How the hell do you write a book?
And we’ve reached November! It’s wild how fast this year has gone by, but even more than that, it’s wild that I’ve managed to keep up a monthly blog for almost an entire year. The last time I tried to do this it didn’t last longer than four months, so really, it’s an accomplishment! I hope you’ve all been enjoying it. I’ll have to plan something special for next month to ring in the occasion. But today is today, and it’s only November. That begs the question: What have I got for you guys this month?
That’s the question I stumble over sometimes, to be honest. It’s easy to talk about things I'm currently working on, but eventually, I do run out of projects to tease. Thankfully, I’ve found that Instagram has been a good source of immediate feedback on this sort of thing (you can find me on there under my general online handle of Terminallydepraved.) It’s a lot of fun to show off my daily thoughts and goings-on via the Story feature on there. Sometimes I even post sneak peeks at covers, art, or snippets of my current writing projects. It’s a fun time. Consider checking it out!
Anyway, I threw a few potential options into a poll on Instagram for this month’s blog topic, and the landslide victory came in the form of a whole blog about my writing process. I’ve definitely spoken to people before about how I write and plan stories, but I’ve never given a step-by-step look of idea creation to finishing a final draft before. I figured that's probably the most interesting way to structure this initial blog—after all, I could easily write a standalone blog post on just about any single step. I’ll be getting into the overview of things and we can save those closer, step-specific posts for the future.
So, no time like the present! Let’s get to it!
For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to treat this the way I would proceed if I were writing a multi-chaptered book and not something short like a novella, oneshot, or fanfic. While the latter three sometimes involve this level of detail and pre-planning, they most often do not and don’t receive the same level of preparation that I’d give to a 300+ page book project. If anyone is curious about how I handle those, we can talk about it in a future post or I can answer it as a Q & A next month! Just ask!
Step 1: Idea Creation
Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you how to hunt for ideas. Inspiration comes to me or it doesn’t, and most of the time it’s incredibly hard to predict what will give me an idea and what won’t. Sometimes, just watching a movie or reading a book will spit ten new ideas into my head. Sometimes, I can go months without thinking of anything new. I’ve mentioned before that I’m currently at a place where I need to start creating new ideas for future works, and there’s a reason I’ve been asking for suggestions XD I’m not currently inspired by much, so nothing new is flowing.
I’ll give an example, though, of how Brontide came to me. I was reading a book on superstitions and folklore while working a boring desk job in college. I read about faerie knots and couldn’t stop thinking about a fae character tying knots in a human lover’s hair. That in turn kept the idea in my head, fermenting away, until I’d come up with a small plot that later became the fanfic version of Brontide.
This is typically one of the easiest and shortest steps in the process. I literally only need an idea to get going on a project. Sometimes, it’s a small character interaction like that. Other times, it’s a setting (the Drow world, a castle, a city of monsters working day jobs a la Fable). The initial concept that sets the stage for the setting, tone, and general aesthetics comes first, and then I think about the characters.
Step 2: Character Creation
This is what ends up taking up a good portion of my story-inception time. As a rule, I almost always build the story plot itself around the characters as I make them. If I think about Brontide again, I imagine the setting and general tone of the story I want to tell. Then, I think about what sort of leading characters/couple would make this the most fun. As I’ve discussed in previous teasers and character profiles, I have very set archetypes that I tend to favor. Everyone’s got them, and it’s what I default to unless the story I plan on telling is very different from one I’d typically tell. For Brontide, I wanted to tell a traditional fae love story but gay. Therefore, I needed a fae who kidnaps a human, and in stories like that, the fae is almost always royalty. That’s how Ruari came into being. As for the human, those traditional stories tend to have it be a maiden or defenseless wanderer, someone who is plucked from their daily life and thrown into a situation where they have little control. Corbet was sculpted from my desire not to fall into cliche. I wanted a thief, an outcast, someone who would stab a stranger and think about robbing them over being charmed into an obvious trap.
