeed, as with Book Four’s dramatic opening: “She’s on fire!” (Book Four has two hooks. My Sneak Peek on the website gives you the second one.) Other times it can take a little more than those five words, though they always remain my goal. By the end of the first paragraph, I must have written something to grab my reader’s interest. Book One has a woman teetering precariously on a window ledge, 200 feet above the jagged rocks at the base of the cliffs. Book Two has a five-year-old princess on that same ledge, watching a naval battle taking place below her while cannon pounds the cliff. Book Three has a character imprisoned, screaming at a silent dungeon; she knows why she’s there, but the reader doesn’t. Book Four starts with a person on fire—literally. Book Five begins with a sense of Deja Vu, as we see a scene unfold that we recognize from Book One, but this is Book Five; wait, what???
Once the hook has been cast and the problem presented, the plot must move through its rising action, sub-plots and plot-twists to the climax and conclusion. And a whole lot can happen along the way. I like to have a basic plot drawn up before I start a book so that I have a general idea of where the story is going to go. However, that plot usually undergoes so many changes by the time the story is finished, sometimes the initial outline is barely recognizable in the book’s final form. (See the original plot of Dragon’s Fire below.) I like to say that my characters take over. I’ll be writing, and suddenly, something will happen that was not in the plot, but I’ll go with it, and before you know it, something entirely different is going on, but it works, and it’s fun and exciting, and so I just carry on from there. At that point, I adjust the remaining plot to make it work with what is now happening in the story.
Plots are alive for me. They grow and change, and seldom end up following the original path I set for them. Sometimes, I’ll get tired of developing a plot halfway through, so I’ll abandon it and start the story, not knowing how it’s going to end. The plot grows with the action, and the characters and I figure out where we’re going as we go. Sometimes, the best courses are plotted on the fly.
SPOILER ALERT!!! The following is an early plot outline for Dragon’s Fire, edited for length and readability. This outline is not the plot of the finished book, but it will still wreck parts of the story for you. If you haven’t read the book yet, STOP reading the blog here, get the book, and when you’ve finished it, come back to see how the original plot outline changed.
Bare bones. As it’s outlined here, this would never have made a story. It’s clunky, chunky, and downright awkward in places. But it was a starting point, and you can see the shadow of the final story within it. This was the guideline that got chopped, cut, embellished, rearranged, and set me on track to developing Dragon’s Fire into the book that is getting great reviews today.
It’s fun to look back at what I designed initially and see how it changed and improved. I had forgotten that Adrian started with a different name and that originally, Mya was engaged to Sean Bramston, and not sneaking around behind Kerrion’s back. As the story developed, and I saw what worked and what didn’t, I adjusted details to make things more exciting or to make them flow better. Notice, too, that Ciara doesn’t take a central role in this original plot. Here was the main character who was letting history write itself for her all the way through the story as she bent and bowed to circumstances, and she would have ended just as much a mouse as she was at the beginning. I made changes to bring Ciara to the forefront, developing her as a character and making her solve her problems.
Next time - Characters! (The imaginary people who take over my life, hold conversations in my head, and distract me at the most inopportune times and places.)
Every story starts with an idea. An idea can spark from my thoughts, a piece of music, a book, a movie, artwork, an event, an internet snippet, a historical event, a person I meet—anything and everything can be turned into a story or part of one. The original idea for The Rose of Caledon was a little romance I made up in my head one night when I couldn’t sleep. The story kept growing night after night, becoming longer and more complex, until it finally had to come out on paper. The spark for the romance came, oddly enough, from The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. (Long, winding story how I got from there to here. Anyway…)
A spark for another book was a picture of a dragon mask a friend of mine had posted on Facebook. That mask immediately captured my imagination, and within two hours of seeing that image, an entire story was born. It needs characters and details, but the basic outline is there, all from one photograph.
Music frequently inspires ideas, and I often enjoy listening to music as I write. A piece that influenced The Rose of Caledon was this one by Celtic Woman, titled “Tír Na NÓg” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhW1mh7U6-U. “Tír Na NÓg” is inspired by an ancient Irish myth, and it sparked my idea for the ancient Caledonian love song “Tighin, Fy Caru.” In turn, “Tighin, Fy Caru” sparked an idea for a further book, so you’ll get to learn the story behind the song, and meet the composer, in Book Six.
