My awesome writing buddy Lora recently tagged me in the writing process tour. We met a few years ago in this here desert and I never let her go. Lora writes YA novels and literary short stories and is currently working on a sci-fi YA adventure. She just finished her latest draft and I am ridiculously excited for her.
What am I currently working on?
A young assassin is forced into an uneasy alliance with a fastidious necromancer when an ancient, malevolent power rises from the sand wastes and threatens to usurp Death itself.
I’ve had the main characters in my mind ever since last October, but no plot to speak of. Three weeks ago I went for a run and returned home with not only a plot, but a culture, a world, and a whole lotta hijinks. I’ve labeled it adventure fantasy in my head, to remind myself that first and foremost this story is supposed to be fun, but we’ll see how it actually ends up; I have a tendency to make things dark. So far it has camels, lesbian romance, a city in the sky, sand demons, and vast amounts of undead.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
The story is a confluence of a bunch of things I’ve been wanting to write for some time now, all of which are themes/relationships/settings I would like to, but don’t often, see in high fantasy.
One of which is a non-hetero romance that fits into the story just like a hetero one might, with all the traditional trappings and clichés. Most (all) of the stories I’ve read that include a non-hetero relationship/romance tend to fall into two categories: the relationship happens entirely off-screen or it’s so terribly star-crossed and angsty and painful/wonderful that it wraps the story around itself, instead of the other way around. These stories have their places, of course, and I don’t fault anyone for writing/liking them (I have written my fair share…), but I’m just in a place where I want to write it as normal as I feel it.
The other is having a distinctly non-medieval European setting and culture. My first high fantasy, although less medieval and more ancient Rome, still relied heavily on that typically verdant, quaint, peasanty and white default, complete with a Roman-like pantheon and myths. Granted, I set out with the intention to use my Classics degree while writing it, but this time I wanted to stretch myself and see how far I could get from that typical setting. Now I have vast stretches of open desert, sand demons and wind gods, Monsoon festivals, and city-state politics. I’ve been reading about and borrowing heavily from the cultures living within the Sahara and learning so much about sand dunes.
Why do I write what I write?
Because the one time I tried to write something other than fantasy, it still turned into fantasy. While I enjoy reading almost everything under the sun, but what I really enjoy writing always has fantastical elements.
Otherwise, I write what I want to read, and what I hope others want to read.
How does my Writing Process work?
Character first. Always. An interesting character hits me, sometimes coupled with an equally interesting scene or concept. That will stay with me for a while until the vague promise of a plot beckons. Then I start the first draft or – as I prefer to call it – draft zero. This is my planning and plotting process, where I simply go through and write the whole thing as quickly as possible. I’ve since realized that my draft zero is basically a really long, fleshy outline and discovery process. I try to fly through this part and it usually takes 2-3 months, writing a specified amount every day, rain or shine. When it’s finished, I know everything about my characters and plot. Or, close enough to everything.
Then I let the draft sit for a month or two while I work on something else. After it’s fermented properly, I’ll read it through, making notes as I go. If I’m going to, I usually write an actual outline at this point. Then I completely rewrite it. A lot of the key plot elements often remain, but everything else is up for revision. I typically end up tacking on an additional 20% in words. This round typically takes 3-5 months and I don’t write every day.
Depending on how I feel after I’ve rewritten it, I may beta the story at this point. That means finding a handful of friends, online and off, who are willing to read it through and point at my weaknesses. If I don’t feel like it’s strong enough, I’ll go back through it again from the beginning, taking the time to map out what I feel is wrong and repositioning plot elements as needed.
Either way, after sending it to friends or combing through it again, I let it rest again. Work on something else. When the betas get back, I go at it again. Revise. Rest. Resend.
At some point I will (hopefully) feel like I have done all that I can and the story is complete. If I still like it and feel confident that it’s any good, I’ll write my query and synopsis and begin researching agents. If I don’t, I’ll table it, maybe revisit it in a few years when I’m a stronger writer.
MJ Belko writes children’s books and has (somewhat) recently returned to writing after too many years away. She likes her children’s stories to contain talking animals and rhyme, preferably together. She has a few of them up on her blog for reading if you’re interested. I don’t know her too well, but I’m hoping to know more soon.