I try to take traditional tropes and cliches and turn them on their heads. In some stories, that’s more obvious than others, but a lot of this relies on character dynamic outright, so I try to go into every story by creating the lead pair with that in mind. I like hot/cold types, but I also need a bit of edge to both of them. It’s boring if everything goes smoothly from the start, so I might make one of them hard to please, distrusting, or conniving. Good romantic pairs should complement one another, but there should also be friction and tension that keeps things interesting. That can come internally or externally, but regardless, it needs to be there to some degree, even if the story is gentle and romantic.
I always start my character profiles by answering basic questions. Age, gender, name, appearance. After that, I think about the story I want to tell. I consider what this character wants. A good character always has a goal they’re trying to achieve. It can be big or small, abstract or tangible. In Letifer, these goals are pretty easily spotted in some characters. Gabriel wants to become a detective. For Nines, we slowly learn what he wants, what he’s lacking, but before he tells us himself, we can read that he’s unsatisfied with his lot in life from the very moment we occupy his perspective: being a vampire sucks if you’re not top of the food chain.
Next, I dig deeper to understand, for lack of better word, what’s wrong with them. Why can’t they get what they want? What’s getting in their way? That’s when you dig into the backstory. This is where deeper shades of motivation come out. Why does Gabriel want to become a detective? Why is Nines stuck at the bottom of the food chain? From there we create Gabriel’s disillusionment with the police structure at large, about how useless he feels when confronted with the horrors of the world and his inability to do anything about them. With Nines, we slowly learn about what he was supposed to be, and why he is what he currently is, and how badly that’s affected literally every single facet of his unlife.
After that, I begin considering the story itself that they’re occupying. Letifer wasn’t a story specifically about how Gabriel became a detective or how Nines became a vampire. Origin stories are great, but this wasn’t that, so the plot itself had to give us an avenue to convey both of those journeys while also being focused on the greater goal of uncovering something bigger. I knew going in that I wanted to tell a crime/mystery story involving a serial killer. I wanted it to be a sort of spoof on buddy cop dramas but between a human and a vampire. That meant I knew I was telling a murder-mystery story. I came up with the culprit, the standard array of background characters a story like that needs (chief inspector for the vamps, human equivalent for Gabriel’s side of things, coworkers for them both that better serve to create disparity between each of their own experiences, and the suspects and witnesses that will be interviewed over the course of the story), and picked the setting (Detroit, a city I visit every year and have a very fond love of, and fall blending into winter, because that remains to this day the only way I’ve ever experienced Detroit in person.)
Then, I begin the outline.
Step 3: Notes and Outlining
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard aspiring writers tell me they don’t outline. I used to be the same, but writing my first book taught me that’s a terrible idea and a bad habit to get into. I’m not here to tell you how to live your life or make your art, but seriously, a book is so long and full of twists, turns, and tiny details that even the most basic of a roadmap will do you worlds of good in actually seeing your first book turn into an actual, finished product.
The best advice I can give someone who wants to write a book is to outline. I’m not going to insist you do it the way I do it, and if you’re morally opposed to outlines for fear of it “impeding your creativity,” at least make bullet points. As I always say, give yourself a roadmap that allows for detours if you need them, but don’t drive off into the world without knowing the destination at all. You’ll never finish anything if you don’t know where you’re going, and if there are problems in your story, the outline is the first, best, and easiest way to see those issues and fix them before you reach the point of no return.
Like, seriously. I’ve had to rewrite two full books from start to finish, and every time I did, it was solely because my outline wasn’t solid enough before I began writing. It may seem intense, how I plan stories, but this is how I finish them. This is literally the reason I’m able to write one book, let alone nine.
Now, this is probably the part I’ve spoken about most when the question of my story process comes up. If asked, those who have discussed this with me before will probably lead the explanation by telling you about my thesis statement method. To this date, I’ve yet to meet anyone who has ever begun a story outline process the same way, but to me, it’s necessary when it comes to distilling my intentions towards a piece as succinctly and plainly as possible. Apotheosis, the prequel to Letifer and the current patreon serialization, is a great example of this in action.
