Hard-Earned Lessons

snape study hall

Do your work. You’ll be happy later that you did.

J and I were chatting yesterday as we made the two-hour drive home from his parents’ about what we wish we had known when we started writing nearly 10 years ago. It was such a good list I thought I should share. It’s by no means definitive, and I’ve no doubt other writers would come up with other items, but if it helps anyone avoid the mistakes we made, then it was worth my time.

There is pretty much nothing easier than writing a giant blob of prose. Writing tens of thousands of words that are novel-shaped is decidedly harder. It’s more than just beginning, middle, and end. It’s advancing character and story, plotting setbacks, making sure the reader isn’t about to nod off or complaining that what you’re telling them is pointless. If I could go back 10 years and tell myself only one thing, it would be to study structure before putting pen to paper.

Speaking of structure, how do you know when to end a chapter? How long should it be? What, exactly, ought to go in one? There’s no one answer for every novel, and we’ve intentionally played around with this in different novels, but we had some 7,000 word chapters with 3 POVs, and zero thematic elements tying them together when we started. We write in decidedly more logical chunks these days.

You won’t remember later
Write. It. Down. That brilliant idea that is so awesome you couldn’t possibly forget it? You will. That solution you found and put in Chapter 10 is great, but when you need it again in Chapter 50, you won’t remember if you didn’t put it in the story bible. Really, if we could go back and keep a more organized story bible from Day 1, it would help a ton. And it really would have helped a lot, even if we’d never moved past the original Quartet. Now that we have over two dozen novels in the Myrcia ‘verse, a good story bible is absolutely essential. And for those little ideas that pop up, they all get written down for use later.

Write in order
We thought it would be all awesome and creative to write the scenes that most inspired us as they inspired us. So when we started, we were literally writing scenes from what would become Book 2 before the characters in that scene had even met in Book 1. At the time, it seemed like a good way to get words down, and I suppose it was, but what it mostly did was make revision twice as long as we then rewrote all of those later scenes to take into account earlier material. Sometimes, I still move around a little, but I a) have a much better outline, and therefore, a better of idea of the story as a whole, and b) have made peace with the fact it will entail extra revision.

Sympathetic characters
We thought if we created a character we liked—a smart girl who is ambitious and happy, surrounded by people who also think she’s awesome—the reader would like her, too. Oops. Early betas found her insufferable and much preferred the girl with the crappy family and the worse husband, who was always looking for a way to make her shitty lot in life just a little better. I think we’ve made them both pretty interesting and sympathetic now, but yeah, we really didn’t understand at first that adversity gets a reader on the side of your character far more than showing how popular she is.

When you have four POV characters spread over thousands of miles in an era when travel was remarkably difficult, keeping an accurate calendar is a must. We had some general ideas about when things should be happening, but when we plotted out exact dates when things had to happen and figured out how long it would take someone to get from Point A to Point B, we realized the timing was completely off. But, thank heavens for those poor traveling conditions so that freak snow storms could hold people up for a week, and magic allows a message to get to someone almost as fast as by telegram. As I’m about to start an epistolary novel, I’m already dreading my calendar—trying to figure out when someone wrote a letter and more importantly when someone read it, again in a world with much slower travel than today. But I know I will be happy that I did, and just like all of these other lessons, when I think about skipping over them, I do my best to make that my mantra—I will be happy that I did.



The CW of the 19th Century


Pearl Maiden Sculpture

Our hero, Marcus, admires the the Pearl-Maiden’s bust.

Um…let me rephrase that….

Today is Labor Day, and S and I are celebrating labor in the traditional way: by doing as little as possible.  Actually, that’s not true.  S is doing laundry, and I did some dishes.  And who knows?  If the weather isn’t too hot, we might go outside and move some more rocks for our landscaping project.

But we aren’t at work, and that means we have time to write.  S is nearing the end of Fiat Justitia, the third Oleg novel, and I’m working on some revisions.  There’s a wizard character who appears in five books that I’ve written so far, and I’m checking to make sure that she’s written consistently.  I want her to seem as if she’s the same person, but has changed in believable ways over the years.

In other news, I’ve started listening to audiobooks from Librivox.  It’s just something to do while I’m exercising.  All the recordings are done by volunteers, so it would be mean spirited to critique the quality of the reading.  As long as I can follow what’s going on, I suppose the reading is good enough.