The idea for Myrhiadh’s War sparked as Rose progressed, and the character of Myrhiadh Eathain was inspired by a piece of music entitled “The Way,” by Florian Bur. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQLVlJWf02M. That music became Myrhiadh’s theme as I worked through the story. When I listened to that, I could interact with Myrhiadh as though she were right there in the room with me. And at 0:58, you can hear her life-changing arrow fly!
Another piece I listened to while composing Myrhiadh’s War was this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fyDHNssXnY, “Assassins” also by Florian Bur. I can see the showdown in chapter sixteen while listening to this music, and hear the voices in Myrhiadh’s head. While writing and researching that chapter, as well as some of the battle scenes from Dragon’s Fire, I enjoyed this extended Celtic mix too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWObTfiovD8.
The idea for Dragon’s Fire came randomly at three in the morning as I was typing out a conversation between James and Myrhiadh in War. If you’ve read Book Three, you’ll know the conversation I mean; they discussed Dragon’s Fire on the way to the Black Cliffs in chapter six—or at least, they debated the legends they had heard about the past. I finished their dialogue, looked at it, and realized that here was the mysterious “What Came Before?” that I had been looking for since I was halfway through Rose. The spark got tweaked and changed as I developed it, but I left the piece in War as it was, because history can get twisted over the course of nearly 400 years.
And that idea—that history gets twisted—gave me an idea for a book of Caledonian legends and faerie tales… all the stuff you’ve seen in the books and then some, but twisted and fantastic and extra-magical! The haunted castle and the ghost of the bloody bed will play into this book for sure, and I think it will be fun to read stories that will make you say, “I remember that!” and, “That’s not how it happened at all!”
Incidentally, some of Caledon’s landscape and the dance scene from Mya’s birthday party in Dragon’s Fire were inspired in part by another piece of Florian Bur’s music, titled “The Irish Melody” which I view as “Ciara’s Theme.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KX84fAw_nDk. At the beginning of the piece, I see the sweep of the land at Ampleforth, from the castle on the cliff, across green fields and the harbor, to the Sacred Cliffs on the north shore. I see an Aderyntan take to the sky with a mighty flapping of wings and I see Cythraul turn his regal head to look at me with fire blazing in his eyes. The dance scene starts at 1:27… can’t you just see Eric defying Adrian and leading a reluctant Ciara to the dance floor, where the music and fun sweep her away? I see the swirling skirts. I see the intricate Caledonian footwork. I see Ciara laughing up into Eric’s face as I listen to this song. It’s Caledon.
(I love Florian Bur’s music, in case you can’t tell. For more of his beautiful work, check out his website at https://www.florianbur.co/. Great music inspires great stories!)
Book Four, The Brigand’s Promise, was more forced than most of my stories usually are. The spark was the prophecy in Dragon’s Fire: I knew what year the book needed to be set in, and the central plot concept, but beyond that, I had no clue what to do with it. That spark needed a lot of conscientious fanning, using typical writing aids like plot arcs and timelines and character sketches and boring stuff like that, but once the ideas began to mesh in my head, the book started coming to life like the others. (I’m still in the enhancing process, but it will be ready for release soon!)
Book Five was born out of all that went before: the ultimate culmination of the Dragon’s Fire mystery. What had happened to the Dragon’s Fire all those years ago after it was stolen from Caledon? Where was it now? Who was going to find it, and what was going to happen to Caledon if they failed to return it? I had about 35 pages of random notes and scenes for Book Five written long before I was ready to start the book. It lived in my head as I worked on the others: the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, only I was extremely happy in the tunnel, so while I kept the destination in mind, I never minimized the journey.
By the time I had finished the first draft of Book Five, I knew I hadn’t had enough of Caledon yet. I wanted to play with my dragons some more, and so many new ideas had ignited in my head as I wrote the first books: stories that I couldn’t pursue within the context of the existing plots. Things that would be spoilers for the first books if they were written in sequence. So Books Six, Seven, Eight, and so on are currently written in my head and will make their way onto the computer once I get the first five books published. I found many new stories within the pages of the first five books. Joseph Callahan. Adrian’s great-grandson, Laurence. The first king of Caledon, and the building/carving of Caledon castle. Sara, the surprisingly spunky Zandorian girl from Myrhiadh’s War. They all have their own stories, aching to be told! I’m having far too much fun in Caledon to stop writing about it, so I’m going to keep creating these books for as long as I’m enjoying the process.
