Writing a Fantasy Trilogy Part 4: The Edit

Disclaimer: Ye gods, this is no how to guide. This is just an on-going collection of thoughts as I work my way through the process. They may or may not be useful or entertaining to people; it is more likely they may well end up providing a great deal of amusement to me when I look back over my posts and realise what a load of nonsense I was talking. So please do not think I am laying down rules here or instructions – I am just laying out some writerly jams. Or something.

(Here are the first three parts, on ideas, planning and writing the first draft. For this post, the great Captain Picard will be assisting me. Please note: this post covers editing a single book within a fantasy trilogy, not editing a whole fantasy trilogy in one go because, sweet Christmas, I am weak)

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Jean-Luc is so ready for this.

So here we are. You’ve battled your way through the first draft and have emerged blood-soaked and steaming, and clutched within your shaking fists is the raw material of your book. Bloody hell. Well done. Seriously – lots of people talk about writing books, lots of people even start them, but only an awesome few get to write ‘The End’. Buy yourself some sort of ridiculous present and bathe in the glory. Enjoy it.

Because this is where things get sticky.

Now, the first thing I need to address upfront is that your editing process will vary wildly. Fine, everything about writing varies wildly, but in particular, your editing process will look different depending on whether you are a published writer or not. In the end, of course, you’re doing the same job and the work will look very similar, but if you have an awesome editor helping you, your support structure will be different. So here is the process as I am experiencing it currently (this may or may not be helpful, but it might at least be interesting):

Editing The Ninth Rain, or, How Clever People Poke Me onto the Right Track With Big Sticks

1 Draft zero sits before me, a heap of words and mistakes and adventure and banter. Here and there, I have already highlighted sections that need work, or stuff that needs to be removed and rewritten. I take a notebook and write down everything I already know needs to change. There will be a lot of things, from the very large (‘restructure this fictional religion’) to the very small (‘change this guy’s name, it sounds too much like penis’). All of these things will have been bugging me, and it will be enormously satisfying to get them out of my head and onto the page. Then, I will go right back to the beginning of the book and do a big, speedy, rough-and-ready edit. At this stage I am attempting to get the thing into some sort of readable shape so someone else can lay their eyes upon it without me having to die of shame. At the end of this draft there will still be problems, but its okay, because there’s plenty of time to sort them out.

2 Draft number two goes off to my agent, the brilliant Juliet Mushens. I specifically wanted Juliet’s opinion on The Ninth Rain, because it was the first in a new series and I was having the severe wibbles over it. Not all agents are so involved editorially, but Juliet is a) brilliant b) knows what makes a book work and c) reads faster than any other human being. Once she had read the book – sending me the occasional dramatic text message exclamation as she got to certain bits – we had a chat over the phone about what things needed changing/tightening up/flinging into the sea.

The role Juliet has here is the key to all editing: A FRESH PAIR OF EYEBALLS. As you will know, when you’re thigh deep in first draft, it is very difficult to zoom back out and see it from a distance again (especially when you have word-guts all over your trousers), and near impossible to spot all the flaws. Bringing in someone who can look at it afresh can give you a whole new perspective – and if it’s someone who knows their literary onions, even better.

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Drink lots of tea during the edit. Picard knows about tea. One teapot is not enough for Captain Picard.

3 Draft number 3 includes Juliet’s tweaks, and all the other tweaks I’ve thought of in the meantime. After a bit of hysterical double-checking, this draft goes off to my brilliant editors at Headline.

~There follows a brief rest period, where I wander about aimlessly trying to remember what it is I do when I’m not writing, until I remember it’s video games and get briefly obsessed with Dragon Age again~

Then the editors come back to me. This will take the form of an editorial letter, which basically sums up all the stuff you need to do in a friendly and pithy manner, and then there will be the manuscript itself, with comments marked up in track changes. You read the notes. You read the comments. You have a little sit down.

