There’s No One Path Through Writing A Novel

A yellow flower

Every creative project is different. This is good news, in that it means there’s basically no wrong way to go about creating. It’s bad news, in that every project is a series of potential stall-outs and less-than-ideal turns that take massive effort to get back on track towards the goal line of a Finished Work.

None of this is news to anyone who’s read my blog before, or heard me talk about writing. It’s not news to anyone who follows amazing writers like Chuck Wendig and John Hartness. The work is the thing, and the thing is the work. Get it done … but not to any set formula.

Some writers scoff at the notion of each project being different. “I sit down every day and write my two thousand words, and those words follow my outline for the plot, and the characters do what I tell them. I’m the one in control, this nonsense about the characters running away with the story is just laziness!” I’m sure you’ve heard that sort of talk. And hey, if that’s what works for you, go for it. I find that authors who stick to that sort of rigid control of their work soon begin to turn out repetitive, dry, unimaginative stories, devoid of magic. Some people like that! And that’s okay! It’s also okay if that’s not how you roll. Or write. Or read.

My first series, Children of the Desert, came in a mad rush of feeling that I was channeling someone else’s stories, that the characters were speaking through me and I was tampering by adjusting events for higher drama and better plot. (Confession: I tampered anyway. Editors helped a lot on that.) Looking back, I see a lot of structural flaws in that series, places where, today, I would tighten up the pace and insert more conflict and tension. More, and different: I didn’t notice, as I was writing, how dark much of the story was. While I stand behind those books, I don’t want to go to that level of narrative pain again. They were rough to write and I know, from feedback, they can be rough to read.

I’m currently working on a project that, while dark, very deliberately doesn’t go into the same arenas as the COTD series. I’m focusing on keeping each chapter taut and flowing into the next. I’m watching my semi-colons and sentence structure up front, rather than writing freely and fixing issues in the editing cycle. I have an outline; it’s already been blown out the window. I’m going to rewrite it, because I need one for this book. There are so many possible directions for this concept, and I’m afraid I’ll wander off track and get lost in the what-if weeds without guideposts.

The basic concept is an alternate-history urban fantasy, to apply the category tags up front. Witches, and witchcraft, are real, and have been real throughout history. Sometimes witches are accepted by the mainstream, other times they’re persecuted as an “easy” target. (Surprise: a real witch is not an easy target.) There are laws regarding Acceptable Witchcraft, and special jails for witches that transgress. The main character is a Reluctant Hero, one of those Ordinary Folks who gets dragged into Saving The Day. After she manages to save herself, of course!

Enough of the category tags for now. Mia is a forty-something single woman with a sharp mind, quick wit, and an attitude. She works hard as a freelance writer/researcher, makes enough to scrape by, and isn’t interested in anything that might risk her precarious stability. Enter a whole lot of disruption in the form of a witch who declares that she’s chosen Mia as her apprentice. Correctly guessing that the pay for “apprentice witch” is about zero, and that the hours involved would wreck her freelance career, Mia tries to refuse. Next thing she knows, she’s running for her life….

And then, of course, there’s the eldritch monster rampaging through the city, killing at seeming random. The network of “legal” witches are busy arguing what to do about it, with most opting to hide until it goes away, or to leave town entirely. One maverick outsider is out to kill the monster and end the threat entirely. But are the killings actually random? Who summoned the monster in the first place, and why? And is the local witch community hunting the maverick instead of the monster? Do they think she’s the actual monster–or do they want to stop her from taking down the real monster?

I’m having a lot of fun with this story, obviously. It’s the first time I’ve tried my hand at a real world adjacent tale, and the freedom that comes from not having to make everything up from scratch is exhilarating. I’m also writing it in fits and spurts. I keep running into stall-outs and staring at the wall moments. Chapters arrive complete in my head or have to be wrenched out painfully, one line at a time. I keep having to sharpen characters up: for some reason, I veer into making them nice. And they can’t be nice. Kind, sometimes, sure. But not nice. Good, maybe. But nice is deadly for any real tension in this story.

This entire project is extremely different from anything else I’ve done. I’m inserting [FILL IN SUPPORTING DETAIL HERE LATER] and [FACT CHECK THIS LATER] rather than slowing down to make sure everything is correct. It feels weird as hell to leave gaps like that, but it’s letting me get a complicated story blocked out more efficiently than usual.

Right now, I’m on chapter seventeen, with a total word count of around 34,000 words, and Mia is just starting to see the shape of the world she’s been dragged into. By the time I get to 60,000 words, she needs to be an active participant, and I want the story to be a triumphant, stand-alone wrap at 90K. I suspect there’s a lot of editorial trimming in my future!

For anyone intrigued by this write-up, I do have some draft chapters up online! You can see them by signing up for my Patreon: patreon.com/leonarwisoker . Full disclosure: you have to sign up as a paying patron to read the chapters. I have benefits for non-paying patrons, too, and some really good benefit tiers for paying patrons (like free editing work!), so please go take a look.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a dog being Intently Adorable at me. I must heed the call…

A black dog staring at the viewer adorably and intensely

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