And I’m still here and still writing away happily. It’s been over a year since the blog was started, and in that time I’ve managed 100 posts (this is actually the 101st). The time in between has been quite a journey for me as a writer, doing multiple edits on Tarranau and Chloddio, learning the business of publishing, and writing the 3rd book (Laeccan Waters) in TFPL series for NaNo.
As for that book, it’s currently only at 41k after 35k in the first two weeks. I’ve had a serious case of burnout, and lost interest in plowing ahead with the story. I’ll finish NaNo, but once that’s done, I’m taking a break from working on the novel for a little while. I am enjoying the story, but the pace of writing has me needing a little rest. Prior to this, I’ve never tried to write a novel in a limited timeframe, and doing 85k words in two months is a little draining for me.
And now a look back at some of the highlights of the last 100 posts. I highly recommend the Breaking an Empire and Hia Breoedd storylines.
Læccan Waters – Excerpts from my current NaNo novel. With luck, another will appear tonight.
Legends of the Burning Sands – From far in the past comes the epic of one man’s rebellion, now lost to the mists of time.
Breaking an Empire – The collapse of Hymerodraeth Heula, the Empire of the Sun, told by the soldiers who try and save it.
Hia Breoedd – A tale of Annwyd Arwedda, ruler of a tundra empire, and how he rose to power.
Jenny – The serialized story of a cloned organ replacement, forced into combat because humanity ran into deadly aliens. Incomplete.
Flash Fiction – My short fiction, with many hidden gems.
Thank you to all of the writers and others who have been supportive, chatty, or interesting. It’s made writing a lot more fun.
This is a repost from a prior blog, but my creative abilities have been in slacking mode, and rather than leave this blog entirely dead, I felt this was appropriate. I would surmise that not everyone who comes here has read Caer Chan Carega or the Tale of the Apprentice, but hopefully this will be worth the read all the same. As a little background, the Tale of the Apprentice is the first chapter in Tarranau’s story. The material below is perhaps a year or so old. Still, I hope you enjoy the reading.
Despite the horrible pun in the name of this post, this is going to be me talking about both my process of writing, as well as the background of the stories, and where they come from.
Prior to the beginning of this little adventure in writing and storytelling, the only writing I had done was that required for school, mostly research essays for class. I was good at that, at least according to the gradings of my teachers, but there is a certain style difference between the writing of a research essay on the comparison of concentration camps within the era of modern dictators, and writing about the use of earth magic as a rescue mechanic in a cave-in. One focuses almost entirely on presenting an argument in the best possible way, and the other on telling a story that involves and interests the reader. However, both do need to engage the reader to the point that they buy into what the writer is saying, otherwise the writer (namely, me) has failed in their goal.
When I write, there is little in the way of forethought or pre-planning. There’s usually the germ of an idea (for example, with Caer Chan Carega it was earth magic + “possibly a cave-in”), but not much more. No character names unless it is a continuation of a previous story, often not much in the way of a defined setting, just an idea that I sit down at a keyboard with, and a desire to write. There seem to be as many ways of writing as there are people who sit down to write. For example, yesterday in the candlelight and lightning glare of the thunderstorm that cut the power I was reading a book on writing from professional writers, among them Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. In back to back chapters, Bradbury advocates writing simply from an idea, finishing stories within a couple hours of the start, while another (J.N. Williamson) recommends plotting out the stories heavily beforehand using outlines to make sure the ebb and flow of the tale is fitting.
Despite my previously saying that I never outline things, there is one outline that exists for my writing, and it is for the overall novel-length work that is being slowly serialized here as the Tale of the Apprentice, the first Tale in about ten. It was designed, and stored into my memory banks on a long car-ride down from New England, and then typed up at the end of that ride. It came after the first three small sections in the Tales of were written, and once the Tale of the Apprentice is finished I’ll post the original edition of it, which is far shorter and less interesting of a read, although it was the first thing ever written for this setting (aside from background material). Having the outline means that I know where the story is going, and can work off of that. The only problem is the amount of work needed to take that outline and turn it into a story. Never let anyone fool you into thinking writing well is easy, when there are several hundred pages that need to be written, and then edited again and again to comprise a single book. However, a good short story can be written in a week or less, and despite the fact that book stores are stuffed full of novels, I find (and also recommend) that short stories are where to start and to find your feet as a writer. I think if I hadn’t written several segments and short stories before starting on the Tales of series (which is really a collection of short stories that happen to tie together, or at least its being written that way), I’d have a harder time of it. Do take all of this with a grain of salt. After all, I’m hardly a writer, just someone with a few unedited short stories and a couple ideas to their credit.
That hopefully gave a little bit of insight into how I write, and wasn’t a complete waste of time. The next section, and the reason for the Background Check in the title of the post, is just going to be me talking about the inspiration and where the posted short stories came from.