This stage is always a bit odd. It is exciting, because through those comments and changes you can glimpse the gleaming spires of your finished novel. It’s also really satisfying to see all the ways in which the thing can be made better. It may also make you feel like a bit of a berk, because inevitably there will be problems you have missed, continuity errors, character motivations that didn’t quite land, etc. So you might feel the need to sulk for a little while. I usually do, but it’s all part of the process of absorbing what needs to be done. Sulk for a bit, grumpily eat some cake. Maybe re-arrange all of the toys on your desk. And when you come back you’ll be ready to kick some ass.

From there onwards, things are fairly simple. You attend to the areas that have been flagged as needing attention, you fix your cock-ups and you smooth down the rough edges, working your way through the document. As I said before, your editors are the fresh pair of eyes you need, but more than that, they are the EXPERT pair of eyes, the eyes that can also see the gleaming spires of your finished novel and know how to get you there. Listen to them, push back when you have to and be prepared to learn a lot. From the big edit (sometimes called the structural edit, because this is where all the big shit goes down) I move on to the copyedit (beloved of all writers everywhere… cough) and then the proofread, and then, BAM. It all moves much faster than you think.

Editing when you’ve yet to be published

So how does this all work when you don’t have an agent and an editor waiting to help wrangle your words with you? As I mentioned before, you’re essentially doing the same work, you just might need some different (or extra) tools to do it with. Some writers looking to start submitting their books do employ freelance editors to look over their work – I don’t have any experience of that, but I would definitely advise checking out what you’re getting before you lay down any moolah (perhaps people could recommend decent freelance editors in the comments?). Outside of that, here are some bits and bobs I have found useful in the past:

The Chapter-by-Chapter edit
This is brilliant for when you’re not working to a deadline. After the first, brutal edit, the one where I fix everything obvious, I get a new notebook and go back to the beginning. Each chapter gets a page in the notebook, and under the chapter heading I write a brief summary of what happens. Then, in a different coloured ink (red for me because, you know, edits) I write down everything that still needs changing.

Then I move straight to the next chapter, and repeat the process, all the way to the end. Then, and only then, do I start a second edit, and as I work through all that red ink, I tick off each section so that I know it has been addressed. Job done.

It’s a long process, and I don’t really get time to do it in such detail now (hello, deadlines!) but I think it’s a great way to avoid being overwhelmed by the edit, especially if you’ve written a very long book: looked at chapter by chapter, your book becomes easier to digest, with a small set of problems to be solved for each section. Totally doable. Also an excuse to use more notebooks.

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Look, this is just a random picture of Angry Captain Picard I found, so it had to go in.

Beta readers
When you don’t have an editor or an agent nearby, these can be vital. Again, it’s the FRESH PAIR OF EYEBALLS necessary to get your book into shape, and chances are if you are writing seriously you already have a little group of people who help you out with this. We all have different needs from our beta readers, and I suspect we all approach it a little differently, but for what it’s worth, here’s some stuff I learnt about it over years of forcing friends to read my work:

– It might take a little while to find the right bunch of people. I know that initially I had quite a few friends who were very keen to read my work. I sent out the document to a range of reactions – some people never ever mentioned it again (possibly horrified by the book and what a terrible hack I am), one or two came back with ‘yay this is great!!!’, and a precious few sent me back detailed notes…
– Keep the note givers. The ones who enjoy your work but are happy to tell you what does and doesn’t work, to point out the bits they felt were lacking.
– Be wary of any who tell you exactly how you can fix it. That job is yours, in the end.
– I had a very low number of beta readers, no more than four, because I felt like more opinions than that would start to muddy the waters. However, again, other writers like whole roaming packs of beta readers to feast upon their novels.
– Remember that you can disagree, and that you don’t have to take every opinion as the ultimate truth. If more than one beta reader sees the same problem, you may well need to fix it. If one beta reader has a gigantic rage against beards and demands that you remove them all from your book… well.

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We all know that TNG got good when Riker got a beard, right?