The first one I listened to was Pearl-Maiden: A Tale of the Fall of Jerusalem, by H. Rider Haggard.  (The title of this post notwithstanding, Haggard actually published it in 1903.)  This was a book I didn’t even know existed until I saw it in the Librivox catalog.  I’ve read Haggard’s most famous works, King Solomon’s Mines and She, of course, and I liked them, so I decided to give it a try.

It was pretty good, but of course as an amateur author, I naturally have to see if I can learn something from it that I can apply to my own writing.  And the main thing I noticed as I was reading (or rather, listening) was just how fast the plot moves.

Let me give you an example.  And it should go without saying that there are spoilers here (insofar as anyone can spoil a book that’s 113 years old).  Bear with me here.

Our hero, Marcus the Roman, is imprisoned because he foiled the scheme of Prince Domitian, the evil second son of Emperor Vespasian, to buy the Christian girl Miriam (our heroine, and the “Pearl-Maiden” of the title) as a slave.  Marcus and Miriam are in love, but she can’t marry him because he’s a pagan.  Miriam, bought by Marcus and freed, is living among the Christians of Rome and earning her keep by making clay lamps.  (She’s an exceptionally talented sculptor.)  While she’s there, her childhood friend Caleb (the antagonist) discovers her whereabouts by accident, when he recognizes a scene from their childhood adventures depicted on one of her lamps, and convinces a guileless shop worker to tell him where the maker of the lamp lives.

Caleb confronts Miriam and threatens to reveal her location to Domitian if she doesn’t agree to marry him.  Miriam refuses, and she’s so good and decent that Caleb becomes ashamed of himself.  He has a change of heart and swears he will help and protect her, even if he can’t ever marry her.  Miriam, realizing that she’s not safe in Rome anymore, escapes and sails off for the east with the help of Cyril, the Bishop of Rome.

Meanwhile, Marcus gets a second trial, this time with Prince Titus, the good elder son of Vespasian, and his former commander in the army, as his judge.  Titus realizes that Domitian is a jerk, and can see that Marcus was falsely accused, but for political reasons, he can’t just overrule his younger brother publicly.  So he commutes Marcus’s sentence to three years’ banishment, instead of death.

(Again, bear with me here.  I promise there’s a point at the end of this.)

News comes back that the ship Miriam was sailing in has sunk, and everyone on it is dead.  Marcus, who is still in prison, waiting to leave Rome, learns of this and wants to kill himself.  But Cyril, the Bishop of Rome, talks him out of committing suicide and discusses heaven with him.  Marcus decides to become a Christian and is baptized.

Caleb forms a plan, with the help of Domitian’s chamberlain, to waylay Marcus and kill him.  But at the last moment, Caleb, remembering that he had promised to help Miriam, has a change of heart, and dresses up like Marcus so the assassins kill him, instead.  Marcus and Bishop Cyril find Caleb’s body, and Cyril tells Marcus he should pity Caleb, instead of hating him.

Marcus and Cyril sail for the east, and they arrive in the harbor at Alexandria, Egypt, just in time to hear people singing hymns on a nearby ship.  They go over to join the church service, and who should be leading the choir but Miriam.  It turns out that reports of her death were greatly exaggerated, and her ship didn’t sink, after all.  Marcus tells Miriam he’s a Christian now, and they get married immediately.

Okay, did you get all that?  Good.

Here’s the thing—that’s not the plot of the whole novel.  That’s just what happens in the last two chapters.  And the 27 chapters before that are just the same.  The story burns through plot at an absolutely furious pace.  In S’s words, H. Rider Haggard is “the CW of the 19th century,” referring to the way in which shows on the CW network, like Vampire Diaries and The 100 race breathlessly from plot point to plot point.

I certainly wouldn’t suggest that all stories move along at that kind of pace, and S and I have found recently that we appreciate shows, like AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, or SyFy’s The Expanse, that take their time.  But it’s important, as authors, to remember that readers want things to happen.  Haggard could easily have made five or six or ten chapters out of the events I’ve mentioned above.  Marcus’s contemplation of suicide could have been its own chapter.  His conversion could have taken up another chapter.  Caleb’s confrontation with Miriam could have had a chapter to itself, too.  And if I’d been writing that story, I almost certainly would have given an entire chapter to Caleb deciding to sacrifice himself for his hated rival, Marcus.  That’s a big moment for the character, and I wouldn’t want to rush it.