Next time—the plot!
Who are some of your favorite characters from the first three books? Anyone you want to know more about? Did the books hint at an untold story that you want to hear? You never know, your comment just might be a brand new spark!
For my next blog or several, I’m going to go into some details about my writing process: how does the story go from an idea in my head to a published book in your hands?
I call it “my writing process” because every author works differently to put a story together, and of course, the process will vary depending on what sort of book they are writing. For my historical fiction works, I do a WHOLE LOT more research than I have done for my historical fantasy Dragon’s Fire Series, for example, but my fantasy books are a lot more fun to write! In fact, I’ve never had more fun writing than I’m having right now while producing this series of books. So in my next few blogs, I’m going to focus on my process of creating the historical fantasies you are currently enjoying reading, starting with the genre and the “why” of it all.
What’s historical fantasy? Good question. I only found that out myself after I had finished these books.
What genre my stories were was bugging me as I wrote them. I don’t write to fit into a box anymore; I write what I write for me, and I don’t really care if my work matches someone else’s concept of what fiction should be. However, for marketing purposes, for competitions, for agent submissions, for reader convenience, the books needed to fit into a genre.
The Dragon’s Fire Series spans a whole gamut of genres. We might include them in fantasy, historical fiction, romance, adventure, myths and legends; any and all of these categories fit the books to some degree. However, they were too fantasy to be historical fiction, with their made-up setting and elements of magic, and too historical to be hard-core, sword and sorcery fantasy. While they all have a thread of romance running through them, the main problem in the book is not who the heroine is going to marry, or how many studly heroes she beds on her way to the altar, so they don’t qualify as make-you-swoon-in-your-seat Harlequin-style heart-throbbers, either. They’re adventures, but not Indiana Jones. They’re myths, but they’re realistic as well. In fact, all the elements of “fantasy” within the Dragon’s Fire Series are rooted in science and then exaggerated.
See my dilemma?
For a while, I was stumped. And then I found the definition of historical fantasy: a category of fantasy blended with historical fiction that includes fantastic elements such as magic into the narrative. Historical fantasy comprises Arthurian, Celtic, and Dark Ages tales, often with plots loosely based on mythology and legends.
Found it! This sounded like the Dragon’s Fire Series, so I promptly dumped the books into that category, and pride myself on the fact that, while the stories fit there, they are entirely unique, and like nothing else you’ve ever read.
So now I had a genre, I could continue writing in the comfortable knowledge that I had found a suitable box for my work. If it didn’t fit perfectly, at least it had a label that would suffice for the aforementioned agents, judges, and readers.
So now we know where the stories fit, why on earth am I doing this? Spending hours daily in front of a computer screen, spinning tales and then editing and rewriting and polishing and formatting, and all the other stuff I’m going to get into in later blogs?
Because I love it.
I have loved writing since I was six years old. No one ever had to force me to do it. I was one of the few kids who didn’t groan when the teacher announced a creative writing assignment, and I was sought after like a celebrity for group writing assignments, even if the other kids didn’t include me in much else. I produced my first hand-written novel, over 150 pages long, at the age of eleven—all for my own pleasure, and nothing to do with school.
I don’t write for money, although I will never turn down a royalty cheque. I believe that a writer deserves to be paid for their creativity and effort, and the pleasure that they give to others. Unfortunately, writing is unlikely to produce a fair hourly wage for any but a very select few. The Dragon’s Fire Series is not making me rich. At least, not yet. But that doesn’t matter because I want to share my stories with people; the money is a bonus. Books by an unknown author do not fly off the shelves with thrilling regularity. It takes time and a lot of hard work to earn readers. (Tell your friends about my books!)
Whether I ever make money at this or not, I’m still going to write. It’s my entertainment, my release, my passion, my therapy. Writing is my prize at the end of the day; I get my work done so that I can sit with the computer for an hour or two and write stories. Can’t stop. Won’t stop. Love it.
Next time: the spark!
In my spare time, I like to peruse writing articles and blogs. We all need to keep learning, and we can always find time to improve ourselves somehow. So I hope that every one of my books will be better than the one that came before it.
