I’ve been going through old posts with the thought of organizing them better for those who visit A Writer of History and came across this one I wrote in 2012. The thoughts seem just as relevant today as they were then.
A week or so ago, I wrote myself a note containing a single word: writaholic. At the time, I had been reflecting on how obsessed I’ve become about writing. The truth of the matter is that I could write every day for most of the day and enjoy almost every minute of it. Sometimes, in fact, I feel the words churning inside me, clamouring for release.
While out walking, I craft sentences to describe something I’ve seen. While driving I plot some twist or turn in my stories. While washing the dishes or gardening or standing in the shower, I think of changes required to further polish a chapter. When I’m not thinking or working directly on writing, I’m devising a new blog post or a way to gain further insights from the historical fiction survey I’ve recently completed or I’m musing on how to connect with others in the field of historical fiction or in the more general field of publishing. And on and on it goes.
I haven’t been writing that long – about four years now [update to 13 years] – and I wonder if it will always be this way or whether I will eventually settle into a less compulsive pattern. If you have any wisdom to share, I would be grateful.
Note: the photo was taken in Japan. The tiny twists of paper represent people’s wishes for good fortune.
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Lenora Good of Coffee Break Escapes was an early reader of Paris In Ruins. In our back-and-forth exchanges, I discovered that Lenora has written a novel and also writes poetry. So I asked about her novel and after discovering that it’s science fiction, asked her about world building. Here’s Lenora’s post on creating a world for her fiction.
I was introduced to Science Fiction and Fantasy (SFF) while in the WAC back in 1966. I loved it, especially the various worlds. I read other genres, but always got back to SFF, although in later years I’ve shifted more to the F side than the SF side.
The original Dune books by Frank Herbert were my “thumb sucking” books. When I became stressed, I read the books. I’ve been through all seven of them at least seven times, and I have no idea how many times I’ve read the original trilogy. I was stressed a lot as a single and working mom. 😉
Besides the stories, I could escape into the worlds. Somewhere along the line I started writing, and I realized I liked building my own worlds—whether a generational spaceship, or a planet. It was fun to figure things out. And because I’m me, and wanted to get down to the story, I decided to make most of my planets similar enough to Earth that they were familiar and we could live without still suits or space suits or special enhancements, but still, different enough to be fun.
I wrote Jibutu: Daughter of the Desert during Nanowrimo one year. Then I spent the next couple of years re-writing it, but I had the bones down. I blatantly stole an idea from Mr. Herbert—the epigraphs before each chapter. And, to be honest, I suppose his Dune books played a bit in my desert, though mine is much different than his, and doesn’t take the whole planet. There are no giant worms making spice on my planet, but the desert people do use giant lizards, sliwas, as beasts of burden. There are also mountains, forests, grasslands, and water lands where people live on boats lashed together to form a city. The idea for the grasslands came from the tall grass prairies of the Great Plains.
The first thing I did was draw a map, with a compass rose, so I would remember where the towns were, and where the people were not to mention the deserts, the mountains, the roads, the countries etc.
Then I set down to logics. At least my brand thereof. I pretty much stayed away from major religions, developed my own adoption ceremony, and in general, had fun.
I did need to know what foods would be available in the desert, fortunately that was fairly easy. I have a friend who lived in Palestine and Jordan for several years. And I lived in New Mexico for a while. As to the mountains, well, I was raised in the Pacific Northwest, so I knew a bit about mountain living. Imagination and my own claustrophobia played into the grasslands. Plus, the fact my protagonist went thru a horrific fire where she lost a hand, so she was very concerned about having to go through, and living a while, in the grasslands. I talked to people who had lost a limb, and used my imagination on that one.
Mostly, it was just common sense and imagination. I did very little actual research for the book, however, I’m sure I did some. I’m also a voracious and eclectic reader and am sure I picked up tidbits of information from those books and stories of which I’m not aware.
