Category Archives: pre-writing

Inspiration and the joy of pre-written material.

I am starting to get feedback from my beta-readers on Princess of Shadows, and no one has reported any seriously negative symptoms yet– vomiting, rashes, un-American activities, that sort of thing. Time will tell. The one cautionary response so far is that one reader began to wonder just how many times something was going to get in Kathy’s path back to Crown. That is clearly another way of saying things run a little long, but the reader was not able to mention anything specific they would want to cut. It’s an indication that I need to think hard about cutting, in any event (no surprise).

In my last post I half-jokingly referred to “pre-written” material feeding into my draft of Princess of Fire. Turns out that “pre-writing” (rather than pre-written) is an actual concept, at least enough to warrant a Wikipedia entry–

Very interesting, although in my case I was using pre-written in a somewhat different sense.

My story ideas come from many different places. Sometimes a story comes out of frustration with an existing work– I have a space opera waiting in the wings that, in part, owes its origins to my rage over the Verhoeven Starship Troopers atrocity and my grief over the cancellation of Firefly. Sometimes the inspiration is more direct– the first Mankin story I ever wrote was directly inspired by, God help me, a scene in Sword of Shannara (yes, I once read Sword of Shannara. Give me a break, I was twenty). I can hardly see a professional production of anything Shakespeare without getting inspired, either about my current work in progress or about a new story– in fact, I can trace the ultimate origin of Kathy and the Divine Lotus series to a production of As You Like It I saw at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in the 1990’s. Sometimes, even something in my everyday life will actually inspire a story idea, such as a story I have in my files based on my time in the US Army in Germany (unfortunately, it’s another abandoned tale, with a melange of life in the Army, horror and time-travel that never quite worked).

Sometimes the inspiration will express itself as a character or a setting. Many times, however, for me I actually start with nothing more than an image, usually of something happening. That first Mankin story started as an image of a lone man crossing a body-strewn battlefield, in haste and desperation. Often these images lead nowhere– at the moment I have in mind the image of an M1 Abrams tank firing its main battery and the concussion shattering every window in a Regency manor house, ala Jane Austen. It beats the crap out of me how an M1 got to Regency England (although it might indicate I’ve been watching too much Jane Austen), and I rather doubt that any story will ever grow out of it. But that’s the sort of thing my creative side (to the extent I have one) serves up.

And then, sometimes, thinking about a story long enough yields me a tremendous number of interlocking images, to the extent that when I sit down to actually draft the story large sections of it are practically already written in my mind. Of course, if I’ve ruminated long enough, the story ceases to be just images, as characters, dialogue, and conflict attach themselves to the scenes.

This is what I meant by “pre-written”, and it is the happy state I find myself in regarding Princess of Fire. In three days I have taken it from 4000+ words to more than 7000, a thousand words a day, a pace at which I would have finished Princess of Shadows sometime last October. Something about this story is powerfully stimulating to my imagination. I’d like to think it’s not just because there are bigger explosions in this novel than in Shadows, but that doesn’t hurt.

The conclusion I have to come to is that inspiration and imagination are quirky things. More than likely what gets my imagination going would be alien to others. But then, as writers, particularly writers of fiction, we are not exactly engaged in a wholly rational activity in the first place. We spend time with imaginary people in imaginary danger, trying to make them as real as possible. It helps if our imagination does a lot of the work ahead of time.

I don’t know how far my pre-written material will carry me with Fire, but I intend to milk it for all it’s worth.