Developing your own Eyeballs of Insight

Learning to think critically about your own work is vital. You also need to be able to balance that with a confidence in your own abilities. So much of writing is about walking a tightrope – if you fall to your left, you sink into the stinky bog of My Writing is Worthless Why Do I Bother; fall to your right and you’re oozing through the treacle-like Hey I’m Pretty Much a Genius I’m Going to Send my Magnum Opus to an Agent Immediately and Get Really Salty When They Reject It. Keep your eyes on the far cliff edge, Brave Writer.

Read published books and ask yourself: does my book sound like this? Can I imagine opening a book in Waterstones and reading my prose there? Look at the books you love and ask yourself what it is that makes you love them. Take that knowledge and apply it to your edit. There’s no easy way to develop a critical eye (and in a way it can be a pain in the arse – when I’m mid-edit, I suddenly find it very difficult to settle on a book to read. My critical eye is awake and blazing like bleedin’ Sauron’s and I can’t enjoy anything) but it will always take time. Writing is a long game (soooo very long) and behind most published books are a little queue of books that never made it to the light of day because the writer was still learning.

But. It. Is. Worth. It.

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Interloper!

So, apologies for the rambling nature of this particular post. I feel like I’m learning about editing every time I go through the process, and everyone has a different method. One of the biggest surprises to me since being published is how much truth there is in the saying writing is re-writing. It really, genuinely is. The terrible and brilliant reality is that the first draft is the tip of the work-iceberg, and the edit is where all the serious blood and sweat is shed. But it’s also the stage that leaves you with a book at the end… and that’s what we’re all here for.

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Captain Picard is reading your book! In his jimjams! How good is that?

Writing a Fantasy Trilogy Part 3: The First Draft

Disclaimer: Ye gods, this is no how to guide. This is just an on-going collection of thoughts as I work my way through the process. They may or may not be useful or entertaining to people; it is more likely they may well end up providing a great deal of amusement to me when I look back over my posts and realise what a load of nonsense I was talking. So please do not think I am laying down rules here or instructions – I am just laying out some writerly jams. Or something.

(Here are Parts One and Two, on ideas and planning, if you want to read back)

So I bet you thought I had forgotten about this, right? Well, maybe slightly, but mostly I’ve spent the last six months or so writing the first draft of my new book, The Ninth Rain. As with all first drafts, there were times when I thought I had made a mistake, when I thought that I was writing entirely the wrong book, or that I would never finish the fucker; there were even times, let’s face it, when I thought I was a small asthmatic lemur called Nigel.

But I got there in the end. So here I am with some thoughts on writing the first draft, assisted by Sokka from Avatar: The Last Airbender, because, why not? There is, it has to be said, not an awful lot to say. The main thing is:

JUST KEEP BLOODY WRITING

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Sokka on hearing that the advice in this post is essentially ‘just keep writing’

You’ve developed your ideas, you have your plan. It might be super detailed, it might be just a series of linked events – either way, you are ready. It’s time to take the plunge.

The difficult thing to embrace about a first draft (especially if you’ve just finished a final edit, like I had, but let’s not go there…) is the sheer, free-fall creativity of it. You have to let go. You have to follow where the story leads. There will be times when you end up going down the wrong path and you’ll have to abandon that section and start again, but that’s okay. Just keep bloody writing. You’ll get fed up with the entire thing, usually when you’ve passed some excitingly large number of words (60,000 words for me) and you’ll be convinced that there’s this other, much better book you should be spending your time on, but ignore that, and keep bloody writing.

The first draft of The Ninth Rain has several sections marked up in highlighter, with notes next to them saying things like: THIS CHARACTER IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE NOW, REWRITE or OH GOD JUST DO SOMETHING ELSE. The important thing is, highlight those fuckers up and keep bloody writing – when you do the edit, you have the delicious task of deleting these unneeded sections later. Just keep bloody writing.

ALL PROGRESS IS WORTHY

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You will be tired. You will eat too many Haribo. But it will be worth it.