The purpose of this work is to recount the gradual seduction of Kolton by his sire Elijah Eder, head of the Luminary bloodline amidst political machinations, vampiric subterfuge, and the disintegrating relationship between Kolton and his twin brother Nines as he slowly distances himself from his old life to embrace his new one at his sire’s side. By the end of this book we should see what led to Nines’s self-imposed exile away from Kolton, the true nature of Kolton’s relationship with Elijah, and have a general sense of what life is like as a high-blood vampire. It’s not as easy as one would think, privilege of the blood aside. Even as a human Kolton will encounter power plays he can’t combat, witness the sort of debauchery the so-called elite get up to behind closed doors, and learn the stories surrounding the Fall, a mysterious event only alluded to in whispers. Kolton must adapt if he wishes to prove himself a fitting match for Elijah— and to keep his head above water too, of course.
As you can see, it’s almost a cross between a declaration of intent as well as a mini-teaser/summary. This one was pretty well polished since I had been working on it when a lot of questions about my process came up in a few writer discords, but the gist is always the same across the board. They all begin with “The purpose of this work is…” and end with me telling myself what the end-goal takeaway of the story should be. I’ve written tons of things that start out in my head as one thing and turn into another by the time I’m finished with the story. It’s really easy to lose track of what a story is supposed to be and take it in a different direction, which is fine, but when you’re writing a series you tend to need to keep on track or else the future books you’ve planned for are diverted as well.
From this thesis statement, though, I can, at any moment, read over it while working on just about any chapter and make sure I’m aligning the events with the larger scope of the story. Apotheosis is a prequel, but it’s also the best look into the Luminary bloodline that we get in this book series. As Kolton learns and experiences the elite side of vampiric life, so do we, so am I being descriptive and giving time to the culture? Am I keeping Kolton as in control of things as he can given the circumstances? This story is a corporate, vampiric thriller. It’s rooted in mid-90s culture, business settings, and the sort of cutthroat coldness that accompanies such things. It’s honestly not much of a romance—it’s closer to an arranged political marriage, and that needs to carry through in every interaction we see. I’ve had to rewrite a couple chapters already to realign myself with these views, and it’s the thesis statement I turn to when I feel myself getting lost in the weeds.
After the thesis statement, though, comes an actual summary. And I don’t mean a sales page one. I mean a full out, what happens from the first chapter to the last, and it typically takes up about 2-3 paragraphs. I don’t get into the minutiae of every single interaction or what-have-you, but I discuss plainly who does what when, what the conflict, rising action, and climax is, and ultimately how the story ends. This gives me a basic overview of the story’s progression, and from there, I delve into the steps I have to take to bring it all to life.
People on patreon get access to my outlines once a book or novella is complete, so there are better examples of how I do chapter notes available. For this, I don’t want to potentially spoil anything for someone, so I’ll just give you the first chapter of Infaust since nothing super spoiler-y happens in that.
Chapter One: (Rehan) The story opens to Rehan climbing up a hill towards a small village. The day is bright and bleeding into evening, at odds with the nature of his visit. He sees people walking along the way and they give him a wide berth. Same old same old. He arrives in the small village and sees how frightened people are. There are tons of small effigies erected around to mourn the loss of the children. Rehan thinks about why he is in fact here and he finds the elder of the village. Sits down with her and discuss terms of the job. A few witches have tried/come to take the job but left when they heard what was the cause. Chaos God. Rehan flinches but insists. Lays down his terms. The elder brings up the fact he has no familiar. Rehan presses harder on his terms, and the woman has no other option. She is visibly uncomfortable at the terms. Rehan asks for all the info they have on the God and where he is, and he tells her he can’t do it today, but he will go tomorrow. She puts him up for the night in a small shack on the edge of the village. It’s better than Rehan usually gets. He can’t wait til he gets better once this is all over.
As you can see, if I’m writing a story that swaps POVs, I always start each chapter note by specifying what character I’ll be writing from. After that, I write step-by-step what happens over the course of the chapter. Sometimes, this is a very detailed thing, and other times—usually if I feel I’ve got a good mental visualization of how a story is going to proceed—I keep it rather vague to allow for more organic unraveling. I typically try to include what elements need to be present to progress the plot, that way I don’t leave anything out, and I try to include the character’s emotional state. If you’ve read the first chapter of Infaust, you’ll notice that I left out multiple interactions he has with townspeople before he even reaches the village elder. I don’t bother explaining how a chaos god stole the children. I don’t go into Rehan’s internal monologue about how he processes the death of his familiar every time he’s in a position like this, and I don’t include any world building details beyond basic visuals of where he’s currently at. I know all of these, or I let them happen to me as I write.
