The writing process: Developmental Edits pt. 1

typewriter-1144164-639x426It has been awhile since I have blogged about my actual writing. It isn’t because I haven’t been writing (I have, back off!) but more so I was waiting until I was done with what I was working on to comment. The last month or so, I have been doing a developmental edit on my fantasy series, in particular the first book Longinus Unbound. I will divide up this whole process into parts because there was a lot done to cover in one post.

Now, this process has been an interesting one. The reason I started a developmental edit was that I actually paid a professional (a pro agent and editor) to go over my manuscript with a viscous and critical eye. I found this gentlemen via the Writer’s Digest bootcamp I did back in October. And let me just say up front, this was worth the money!

I’m sure all you fine writers out there understand what a developmental edit is, but for those who don’t, basically it boils down to having a person who understands your genre very well read the manuscript and give honest critical feedback. Some of the things they touch on are line edits, setting, pace, tension, flow and overall feelings.

For me, this was important. Writing in SFF, the genre is pretty open, but also constricting in terms of setting, plots and systems. I had my original manuscript edited by a dear friend, but she doesn’t read this genre, so it was more of a line edit and grammar check. While incredibly helpful, I needed someone from the source who could tell me how much my writing sucked (he said it didn’t, so for that I am grateful!).

However, he was able to pick out the flaws of my writing, specifically the areas in which the book falls flat. Before I go into what I changed and why, I will say that after listening to him and reading his notes, the areas he wanted to see me work on were definitely in need of some editing/re-writing. Most of it revolved around my main POVs, mostly because they were written years ago. This gentlemen enjoyed my side characters more because their stories were better written, and this is because I added them later/recently with more flair and better writing.

First, my main female character Brynn, my main male character Finn and my second main female character Hunter all needed some changing. Brynn and Finn were too stereotypical heroes. Yes, they had flaws, but I didn’t make their flaws stick too long, derail them too much. They didn’t fester too much to give a bigger sense of urgency, sense of tension. Main characters need this to have a successful story.

Brynn was a stock princess character, a badass with magic and one that had the fortitude to go on the journey the plot needed. However, even though I made her a lesbian character (mainly because I use religion and this comes to the fore in the second and third books, not because I wanted to spice it up like a fanboy), Brynn wasn’t all that special, merely a vessel for the plot to move forward. Speaking with the editor, he pointed out that the protagonist needs some reason to go on the journey, mentally and physically and that readers want people to relate to. I had thought Brynn was this way, but I realized she was only partly there, she needed some oomph (however it is spelled). Since my setting contains major steampunk vibes, I decided to alter her from a typical princess to more of an outcast in her family – she is a gearhead, swears a ton, loves to learn about everything, skeptical of the magic she can use, not a true believer in the Church, trusts easily at the beginning and once betrayed, becomes a hardened character. I also changed the gradual reveal of her preference for women to be at the beginning, not as I had it when she first met Hunter. All of these changes made Brynn a robust character, flawed and capable, hopeful and sorrowful. She is the hero of my trilogy and she needed to be the strongest character I write (which I can say from later books, she certainly became one due to my writing getting better).

One thing that I needed to change was less badass characters and more human characters. My main party was all badasses. Making Brynn less open to using her magic helped that, but changing Finn was the key to that success. I completely removed him as a POV character, giving his scenes to his sister Hunter and some to Brynn. This allowed me to make Finn complex. He had a rough backstory, but instead of having the reader be in his mind, I took that out of view. The readers now have to put the puzzle of Finn’s contradicting emotions together from the views of others. It made him easier to write this time around. Finn is a heroic character, but he was betrayed in the past, banished from his army life, and the chosen of the magical Longinus blade. While it was originally fun to write how the power of the blade takes over Finn, it was even more interesting to have other characters view his change, because it makes Finn more unstable, his actions less expected. Finn, the drawn character, the deep character, the open, yet closed off character, all comes out now because we aren’t in his mind.

