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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fantasy Novel Progress Report (Part One)

Those of you who follow me on Twitter already know about a new project I’ve been working on. Still, I wanted to blog about it as a way of getting my thoughts down in sentences longer than 140 characters. As much as I love Twitter, it does have its limitations.

Recently I began work on a new fantasy novel. I’ve been meaning to write it for a while after being inspired by the Battlestar Galactica version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” I don’t know what it is about that song, but when I hear it my mind races with ideas. That’s how this novel came along, tentatively called The Watchtower.

Initially I thought this would be a short story, but the characters wouldn’t hear of it. They wanted more, and I can’t say no to my characters—if I do, they get angry and wreak havoc on my brain, which is not beneficial if you’re a graduate student. Currently there are three main characters and two primary supporting characters. There’s Luz, an apprentice magic user of sorts, Bromistan, a failed court jester, Pertuvoz, a character I don’t know much about yet, but who should be loads of fun to write for, Ladron, a thief (and no, there are no guilds or anything like that, he just likes to steal things), and Protegara, a master magic user and teacher to Luz. I have no doubt that there will be more characters soon, but for now, that’s it.

As far as the plot: I haven’t quite secured it yet. I’m trying to avoid turning this into an epic quest story, or any sort of epic fantasy involving big giant battles and what not. But such attempts to avoid staples of the genre are not working well. Thus far the story hinges on the sudden fall of the four kingdoms of the Mundoscurad (my fantasy land) and all of these characters getting caught in the middle of it. The four kingdoms are invaded by the long-defeated horseback barbarians from the northern lands (Nortierra) and practically swept aside overnight without a second thought. I will likely be explaining why it is so easy, considering the history of the kingdoms (they banded together some four hundred years ago in order to defeat the Nortierra riders), but since I only have about 5,000 words written, I think simplistic explanations are in order.

For now, that’s where it stands. My primary problem right now seems to be a proper way to open the piece, and as I write more and more to it I find myself slipping into the quirky side of fantasy, which I do not want for this. I love quirky fantasy, but The Watchtower is not a quirky novel.

The Watchtower is also the mark of an experiment on my part. I want to try outlining this whole thing to see how that works for me. My problem is that the few chapters I have already outlined were changed in the writing process. I might switch how I approach outlining to accommodate my need to change things on a whim, but ultimately I want to make outlining a staple of my writing process as far as novels are concerned. I like free writing with a general idea, but such methods led me into a hole with The Spellweaver of Dern, and I can’t have that happening over and over again with everything I write. I want a finished novel.

But I can make some promises for The Watchtower:
--There will be no elves, dwarves, etc.
--There will be magic, but it will be limited. Much of the magic of my world has been forgotten anyway, and a lot of it has less to do with fireballs and explosions and more to do with divination and what you might call “lesser magics.”
--There may or may not be large, mythical beasts. That’s not really a promise, but I’m considering the possibility of altering the bestiary of the Mundoscurad to be a bit more fantastic than what is typical of our world.
--The Watchtower will be a serious piece, with some comic relief (I hope). As I said, I like quirky fantasy, but I want The Watchtower to have a serious tone.
--I’m not going to bother avoiding all the clichés of fantasy. That’s impossible. I’ve already got a thief, for heaven’s sake.
--There will be a chosen one, but not in a traditional sense. I won’t say more, because I don’t fully know how it’s going to work yet, but just know that my chosen one will not be the lovely savior of the world, per se. He or she might be involved in the saving of the world, but I refuse to let this character become just another prophesied special person who rescues everyone and becomes a super duper hero. Such things are tired, in my opinion.
--I will finish the rough draft by February 1st, 2010. I’m giving myself a fair bit of time primarily because The Watchtower is not the only thing I am writing and I have other goals to achieve this year anyway (reaching 200,000 written words in fiction, and having twenty-five pieces of short fiction submitted at once, which I am currently about eight pieces away from doing). I expect The Watchtower to be roughly 90,000 words, but you never know.

And so ends my first progress report. More to come in the future, I’m sure.

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  1. I'm not sure what style of outline you're working from, but I used to have a terrible time with point-form outlines for just the reason you mentioned, (things changing as I wrote, etc.). I recently switched to a paragraph-based outline and I find it much easier to wrap my mind around. I write a brief paragraph for each scene; each one essentially amounts to a teeny, tiny story within the larger story, and I find that this makes it much easier for me to shift things around and think on the fly.

  2. I've tried the point-form, and my problem is thinking ahead far enough to know what is going on. I know the basic plot, I just don't know where it's going.

    I might try that paragraph-based outline, though, to see if that does anything.

  3. I also do paragraph-based. And when the story reels away from the outline (it always does, eventually) I stop and re-outline with regards to the new direction.

  4. I just outline what I am going to do in the first 5-10 chapters, then I come up with an ending, and somewhere in there is a middle part. :P

  5. Carraka: I guess a good idea would be to write a very basic outline with enough flexibility to change it as needed.

    CupofDice: Thanks for your input :).

  6. Anonymous5:36 PM

    Sounds great!

    As for outlines, I tend to do a malleable point-based one. Basically I start with the beginning and a loose idea of an ending or an oddly specific rough draft of an ending. It's also important to have a few middle points that should ultimately lead to an ending, hopefully the one you're currently planning.

    What I then do is begin to write. Every so often once I finish my day word goal or I get sick of writing, I think, "What's left to happen in the story?" Usually I end up getting more middle middle points that add more of a struggle and more complexity, while I also subtract some.

    Basically, you need to prevent the outline from becoming too rigid. Sometimes when you write the scenes listed, they change and your outline needs to be loose enough to be able to accommodate that.

    That's what works for me and it's what is helping me finish my current project, a novella that I should be able to finish within a few days, if not tonight.

    By the way, "The Watchtower" is an amazing song. It's no surprise that it's proving to be such good inspiration. It helped inspire a currently unfinished novel I have (basically the main character is a thief, but other than that it has nothing to do with the song).

    Other songs I find inspiration: Narcolepsy--Ben Folds
    The Seven Seas of Rhye--Queen
    Space Oddity--David Bowie


  7. Croc: thanks for the lengthy post! I agree with you. I don't want my outline to be too rigid.