But as a reader (or rather, listener), I have to say I didn’t really miss all that contemplation, internal monologue, and navel-gazing.  I rather appreciated that the story got to the point and kept going.  And that’s something to keep in mind as I write my own novels.


It’s a Mystery



July Camp NaNo is finally over, and my summer class has finished up, and S and I are on vacation this week.  We’re at Panera today so S can write some more of her rapidly-expanding Musketeers fanfic.  At this point, she thinks it’ll end up being at least 70,000 words long when it’s all finished.

I’ve updated the section of this blog about The Myrciaverse with my two latest novels, including the one I just finished, Joint Command.  I had a lot of fun writing that one, and the outline I used was somewhat more complicated than what we normally use.  There were three POV characters, so I decided to do a different sort of story for each one of them.

For Deborah, whom I describe in my synopsis as “a veteran, fighting her disillusionment,” the story is about rediscovering her love for her job as a spy and for her rather eccentric colleagues.  So I used Nigel Watts’s Eight Point Story Arc in plotting out her chapters.

  1. Stasis (everyday life)
  2. Trigger (something beyond hero’s control sparks the story)
  3. The quest (hero spurred to action by the trigger)
  4. Surprise (obstacles and complications)
  5. Critical choice (hero makes a crucial choice, revealing character)
  6. Climax (highest point of tension, direct result of Critical Choice)
  7. Reversal (change in status of characters, direct result of Climax)
  8. Resolution (a new Stasis, result of Reversal)

The second POV character, Geir, is on the same side as Deborah, though working for a different, allied country.  He thinks he’s on the trail of a mole, but he discovers to his horror that there’s a conspiracy that goes much deeper than he thinks.  So I plotted his eight chapters as a Thriller.

  1. Shock opening.  Meet the hero.
  2. Meet main characters, intro into some of hero’s backstory and personal life.  Disaster threatens.  Hero understands what’s on the line if he doesn’t do it.  He has to step up.
  3. Subplot introduced.  Hero on bad guy’s trail, always behind, figuring out the bad guy’s game.  Midpoint.  Stakes raised.  New character introduced, and an old character is killed.
  4. Bad guy on top.  Bad guys get worse.  Hero’s team dissents, and hero is on his own.  It’s all gone wrong.  (Other people doubt hero, but hero doesn’t doubt self yet.)
  5. Someone else gets killed.  More pressure on hero.  Hero comes to doubt self.  Then hero figures out what to do.
  6. Climax section.  Hero gets bad guy’s underlings, then gets bad guy.  Payoff.  Hero prevents the disaster that threatened in Chapter 2.
  7. The real threat emerges.  Twist: the hero realizes there’s another layer of threat (hopefully foreshadowed).  Rush.  There’s no time to waste.
  8. More payoff.  Breathless pace.  The uber-bad guy is stopped.

My third POV character, Nitya, is on the other side from Deborah and Geir.  She’s trying to find the mole and bring him (or her) home.  So, since she’s trying to solve a mystery, I outlined her chapters using “The Classic 12-chapter Mystery Formula,” only with the events condensed to fit the eight chapters I had allotted her.

  1. Mystery, clues disclosed with dramatic event.  Sleuth introduced.  Ground reader in time and place where crime occurs.
  2. Sub-plot introduced.  Sleuth set on path to solving mystery.  Plausible suspects (each with a motive) introduced and questioned by sleuth, one of which must be the perp.
  3. Reveal facts about suspects.  A clue is discovered that points to ultimate solution.  Flight or disappearance of one or more suspect.  Sense that if mystery not solved soon, there will be terrible consequences.  Investigation broadens to put suspicion on other characters.
  4. Return to sub-plot to reveal sleuth’s background—show what drives sleuth/haunts her/is missing in her life.  Sleuth shown to have personal stake in outcome.  Hidden motives and secret relationships revealed (romantic involvements/scores to be settled/kinships).  Clues from Chapter 1 clarified.
  5. Sleuth reveals results so far of investigation.  Reader can review things so far.  Sleuth is stymied, as she has misinterpreted clues.  Sleuth has to look at things from new direction.  Chain of events that provoked crime revealed.  Crucial evidence from Act I points way to solution.
  6. Sleuth weighs evidence and information gleaned from other characters.  Based on what sleuth knows, sleuth must seek positive proof to back up undisclosed conclusion.
  7. Resolution of subplot.  Protagonist, having been tested by his or her private ordeal, is strengthened for the final action leading to the actual solution of the mystery.
  8. Resolution.  Revelation of clues and the deductive process which led to the solution.  Establish that the case has been solved and justice has been served to the satisfaction of all involved (except the villain).