Hunter wasn’t changed all that much, but one thing I did alter was making her be more secretive with her knowledge. A true believer in the Church, Hunter’s arc was always to follow the religious aspect, but being a lesbian contradicted her beliefs. I added Hunter to the story way after the original manuscript was written so I had more opportunity to create and develop Hunter as a complex person who was struggling with the choice of belief vs her heart’s desire (in this case Brynn). But by making her be a manipulator of others – especially Finn – puts Hunter into even further shades of grey characterwise. Hunter has clairvoyance, almost like Min from WoT, and I brought that to the fore in this new edit. She uses people to get what she wants, as opposed to just being able to see what others are thinking. And this manipulation has cost her, it makes other characters harsher on her, makes her more deplorable and less honorable than she previously was. This helps create not just tension among the main party, but also makes her difficult choice of religion vs love even that more difficult for her.

One of the biggest changes to the characters in this book was the combination of what was once book 1 and book 2 of a four part series. I melded those books together to create one book and now a trilogy. The new book is called The Fallen Unbound (a combination of the two titles). I will go into more detail on the combination, but for this part, I now have my Ashe character back in book 1.

Ashe, a teenage street urchin, is one of my favorite characters. In this book, she doesn’t interact with the other characters but very very briefly, but she plays an important role in the rest of the series. The reason I love Ashe so much is that she is a commoner, a person without skill (minus being a street rat, which come on, is a heroic thing in itself!), someone who doesn’t understand the greater world around her. She is a character that the readers can relate to easily enough. I enjoy Ashe, I love writing her and it made me happy to bring her back in the first book, instead of her being in the second book.

The editor thought my three side characters, Marcard, Evander and Darko, were all more interesting than my main party. These guys were different in many ways and had lived completely different lives, while also being entertaining. Marcard is a military man, straightforward and to the punch. He didn’t change all that much, but I highlighted his loyalty conundrum even more in these new edits, while also making him more gruff. Evander is a sick bastard with devious thoughts. He is really the villain of the whole series and I made him even more the bad guy. In what was book 2, he becomes quite powerful, but in the first book, he kinda disappeared after a while because he was in captivity. So in this new edit, he escapes and does what he did in that book 2. He becomes even more an asshole and darker as a character. Darko didn’t shift much, but I did make him a little bit more conflicted on his choices.

Overall, the characters were some of the biggest changes I had to make with this edit. They needed polishing, needed more complexity, needed more secrets, more distractions, more tension. And I think I accomplished that pretty well with this first round of new edits. I know there is more to be done with them, but that will come soon enough.

The next post will bring up the other changes I made regarding setting, religion and magic.

Thoughts on writing: A whole new world…

dsc_6051Last year I finished writing my fantasy series after a decade of toil. It isn’t published yet (goal of the year!) but I have moved on from it for the time being- for the most part that is. I still have plans of doing some edits and like I said, it is my goal of 2017 to get this thing either published or on the road to publishing, whether it is traditional markets (preferred) or self-published.

That said, I have stepped away from that world I had spent so much time in. I wandered and meandered my way through that world for ten years and created some lasting memories with the setting and the characters that I will never forget. But it was time to step away for a bit and see what else there is out there. Although, I know I will be going back to that world shortly when I do some hack-n-slash with a broadsword to it, but that is a post for another day…

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This leads me to where I am currently. The world is called the Crystalium and it is governed by a Godking that breathes energy into the Crystal of Life. From the Crystal of Life come the 11 Crystals of Power and each crystal is kept in the protection of the 11 Queendoms. Only women can use magic, aside from the Godking, that comes from runes created from the shards of the crystals of power. The Godking only has twenty-five years of service to the Crystal of Life before he dies and the duty must pass on to one of his sons from the realms of the Crystals of Power. The current Godking only has one month left of service and his chosen heir has been murdered, this is where the story begins.