Hooded robes make the most sense for desert travel. They keep the sun off most of the body, and on our planet, the Bedouins make their robes of wool. Sounds hot, doesn’t it? My understanding is they maintain a pretty constant temperature of 75 degrees on the inside, not matter how hot it gets outside. Goats survive well in the desert, and sliwas, the giant lizards used for beasts of burden. Sliwas, as well as humans, need to eat now and then, and goats were the perfect solution. Goats also give wool for weaving and milk to drink and make cheese. The desert tribes of my novel are nomads, and gather annually to swap stories and gossip, barter for goods, and marry.
The towns on the edge of the deserts have high walls, more for defense against sandstorms than marauding armies, which I conveniently left out of Jibutu’s story. Again, common sense.
Because Jibutu is a novel, in a place and time of my choosing, I did not have to consider tying her into history. I did not have to research clothing, manners, speech—all the things an author of historical novels must do. I just had to keep my “bible” handy so I could remember how to spell names and be consistent in measurements, timelines, and when needed genealogies.
In a way, it was much easier building my own world than trying to write a story to fit into one that existed, and that people know about. I didn’t have to worry about any timeline but mine. And the vocabulary was also mine. I didn’t have to worry if a word I wanted to use really existed in 1852 because my world had no 1852.
Jibutu’s world is on another planet, enough like ours to be comfortable, different enough to be intriguing.
Jibutu: Daugher of the Desert by Lenora Rain-Lee Good ~~ As part of the ritual to become a healer, Jibutu drinks the fermented juice of the Death Cactus and dreams of her unknown birth mother, who calls her by a name she can neither hear nor understand. Later, having gained status as a healer, on a quest to learn who her birth parents were, and her true name, she also becomes a shaman. Astride a giant lizard, she crosses the desert with her sister shaman, and is attacked and taken by slavers. Jibutu loses everything and everyone she knows and loves as her world is turned upside-down.
One of our special guests at the HNS North America 2021 conference was Libbie Hawker. Libbie is a prolific and excellent writer with many novels to her credit. A recent favourite for me is The Ragged Edge of Night under the pen name Olivia Hawker. But I digress. Libbie put on two master classes, one called Take Off Your Pantsand the other called Making It In Historical Fiction. Both were very well attended and received.
Libbie’s master class, Take Off Your Pants, was based on the advice packed into her book by the same name. The subtitle is “Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing”. After writing my first novel by the seat of my pants – what folks call a pantser – I adopted an outlining technique cobbled together from a few sources such as Elizabeth George’s Write Away. But Libbie’s advice has added another important layer that I plan to incorporate in the next novel (whatever that is!)
During the three-hour class, Libbie spent most of her time taking us through the outlining technique using a simple document which she develops for each main POV character.
What stood out for me?
the notion of specifically identifying the main character’s flaw, something that is a deep, personal flaw and a source of tension for the MC; something that makes interactions with others difficult
the need for the main character to recognize and acknowledge his/her external goal
finding a way early to to display the MC’s flaw
defining an ally for your main character who is someone that helps the MC at their most difficult moment and forces them back onto their path; someone who has power to move the MC’s heart; someone they always say yes to
the external goal is something a main character will obsess about, a goal that will compel them throughout the story; a goal that will push the story forward
identifying a theme that will help determine scenes that should be in the story; a unifying concept for the book that isn’t too broad and sweeping and that applies to all main characters in the novel
Libbie uses the outline to help build pacing into the novel and to create the sense of urgency that keeps readers wanting to find out what happens. With more than one main character, Libbie encourages writers to use different colours for each character so that when you weave the beats together, you can see which character is carrying the story at which points of time.
This is a very cursory look at Take Off Your Pants. Based on the master class, I feel there is something in Libbie’s book for every writer no matter what stage you’re at in your career. I’ve already purchased my copy!
In this instructional ebook, author Libbie Hawker explains the benefits and technique of planning a story before you begin to write. She’ll show you how to develop a foolproof character arc and plot, how to pace any book for a can’t-put-down reading experience, and how to ensure that your stories are complete and satisfying without wasting time or words.
Hawker’s outlining technique works no matter what genre you write, and no matter the age of your audience. If you want to improve your writing speed, increase your backlist, and ensure a quality book before you even write the first word, this is the how-to book for you.
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