Christmas is a magic time.
In 2013, the magic that it brought was that two friends from Houston finally convinced me to start writing a story that I had been thinking about for the last two decades.
So in January I started collecting the pieces, little tidbits written here and there. Twenty years of dabbling came down to roughly 10 pages, somewhere around 10k words. It was a start.
I began to try to focus on fleshing things out and moving the story forward. I started to get a grasp of how much there was left to be done. I had a clear beginning, and I had the first climax, the incident that set off the main part of the story, but the rest was just vague musings.
I started collecting notes and links on writing techniques and tips. I’ve started listening to Writing Excuses, and a friend pointed me at the Creative Penn. I also looked over Amazon’s CreateSpace and it seems to be a full a la carte publishing system. You can publish for almost free, but if you want professional help, you can buy what you need.
I began to flesh out the characters a little bit more, especially my main character, Stolyn. I needed to know them better before continuing. This also helped me flesh out the world a bit more. I was still thinking of it mainly as a single, possibly two book, series focusing on the theme that I had started with: what if Eve had chosen the other tree. I began writing.
I gradually filled in the gap between the beginning and the inciting incident mentioned previously. I could tell it was rough, but I had begun to understand that I didn’t have to get it right the first time. This was going to be an iterative process.
As I worked at the beginning, one part kept confusing me. I had been thinking of having a prologue using a character that I recognized as fulfilling the role of a Herald. But it didn’t quite fit. I felt it was part of the story, but I couldn’t tell how. Also, as I was writing, one of the other characters, Ely, was beginning to take on more of a major role. Then it happened.
One day I was thinking about Ely’s role, and her place in the climax of the series just came to me. I nearly broke as I realized how much pain I was going to put these characters through, but when I saw it, I knew that was where the story had to go. And I now knew where the Herald fit into the story. He wouldn’t just be in the prologue.
The scope of the series also expanded at this point. Along with Ely’s increased importance, and the inclusion of the Herald, the theme expanded, along with the number of books. It went up to four. The first two would still focus on the two trees, but the second two would use that to examine why humans have souls and what that means. I didn’t just need a story. I now needed a fleshed out theology. It was daunting, but it was also exhilarating.
Now things could move. Ely’s climax, what I started calling the vortex, would come in book three. Stolyn’s would come in book four. I didn’t have to write them now, but they began to drive how I would develop those characters in book one.
I also began building a feedback loop.
In March I found and joined a writer’s group at the B&N near me. They encouraged me to start bringing in chapters for review. It was a friendly group with a couple of aspiring editors. Most of them were not trying to write science fiction, but about half of them liked reading science fiction.
I took advantage of an opportunity in April to show some of my writing to some actual authors at JordanCon in Atlanta. It was only 1000 words, so I had to cobble together various short sections of what I was writing. When I got back my submission, it looked like a bloody hunk of meat. They had been much rougher than my writer’s group. The common thread in the criticism was that the story was developing too slowly. It was a bit crushing, but having done dance competitions over the last few years, soul-crushing criticism had become sort of normal. I managed to shrug it off for now and tried to see if I could deal with their complaints. I decided most of it was for the second draft, although I did come up with a plot synopsis that would fit on a book flap or back cover.
I was still a long way from finishing the first draft. Based on feedback from the writer’s group, I seem to be better at dialogue than at description.
I’m still not sure if Vampire Planet is the right title.
There are several stages to this story. I’ve gotten past the intro, the ‘spark’, and the part where Ely and Stolyn are stranded, but I was having problems with the arrival chapter. It felt slow and awkward. I finally realized that it wasn’t meant to be action. It was meant to be character development and I concentrated on that.
It began to bother me a bit that I was presenting a mystery at the beginning that I was not planning to resolve until the end of book two. I started to think about a major rewrite of the beginning. I also realized there were some opportunities to present some of the world building which I had done in the first few chapters through the eyes of some of the characters later in the story. It doesn’t change what happened, but the first five chapters might reduce to two with parts displaced to later chapters. This would also address some of the JordanCon criticisms.