This world is completely different from the world of the Dies Irae that I just left. What is amazing about the SFF genre is that each story can be set in a different world, whereas contemporary works must be in the real world. I enjoy these other worlds with different rules and peoples. The world of the Dies Irae was one of religion and history based from the real world. The world of the Crystalium is nothing of that. Its God is the Crystal of Life and the Crystals of Power. The histories are stark changes from one another. Their peoples are different and the Queendoms of the Crystalium are detailed and as different from one another as the two worlds are.

The thing that separates the worlds are its people and places. Within the Dies Irae, it was based on our world, but far into the future. An event happened that caused the world to be altered and the people who rose from the ashes were reshaped by their religion and the gift of magic. These people are like us, they live in a world of steam and magic, so there are definitely steampunk attributes. But I also wanted to show this world as a gritty and dark place that our world can be. The people are real, they are dark beings with inner demons and the world they inhabit, though can be saved, is a dark place. Magic can sustain them, but there is also mistrust of its users. Science once destroyed this world and people are wary of anything relating to advanced science. There are wraiths, demons and the ascension of spirits from the underworld, but it is the people who drive this story. Each character has some sort of darkness within them, though others hide it better than the rest.

In the Crystalium, the world isn’t as dark, though I can’t steer away from a little darkness…The Crystal Queens are as different from one another as the crystals themselves. The range of personalities in human-kind fits a broad spectrum of strengths and weaknesses, and these are brought out by the Crystals of Power. My three main protagonists couldn’t be more different, but none of them are as dark and brooding as the world of the Dies Irae. I wanted to keep this story and its characters grounded, but they also have this strength of a strict magic system with consequences and outcomes. Though there is still war and death, the scope of this story is fairly narrow  (hence only 3 POVs vs the Dies Irae’s 18).

As a writer, it is the best part of the job: creating these worlds. With SFF books, to make the world work, you need to be detailed about the people and the places within it. That is where the creativity becomes paramount. Though fun, it is also time-consuming and arduous. I bring this up because leaving the world of the Dies Irae for the Crystalium has been a task that I find interesting and strange. The Dies Irae was an old friend at this point. I knew the people, I knew the places, their histories, I mean I was in that world for ten years. I just recently entered the Crystalium and introduced myself to it. It is exciting to see where the journey takes me.

The writing process: The Query(ing) game

typewriter-1144164-639x426The Query – the dreaded next step from actually writing the story, manuscript, novel to getting it to the masses for consumption. To be able to share your story with the world, you have to first get it into the hands of someone in the industry who could make it happen. It is a difficult step for an author, especially new authors.

Whether you want to have your finished work published via traditional markets, e-books, Print on Demand or in journals/magazines, you need to Query. Querying can come in the form of a letter to an agent or publisher, but it is basically a pitch of your story to someone who has no idea what you have written. As many authors soon come to find out, it is harder to do a proper query than it is to write the book or story. And the pitch is not a step-by-step covering of your plot, it is a hook to grab the reader’s attention so they become interested in your book. The hook is nearly similar to what you would commonly see on the book jacket – it is the few sentences that either interest you or make you put it down.

For myself, it was a long arduous learning curve that I am still trying to master. When I first wrote my original book, my Query was shock full of mistakes. And those mistakes still carried over to the contemporary thriller, but where my fantasy failed, my thriller succeeded and I chalk that up to the market and genre. The point is, what works for one, does not work for another – and that goes especially true for agents.

Agents are people and they have their own tastes and wants. As an author, I forget that from time to time when I get a rejection or don’t hear anything. Agents have to be interested in the story, otherwise they are just wasting their time, which is as important to them as it is to you.

The same goes for the Query letter itself. I have gone to workshops and done webinars and bootcamps and learned one thing – everyone’s idea of a good query letter is different. Some agents want and expect one style, while another says something different. It is a difficult path to travel for authors because we think it should be easy since we wrote a full story – but we are wrong more often than not. While many agents follow a similar pattern, it is really pertinent to tailor each Query to the specific agent or publisher (even though most publishers want agent submissions, not unsolicited). It is good to have a stock letter, but to alter it each time with different tweaks to meet the agent’s needs/wants. It is good to have a solid few points to touch on from the plot, but make it fluid enough to alter if needed.

For example, in my story, I have an LGBTQ main character while also discussing a different take on religion in the future. In my basic letter, I don’t mention either because I know what type of hot topics those can become. But as I research different agents, I will add those parts if they mention they are drawn to that particular thing or if they want to see different perspectives. It is all about playing to the wants of an agent, but also not lying about your storyline. Not all agents request a Synopsis (another difficult piece to do for authors – keeping it one page, come on, that is super hard for us wordsmiths!), but that doesn’t mean you should exclude those things in the Synopsis. The Query and the Synopsis are two different animals and though I might not mention sexuality or religion in every Query, they are both in my Synopsis because they are integral to the overall plot.

With all that said, I am still trying to find representation for my novels. I have four completed books that are ready for the next step and it is up to me to persevere to get them to see the light of day. The query process might eventually be longer than it took me to actually write the books, but that is where a writer becomes an author.

Rejection is part of the game and you have to not take it personal. At first, I took it personal whenever I received a rejection, but I was younger and new to the process. Now, I look at it as part of the overall process. Querying is like taking a piece of you and putting it out there, it can be shot down and it does hurt, but like all things, to succeed, you have to push through. I know that there is someone out there who will fall in love with what I have written and it is up to me to find that person. If it takes me 1000 rejections to find that one who will take me to the next step, I will continue on (hopefully it doesn’t take that long!) with gusto and determination. That is the great thing about writing, it allows you to pour your heart on the page and let others into your world. I wouldn’t want to waste all that time I spent on writing it to just let it sit there and not be seen because a few people didn’t connect with it.

Interestingly enough, the day before writing this post, I participated in a Twitter pitch for my series. At first I thought it was even more difficult to condense the query down to 140 characters, but after the first few, it seemed easier for some strange reason. Social Media has changed the game, even from 2007 when I started the process. It has opened up new avenues for writers, created a larger community for us to get out there. I love it and truly enjoy interacting with others like me, other dreamers.

Dream on my friends and don’t give up on those dreams. I know I won’t. One day, the Dies Irae will be available for Fantasy Readers.

The writing process: Editing is like a dance, but only with yourself

typewriter-1144164-639x426Edits – the most feared and foreboding word in the publishing industry. I don’t remember who said it or if I am butchering a paraphrase, but “being able to write does not make you an author, but being able to hack into your writing does.” Again, I probably did a terrible job saying that quote or might have even put multiple quotes together, I am not a philosopher.

However, I truly believe in those words.

Now that my focus had been re-directed toward my fantasy series once more and I had a plot I thought was original, I needed to re-visit what I had written. I mentioned how I added a new POV character and had to re-work her (Hunter) into the story. Well that, in the basic sense of the word, is editing. The first thing I did was replace the main male POV (Finn) with Hunter in many scenes that revolved around the love part of the story with the main female POV (Brynn). That was a challenge because I had to basically turn a male POV into a female, and we all know (especially myself after the contemporary thriller experiment) that men and women don’t think the same. So I had to shift the vision of each scene that was to be changed to fit a female voice.

Another thing I had to do was shift other characters in each scene to show there was a new character there. It sounds easy to drop a new character in a scene, but you cannot forget about the minor characters as well. The minor characters have their own opinions on how things are to be viewed and by adding a new character into the fold, they would also be impacted by it.

But that entire business with the new POV and the new plot/setting was just the first of the edits I had to do.

I have chosen fantasy for my preferred story genre, which is a blessing and a curse. Because fantasy (or Science Fiction) has more lenient guidelines in terms of publishing & writing, it gives some freedom to hone your world. Most books follow strict guidelines for work count and SFF genre typically allows a bigger window. My initial story, prior to the addition of a new character, was 142k words. A typical SFF book falls around 100-115k, so I knew I had to cut it down.

I had always planned a series, so I tried to find a good cutting point in there. When I did that, I added more characters and more chapters to fill the remaining words. It became a five book series. But I didn’t feel confident in the story at that point, it felt convoluted. So I decided to try and build a trilogy. I had it in my head that I could build the trilogy and then cut it down as needed, but I found that hard.

And then something strange happened and I am not sure how it came about but my writing became more clipped and concise. Looking back at my original manuscript, there were so many long sentences and way too much description. Don’t get me wrong, I love description but there are authors out there who put way too much description that I think it takes away from the story.

I think part of this came from working with a very close friend on editing the story. This lovely lady, who I will go by her initials AM, helped me not only fix my neverending grammatical errors, but also to shorten my writing. She has edited the first two books so far, but with her guidance, I have been able to carry that over into the final two.

Notice how I said final two? Well I had that trilogy in mind and I took a course from the Writer’s Digest (fantastic resources for all types of writers) that had us work directly with an agent. The agent then gave feedback and we were to take it to help our stories. I couldn’t have received better feedback at a time when I was feeling down about the prospects of getting published  (topic for part 5).

While I was finishing the final book, I saw this change come over my writing where I started to do more showing than telling the story. And with the agent’s feedback, I was now motivated to go back to the beginning and make it better. And that is what I did. I went back and decided to make it a four book series and was able to take the 3 books I had written and fit them into 4 solid books. I went back and cut useless scenes/dialogue, I cut out POVs (though I still have 8 major POVs in book 1 alone!), I moved POVs to different books in the series, and finally, I showed more than told. All in all, I now have 4 books all within those magical word count ranges (minus book four that is a bit over but still not terribly long).

It was a tedious process, but now that I have done it with all that I have learned over the last couple of years, I truly feel that getting the Dies Irae Cycle published is not as outlandish as it once seemed a couple of years ago…

The writing process: Putting in the work & quirk

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I spoke of Originality in my last post and this is where I can build upon what I wrote there and lead it to where I am now.

I had all this great knowledge publishing the contemporary thriller and now it was time to translate it to my fantasy series, you know the one I really cared about and worked on for many many years. But how was I to do all that? Basically I started from scratch…

But not really. I still had a solid concept (at least what I thought was solid) and it just needed some polishing – to an extent, in all honesty. One night I had a crazy dream about God not being immortal and I awoke during this dream and vividly remembered it (which is interesting because I never remember my dreams). I thought it was an interesting concept that I could eventually write a story about it. I sat on this dream for a few months while I tried to figure out how to re-work my fantasy series to make it better and more original.

And then it dawned on me, why not utilize the dream and insert it into my series. Lo and behold, that worked seamlessly because I had a plot-thread about Gods, just not the God from this day and age.

My brain started rolling with ideas at this point. I wanted to challenge the notion of God as most people know him today. So with that, my entire fantasy series shifted, it had this overarching religious theme and then it firmly planted my existing book into our world. I decided I wanted to make the story fit into our world, so I used today’s sciences as a means of destroying the world and magic rose from the ashes, as well as everyone becoming ruled by the church (in this case, the Christian belief but not any particular version of it).

This led to other changes as well, the main one being the setting. I decided to change the setting from a traditional setting to being a more industrialized steampunk vibe. This allowed me to do more things than a regular sword and sorcery setting. It made certain things accessible that was not available in the other world I created. I was able to mimic things from the world I know and put a unique spin upon them.

Another thing I decided I wanted to do was add more POVs and change the romance from the traditional trope I had in my story. I created a brand new POV (a sister to my main male character). I changed my main female character to fall in love with this new female character. Our world today is changing, but there still exists a bias against those different than what the greater populace considers “normal” and that bias creates tension, especially in a religious thought process. Now that I had this religious backdrop, I wanted to explore the love of two people who the “normal” people consider going against the grain. But I didn’t want this to overshadow the whole story, because, let’s face it; a person’s love life does not control their entire story. I firmly believe that builds a character, but is not a character’s entire journey. I wanted to use this self-doubt because both these characters are members of the church, and the church gives them their magic. I thought it any interesting perspective to build their stories, but they are not driven by this fact. I also enjoyed writing a little love-triangle where the male character falls for the main female, but comes to accept his sister’s feelings.

