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I&E follow-along: spotting problems

Whether you outline in detail or just make some basic notes on characters and conflict (HtTS Lesson 8), this is your chance to figure out if the choices you’ve made are leading you in the right direction.

I had this issue with the protagonist of Book 1 of this new series. I chose a profession for him based on what I thought would be cool and useful further down the line, but when I came to work out how he’d acquired these skills, I realised there was a modern-day parallel that would take me into politically sensitive territory. In another book or in the hands of another writer that might be fine – but it was the wrong direction for this series.

So, I sat down and worked out which parts of his backstory I had to throw out and which I could keep, then took his life in a different direction that would nonetheless bring him to the place I’d envisaged the book beginning. As a bonus, it’s changed his personality in ways that I think will fit far better with the plot I have in mind, as well as totally solving the naming issue I was having.

In summary: don’t be afraid to interrogate your ideas. Better to throw out five hundred words of outline (as I did) than twenty five thousand words of first draft!

I&E follow-along: musical chairs

This week I made a couple of changes to my new project. Firstly, I realised that the plot I’d been working on would be better if it included a character I’d intended to save until the sequel, which means that I need to swap the two stories around in the timeline and work on the other one first. This is really just a continuation of the process I started a few weeks back, of working out how my characters’ arcs intersect with wider events in the world. It’s really no different from the way you shuffle scene cards around to find the best order—only on a rather larger scale.

A smaller, but significant, change was that I realised I wasn’t terribly enamoured with the name of the principal city and much preferred that of a neighbouring one. So I’ve renamed the neighbour and transferred its name to the main city. Trivial stuff in some ways, but I’m looking ahead to the time when I have to name this series officially, and since the city plays such a major role in events, I want the option of using its name as part of that.

Of course with my usual paranoia I’ve googled it and only found a couple of obscure mentions, so I reckon I’m good to go! Now to knuckle down to plotting this other book…


Guest post: Michael J. Martinez

This week I’m very pleased to welcome Mike Martinez to my blog. His debut novel The Daedalus Incident is an intriguing blend of history, fantasy and science fiction, in which a near-future exploration of Mars is interrupted by the arrival of a seemingly impossible vessel: an 18th-century sailing ship with the ability to travel between planets…

On playing with, and occasionally breaking, history

As my gracious host well knows, historical fantasy is rich with storytelling possibilities. And to some, it may seem…easier, perhaps, than creating an entirely new fantasy world from whole cloth.

The British naval hero Horatio Nelson, for example, is the subject of several exhaustive biographies detailing his life and times. When I wrote The Gravity of the Affair, a novella in which he was the main character, I had much to draw from – even the other characters’ names are all taken from history itself.

But consider that my Nelson exists in a universe in which sailing ships ply the Void between planets, thanks to the mystic science of Alchemy. What sort of change might this bring to Nelson’s life? Would he find the views ‘round Jupiter humbling? Or would his already considerable pride wax even stronger? And in such an “alchemy-punk” setting, will he lose his arm at Santa Cruz de Tenerife? Or his life at Trafalgar? Read more

I&E follow-along: starting in the right place

So, I’m back on task after my time off to deal with copyedits for The Prince of Lies and attend a convention, which means I need to get on with this outline!

Taking a break from the outlining process has allowed me to look at it with fresh eyes—and I’ve realised that I’m not starting the story in the right place. That is, I’m trying to start my plot at the wrong part of my protagonist’s character arc, with the result that he ends up taking a back seat in some crucial events because he’s not ready for them. My solution has been to move the beginning of the external plot arc further along in his timeline, to a point where he’s badass enough to be the star of the show :)

My Muse is clearly happy with this change, as she’s practically dictating the opening scenes to me whenever I have a spare moment to think about the story. On the frustrating side, I’m going to have to throw away big chunks of my initial outline—but better that than throwing out 30,000 words of prose!

Convention report: Nine Worlds Geekfest

Nine Worlds Geekfest is a brand-new convention that was launched earlier this year via Kickstarter. I was one of those sponsors, because a) it looked like a cool event and b) I knew I wasn’t going to be able to attend WorldCon in Texas, which left my summer looking rather empty. I’m very glad I did so, as it turned out to be a fantastic weekend. Read more

Back to school: fountain pens

I know a bunch of my writing friends share my passion for lovely pens and notebooks, so I thought I’d share one of my collections with you…

When I was 11 I was admitted to the local girls’ grammar school, a somewhat old-fashioned establishment with pretensions of grandeur. It was the first school I’d been to that had a uniform, and to go with the blazer and tie (yes, we wore ties, like blokes!) my parents bought me a leather satchel and a fountain pen. On our first day we were sternly instructed that all homework must be written in fountain pen; the lowly biro was for rough work only. Sadly I don’t have that original fountain pen any more (though I do still have the satchel), but my love of this very traditional writing implement has only grown with the years. Read more

Copyedits, procrastination and paranoia

This week’s post is a bit late, mostly because I seem to be in serious procrastination mode at the moment, at least when it comes to anything writing-related. Heck, I even hoovered under the bed on Saturday rather than knuckle down to it…

The thing is, I’ve had the copyedits back on The Prince of Lies, which I have to hand in by 4th August. Not only is this the last chance I get to fix any problems with the book before it goes to press, it’s also the last in the trilogy and hence the last time ever that I’ll work on Mal’s story—the story that I’ve obsessed over for the past eight years. Eight years! A thing like that is hard to say goodbye to, and I think that’s why I’m finding it so hard to get started.

Well, that and the fact that this was the hardest book for me to plot, so I’ve been a little scared that a re-read would reveal flaws that I don’t have time to fix. That’s where the paranoia comes in. Have I really done my best job on this book? Does it wrap up the trilogy in a satisfactory manner? What if fans of the first two hate it?

Yesterday I decided I just needed to trust my editor when he says the story is fine, and focus on fine-tuning the prose, so I made a PDF of the Word file (Angry Robot has a paper-free production workflow – no hard-copy galleys or page proofs) and put it onto my iPad for easier reading. I got two chapters done in my lunch break yesterday, so if I can fit in a few more chunks during the week I should be able to get the whole thing done before the deadline.

I’m not making any drastic changes: just a word or phrase here and there, the occasional line of dialogue amended to be more in-character. Things I would have caught on the previous draft if I hadn’t run up against earlier deadlines. After that there’ll be the dread moment of pressing “Send”, when the book leaves my hands for the last time and goes off for layout and printing. I’m excited at the prospect of sharing the completion of this story with you all and yeah, just a little bit scared!

I&E follow-along: brief hiatus

This week I’ve been anxiously awaiting the copyedits for The Prince of Lies, so I haven’t been able to focus on I&E. The file arrived mid-week, so this weekend (and possibly the following week) will be dedicated to working on that, which means that this follow-along may be on hiatus for a little while. Them’s the breaks when you’re a pro writer – the paying gigs have to come first!

Book Review: Promise of Blood, by Brian McClellan

“The Age of Kings is dead…and I have killed it.”

This awesome tagline adorns the cover of Brian McClellan’s  debut novel Promise of Blood, the first volume of the Powder Mage Trilogy, and aptly sums up the political theme of the book: revolution.

After a few false starts with novels I struggled to get into, I’ve taken to downloading free samples from with the intention of only buying the book if sufficiently hooked. Promise of Blood passed this test with flying colours and I quickly bought the ePub so that I could continue reading. Read more