Some writing advice that I have come across a lot recently involves speech tags. You know, those little he said/she said things that appear in the text to tell readers which character is speaking. The goal, of course, is to have the dialogue flow smoothly, with the reader able to effortlessly follow the conversation, hearing and seeing the speakers without really noticing the speech tags, and without having to count quotes backward to determine who is saying what.
The current, fashionable advice is to avoid adverbs, particularly in speech tags. Some bloggers/editors seem to prefer eliminating the use of adverbs entirely, in favor of strong verbs. Instead of saying, “Eric ran quickly,” we should say, “Eric sprinted.” Now we achieve economy of words, eliminate the adverb, and a more vivid mental image is produced with the use of the strong verb. I agree that the second example is better. However, I disagree that adverbs should be done away with entirely. As long as they are not overused, and as long as they do not become crutches for weak writing, I do believe that they have their place.
We can even use adverbs in speech tags, so long as we don’t overdo it. JK Rowling herself does so, and if she can do it, so can I. To say that a character spoke grumpily, happily, loudly, angrily, sadly, is okay every now and then, and I’m going to keep doing it, regardless of what the Writing Gods claim is fashionable at this time.
Another problem that has bugged me for years, though many editors say that it is good, is what I call “said-itis.” This is where a writer only uses “said” in speech tags. Never “yelled,” “whispered,” “moaned,” or any other colorful, and may I say—strong!—verbs to describe speech. As a reader, I find incessant “saids” far more infuriating than too many adverbs thrown in to describe how someone said something. I don’t understand how people can claim that replacing “said” with a stronger verb is distracting to the reader when we are supposed to use strong verbs everywhere else in our writing.
For the record, “said” lends itself to the addition of adverbs in speech tags:
“He is not well,” Ciara said.
How did Ciara say it?
“He is not well,” Ciara said sadly.
“He is not well,” Ciara said haughtily.
“He is not well,” Ciara said firmly.
Each of those adverbs changes how the reader perceives Ciara’s remark. We could also use Ciara sobbed, Ciara sniffed, or Ciara insisted, producing the same meaning as the previous adverbs by using a stronger verb than “said.”
So I’m going to keep doing my dialogue the way I do. I’ll put adverbs in speech tags where I want to, being careful not to overdo it, and use strong verbs in the place of “said.” I also regularly use action to show who is speaking. More important to me than some writing pundit’s fashionable opinion is the opinion of my readers, and from the feedback I’ve been getting, I’m doing alright.
How do you prefer speech tags in novels? Are you a fan of "said" or stronger verbs? How about adverbs generally? What bugs you? Let me know! I'd love to hear your thoughts!
And while you're here, don't forget to enter the Book Three Launch Contest: Guess the Main Character's Name. The contest closes February 14th, and a sneak peek of Book Three is coming soon!
Everyone has favorite stuff. My favorite color is blue. My favorite place to write is the hammock on my front verandah. My favorite animals are horses, dogs, and cats. My favorite people are my husband and kids.
I enjoy reading lots of different kinds of books, but can’t say that I have a particular favorite. However, Book Three in the Dragon’s Fire Series is my Favorite Book I Have Ever Written.
I can’t tell you the title or the main character’s name yet, because I have some upcoming fun planned for that, and I can’t spoil it, so for convenience, we’re going to nickname Book Three “BT” throughout this blog post.
The heroine of BT is my Favorite Character I Have Ever Created. She possesses some very unique talents and outlooks on life. She’s a fascinating hybrid of hero and villain, and she leaped to life in a way that no other main character has in the 37 years I’ve been writing stories.
Do you like meeting familiar characters from previous books in a new book? You will in BT since it begins one week after the cliffhanger at the end of Rose. You’ll be seeing many familiar faces: King Edward, Kate and Andrew, and Joseph Callahan (from the first scene of Rose) all make an appearance in BT.
One person you’ll be seeing a lot of is James Grenleigh, Kate’s older brother. He did not exist for most of the initial draft of Rose; I had written seventeen chapters before I went back and wrote him in because Kate needed him. Prince James was a minor secondary character and I had no plans to use him further—or even to write a second book, at first! But then he tapped me on the shoulder and turned into one of the most amazing leading men I have ever worked with. (And Rose got some adjustments, as James became a more important character with a backstory and a future all his own.) James needed a fantastic counterpart—someone just as intense and intriguing as he was. And so my Favorite Heroine Ever was born. And together, they came up with the plot of Dragon’s Fire, bumping their own story to third as they did so.
