Tag Archives: creativity

And now, on a completely different note, a few words about “The Horseman”

In case there’s anyone out there who cares, I missed last week’s installment of The Horseman, and I will probably miss this week’s.  The reason has to do with how I do first drafts.

I keep hearing about writers who outline everything about a story ahead of time, who know what’s going to happen to each character, who understand where each beat and turn of the the story will fall.  People for whom– allegedly– the writing of a story is merely a process of fleshing out the action.

That ain’t me.

My process is, quite simply, discovery of the story by writing it.  Usually, I have a general idea of the story’s action, some of the characters, and almost always how the story ends, but writing to get to that ending is typically a long process, often involving many doubts, much second-guessing, detours, re-routes and reboots.  Writer’s block is a familiar, if unwelcome, companion.  This is a major reason Princess of Stars has not progressed; I have been essentially stuck at one point in the narrative for about a year, until recently unable to understand how Kathy gets to a particular, but essential, change in attitude.  I may– may— have figured out in the last few days a way to finesse the problem.  We’ll see.

This is, frankly, not a particularly rational process.  I feel my way through an unlit cavern to discover the shape of my story, and wrong turns are common.  I have at times gone five thousand, ten thousand, fifteen thousand words down a path, only to realize it’s not working– the action is wrong for the character, or it doesn’t make sense, or it negates something else I’ve already written, or intend to write and which feels essential.  I have novels for which I have thrown away nearly as much as I have kept.

This is where I am at with The Horseman.  In attempting to push on past Part Eight I realized that how I handled Parts Seven and Eight did not ring true.  If I were doing this first draft properly, in private far from the tender eyes of readers, I could quietly eighty-six the failed passages and redirect the narrative.  Since I am committing the sin of presenting raw story, the uglier aspects of the process are, of necessity, laid bare as well.  Basically, Parts Seven and Eight must be retconned.  I am working on the changes at this moment.  But it will be a little while before I can re-post the parts and resume my forward progress.  For the time-being, The Horseman is on hold.

The silver-lining on this, of course, is that out of all the problems facing the world at the moment, the delay of this story is just about Number 178,289,129,367.  It’s good to keep things in perspective.




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.