I do this throughout the whole story, sometimes being vague, sometimes giving more detail based on how much happens in the scene, how important everything is, or if it’s something that doesn’t need much elaboration (sex scenes, backstory exposition moments, fight scenes—things that generally work better with me improvising or writing in the moment without thinking too hard about specifics). If there are moments when I don’t know how something happens, I make a note of it and I don’t begin writing everything until I’ve answered that question. I then give my notes to my editor and a few trusted friends to look over. I ask them questions, and they ask me questions in turn. If I don’t have an answer (How does this ritual work? How are they going to accomplish xyz when they’ve only got abc?) I keep on the outline until I’ve figured it out.
Like I said above, the outline is where the hard work should actually happen when it comes to figuring out what your story is and how you’re going to tell it. It’s my favorite part of the whole process, and it’s also how I can predict just how long a book will be and how long it’ll take me to write. I know how long it takes me to convey xyz in a scene, and I know how many chapters I can write in a certain amount of days. This isn’t something a lot of people can do. As far as I’ve seen, I’m apparently Stephen King, not G. R. R. Martin—and if you aren’t familiar with that comparison, please, look up their interview. It’s great. But anyway, the root of all of this is that a good outline will save you worlds of hurt down the line. Never rush this step and always do your future self a favor by making it the best it can possibly be before you ever put pen to paper.
Step 4: Writing
This step is pretty self-explanatory. I begin writing the story, typically starting with the first chapter and working my way chronologically through it til I reach the end. Within a chapter, though, I’ll jump around, writing the ending first, tacking out dialogue bits I’ve already got in my head, and just working my way through things until it all connects and I can check the chapter off the list as done. If it’s a story I have pretty well visualized inside my head, I may even skip chapters entirely and work wherever I’m feeling it most, but typically, I try to avoid this on book projects. It can be hard to maintain a steady character arc personality-wise when jumping around.
Also, I write a chapter within a couple days typically if not a single day, and then I move onto the next. I don’t go back to revise it unless I’m publishing a story piecemeal to patreon. Finished is always better than perfect, and if I start revising in the middle of things I’ll never get to the end. Also, I almost always feel crippling self-doubt creep in within the first five to six chapters. That’s normal. You aren’t deep enough into a story to see things come together in the ways your brain imagined. My rule of thumb is I’m not allowed to say I hate a story until I’m 3/4s done with it. By that point, I’m almost always so far into things that the pieces are coming together, and I’m vibing with it, and if not, I’m too far in to jump ship now. I commit to finishing it and throwing it to my editor, knowing we’ll hammer it into shape together.
If you struggle with this sort of thing, seriously, stop rereading shit and just keep going. Revision is your best friend and exists for a reason.
Step 5: Editing/Revising
This is probably my second favorite part of the writing process, and one of the reasons why that is is because when I’m revising, I know the work itself is done. The hard part is over. The beast is dead, and now all that’s left is refining its body into something worth reading.
I suppose I should specify that there is a difference between editing and revising. Editing is when you make major changes, rewrite things, rework them. Revising is going over things with a fine tooth comb to find the small errors, i.e. punctuation, sentence clarity, grammar, etc. I enjoy both stages. It’s actually a lot of fun getting to go through work that’s already completed and refining it into something better, and it’s always less daunting to rewrite a few paragraphs than to write an entire chapter from scratch. Even if I do have to rewrite a full chapter, I almost always know exactly what it has to be when I’m in the editing stage. After all, I know why the old chapter failed. It’s just—easier. There’s a lot less pressure to get things right, and it tends to involve the help of an editor, which relieves the burden even more.
