“Good writers borrow from other writers. Great writers steal from them outright.”
–Sam Seaborn, “Twenty Hours In America (part two)”, THE WEST WING
I don’t know if I’m a great writer, but if that’s one of the qualities they need I’m well on my way, because I steal left and right from my betters and I don’t feel the slightest ethical qualm in doing so. The latest? I’m swiping an event and repurposing it from one of my most foundational fantasy texts. No, I’m not going to spell it out, because it’s a spoiler, and I’m just setting up in Book Five something that’s going to pay out in Book Nine.
I haven’t done an update on my fiction writing lately, so here’s just such a thing! It’s…going. It’s not going super well, but it’s not going badly, either. Sometimes progress comes in bug chunks of yardage; other times it comes just by moving forward a few inches.
I started drafting Book Five of The Song of Forgotten Stars in January of 2021. My goal (which I knew was unlikely) was to finish drafting it before we left for Hawaii. That was more than eleven months away at the time, and I’ve never finished a Forgotten Stars novel in anything less than a year, so I knew that was a stretch goal. But I got more than halfway there, so…yay! But I did bog down, unfortunately.
This happens pretty much every time, probably because of the spit-and-chewing-gum seat-of-my-pants method of writing. I’m not a plotter by nature. I have done the plot thing before, where I put together an extensive outline for the entire story before I draft…but what inevitably happens is that better story choices occur to me while drafting, so out the window the outline goes. My logic is thus to just cut out that middle-man and start drafting with little more than knowing who my characters are.
However, this usually gets me to a place where I have a complex situation set up but I don’t know how it ends, or I do know how my complex situation ends but I don’t know how to get there from here, i.e., where I am at the particular point in the story. These moments are the toughest for me, and they can trip me up for long periods at a time. I don’t really worry about this too much, because I know that all I need to do is think it through, slowly, until I realize either where I’m going or how to get there.
Now I’m in the process of figuring out the connective tissue between the spot I’m in with this book now and the ending.
In such moments, out comes the pen and paper.
Maybe it’s strange, but I find that I don’t like drafting in longhand…for fiction. But writing outlines and story notes? And drafting essays for this blog? That, I love doing in longhand! I find that the tactile difference in the process kicks my brain a bit, and the story starts to unknot itself. That’s what’s happening now.
Another issue with this particular book is that the structure is complex, so everything has to line up. Like George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire books, each chapter in the Forgotten Stars books is from a different character’s point of view*, though unlike Martin I am very religious about limiting the number of characters who get POV chapters. (It’s only three, though the Interludes are a different animal entirely.) What does this mean for me? It means that I’m telling multiple stories in the same book, stories that are parallel and intersect each other, but which are also independent as well.
All of this requires some mental juggling, which is again where pen and paper come into play. As of now, I am still plotting out the last act of the entire book. I hope to return to drafting by the end of next week, and then…maybe by Memorial Day for completing drafting? That would be nice, because I still need to get The Jaws of Cerberus ready for publication, and then I really need to take a look at the long-completed first draft of the sequel to The Chilling Killing Wind.
And then, in 2023 (or sooner!), I start writing Forgotten Stars 6.
These are the times that I do sympathize a little with Prince Humperdinck, evil cad though he may have been!
*Though the series did not start out this way! All of Stardancer is from Tariana’s POV; The Wisdomfold Path adds Margeth’s, and then with Amongst the Stars we get Penda Rasharri’s POV. The structure got even more complex in The Savior Worlds with the addition of a parallel story that’s told in a prelude, two interludes, and the postlude…but now I’ve settled on the structure that will see this story to its ultimate conclusion.