As you look through these, you’ll probably see how they can work together.  Geir’s “Shock Opening,” for example (number 1 on his outline) is the same event as Deborah’s “Trigger” (number 2 on her outline): they go together to meet a third agent and discover that he’s been murdered by the mole.

Finally, I had to set up all the various suspects who could be the mole, so I outlined each “Suspect Arc.”  First I briefly stated the Means, Motive, and Opportunity for each suspect.  In other words, I figured out why my three POV characters might even consider that person a suspect.  Then I listed two clues and two counter-clues (or alibis, if you will), like so:

Clue one: Bob’s hat found at the scene of the crime.
Counter-clue one: But Bob was at work when the crime was committed.
Clue two: Proof found that Bob wasn’t really at work.
Counter-clue two: But he lied because he was with his mistress.

Then there’s a “twist,” which can be a further clue or a definitive alibi, followed by a “resolution,” where the detective, and the reader, can see whether the person is guilty or innocent.

Having figured this out for each one of my four suspects, I went through my story outline and figured out where my three POV characters could encounter each of the suspects, and where each of the clues and counter-clues would be revealed.
In the end, I think it turned out pretty well.  When the reader gets to the end and finds out who the mole really is, I think it makes sense, but isn’t so obvious that the story is boring.



Outline, Meet Reality. Reality, Meet Outline.

A White Walker from Game of Thrones

A White Walker from Game of Thrones

At Midnight sharp, J and I and a couple dozen WriMos in our area started writing our NaNoWriMo novels together at the local Denny’s. I managed to churn out 1,100 words before bed, which isn’t a bad start, since you need to average 1,667 words a day to reach 50K by the end of the month, and I will surely write more before November 1 comes to an end. However, when I pick my journal back up to start writing, I probably won’t be continuing with Chapter 1. Instead, I realized I need an Ice Monster Prologue.

The Ice Monster Prologue is another plotting idea we picked up from Dan Wells and his Seven-Point System for structuring a story. If you remember, we discussed the system during our outlining series, but we did not mention the Ice Monster Prologue, so let me explain it now. Rather than beginning a story with the Hook, sometimes a story needs a prologue to make a promise of things to come. Dan Wells uses the example of Game of Thrones (the novel). The way the novel and the entire Song of Ice and Fire series are constructed, there’s not a lot of magic in the early going, so George RR Martin opens the story with a magical Prologue–corpses in the frozen North come back to life to kill everyone they see (the White Walkers). With this tease of things to come, GRRM can now start telling the less magical story of political wrangling between the Starks and Lannisters and the rest of the houses.

Because an important part of the NaNo ethic is to just write, get something down, I plowed on with my outline in the early hours of today at Denny’s, but I knew something felt off. It felt, frankly, a little dull. Now, I need to get some important information across in the first chapter, and I need Oleg to be happy so as to contrast how miserable he will be later, but none of it is a compelling way to open a novel. So on the drive home, when I couldn’t be writing, only thinking and discussing the issue with J, I realized what I need is an Ice Monster Prologue. I need to introduce the villainess, who is a wizard, doing something cruel and magical. But what exactly? We started asking those important questions I always like to ask about my characters: What does she want? Why does she want it? What is she willing to do to get it? And voila! I knew precisely what to do in my Prologue to introduce this character and the eventual tone of the novel, as well as making it an opening to pull the reader through the more leisurely pace and happy tone of the first chapter.

And now, I need to go write it!


You Have No Idea

Pictured: an awesome story, just waiting to be written.   You're welcome.

Pictured: an awesome story, just waiting to be written.
You’re welcome.

This is October, which means it’s time to start planning our NaNoWriMo novels in earnest. If you’ve never done NaNoWriMo, then this is the year to start. It’s good fun and a chance for you to hang out with other writers. And if you stick with it, you’ll have at least a first draft of a novel when you’ve finished.

Possibly you’ve got a book you started, and you’re planning to work on it. Or maybe you’ve already got a story in mind that you’ve always wanted to write. If so, then that’s great, and you should totally do that for your novel. But what if you don’t know what you’re doing? What if you’re trying NaNo for the very first time, and you can’t think where to start? What if you have no idea for your book? Then this blog post is for you. This is the first in a series that we’re doing this month, talking about how we plan our novels, and hopefully you’ll find this useful.