Now, my editor is the fucking bee’s knees. Their name is NIL and they’ve been involved in every single project I’ve put out except for Brontide and Letifer—the first because they were moving when I first wrote that book and I didn’t want to bother them to read it, and if you’ve read my Brontide deep dive, you’ll know that’s a mistake I’ve regretted to this day. The latter, though, was more personal, and they were still involved in a lot of the DVerse development outside of that book. They’re a polyglot, a writer themself, a cat-dad, and one of the best friends I’ve ever had. They love vampires and magic, explore spiritualism and the intangible in ways that will make your toes curl, and they’re never afraid to tell me that I’ve fucked shit up again.
Believe me, as an author, you need to hear that more often than you’d think. Every plot hole I’ve filled in was thanks to spitballing ideas with NIL. Every character voice I’ve refined into something unique has happened because they took me aside and told me I was being derivative. They tell me when I need to rewrite a full book. They tell me when something I’ve spent months on isn’t salvageable. They also console me through the emotional aftermath of that, and they help me do better on the next go. I’m a mess sometimes when I don’t know where to take a story. I’ve yet to have a meltdown where they failed to take me by the hand and guide me back onto the proper path.
I know a lot of young, aspiring writers struggle with their books. I wish telling them to get an editor was an easier prospect than I make it sound. You need one, though, if you want your story to be a well-told one. You need someone who will tell you where things are weak, and more than that, more than a beta reader can give, you need someone who can tell you how to fix it. That’s what an editor does. They aren’t there just to fix your commas or run-ons. They’re there to distill the essence of what the story is supposed to be and help you refine it until that’s what the reader holds in their hands.
Good editors don’t grow on trees. You’ll likely have to pay to find one, or go the mainstream publishing route to have a house assign one or two to you. I prefer to have someone I know personally, who knows me personally, but regardless, you need one. You need one bad.
My typical editing process takes months. If I can write a book in one month, it’ll take three to edit and revise it. I usually read over the story myself several times, mark up chapters where I think ideas or executions are weak, and I address them myself before I hand the document off to NIL—if I haven’t just given them access from day one to help keep me on track as I write the damn thing. If I don’t know how to fix something, I mark it. I hand it to NIL. They read it first just to read it, and then they read it again to mark it up as well. It’s normal for me to wake up with 300 suggested edits on three chapters from them. Most, unfortunately, are commas XD But some are comments about plot holes, inconsistent lore details, confusing sentences they can’t decipher, and places where things I tried simply do not work.
My favorite are the reactions, though. The emojis and links to songs certain sentences remind them of, the insults towards shithead characters, and the shock at twists, the pitying condolences at how badly I’ve treated a witch-boy this time... I find this part of the process fun for so many reasons, and even if NIL hates me by the end of a story for dragging their heart through the dirt again, I can’t stop loving it.
To be honest, I can’t imagine working with anyone else on my projects. NIL knows me and my writing style inside and out, and they never try to change my style to suit their own aesthetics the way other editors I’ve had in the past do. They care about every project I put out and will spend hours on voice calls with me hammering out the issues in my story structures until we’ve figured out how to fix them. I learned early on to involve them in every step of my writing process. It just leads to the best result, and there is a reason why I always thank them in my author’s notes. I wouldn’t have put out these books to this level of quality without their help, their insight, and their support guiding me every step of the way.
I know my blog posts are full of shameless plugs, but I truly and sincerely suggest that you check out NIL and consider them for your own projects. They are dedicated and passionate, and you could not be in better hands. You can find them on their blog at https://naughtingwell.wordpress.com/
Tell them Migi sent you—they’ll bad-mouth me to the grave, and I’m okay with that.
Step 6: Publication
This is probably my least favorite part of the entire process of writing a book, namely because I have to do so much stuff that isn’t in my wheelhouse as a self-publisher. When you go the route I go, you have to be a marketing expert, a graphic designer, a copywriter, and a publicist all at once. Sure, I always have a talented artist to handle my cover for me, but I still have to format the text and title font myself. I have to do the interior myself, format it, edit it, make sure the spacing is proper and that nothing is outside the print boundaries. Marketing is its own brand of hell, one you either have to spend a ton of money, time, or both on to get anywhere with it, and it’s probably my least successful part of this whole process. I have all my social media profiles and in-person events and what not, but it’s hard, and seriously, unless you’re able to throw a lot of money each month to get ad space on different sites, you’re probably not going to see large returns without already having an established fanbase or social network to help fill in the gaps for you. I’m always very upfront when it comes to the pros and cons of each type of publishing. We can talk more about that at a later date if there’s interest, but for now, here’s how I go through publication hell.
