Hiya folks! I’m writing a fantasy novel.
This post marks the start of an ongoing series of “development logging” for a novel that I’ve been chipping at for the last half of my life. However, as of January 2019, I’ve decided I’m going to finish it, and I’ve at last figured out a number of things on how.
So it’s here that I’ll post updates on progress, hurdles, concepts, maybe even distractions or discarded plotlines. I’ll also make dedicated lore posts and, as per Minibot’s suggestion, maybe even put up some slideshows that depict world histories or magic systems and whatnot.
This is a major project for me; more than a few life decisions have been made with the development of this novel in mind. Not least of which, choosing to uproot and live in Viet Nam, and continuing to do so. And you know what? One of the fairly recent conclusions to which I’ve come is this:
I love writing and storytelling, and having gotten over the existential question of “Am I in love with writing the book, therefore does actually finishing it scare me?” I’ve since decided that getting this book done is of paramount importance, so I can confidently stride on toward the next one.
Genre: High/Epic Fantasy, with as many as seven (7) novel outlines planned and numerous side-story plot threads fluttering in the wind, and a setting composed of as many as four fairly detailed worlds (as in, planets/planes), with allusions toward others.
The main story depicts characters in a fantasy realm with portals that reach other worlds, where different magic systems function and different peoples, politics, flora and fauna, and climates all affect elements of the story. All the while, there are cosmic forces at large — Lovecraftian eldritch horrors, if you will as well as things we might call gods. So, while there are heroics, and adventures, and personal struggles with and between mortal characters, always there are the hungering eyes of beings from beyond that wait for their chance to overtake and consume existence.
World-building is the proverbial rabbit hole for us fantasists. It’s so terribly easy to get lost in the histories and magic systems and creation myths of our settings. In other words, it’s so easy to focus on crafting a place that we very easily forget to write a story.
I won’t go in-depth here about the Setting(s), or the over-arching plotline, of the books. For this post, as Number 00, below is detailed something of a timeline with regards to my journey as a writer instead.
- Earliest I can recall, back then the scrivenings were barely recognizable concepts of the story and setting that came about in my mid-teens. In other words, that’s when I started taking to notebooks and keyboards to craft worlds and fill them with characters. I was an art major, too, so filling out volumes of sketchbooks with characters and creatures came naturally as well.
Like myself back then, what passed for a “narrative” was nothing short of inexperienced and my characters nothing short of immature and undeveloped. There’s really nothing of the proto-story from back then that has survived to this day, except for a couple of familiar characters’ names.
- Fast forward a few years. A number of novels, anime series’ and videogames later, and I’d gotten a better grasp of what I like to read – and therefore write. But, the meat of it still sucked, and I barely studied the ‘art of storytelling.’
- I lacked a community from which to get constructive criticism. I also lacked the wherewithal to seek out folks in an effort to get better. This is because back then, it was just a hobby, a distraction. As if girls and videogames and failing college weren’t distracting enough.
- Then, in 2013, I attended a Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. The kind of place where they do “speed dating with editors,” where you get in a line, rehearse your 60-second pitch (story premise) and try to woo the editors with your book in hopes they’ll take you on in their publishing house.
- It was an important milestone for my writing, and myself. Not because I was accepted — good gods no. The reason was that after months trying to craft the 60-second pitch, I felt like I had the premise down, but after the Conference (and a number of conversations with folks) it made me come to world-shattering realization that my story … the one I’d been chipping at for about a decade by then … was not what I wanted it to be. Not. At. All.
- This was a bit of an existential crisis back then. Self-assured and with few other things going for him, 2013 Jesse had to deal with the shock of realizing something he’d been chipping at for a number of years would either need to be rewritten or scrapped altogether.
It’s after that conference when my writing journey started to turn from immature, shy hobbyist toward someone who gave a damn, and began putting in the work to get better.
- So after getting over that hurdle, at some point I went back into it, but always as a hobbyist. Storytelling comes naturally to me, but it would not be until some years later when I would actually make the effort to actively study and improve the craft.
- But that wouldn’t be until after I’d decided to uproot and move to Sai Gon, Viet Nam. I had heard by the low cost of living, the plentiful English teaching jobs, and laid-back energy of life here. For a time, much of that turned out to be true.
- Yet always there was the book, sometimes put aside, but never completely forgotten. I did (and occasionally do) freelance editing; I did (and still) pretty regular teaching, and life has a way of casting events before me that a cynic might call distractions. Getting married, opening small business(es), things like that.
- But always there was the Novel simmering in the back of my mind.
- In the years between that Writer’s Conference and the New Year of December 2018 the core novel concept had undergone a number of drastic changes. But the process had gotten easier.
- It’s easier to recognize whether a character is boring, or a plot arc isn’t compelling, or an info-dump or theme turns out to be ham-handed.
- It’s easier to cut out garbage sentences, paragraphs, chapters, entire swathes of the book in the ongoing effort to make this thing the best it can be.
The thing is, one would think “Geez, is it worth all the effort? Why not scrap it and just write a new book, rather than constantly tweak and rewrite the old one?”
The answer to that is not simple. But I’ll try.
Writing this book has been a part of me for so long that it is kind of hard to let it go, I can admit that. But, characters and plotlines and motivations therein have matured along with me; one of the weirdest moments came in the realization that a protagonist character I’d written at the age of 15, well, thought and acted like a fifteen-year-old.
Then at , I dunno, 25, I re-read the character and promptly rewrote him. This happened again and again every couple of years, during which I had gained real-world experience and maturation about how people, nature, the world, worked.
I am the definition of a late bloomer.
More to the point, I’ve abandoned other story concepts. Even other novels. Much of them take place in the same setting, but that’s besides the point ~ this one needs to be finished, needs to be completed, because it’s a part of me.
The question then comes:
How do I write the bloody book?
The simple answer to that is discipline, active awareness, and otherwise “Going Pro.” I’ll write about that in another post (when I have, I’ll link it here!), because it was life changing for me.
Suffice it to say that waiting around for inspiration to strike, for the muses to come find you and smite you with motivation, is a classic rookie move.
In future Novel Devlogs, I’ll share my writing process, my habits, the things I want to change, the books I’ve read, how I garner inspiration and cultivate motivation.
Spoiler: fantasy landscapes and videogame ambiance music take me to other worlds.
Here’s one to which I often return when I feel the need to leave the bustling city and run through the woods.
I’ll also share in-depth bits of lore, with setting, concept or character spotlights. I am better with words than I am with the pencil, but if people demand it, I’ll put up sketches as well.
There will be story elements, whether ones I’m toying with or ones I have, will, or want to implement into the novel.
Might even write about plot snags or pitfalls I’ve come across, with this devlog acting as a vessel to publicly journalize the issue aloud and, muses allowing, there will be followers open and interested enough to leave thoughts and (preferably constructive) criticism.
With regards to writing my book(s!), I have two goals for 2019:
Write it well.
If I can motivate, inspire, or even merely entertain with all this, I’ll be all the more driven.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes.