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.
Like I said in my last post, self-publication was never a route I wanted to pursue. I always thought that self-publication was the path taken by those who could not impress a publisher—those who didn’t have the skill or the talent to wow an agent or an editor, and who desperately wanted to put something out there anyway.
But after years of being just one in the thousands of query letters, synopses, and first sample chapters cluttering an editor’s desk; time after time of reading rejection letters that leave you feeling crushed and worthless after repeatedly being told “no, thanks;” you start to consider other options.
Not that I haven’t had some success before now. I’ve had poems and articles in print, and even co-written a historical fiction novel and some short stories that were published electronically a long time ago: BC (Before Children.) But never a break in the traditional route that I yearned for. I got close: I got one editor really excited about my manuscript. Then she misplaced it. She actually asked me to send another copy at the publisher’s expense, which I did. (Those were the days before electronic submissions.) The novel made it to where several high-up editors in the company looked it over. And then someone said no again. Ouch.
But I didn’t stop writing. I can’t stop writing. And recently I realized that I wasn’t writing for other people anymore. I was writing for me, and it didn’t matter whether an editor liked it or not. It was fun, and fulfilling, and I didn’t want to come out of this world I had created. Instead, I wanted to bring readers into that world with me. And that’s when I gained the confidence to say, “You know what? I’m putting this out there!” (After lots and lots of self-editing!)
I write the kind of thing that I enjoy reading, and the writing process is relaxing and enjoyable—for the most part! If you read what I wrote, and you like it, then I wrote it for both of us.
So even though I might see the level of respect on someone’s face diminish when I tell them that I am self-publishing—and yes, sometimes people make it quite obvious—I’m going this route because I want to. And I’m excited about it!
And if someday I manage to break into that traditional publishing field, great. Until then, all I need is me, and a computer, and You.
Because sometimes, you have to stop waiting for someone else to believe in you, and just start believing in yourself.
I never thought I'd set up a website. So grateful for my husband, who knows how to do stuff like this. I always thought that I would get a traditional publisher, let them publish and market my manuscript, and sit back while the royalty cheques rolled in.
Instead, I have become what I have discovered is called an Indie Author; someone who strikes out on their own with a project that matters to them and covers all the areas of writing a book: writing the book, editing the book, persuading long-suffering friends to read the book, editing the book, setting up a website and pursuing marketing ideas, editing the book, and, finally, throwing it out there to see if it can stand on its own, and hoping that you edited it enough so that no one will point out any glaringly obvious spelling or grammar mistakes.
And then you get to market the book, which is where husbands who know how to do computers become very useful. So you set up a website, and a Facebook page, and you contemplate striking out on Twitter or Instagram, and you order business cards, and wonder about attending book clubs and writer's meetings and other things that strike terror into your introverted soul, which would really just be happier camped out alone in the hammock writing another story.
But there's that thing about believing in your project--a book that matters.
My Dragon's Fire Series matters to me. I have spent the last 14 months in Caledon (thank you, my patient family!) and I have no intention of coming out yet, because I'm just having far too much fun. So I venture out into the world of marketing, and wonder why I didn't study that in college, and make plans, between edits of the book.
That's where Dragon's Fire is at right now. Editing, and on the verge of publication. It has received some pretty awesome reviews from the aforementioned long-suffering friends, who have all told me that they wish to suffer more, and where is Book Two? So that's a good thing, and an amazing and thrilling experience as an author!
So stay tuned, because before long, Dragon's Fire is going to burst on the scene, and I can't wait to share my story with you!
Check out my interview with blogger Fiona Mcvie! https://wp.me/p3uv2y-75n
Ask Me Anything!
This exciting, interactive conversation is still available to view. Please check it out!