I decided to wait for the second draft for the major changes, but it already made me decide to forego a chapter on what’s happening on Stella III before Stolyn and Ely arrive. It seemed so much more intimate to let it come out as they learn about it. I also decided to pull one of the minor characters, Invizia, into a stronger role to help accomplish this: A Visit to the Zoo.
I was also having problems deciding what the Leto looked like. As one of my dance instructors was doing a flashmob at Brookfield Zoo, I joined them for that and took the opportunity to just peruse the creatures to see if it inspired anything. It didn’t help as much as I hoped, but I’m slowly figuring it out.
I realize that I have to provide some info about what’s happening on Beta Prime. I decide to add a few interlude chapters to show the crisis building that will encompass the main characters, but which they are totally unaware of. There’s one point where I’m able to stick in a direct reference to Dune.
OK, it’s about half done, and I know where it’s going to end, so I’m beginning to finally see the whole structure of the book.
I start thinking about illustrations and researching how to find an illustrator.
I finally get through the suspense chapters, what I would later call trust chapters. They build the suspense, but they also provide an interlude where the characters can build up the trust that has to be there, and be believable, in the climax action. It’s time to resolve the mystery.
I know what I want for the climactic scene, but I don’t know how I want Stolyn to face it. He needs a special weapon, something unexpected, something that is specifically his. I start looking at tonfas, sais, elbow blades, anime characters, … It’s hard.
As I send the characters off to the site of the climax, I realize that they would naturally take two ships. That gives me other options.
I am having trouble making this work. Finally I just start writing. Knock them out. Falling. Rolling. Exploding. Panicking. Sneaking. It actually started coming together. I don’t aknow how, but it actually seems to be working. The action is coming fast and furious. Then I got to the end of New Arrival and I still don’t know if I convey the full fear of that scene. It’s the ultimate parental nightmare made real.
Now how do I get them out of this? And I still don’t know what special weapon to give Stolyn.
I also write a first version of the final chapter. Which makes me add a very disturbing epilogue.
I got stuck again. Eventually I realize that the story seems weak because I’m not actually resolving the conflict in the character. Once I have Stolyn confront his internal conflict, it begins to work. But what about Ely? It has to balance. It has to be opposite. She gets her resolution as well. I’m feeling exhausted from the complex choreography of these scenes.
OK, we’re almost to resolving the external conflict, the big battle, and I still don’t have Stolyn’s weapon. Then it comes to me. Not a weapon, something that can be used as a weapon. Coupled with the final stand, I now face the prospect of various lawsuits, but it’s still the correct call.
I got to the end of the climax and I realized that I needed a little more from Ely. As always when I write her, something unexpected came up. She wouldn’t? Yes, she would. Time for the cheering, in the book, not about the book.
On the personal development side I realized something as I wrote the climax. I had previously taken a trip into the vortex, Ely’s vortex. I had tried to write a version of the climax of the third book. The process of writing the climax for the first book confirmed that that was a mistake. The characters are growing and changing as the story progresses. I can’t skip ahead, because I don’t know who my characters will be at that point.
I’m one week away from my objective of finishing the first draft by the end of June. Now I have to bring them back into the broader world and confront the final crisis.
On July 4, I finally filled in the final sections connecting my initial ending to the rest of the book. Surprisingly, what I wrote for the ending still mostly works. The full draft clocks in at just over 51k words. I remember when I didn’t think I’d ever get over 30k words.
I spent the next week doing a few passes to see if there are any large structural problems and fix them. I think the story works. It’s become mostly about the characters. There’s a point where Invizia speaks the words of shock that I felt after I finished the climax: “… Heroes. I’ve read a thousand stories, but I’d never believed them. Until now.” It’s been an incredible experience.
I’m still thinking about different titles. Genesis, maybe?
Time for a break.