I get an ISBN on Amazon and set up my sales page.
I format my interior via InDesign or OpenOffice and create pdfs for the physical releases. This is usually done before I send out for the cover since I have to have a total page count to give the artist an accurate spine template to work from, but I’ll sometimes do my major edits and then send the template and take care of spot edits while they art is drawn—I just can’t lengthen or shorten the book by a single page at this point.
Once I’ve got the cover, I submit it and the interior to get my proof copy to see if everything’s printed properly. It usually takes 2-3 times to get everything perfect, and I have to pay for each proof copy every time, sometimes even duplicates to have one shipped to my artist because accurate colors don’t show up well via camera pics.
Once the physical release is squared away and submitted, I send my interior file to an ebook maker because the best minds I have access to have yet to figure out how to make one that doesn’t muck the formatting up. I’m convinced it’s impossible, and I’d rather spend money than stress myself out more than I already get with late-stage pub hell.
Once all of the book materials are finished and submitted, I open up my own hosted pre-orders for physical copies since Amazon is a cuck and won’t let you have that anymore. Kindle pre-orders are up from the moment you set it up (less chance for loss of return on Amazon’s side of things if it’s canceled when it’s a digital release and not a printed one).
Throughout this process I’ve been marketing everywhere I possibly can. I make graphics, I show off excerpts, I lean on all my popular friends to boost my posts and promote it to their own audiences. I pay for ad space and I offer pre-order deals. I invest in merch to help sweeten the deal, and if I’m at cons, I talk about the new release nonstop in hopes these people might check it out when it drops.
The book launches, I order my pre-order stock, and I rest in between signing/mailing those out and handling any issues that arise after the fact (these don’t tend to happen anymore, but when I first started out we had lots of issues).
That may not sound that bad given it’s a nice 7-step process when it’s laid out like this, but throughout publication hell, I’m putting in hours upon hours to get things perfect and promote things well enough to make a launch a launch and not a flop. I rely on a lot of my friends, which include graphic designers, editors, artists, typesetters, and other aesthetically inclined individuals to make sure things are as good as they can possibly be when I’m handling the bulk of things myself. I don’t sleep much, I’ve visibly lost weight on occasion during a publication (I ran into my friend’s husband in the grocery store parking lot when Redamancy dropped. He complimented me on the unexpected weight loss (he didn’t think I was much for dieting) but was concerned about how badly my under-eye bags had gotten—he thought I had broken my nose at a distance, since they looked like two black eyes), and I only seem to breathe easily once it’s over.
It’s hard, is what I’m getting at, and it’s pretty obvious, I think, why it’s my least favorite part of this whole thing.
Anyway, that’s the gist of my process. It’s taken years to refine it to these easily demarcated steps, and it’s what I’ve found works best for my workflow and allows me to put out a steady stream of works. Now, let’s swing over to some questions so I can be more specific! Questions come from Instagram this time.
Any writing pet peeves?
I really hate unnatural dialogue and triteness. There’s also this quirky, Joss Whedon-esque style some people go for and it’s… really grating to me. Not every line has to be a quip, and while you think you’re being zippy and quirky like that, you’re just being bland. We get nothing from a character who responds like that, and like, I can be guilty of it too. Sometimes my instinct is to default to the quirky, quippy rebuttal, but I almost always revise it on my second pass because we don’t learn anything about a character when they act like that. It’s not a personality trait—it’s a punchline.
How do you start writing something? Like, when you already know what but just don’t know how?
Say it with me kids: OUTLINE, OUTLINE, OUTLINE! If you have that done and still find yourself struggling to figure out where to start, pick the most interesting place and begin there. If the story is Twilight, we don’t start with Bella being born, or her in her old school. The story is about her going to Forks, Washington and meeting vampires, so we start with her on her way to Forks, Washington to meet vampires! The same goes for Dracula. Jonathan is already on the train to Transylvania when we begin the story. He’s on his way to the whole impetus of this plot.