I am loving editing BT. (It helps that it’s my favorite book of all time!) Usually, when I plan out a story, I do a fair bit of plotting and mapping and thinking. I develop a list of major characters. The storyline takes shape in bullet form before I write the first paragraph. Of course, my initial plan often changes as the story develops and takes on a life of its own, but that plot outline is always there in front of me, guiding me.
Not BT. BT sprang to life in my head as I was wrapping up Rose and took over my every waking thought and most of my sleeping ones. BT almost didn’t let me finish Rose. BT didn’t get a plotline or a character list—there wasn’t time! BT flowed onto the computer screen from fingertips that couldn’t keep up with the story spinning through my head. BT wrote itself. I started BT on October 12th, 2016 and finished the initial draft (some 70,000+ words) 32 days later, on November 13th. That’s quick. Even for me.
Going in now and editing, there are definitely things that can be improved. I’m developing the characters further, intensifying them and their interactions with each other. I’m tightening the story. I’m making a few changes to ensure it fits its place as Book Three, since it was Book Two when I initially wrote it. And I can’t wait to share it with you.
Since it’s my favorite, it’s only fitting that we’re going to have a lot of fun with its release. Stay tuned to my page, and sign up for emails (on the homepage here on the website!) because there’s going to be a contest where you will have a chance to win one of three ebook copies of BT when it’s released, and you don’t want to miss out on the excitement! I’ve got a spectacular cover to share, and the Sneak Peek will be posted on the website once the contest is over and I can reveal this wonderful new heroine’s name!
Hang on for the ride: if you loved Dragon’s Fire and The Rose of Caledon, you’re going to be swept away with BT!
Dragon’s Fire has been available on Amazon for just over a month now, and it’s getting great reviews from readers. It means a great deal to me to be able to share these stories, and I am delighted by the number of people who have expressed that they are looking forward to more! A reader can pay me no higher a compliment.
There is lots more to come, I promise! I am working hard on polishing Book Two, and a Sneak Peek will be available here very soon. Book Three is also in need of only a bit more polishing before it will be ready to share. Books Four and Five need work, but the stories are complete. Book Six is currently under construction; I’m writing chapter four, and having SO MUCH FUN with it!
The first five books are so interconnected that I could not publish the first one until I had finished them all. A change in one book could necessitate a change in one or more of the others, but all those kinks are worked out now (I hope!), and I can add Book Six and so on without affecting those first five.
But back to editing, which is how I’m spending most of my time right now. Editing is not my favorite thing to do. I’d rather write. However, editing is critically important, and I don’t want to churn out something of inferior quality so that I can put more books on my Amazon shelf. But I can tell you a bit about Book Two without giving out spoilers.
Book Two is kind of a unique book. It is The One That Started It All: the first one that I wrote in this series. I composed it before there was a Dragon’s Fire. Before there were dragons. Before I even knew what all the wars in Caledon were about. On July 31, 2016, I started writing a story that had been buzzing in my head for several months. The heroine had been dogging my steps and haunting my dreams for a while, and I knew her well. The story was aching to come out, but I really had no idea how to begin.
Faced with a dilemma like that, a writer has two choices: she can sit and ponder and play with words and try to find some intriguing way to start her story and never actually begin, or she can just write something—anything—to start getting ideas down on paper. The latter is my preference.
So, knowing that I had no clue how to start, I started like this: Once upon a time, in a faraway land of emerald green, were two kingdoms, ruled by two kings, and they had been at war for a very long time. Such a long time in fact, that the kings themselves had forgotten what exactly they were fighting about, so that the active wars had ceased, and the two kingdoms lay alongside one another in an uneasy state of disgust. The kingdom of Langdon, much the larger kingdom, considered itself far superior in every way to the stubborn little nation of Caledon, to the west, which for years had refused to be entirely defeated militarily, but also could not manage to claim a military victory, and therefore tried to avoid the attention of Langdon altogether.
So that’s copied word-for-word from my original first draft of the story—no corrections, no editing—and my proofreading program had a fit about it tonight, but I haven’t fixed any of it. It’s a pretty lame start, but better than a blank page. Note, two kingdoms, not three, and no clue as to why they were at war. I kept working. My heroine continued to develop, and the third nation only came into being because I needed a place for a secondary character to hail from that wasn’t Langdon or Caledon.
