I took an informal poll among my fans and colleagues to see where they thought I ought to begin my blog, and I got a pretty resounding response that people wanted to know about my personal process. Now, there will be a whole string of series down the road of the writing process in general, but I was asked specifically about where I start, so I’ll do my best to explain my ways.
This is going to be a bit of an exercise for me for two reasons. First, because I believe that every writer needs to develop their own methods that work for them, regardless to what works for anyone else. My most sincere hope is that anyone who’s interested in my process plays around with the ideas and tailors the parts they like to fit their specific needs. My other concern with explaining my process is that most of the world and character building I do is sort of instinctual to me and I’ve never tried to put words to how it’s done. So, this will be an adventure for both of us!
The first task any writer needs to complete is to come up with an idea – I call them story germs. They can sprout from pretty much anywhere. Traditional places people catch story germs seem to be dreams or prompts, sometimes they come from random chance events or asking “What if?”. For the story that launched into The Afflicted Saga, it started as a great big accident.
I was challenged to create an RP character to interact with a character my husband had made with only one rule: I had to figure out how they met. That was my story germ. And possibly how this grew so out of control. With no other specifics, I had no real boundaries.
Now, I may start with a glimmer of plot, but it’s ultimately the characters that I figure out first. Since a story is ultimately the tale of someone else’s life, I feel that’s the most appropriate place to start.
I thought over what I already knew of the character that would one day become Mathias Sagewind. I knew that he was an immortal officer that had fought demons and vampires, and that he served some obscure high deity. I knew my character – whoever she was – would have to be an authority figure in order to have the opportunity to build a history with Mathias and that she couldn’t be from his stomping grounds since she was nowhere in his existing history. Taking these very basic guidelines, I closed my eyes.
This is how character creation always goes for me. I envision a general physical appearance, just enough that I can shake a character’s hands and ask them to tell me about themselves. Who they are. Where they’re going. What their mission is. And I ask them if I can chase them with my pen and come along for the ride.
The young woman I met called herself Nessix (her surname came years later) and told me she was the general of a remote island nation. I asked her more questions in order to build her homeland.
This is my key to writing stories. Asking questions is such an important part of writing and will follow you through pretty much every stage. Be willing to question everything and learn how to trust the answers you get (even if they don’t make sense at the time). Your brain is an amazing beast; it will take you in the right direction if you can stay out of its way. Besides, the worst thing that happens is you have to tweak something in rewrites.
Pursuing the questions I asked led me to discover just how small Elidae is (no larger than an average state here in the US), how the role of “General” was synonymous with “King”, that they worshipped a god not followed anywhere else in the world. These questions explained how people reached the island to begin with, what sorts of enemies were already there to merit needing an army in the first place. By asking questions and continuously doing so, I not only learned every aspect of Nes’s life, I also began laying down the foundation of an epic series currently covering 13 volumes.
I unwittingly completely ruined the chance of RPing with Nessix by unearthing her entire life’s story and kidnapped the paladin-that-would-become Mathias (more on his abduction in following posts), but it was too late to turn back. I’d caught my story germ in the form of a character who intrigued me and I couldn’t abandon her.
This first step is often the most hectic, the most uncertain, but trust the story to take you where you need to go. Keep faith in the journey!