Back to what I learned in publishing the thriller: writing women better. Now that I had what I wanted to make the story more original, I had to go back and edit this story. I realized I had written my main female from a male perspective, so I had to fix her completely. I always planned on having the main female and main male be the heroes of the story, but the original version had the male dominating the outcome of the plot. So I changed this and now the female (Brynn) is the overall hero A, with the male (Finn) and his sister (Hunter) heroes 1A.

By adding Hunter, it made re-organizing and writing the chapters difficult. I had to re-write whole chapters to make this addition, but it benefited me because I was able to change these characters and make them stronger. I made these women more life-like, with dreams and aspirations, but also logic and intelligence. It was quite rewarding  because I had a friend beta read/copy-edit and she truly thought I had written very strong female characters and was rooting for them (she even told me that she was gratified when a female character did something badass, because most of the time, this is something a man would do). I felt justified after my learning experience that I created even more strong, independent women for later books in the series – which led me to writing more females with different back-stories and races.

Now I had everything in place and had to do some edits, and more edits after that. I will discuss that process in another installment.

The writing process: Originality

typewriter-1144164-639x426Originality is the key to becoming a successful author. They say there are only 7 basic plots in all of literature: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage & Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Though this can be up for debate, it rings true in some respects; all stories can fall into a common bucket.

And that means, if you want to be a successful author, you need to be original. It needs to be something that hasn’t been done or seen before. Or taking that common plot and turning it on its head, making it seem different than before.

In my case, I had a very basic story, all the common things a fantasy would see, yet nothing breaking, nothing new and different. So what do you do when you write (what you think is fantastic, ground-breaking) novel only to realize it isn’t all that special and original? You write another novel in a completely different genre, that’s what!

Joking aside, this is exactly what I ended up doing. I was so bummed about my fantasy novel, and though it was done in 2007, the genre didn’t yet explode like it has today, thanks in large part to Game of Thrones. The genre was still a big draw, but the books churned out were much better than what I had written. Though it has, and will be, my favorite genre to read and write, I decided I wanted to try my hand at another genre.

I wanted this next manuscript to do two things: 1) enhance my writing skills and 2) get a publishing credit to my name. I can honestly say that I accomplished 2, but number 1 still remained to be seen after all was said and done.

Though I always read fantasy, I definitely liked a good thriller, so I put my brain to work to come up with a plot within that genre. I was a fan of Chuck Palahniuk’s offbeat and interesting takes on the human condition, so why not try to come up with something along that vein? The story I crafted was a great learning experience because I began to write in 1st person (which I don’t ever want to do again) and from a female voice. Looking back on the story now, you can definitely tell it was written by a man…more on this later.

Long story short, my novel was picked up by a publisher in 2011. After a long and winding road, Daddy’s Little Dancer was published. The whole process opened my eyes to the greater world of print and publishing. I never knew about things like marketing the book, the editing phases, the cover design, obtaining blurbs. It was a whirlwind experience and I learned so much from it, and that made it the most worthwhile experience in my writing career. The book didn’t do terrible, it sold a few copies here and there, mostly e-book, but I will definitely say it accomplished my 2nd goal.

But back to goal #1. When reading the book now, even though I had a wonderful editor, I feel that my writing was still in its infant stage. I had the proper structure to tell a story, but I didn’t have the strength behind the words. First person POV makes things more difficult to tell a story, in my humble opinion. It limits the world to being only in that person’s mindset and it is harder to introduce more POV characters. While it worked for this particular story, I don’t see a benefit in my preferred genre. It limited it to how I wanted to write the characters.

It also showed my weakness when understanding a female voice. Even though I specifically wanted the female voice to have a more detached and unemotional thought process, I failed pretty much across the board with writing her as a normal woman. After convos with friends and family, I learned where I went wrong with her voice. It is the little things that are different (how women view other women, how they would describe something differently than a man would, etc.) and I have taken that to heart while working on my fantasy series.