Sometimes there will be days when you only dribble out a few sad little words. A couple of sentences. But they are still words and sentences you didn’t have before. Cherish their little bottoms. As you go, you will also have thoughts and ideas about the future books in your trilogy. Write them down, and then go back to this book. This book gets written first, or the other books will never exist. Don’t worry about them too much yet.

THINGS DO NOT GO ACCORDING TO PLAN

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Everything is fine. No really. Fine. It’s the quenchiest.

This is frightening, but actually it is the great joy of first drafts. About three quarters of the way through The Ninth Rain I had a huge realisation about the nature of the fictional world I was writing that changed several things about the book. I made lots of notes, knowing that in the edit I would have to rewrite several chapters at the beginning – a pain in the hole, but it would absolutely make the book better. I genuinely think that sometimes you can only have these revelations when you’re in the middle of writing the book. They only come when you are waist deep in the world, trying to figure out how to get one set of characters to a new location, or wondering why you chose to give someone such a difficult name to spell. Your brain is working silently, figuring all these things out for you, and sometimes it throws up unexpected solutions. These are brilliant, because:

THE FIRST DRAFT IS ESSENTIALLY YOU TELLING YOURSELF THE STORY

This is hugely important. The book doesn’t have to be beautiful or polished, it doesn’t even have to make sense at this point – you just need to find out what it’s about. The edit, and all the following redrafts, are about making it readable. For now, you tell the story to yourself. And you will be surprised. So:

DON’T PANIC

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How cute is Sokka? Really fucking cute.

No one else needs to see this draft. It can be as monstrous as you like. I know lots of people do show their first drafts to other people, and that’s cool, but this is my blog series and I’m telling you what I know works for me, and no one sees my first draft. Oh hell no. I’m figuring things out on the page, and that private space is vital, because it gives you complete freedom. No one needs to see my inability to spell words like ‘eighth’ and ‘sorcerer’, or the fact that at least two character’s names are consistently spelt wildly differently from page to page, and none of that matters at this stage anyway. Listen to the story, chase it down, and when you catch it, hold it close to your shriveled, blackened heart. For now, it is yours alone.

KNOW THAT YOU WILL REACH THE END

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And it will be glorious. The first draft is hard, and beautiful, and can feel impossible, but if you just keep bloody writing you will get there. I did a poll on twitter recently asking writers if they preferred the first draft or the edit, and I got a wildly different range of reactions. For me, the first draft is where the story is really born, all bloody and screaming and ready to kick ass. The edit gives it clothes and a haircut and makes it presentable to general society, but enjoy those wild days while you can.

 

If you want more thoughts on writing the first draft, I also wrote this blog, which has a greater emphasis on kit-kats.

Writing a Fantasy Trilogy Part 2: Planning

Disclaimer: Ye gods, this is no how to guide. This is just an on-going collection of thoughts as I work my way through the process. They may or may not be useful or entertaining to people; it is more likely they may well end up providing a great deal of amusement to me when I look back over my posts and realise what a load of nonsense I was talking. So please do not think I am laying down rules here or instructions – I am just laying out some writerly jams. Or something.

(here is Part One, on ideas, if you want to track back)

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This is us, bravely preparing to plan our trilogy. Yes, we are as badass as She-Ra.

So here we are at part 2, after a lengthy break, ironically because I’ve spent the last couple of months finishing off my previous fantasy trilogy. I suspect it’s a thing that only becomes apparent when you’re in the midst of the publishing process, but writing professionally involves a lot of hopping around: there was a time there when I was promoting the second book, editing the third book, and writing the first draft of the new book. Exciting times! Anyway, the proof read of The Silver Tide is finally handed back and the story of the Copper Cat has come to a close (let’s just swiftly skip over all the crying I did) so I have a wee gap in which to talk about planning things.

This is a super brief outline of how I personally go about it. Take note, ignore or openly mock at your will: There are three stages to planning a fantasy trilogy that I can see. Expansion, whittling, and the abuse of stationery.