By the time I was satisfied with the initial draft of the story, there still was no Dragon’s Fire. I started the sequel to this book (which is now Book Three), and that was where I finally figured out what had gone before, and nailed down the plot for Dragon’s Fire.
For anyone who knows me personally, you’ll know what a peculiar oddity the writing order of this series has been for my OCD personality. I’m big on plans and routines, and this series has stretched me in so many ways. A series of books should start with Book One, right? Well, sometimes. Other times, you write Book Two, then Three, then half of One, then half of Four, then finish One, finish Four, and write Five. (And Book Six is a prequel!)
When you see the sneak peek in a short while, you’ll see that the beginning of Book Two now is NOTHING like what I shared above. The story has gone through a kaleidoscope of changes, as the other four have grown around it, making it fuller and richer, and a part of a bigger story, instead of the little stand-alone romance I initially thought it would be. I didn’t even want to let my husband read it, at first. He asked me what I was doing, as the more-intense-than-usual click of the computer keys drew his attention. I believe I may have used the words, “Nothing. Stupid little story. Won’t come to anything. Just writing it out for fun.” Now he’s read it twice, and I’m about to publish it. Shows what I know.
Anyway, back to editing, so that I can share the new start of Book Two with you shortly.
If you enjoyed Dragon’s Fire, and you’re looking forward to more, tell your friends about the books, and stay tuned here. Book Two is on its way!
Releasing a book has left me feeling a little like I did the first time my child drove themselves to work on their own. A little vulnerable. More than a bit scared. I got that breathless flutter in my stomach that screamed, “Are they going to be okay?”
With a book, that flutter says, “Did I catch all the mistakes? Did I make some repeated error that is going to make a reader’s Inner Grammar Nazi go berserk? Are people going to like the story?”
Friends usually like the story. At least, if they don’t, they have the decency to say so gently or not at all. The general public, however, doesn’t have the same sensitivity, and by publishing, I have deliberately placed myself in front of a potentially heartless firing squad.
Some constructive criticism is good. A gentle prompting to improve a manuscript never hurts. Tighten the story. Eliminate excess words. Rein in a sub-plot that tried to steal the show. Other criticism is like being smacked in the face with an electric cattle-prod.
I’ve been browsing some of the reader reviews on Amazon. For some books, they’re harsh. Although I have to admit, I laughed my head off at one reviewer—of someone else’s book, not mine!—who said, “This book’s only redeeming quality was its brevity.”
But a part of me did cringe for the author. I feel her pain. And I hope no one ever says something like that about my book.
Of course, not everyone is going to like my work. I recognize that. Not everyone enjoys reading the type of stories I’m sharing. Not everyone will love my style. But I can’t help hoping that the overall reviews will be positive.
When I am developing a story, I get to know the characters on a personal level. I know things about the characters in Dragon’s Fire that never made it into the book. But their past experiences that I did not share with the reader, and the personality traits woven into each individual, add up to bring that character to life in the action of the story, and make them likable or not, and hopefully, interesting and believable.
I hope that my characters will resonate with readers. I hope that someone will connect with a character as they might a good friend. One of my favorite parts of writing is creating a new character and taking the time to get to know him or her. They walk through my day with me, and gradually unfold who they are to me, long before they take on the form of words on a screen. Sometimes, the character can change my original plot for a story, just because of who they are. Sometimes, they even write the plot of a different book for me—but more on that in another blog!
And while they’re on my computer screen, developing and changing, growing and rearranging, becoming more and more a part of me while they take on a life of their own, they are safe. And so am I.
But turning them out to public scrutiny is like turning my new driver loose on the highway. I hope that the world will be kind to them and that they’ll meet with success in their venture. I am letting them go, in spite of my fears, and they are still very precious to me.
Stories were meant to be told, and the world is more vibrant for the millions of stories that have been shared over the ages, passed down by word-of-mouth or written on slate, parchment, even computer screens, in hundreds of different languages, in thousands of different ways.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to add my voice to all those storytellers, and I hope you are enjoying Dragon’s Fire. There’s more to come, for one of the first things we share as humans is the love of a good story.
Check out my interview with blogger Fiona Mcvie! https://wp.me/p3uv2y-75n