And finally, I was able to learn a valuable lesson on the editing of the writing. My original transcript had quite a few swear words and a sex scene. Though they weren’t overly graphic, I felt they added chutzpah to the story. Unfortunately, my editor/publisher didn’t allow for it. And this is where I learned it was vital to give and take. My editor loved a particular sentence where the word “sh*t” gave real emotional power, but we had to remove and replace due to policy. I felt it took away from the scene, but I did it anyway. All told, I now own the rights to my story completely and maybe someday down the road, I will revisit it and tell it the way I want to, but it was valuable to know where to stand some ground on a piece of writing.

Overall, it was a deep learning curve of the industry, but I would not change it for the world. So how does all of this circle back to originality?

Well, for starters, it made me realize that having something different than the norm was key. My thriller was definitely different and that made me assess the fantasy story in a new light. It also showed me that to break into this industry, I needed to polish and re-polish the tried and true story into something wholly new and exciting.

The writing process: Conceiving a world

typewriter-1144164-639x426Being an author and being a writer is not an exclusive tag and one that I am learning to define as I go. A writer is someone who does just that, they write. An author, as least in my opinion, is someone who takes that skill of writing and puts it into a format that can be understood – whether it be this blog or a full-length novel. Now I know that my definition might not be the most well-received, but I do know that when one wants to be an author, they need to start with the basics – conceiving a plot.

The world of a story needs to not only tell a unique story, but one that draws a reader in. It needs to have structure, obstacles, environment and above all, compelling characters. The plot of a story has to take the reader on a journey that will inspire them to continue through to the end. A great plot will make the reader think they are right next to the characters and dealing with the challenges the character faces. But it must also maintain that draw, maintain the reader’s attention before the end. And this is done with a well-built world.

I know that it is overdone and not all that original, but I want to share my journey toward being an author for two reasons: 1) to show that there is always room for improvement to your work and 2) to illustrate that this business isn’t easy and that the true test of a person’s dream is to persevere through the tough times.

Ten years ago, while still in college, my fascination with fantasy books grew from just reading to actually creating a story within my head. The major I chose, Classical Archaeology, allowed me to begin the writing process – in the form of writing twenty page papers multiple times per semester. During this time, it allowed me to hone my writing ability, allowing me to craft a narrative as well as learning the system needed to be able to sit at the computer and churn out a bunch of words. Though it is a different format, it taught me the basics.

And those basics gave me my first plot. I always enjoyed fantasy and wondered what it would take for me to come up with my own story. I allowed the dreaming process to begin. I concocted the basic plot to my story, created the characters and setting, while outlining the early conflict. I had the components, now I needed to form those into cohesive thoughts.

The story was built upon the normal fantasy tropes the stories I read all the time followed. It was a story, it had the characters and it had the stereotypes seen in many of the stories of the time. It wasn’t all that original, but it was a learning time for me. I had never written for enjoyment (minus the time in High School where we had to write our own version of a Canterbury Tale = was a fun piece of writing there!).

The first draft of the story, called Through the Shadowed Heart, was a learning experience for me. I had this world I created and the characters that wandered throughout it. But they were wooden, stock characters fantasy readers have all seen before. They weren’t original, but it was my first foray into writing as a different voice, so I had to ease my way into it. I had to learn how to fit those characters into my world and the plot. It was interesting because I had always thought the plot would dictate the characters, but I don’t think that is true. These characters inhabit a world, and even if that world isn’t real, there are laws and rules that must be followed.

So with that in mind, the plot was a byproduct of that world I created. The plot wasn’t just the basic need to get a story moving, it was the story itself. In my mind, the plot isn’t just the conflict, it is the entire world within the manuscript: the setting, characters and conflicts. As a reader, it is simple to be drawn into a world another created, but to actually make one of your own is daunting, yet overwhelmingly exciting.