Expansion

So you have your idea. The seed that will become a trilogy of books is in your head now, and there’s a special aura to it, a certain feeling that this is the thing. You’re excited about the idea, and you get a slightly fluttery sensation when you think about it (not kidding). The idea may take different forms. A lot of people will have a hook, a thing that is almost handily like an elevator pitch – ‘sword and sorcery Escape from New York’ (I swear I am writing this one day) or ‘a girl fails her exams and flees into a radioactive desert full of mutants’ (already written that one). My ideas more often take the form of characters – ‘lovable female rogue with a tendency towards recklessness attempts to avoid responsibility for the end of the world’ or ‘teenage girl with latent magical powers and OCD discovers that her council flat is haunted by the ghost of a serial killer’. My first planning stage is writing down as many details as I can about that idea. All possible things that could come from it, even if I won’t use them or they don’t work, are written down into a fat notebook of some kind. I ask myself lots of questions.

What does this character look like? Where are they from?

How old are they? Do they have family? What is their relationship with them?

What do they care about? And then: What do they want?

What terrible thing has just happened to them? How do they react to this terrible thing?

From there, the story starts to spool outwards, and I follow the trail of things I find exciting. Which details pique my interest? What do I want to know more about? One or two notebooks will be filled up in this way, a great jumble of Lego bricks, and somewhere in there are all the pieces required for the awesome space-castle-dragon I’m thinking of building.

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You will need approximately 800 of these for this stage.

Whittling

This next bit is a little odd and will possibly sound a tad obsessive, but I’ve spoken to at least one other writer who also does it so I’m sure it’s fine. I have my fat notebooks full up with a zillion thoughts and ideas. I get a new notebook, and in that I write down everything I can remember from the first notebooks, without looking at them, if I can help it. All the really important stuff, all the significant stuff that has lodged in my subconscious, will come through, and what you end up with is a distilled version of the idea explosion. From there, I will work on them again, ask myself more questions, and these are the questions that start to become very important if this is going to cover more than one book.

There will be multiple setbacks. What are they?

My characters are changed by events. How are they changed?

What revelations will they have?

What sort of bad-ass cool things do I want to see in these books?

Now, that last question sounds somewhat daft coming on the back of everything else, but if I may drop an entirely wanky phrase in the middle of this: I am quite a visual person. My favourite ideas often come in the form of what I think of as ‘shots’: how cool would this look in the movie version? Early on with The Copper Promise I knew I wanted to have a scene where the heroes are riding griffins, whilst flying around an enormous dragon – the griffins are tiny in comparison, like fat bees buzzing around, um, a giant scary lizard. That image hung in my head while I was writing the book, along with many others (Wydrin and Frith in an opulent gaming house, a young girl with bare feet covered in blood) – ideas that knew it was their time to happen.

So I have a new notebook with the distilled ideas. I go and buy a new notebook, and I do it all again (I did say it was a little odd) – whittling the ideas down further. Everything becomes a little sharper, a little clearer. The characters become more defined, and crucially, the structure of the books start to emerge, like the wreck of a ship revealed as the tide goes out (but only, you know, more optimistic).

You might at this point say: Jennifer this is bollocks. You write everything down and eventually it becomes clear? Are you taking the piss? The difficulty is of course that so much of writing comes from instinct, floating up from the deep dark channels of your mind. Other writers will no doubt have an infinitely more systematic approach, but all I can tell you is: follow the things that give you that fluttery, excited feeling. Your trilogy is at the ends of those.

Next stage: notecards. Rainbow ones, if possible, because I have a stationery problem and will use any excuse to get pretty stationery. I have two sets of notecards: one set for characters, and one set for story. I write down all the vital things about each character (they each get their own notecard) and then everything I know about the story on a set of numbered notecards – these will be split themselves into three sets, one for each book. Inevitably, book one will need more notecards than books two and three, because I know more about how it all starts. This lot will then get pinned up onto my corkboard, usually with a variety of rainbow pins and pins that look like tiny turtles. Yes.