The first of all of these stories was the Tale of the Apprentice. At the time, it didn’t really have a name, or any sense that it was the lead-in to a great deal of writing for me. My family and I (yes, I’m not the only designer behind the Four Part Land. Mother and both Brothers have contributed quite a bit of material.) had been hashing out the setting, every morning sitting down in Cornwall to write background material for an hour or two. Beautiful place, beautiful setting to begin work on what became known as the Four Part Land, mostly due to the lack of a better name and this one sticking. The morning we were leaving, I sat down and wrote out the short story that was the original draft of the Tale of the Apprentice, and presented it to them on the drive back in the car. Nice reaction, story was too short (its only 2.5 pages typed up). From then on, it wasn’t touched until the end of Caer Chan Carega, when I decided that I would stop writing short stories based on the elements, and instead begin work on the first part of what had, by that time, become a novel length story idea with the addition of two other short pieces (one of them longer, the other shorter than the original Tale of the Apprentice) that took place well down the road of the story for Tarranau. From those three pieces came the outline mentioned above, and then the actual start of writing, the story being serialized currently on the blog (and yes, I know I need Friday’s and Monday’s post up). Slow progress at only a few pages a week, but enjoyable none the less. At some point (especially once I get an apartment that gives me three more hours in the day, as opposed to in the car), I might try changing the weekly posting format, either into a single longer block or simply more posts during the course of the week.
The second of the stories set within the Four Part Land, and the first one to see the digital post here, was Yathol’s Revenge. The Four Part Land has magic that is based on the four elements, as well as Spirit (no, this is not Captain Planet’s Heart), a very different style of magic. Nature is also floating around in there, but I may or may not actually implement it into the stories. How Yathol’s Revenge came about was that I had written the “abilities” for the various kinds of magic, and what is possible, and wanted to explore those in writing in order to portray to myself and to others how they would work. To that end I began writing a short story about a man in search of revenge, relying heavily on his magical talents in order to succeed. As much a vehicle for the magic as for the story, it still succeeded in being a story enough to satisfy me as a writer, and apparently at least one white dragon as a reader.
Caer Chan Carega was cut from the same mold, a simple alphabetic progression to the next element in the chain, Earth. It ended up being a little more though, as much a story about a person’s life and some of his desires as about the magic itself. It had never been intended that way, instead just a miner using his magical talent to blow through a cave-in in a glorious rescue. Instead it went the other way, opening with Chloddio talking about his love of high mountains, his dislike of being trapped underground, and instead of a quick, glorious rescue, it became a slow, magic and strength sapping slog to try and find their friends trapped on the far side of a fallen rock wall, and in the end all of their talent and effort was simply not enough for many of their fellow miners. There was a lesson learned in there, one that I hadn’t really paid attention to before: never let your original ideas straight-jacket a story. Instead, let the story go where it will. It’ll be written better, and read better as well. Case in point: during Caer Chan Carega, I have Chloddio and a few others go to the deepest exploratory part of the mine, looking to rescue those who had been down there. Originally, they would have been alive, unharmed, and not even noticed that there was a cave-in on the levels above them. It sucked as a story device. It wasn’t believable, it didn’t fit, and felt far too much like Deus Ex Machina rescue. I wrote this, read it back, deleted it instantly and had them crushed by another part of the cave-in, and let that play out through Chloddio’s emotions instead. Several times during the writing of it, I felt like I was near the end, and each time, it veered away from the end towards a continuation, adding a little more depth and interest to the story. At first it was to end when Chloddio came out through the cave-in, rescuing those within. Then he had to help the miners, and then set off in search of the exploration team, at which point the story was to end with him standing over the pile of stone that was their temporary grave. A sober ending, perhaps but I thought it fit. There was one addition after that: his change of occupation, fired by the mind but transferred to the city guard, an event that might have significance far, far into the Tales.
Names are a critical part of a character, as they draw the eye and catch the readers interest. They provide the theme to the character, and often define his primary characteristic. The names also need to fit the setting. Using Japanese names in an Aztec setting throws the reader out, and causes them to be distracted from the thread of the story. Names should add to the character, and add to the mystique of the plot, not detract.
For me and The Four Part Land, the speech of the setting is from the Gaelic language tree. It’s referred to in the story as the ‘high language’ or the language of naming, whereas most of the daily speech is in traders tongue or the low language. This allows me to drop in names and have characters fit without having to muck about giving English translations for most things. (Side note: do provide translations where it matters to the story, no point confusing the reader with a name that means something and is never explained). It also allows me to use very basic defining characteristics, especially for minor characters. The lookout is called Eagle, an insulting commoner is called Donkey (or Ass), and a sergeant is called Soldier. Yet, when these basic English words are translated into another language (in my case, usually Welsh, sometimes Manx or Cornish), they suddenly became exotic and interesting, through the power of translation. Here’s a basic example: the word Spear becomes Thryferwch, and a character known for his ramrod straight back and focused sense of purpose. If you’re ever having trouble coming up with a character, pick a random word or two, toss it into the translator, and build a personality on what comes back. It’s a wonderful way to quickly generate small characters.
For translation, I just have a few online translators bookmarked, and run a word or two through them and see what comes out. I pick the result that I like the most, and off I go, the character has his name, or the place its descriptor.
Please note that this mostly applies to fantasy or science fiction writing. Otherwise, the names usually end up sounding like they don’t quite belong. I know the information is a bit unorganized, but I hope it helps.