Now, if you’re having issues literally just putting pen to paper, that’s normal. That’s something I have issues with too when I begin new projects, and all I do is give myself time. I typically schedule myself to finish chapters within a day or two, but if I’m just starting a new book, I give myself a full weekend just to write the very first paragraph. Most of the time, you just need to break ground. Once you’ve taken that first step, it gets a lot easier. And hell, I’m the king of non-linear writing. Who says you have to start with the first page? Skip to where you want to write first, be it the climax, the sex scene, or the ending. Get comfortable and then go back to the beginning, and seriously, don’t sweat things. You can rewrite a bad beginning. Write utter horseshit if you have to and edit it later. You’ll find your flow once you start and that’s always the most important thing.
How do you know where to take your story and what direction to move the plot in?
Oh, I get this a lot with my own projects. I currently have a few concepts or character dynamics I really want to play with but haven’t because I haven’t figured out how to execute it yet. I think the big thing to think about is what do you concretely have in your head for it, and are you sure you’re pursuing the proper medium for it? Sometimes it’s not a book. Sometimes it’s a movie, or a comic, or a visual novel. Some ideas are too big to be possible in the format you’re trying to fit it in, and again, outlining will give you the best understanding of what sort of story it is you’re trying to tell. Also, a lot of issues when it comes to getting over those initial roadblocks at the start of a project is making sure you know where you’re going with it. Do you know what your conflict is? Do you know where the rising action is? It may sound very high school English class, but those story structures exist for a reason. I had tons of issues writing Infaust until I went back in and properly outlined what my actual conflicts were.
If you’re going to try my method of doing chapter notes, my trick is to write up basic headers like Chapter 1, 2, 3, etc. until I hit like, I don’t know, Chapter 15. Then I fill in as much as I can where I think things should happen. So, if I know the beginning few chapters, I fill those in. Then, say I know the climax. I skip to Chapter 12 and fill that in. It’s easy with the climax in place to fill in to the ending, and then I just connect the dots, filling in where I know I want certain things to go until I have a complete outline. From there, you refine, refine, refine. If you don’t know what your basic story points are, you aren’t ready to tell this story. Concentrate on figuring out what those are and it all should fall into place.
How do you manage the whole “show, don’t tell” thing?
Lord, I could probably do another ten blog posts just on instructional writing. I mean… maybe. I don’t know if I’m the best teacher to begin with, and a lot of what I do is based on instinct and vibes. The best advice I can give you on something like this is to remove your author brain while you write from a character’s pov and try to embody them as they go through the scene. They aren’t going to simply state things. They're going to relate to the world around them based on how it makes them feel, and you’re always going to be building character moments and associations as they interact with things. Instead of saying “The war was bad and unpopular,” relate to it the way the character would. Why is it bad and unpopular? How have they been affected by it? They’re more likely to tell you via an anecdote how the war killed their brother and father and reduced their remaining family to begging to get by than to just list off the political goings-on of the day. I guess just be asking yourself why a lot as you write, and read things aloud to see if what you’re writing sounds natural.
Of course, I can’t just tell you to always be doing that. Sometimes, you really can just say something. You don’t need to show everything, and mild, well-applied exposition is necessary for any good story to work. There’s never going to be one proper rule for a lot of writing questions like this. You need to practice your craft, read a lot of other peoples’ stuff, and experiment until you get the feel for it yourself.
I actually received about three times as many questions this month as I was able to answer in this blog post. Apparently there’s quite a demand for this topic? I’ll try to do some planning to better prepare for stuff like this, and I may even ask my editor if they’re willing to answer some questions as well if you guys would be interested in something like that. We are, of course, not teachers or experts on a lot of this. We can’t run a class or seminar, but I suppose we can do our best.
But for right now, that’s it for this month! It was a long one this time, but I don’t mind much, and I hope you guys don’t either.
We’re going to be gearing up for the holiday season soon, and I hope to have some new merch to unveil right in time for all your Christmas shopping needs. Keep an eye out for that, and good luck in your writing adventures!
As always, until next time!