Some people will tell you to just “Pants” your novel—to write it by the seat of your pants, in other words. There are those who maintain that the true spirit of NaNo requires that you start writing your book on November 1 with no idea at all of what you’re going to write. I would never say out loud that those people are wrong, but I’m sure thinking it as hard as I possibly can. Particularly if this is your first NaNo, you will almost certainly have more fun, and be much more likely to finish, if you try to plan a little first.

So how do you come up with an idea if you don’t already have one?

For some reason, there have been quite a number of people who, at various times in my life, have told me their ideas for a book. I’m not sure why they pick me to tell. Maybe I’ve just got one of those faces. Or maybe it’s like meeting a priest; when they find out I’m an English teacher, they feel compelled to confess their literary sins. But it goes back even before I started my current career. I once had a guy who sat next to me on a train coming home from college, and he spent most of the length of Pennsylvania telling me about the book he was going to write someday, if he ever had the time. (One would think that, for example, a long boring train ride would be the perfect time to start, but I guess that didn’t occur to him.)

Anyway, when people tell me about their “idea” for a story, I’ve noticed that most of the time what they really have is one of the major elements for a story: plot, setting, or character. (Another way of thinking about this is Orson Scott Card’s “MICE” Quotient: Milieu, Idea, Character, Event.) People will say, “I’ve got this idea for a steampunk world where everyone lives in submarines.” Or, “I want to write a dystopian novel about a conspiracy to impose gluten-free food on everyone.” Or, “I’ve always wondered what would happen if a medieval European knight fought a samurai.”

This is my advice if you’re having trouble coming up with something to write about: try to think of just one of those three (or four) elements. Don’t try to think up a whole story, fully formed, right from the very beginning. Don’t try to think of an opening scene and work out the plot step by step in your head. That can come later. For now, just try to come up with an interesting character, a fun setting, or some incident or event that you think would be cool in a story.

There are various ways to do this. If you want to start with a character, try the exercise from My Story Can Beat Up Your Story that we’ve mentioned before on this blog. Think of a character with an unlikely adjective or ironic attribute: a compulsively honest lawyer, for example. Or, in my story, a barely-competent, unmotivated secret agent.

Another way is to think of some inversion of or twist on an existing story. “It’s like Gladiator,” for example, “only the main character is a woman.” Now you’ve got a character, and (depending on exactly what you mean by “it’s like Gladiator”) maybe some plot, too. You can do the same thing with settings: “It’s like Middle Earth, only it’s in space, and the heroine’s culture is based on Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon.”

One formula that gets used a lot (some would say overused) in discussing movies is “X movie meets Y movie,” as in “It’s Gladiator meets When Harry Met Sally.” That already tells you something about plot, and maybe about setting and character, too.

Maybe this seems like cheating, but it’s not. Don’t get hung up on trying to make your story completely new and original. I mean, you don’t want to blatantly rip people off, but don’t sweat it if your story sounds a little like something you’ve read before. I guarantee you that no matter how radically different you try to make your plot, no matter how fresh and unusual you think your characters are, at least one of your beta readers will look at what you’ve written and say, “Oh, yeah. That’s just like [some book or movie that should have been obvious].”

So you’ve got a character, or some cool set-piece fight that you want to see, or a setting. Now what?

When someone corners me and tells me about the book he wants to write, invariably, the person will finish by saying, somewhat apologetically, “That’s all I’ve got.” Yes, that’s all he’s got, but it’s pretty easy to get some more.

Once you have one of those elements (plot/setting/character, or milieu/idea/character/event), you can start filling in the rest of them. Take my example of a knight fighting a samurai, for instance. That’s an Event, or part of a plot. Now ask yourself, who are these guys? What sort of a samurai is fighting a knight? What sort of a knight fights a samurai? Do you see the scene from both their points of view? From a third person’s POV? If there’s a third person in the scene, who is it? (That’s character.) What kind of world is this where people from opposite ends of the Eurasian continent managed to meet up? Is this some kind of alternate reality? Were they captured by aliens and forced into an arena? (That’s setting or Milieu.) How did they come to be fighting? Who will win? Will they kill each other? Will they become friends? If they were captured by aliens, are they going to team up to escape? (Now we’re filling in more of the plot.)