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A portion of my corkboard at about halfway through the process. I’ve smudged the notes so they are unreadable- my handwriting isn’t quite that bad, honest.

Sidenotes: Worldbuilding and The Rules

By this stage I will have lots of notes on worldbuilding. One of the most important questions I ask myself early on is: where is this character from? The place that they grew up, the experiences and relationships they had there, will inform the character in hugely significant ways. Wydrin Threefellows grew up mostly on Crosshaven; an archipelago of islands that’s a little like Mos Eisley, full of dodgy dealings and a wide variety of people. It’s not difficult to see how such an environment can produce a smart-arse mercenary with a morally dubious outlook. Similarly, Sebastian’s childhood in the largely religious and somewhat austere Ynnsmouth has led to a quiet, thoughtful man who is trapped by the need to do the ‘right’ thing. World-building notes at this stage are written down carefully on approximately a billion post-its, and carefully pinned around the notecards on the board. Over the course of planning and then writing the book, these post-its will normally end up three or four post-its deep – but they’re not really there for reference: they’re there so that the idea is fixed in my head.

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A selection of serious and important stationery currently being used to make The Ninth Rain happen

Now, the extra special pain in the arse about writing a fantasy book is the magic, of course. How you approach this will ultimately depend on the fantasy book you’re writing. Some fantasy books have barely any magic in them at all, while others will have a vast and complicated magic system. Or some will have simple magic, with strict rules, that is at the heart of how their entire world works. It’s not always possible, but it is a good idea, I think, to know what you’re going for before you start. Whatever you know about your magic, whatever the rules and restrictions might be – chuck them on to their own special notecard. Cover them in glitter, maybe. And get ready to change it as you go, because if there’s one thing that magic tends to be, its unpredictable.

Aaand when I’ve done all that, I take some fresh notecards and I write the story out again, and then I pin those over the top of the originals. It sounds ridiculous, but you’re starting to know what the story is now, deep in your heart. That golden thread you will follow from the start to the end is there, and you’ve just caught the beginning of it. Then you have to start writing the bloody things.

The next post will be all about the thrilling rollercoaster of horror that is The First Draft. Any questions or comments, do shout me in the comments!

Writing a fantasy trilogy Part 1: Ideas

Disclaimer: Ye gods, this is no how to guide. This is just an on-going collection of thoughts as I work my way through the process. They may or may not be useful or entertaining to people; it is more likely they may well end up providing a great deal of amusement to me when I look back over my posts and realise what a load of nonsense I was talking. So please do not think I am laying down rules here or instructions – I am just laying out some writerly jams. Or something.

Disclaimer the second: This is a giant wall of text so I have chosen to break it up with pictures of old cartoons. Look I’m sorry but I’m not sorry.

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The Thundercats just had the BEST idea – Let’s all laugh at Snarf!

 

Ideas

Let’s go back to the very beginning (a very good place to start*). Where do you get the idea for your fantasy trilogy? Well, the good thing about starting with this is it is a completely impossible question. I cannot answer it. ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ is traditionally the question writers hate the most, and the truth is we do like to sound like we know everything, and it’s annoying when we don’t. I wish I could tell you where The Copper Promise really came from, or where exactly it started, but if there was a eureka moment it has been lost in the mists of time. The truth is, I think, that books start out as a gradual thickening of ideas. Lots of little ideas will start to bunch together, and eventually they will grow little legs, and suddenly you have a thing.

