The First Fifteen? Make That 120.

A Blank Page

Recently, a reader asked about my writing process, especially the way I prepare to write. The reader felt at a loss about plunging in during, say, those first 15 minutes before sitting in front of the computer and typing an opening sentence. I need more than 15 minutes–much more. I’ve read and absorbed some very good tips about this stage of the game. They suggest steps to take when a story seems like a ‘great’ idea, when characters insist on being represented, or when an Otherworld starts to gel in the imagination–when the writer is standing on the edge of a whole new adventure and does not know where to direct her feet.

I tried putting a few of those steps into practice when I wrote Malevir: Dragons Return, but not with confidence coming from experience.  At this point in my writer’s life, however,  two strategies work well for me. They have helped me organize a sequel, which is coming along splendidly.

The first strategy that organizes me is my sketchbook of doodles and drawings. I like to cartoon and invent grotesque images of creatures that may or may not inhabit our world. The act of drawing my characters helps me visualize them more clearly. I sketch them in different situations and in varying garb (or feathers, scales, whatever works). I go to image sites like Pinterest to see how other artists imagine similar characters, but I avoid outright imitation. My characters are my own invention.

Character profiles provide another, challenging way to flesh out my characters. Once I define them, sort out their powers, backstories, and their relationships to each other as well as to possible settings, I’m able to weave their stories together; they intersect and drive the narrative forward. When I force myself to imagine every interaction and possible outcome, a big surprise bubbles up—the story’s logical ending. I envision the ending at the outset of the process, of course, but by slowly building my characters’ every nuance and discovering their motivation, I can write a logical, magical, totally appropriate ending to the story.

Every writer approaches the process differently. The key is finding a playful approach that makes the prospect of writing an anticipated pleasure, not a dreaded chore.

What I have learned from reviews

Waking in the back room of his lair, the warmest spot in his network of tunnels and chambers, Aurykk, the golden dragon, raised his head. He yawned and stretched his hind legs, then twisted his neck to inspect new patches of dusty, white scales on his side. Even after living for more than 400 World-Turns, Aurykk was surprised to see those dull patches, sure signs of entering his Twilight Time. Although he yearned for long naps and easy food, he was still a Protector and ready to help if called.

After thanking my readers who have reviewed Malevir: Dragons Return, I now will acknowledge a point one of them made. In love with a bevy of characters I thought were interesting and crucial to my narrative, I included so many of them in the book that it needed a list of names and creature types to relieve any confusion the reader might experience. Now, as I am crafting the second novel in this Malevir series, I have carried a few of the characters into the new narrative, but have greatly diminished the cast. In fact, just last evening, as I was reviewing what I’ve written so far, I contemplated giving the pink slip to a few more. I liken the experience to becoming an empty-nester. Perhaps, someday, maybe in the third and final novel, a few of the ‘laid-off’ characters, my offspring, will return. We shall see. All this cutting I hope will produce a lean (if not mean) text.

excerpt: #dragons

copper dragon

Malevir: Dragons Return-Part I, Chap. 1–A spring storm passed over the mountains and surged toward the plain below. Rainwater cascaded down the cliff wall surrounding the dragons’ lair and splashed the ledge beyond its entrance. Draako stretched his neck toward the brightening sky as he ambled outside. “That last practice might truly have been the end of you,” growled Aurykk as he followed Draako to the lip of the ledge. “You were lucky the winds carried you back here. Be careful this time. Let the currents flow under your wings and drop your legs a bit to get some lift.” Draako’s front fangs scraped his lower lip as he dipped his head in respect. “I won’t forget. Just watch me.” He raised his head again, spread his wings, and jumped in the direction of the river valley that ran behind their mountain cave. Aurykk remained on the ledge, a grimace wrinkling his long jaw.