You can even write it out, if that helps you (and it probably would):

Setting: a steampunk world where people live in submarines
Character (what sort of person lives in a submarine?): ______________________
Plot (what kind of events happen on submarines?): ________________________

Once you’ve done this, and you’ve filled in those blanks, you’ve got at least the beginnings of a story. And frankly, I wouldn’t try to write a novel knowing any less than that. But we usually do a lot more than just identify our characters, settings, and plots. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking you through our planning and outlining process, as well as giving you updates in real time as we prepare to write our own novels. So keep checking in, and start planning your book now. Remember, the more time you spend planning in October, the less time you’ll spend pounding your head against your keyboard in frustration in November.


A Little Goes a Long Way

As readers of this blog know, J and I plan. Our passion for knowing what we are going to do before we ever write the opening sentence borders on the religious. But if someone put a gun (hopefully metaphorical) to my head and said, “Start writing,” what are the handful of things I would absolutely have to know before beginning? Looked at in a less dramatic light, what are some of the first things I decide when I’m about to start a novel, sans death threat? At a basic level, stories consist of three aspects: character, setting, and plot. So the first decisions I make in regards to each of these are a sort of profession of faith, you might say—the tenets that underlie all of my writing.

Character: What and Why
We both like doing character studies before we start a novel, J especially, but the first questions I ask myself about a character are: What does he want and why does he want it? Everything else about a character springs from this beginning. For instance, last NaNoWriMo I decided to set aside the novel I had completely outlined eight days before November 1, so I didn’t have time for the prep work I would normally do. But I did make time for short character profiles for all of the named cast. (Luckily, The Queen’s Tower focuses on a small group of people.) Each character received a page or two in my Moleskin, and for all of them I jotted down what the character wants and why. For instance, the titular queen wants her son to succeed. Nothing earthshattering there; in fact, who needs to write notes about a mother hoping for the best for her son? Terribly pedestrian. But when I thought about why, Queen Merewyn became a) more interesting, and b) a character I knew so much more about. You see, the answer isn’t so much maternal instinct as the opportunity to stick it to her husband and all of the other people who doubted whether or not her son could be a good leader. Always keeping this motive and its motivation in mind made it possible for me to write a novel with a consistent and interesting protagonist (even if the novel requires a bit more revision than ones I’ve written with more thorough preparation), even though I didn’t know as much about her as other protagonists I’ve written.

Setting: Fists, Swords, or Guns
Physical settings are driven by what is available to the people living there. Now, as fantasy novelists, we have a certain latitude on what we can include, but as J pointed out, a setting must still function within its own rules. Another way to think about it is what’s the tech level? Has the society figured out how to make steel? Do these people know what happens when you combine sulfur and saltpeter? And then there are less martial questions to ask, like what is the banking system? If you have a society with a well-developed banking system, chances are people are not living in yurts, but instead have an economy advanced enough to import building materials. And if this society can afford to import, let’s say marble, do they have the technology to stack that marble two, three, ten, hundred stories high? If a character lives in a cold climate before the dawn of electricity with no contact with the outside world, said character will probably be dressed in wool, because cotton needs a warm climate and merchants to take it somewhere cold. One decision about the tech level determines every other aspect of the setting.

Plot: Which way did he go?
How does the story end? Seriously, I have no idea how I would begin if I didn’t know where I was going.

So that’s the bare minimum of what I need to know before I can set pen to paper. (And I mean that literally—remember, I’m a handwriter.)  Although, I find it interesting that some of this I’ve always simply intuited. If I’m being completely honest, I’d never put into words the Setting/Tech Level issue until I sat down to write this blog, but as a secondary world fantasy author, tech level is such a prominent concern it’s seeped into my process all on its own. But now that I have organized these ideas, I’ve noticed something about my process I hadn’t before. I’m not terribly reliant on the specifics of setting before I begin, and while I like to have a plan, I can start writing as long as I know where I’m going even if I haven’t plotted out how I’m going to get there. My process is primarily character driven. I need to know what makes my characters tick, as it were, although not necessarily their complete backstories. Backstory often evolves on an as-needed basis, as does the setting and plot for that matter. Knowing Queen Merewyn wants to further her son’s future is the only reason I care that her room is round, because she needs to pace around it while she’s plotting how to manipulate specific people. The setting and the plot only matter because of what she wants and why she wants it.

Now, I’m sure other authors have their own list of necessities, but this is what I need if I have any hope of managing so much as a coherent first page.