I knew that I wanted to write modern sword and sorcery, and there was this loveable rogue I wanted to write, who was a woman and *pop* Oh there’s Wydrin, and perhaps the characters are a sort of dysfunctional group who wind each other up, and I really like dragons…

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Actual picture of me, having an idea

 

I do have a theory about this thickening of ideas though. I think that writers tend to fall into two groups: writers whose ideas centre around characters, and writers whose ideas centre around stories. I am a very character-driven writer, and the characters of the Copper Cat trilogy were all in my head long before I knew what the story was. Other writers that I know well often talk about having an idea for a story first, and how sometimes bits of other stories latch on to that and become a book. I think (and this is a slightly wilder theory) that often story-centric writers (that is to say, writers who begin with the story idea) gravitate towards science-fiction, that genre of ‘what if?’. This is probably why the one SF novel I wrote revolved around a shoal of fish living in an exo-suit and a gangster spider.**

That isn’t to say, obviously, that character-driven writers have no story, or that story-driven writers can’t do characters. We’re all making the same journey, we just get there in different ways.

For me the question is rarely ‘What is the story?’ but ‘Whose story am I telling?’

Now, should writing a trilogy change how you approach having ideas? Does it differ, at this very early stage, from writing a standalone book? I think not. Is the idea big enough for a series? Does it naturally split into three, or four, or ten books? For me specifically, because I start with the characters (and I always have more than one main character) I am rarely worried that I won’t have enough story to go round, because I have their whole lives to play with. If anything, I’m not sure where to stop… (I’ll come back to this in the next blog, on planning)

 

So in terms of helpfulness, how do we assist the thickening of ideas? Here are some things I have been known to do:

Dedicated daydreaming time. Carving out a slice of time when you don’t have anything else to do for a bit. Easier said than done, of course. And I think the key to this is not to sit glaring angrily at your desk trying to boil your own eyeballs in your head with ‘THINK OF A BLOODY IDEA DAMNIT’ but to summon the sort of imaginative play-think-dream-time you would have had as a kid. Alright, that sounds like bollocks, I know. The truth is, 99% of your best ideas will come when you’re on the bus, or having a shower, doing the washing up or falling asleep, which is why:

Have a notebook with you. I HEAR YOUR COLLECTIVE GROANS: ‘Jeez Williams, everyone already knows this, you charlatan.’ Yes okay, but really, my notebook is never more than a few feet from me unless I’m in the shower. Ideas get thicker faster if you’ve written them down somewhere.

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True fact: Battlecat looks after He-Man’s notebook for him.

 

Read lots of everything you like. People have a lot of differing opinions on this, but I’m going to go with a straight up: read what you bloody well like. I know some people suggest you should read bad books so you can learn what not to do (ye gods no, life is too short) or read those stonkingly enormous bestsellers so you can steal their secrets. Some people I know won’t read books that are in any way similar to the book they are writing, just in case something seeps through, and I know people who read exclusively in their genre to absorb as much as possible. I try to read lots and lots of what I love, and I try to figure out why I love it so much.

(I do sometimes avoid reading books written in the first person while I’m writing, as I write third person POV and I like to keep my brain in the right headspace – however, this is clearly nonsense as I just read Fool’s Quest and The Empty Throne, both amazingly good first person books and I REGRET NOTHING)

Look out for odd things, and collect them to your bosom. Often for me, ideas tend to spawn from a single image or a scrap of random information. I read a description of an enormous ancient city in a history book not so long ago. Threatened by the possibility of invasion it had been abandoned, and this sprawling metropolis – one of the greatest cities in the world at the time – was claimed instead by weeds and prowling wolves. Reading that, I knew I wanted to write about such a place, and that was one of the seeds that eventually grew to be The Ninth Rain.

Ideas are attracted to each other. Get enough of them in the same place, and stories start to happen. You’ll know when it happens, because you won’t be able to scribble in your notebook fast enough, and suddenly everything makes a beautiful kind of sense as all the pieces plop delicately into place. It is, in my opinion, one of the finest parts of the writing process – the little hitch and flutter in your chest that means your book is coming alive.

When you have your idea – or your membranous collective of ideas – then you can start planning, which will be part 2 of this blog series. And if you have any questions about ideas, or why I have an unhealthy obsession with Thundercats, do stick them in the comments.

 

*thank you, Sound of Music.

** I probably shouldn’t write SF.

snarf

Look, this just makes me happy, okay?