Intended Intro for Divided Allegiance

Posted: September 7th, 2018 under Background, Life beyond writing, the writing life.
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What’s your writing process?  How do you come up with all that stuff and how do you keep track of it?  These questions come up naturally considering the middle book of a trilogy, where there are more complications than resolutions.

The writing process is deceptively simple (even simpler now, with a computer and printer, because I don’t have to put a sheet of paper in the typewriter every few hundred words, use white-out, or literally cut and paste to make changes.)  Seat of pants on seat of chair, fingers on keys, GO.  And keep going.  For hours.  For more hours.  For days, weeks, months.  Stagger up now and then to use the facilities or input water and food.  Until it’s done.  Then edit, and edit again, and then start the next one.  Scream loudly when the power goes off in the middle of a backup, when a hard drive decides to self-destruct, when the backup hard drive is corrupted, when the roof leaks onto the computer (yes, it did) and then start again.  And again.  Until it’s done.

Everything else is a refinement.  Music: I write to music a lot, mostly classical music, which generates writing rhythm for me.  I need it less now (my mind can play music though not as well.)  Food: dark chocolate is particularly useful when the writing is harder than usual, otherwise something that doesn’t need time spent to prepare it.  Time: I started out writing in long solitary stretches, but learned, when we adopted an infant, to write long books in short (even five minute) bursts, holding a paragraph in my head while changing a diaper or feeding or cuddling the baby, then–the moment he was down for a nap–running in to write as fast as I could.  That had not been my plan–my plan was that the baby would love being in a sling snuggled against my front while I typed.  That was not the baby’s plan, and writing epic fantasy (or anything much) while a struggling screaming infant is whacking you with that tiny little fist destroys concentration on anything but the baby.

Remember: you don’t FIND time to write; you MAKE time to write, whatever it takes in terms of lost sleep, undone chores (other than feeding and cleaning that relate to the baby), no recreation (other than writing), no social life (other than baby/toddler/child.)  If you want the book written, it’s up to you to figure out how, because nothing but doing it will get it done.  You can (I did) write a book a year while caring for and home-schooling an autistic kid.  And you can enjoy both.  (No, I’m not saying it’s easy.  Just doable.)

I do my best first-drafting if I start fairly early in the morning, because I wake up at or just before dawn, completely awake and hungry.  I want food, some exercise (mucking out a stall will do; a short ride will do more–or, lacking a horse, a bike ride or swim or brisk walk) and then the story is live and nudging me to get in there and write.  Some days I could write straight through until late evening, but now I need a long break and a nap as well, before the evening surge of energy.  For the entire first volume, I had long mostly empty days to write in and a horse to care for and ride.  Even with the old typewriter and those uncooperative sheets of paper, it went fast.

Keeping track of the details was another issue.  I had charts (Paks’s recruit cohort: names, and who died when.)  Although I had technical-looking small maps of each combat encounter, I didn’t have area maps until the second campaign year, when one of my first readers commented that no matter which way an army approached a certain city, it had to cross a river.  Was the city on an island, she asked, and if so, shouldn’t I mention that?  It wasn’t.  I had created a city that jumped from side to side of its river.  A map fixed that.  That first map grew to cover all of Aarenis, and then spread north to cover the Eight Kingdoms.)

I kept lists of character names, place names, names of plants and animals, words specific to this story-world, short bits about legends, myths, religions, customs.  All these went into a 3 ring binder.  Many of these names required searching through various dictionaries (we have quite a few) to find what I needed, and some required the help of a friend who spoke Latvian.  (Why Latvian?  Old language believed to have very close ties to the original Indo-European.  Some wonderful root words in there.)

In November 1983, when our son arrived,  I was partway through the second book, had my reference notes tucked into the notebook, and a brand new computer (IBM PC with two floppy drives and 256K RAM) to replace the old Corona half-electric typewriter I’d inherited from my step-grandmother.  I had chosen WordStar for its versatility, and loved it.  Would still be using it, if it would run on newer machines.  Baby and all, having a computer to write on saved me a lot of time in both writing and editing, almost enough to keep on at the same pace.  Sleep was overrated, I thought.

Since my brain thought the story was all one thing (though too long to fit easily in a normal size volume) I had no “second book slump” with Divided Allegiance.  And that brings up the issue of a series versus a multi-volume story.  A series has separate standalone stories, each in one volume.  Detective series with the same detective/team in each are an example.  The story arc is complete in each volume, though elements (detective, sidekick, office politics) may carry through. Each book, standing alone, is rather like one in a row of storage units.  In contrast, a true multi-volume work has one main story arc that needs several volumes to complete, while each volume has sub-arcs in support of the main one (think Gothic architecture.)

This means that the middle part of a multi-volume work holds the keystone of the work–it’s the volume that holds the entire  story together.  It’s where the infinite possibilities of the rising curve are controlled, limited, and forced back down in a definite shape toward a definite end.  Which means the middle volume is where you find out if the initial concept has what it takes to center and control that long an arc.

Is there enough “stuff” in the story–not just wordage, but complexity, both in characters and plot–to sustain the tension of such a long arc?  A middle book may seem weaker (a less defined beginning and end for that volume) but have the strength, when the reader finishes the whole, to show that it’s the right middle, a true keystone.  Or it can fail, by not tying the others together–and the failure is usually a matter of attempting a perfect internal arc with too little connection to the larger one.

So, deep in the story as it developed through Divided Allegiance, I was excited to realize that it was behaving like a very strong keystone indeed.  Writing the actual keystone and the downward arc, however, was anything but the same fun I had had with Sheepfarmer’s Daughter.  Unlike readers (who had to survive the end of it to get to the final volume) I knew as I wrote that what seemed to be desolation would not last forever  but it was still hard when the characters’ flaws–clearly there in the first book–had their inevitable outcome in the second.  It’s still hard for me to read, years later.  But it would have been dishonest to make it easy.

Once into Oath of Gold I could see more of where the story was going.  I hurried on, in my increasingly short periods of writing, as we entered the home stretch of the race between my first book and our son’s becoming able to walk.  He beat me by five days, in early January 1985–but close enough.  The story was complete, all the parts in the right place.  Now it was time to turn 2500 sheets of paper covered with words into separate manuscripts ready for submission.  I would have had a nice long nap–but I had a very active toddler in the house.

5 Comments »

  • Comment by Richard Simpkin — September 9, 2018 @ 2:26 am

    1

    Typo in para 9? “A series has … Each book, standing along, is rather like one in a row of storage units.”

    Standing alone?


  • Comment by elizabeth — September 9, 2018 @ 9:22 am

    2

    Yup. Thanks.


  • Comment by Ann Neff — September 9, 2018 @ 6:55 pm

    3

    I looked forward to these so much! My second child was also born in 1983, and I’d read while nursing, or cooking meals, or folding diapers. Enjoying your memories here!


  • Comment by Sharidann — September 11, 2018 @ 2:18 pm

    4

    Wondering about one Thing: you were writing the second book in 1983? Did you have to wait 5 years before the book getting published?


  • Comment by Daniel Glover — November 19, 2018 @ 9:26 am

    5

    So do you know of a ship date for the 30th Anniversary edition yet?


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