Wednesday, June 11, 2014

William D. Richards Talks About How He Writes

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1. What Am I Working On?

At the foremost, I am working on Aggadeh Chronicles Book 2: Dragon. It makes sense; you start a series, people expect multiple books in the series. When you don’t, potential readers tend to hold back from reading your series because they don’t want to have to wait until your next book comes out. Even I am guilty of this. It makes me wonder how J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series would fared if she didn’t already have the first couple of books in the series written when it was introduced in the United States.

I’m also working on a hard science fiction called Privateer. It’s about a man marooned in space after his ship is destroyed by marauders trying to steal his cargo. His lifeboat detects a rescue beacon and drops out of hyperspace into a remote star system. There, he comes across a derelict spaceship that will either become his prison or his salvation.

It’s dangerous to jump genres. It is jarring for a reader to read a fantasy by an author and come across a hard science fiction written by that same author. People who love the soft organics of magic in fantasy might not like the hard technology of science fiction. There are authors who have pulled this off. I want to be one of them.

That being said, I have other book ideas that step outside the traditional definitions of science fiction and fantasy. Naturally, that statement brings us to the next question…

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Aggadeh Chronicles differs from others in the genre in that it doesn't rely on tensions between magical races. Magic is integral to how life works in the story, not the focus of the story.

I have no good or evil forms of magic in my story. There are safe types of magic and dangerous types of magic. It is the actions of the characters in the story and how they use their abilities that define anything as good or evil. There are beings that align with negative and those that align with positive. They are not pure existences of good or evil, but simply it is how they choose to approach the world.

There are differences between magic and sorcery in this world, even though they seem to accomplish the same thing. Sorcery is the dangerous type of magic, as it deals directly with the manipulation of energy in the world. Magic is less dangerous as it is more controlled and deals with guiding energy indirectly, making it the safe kind of magic. Think of it as Physics and Chemistry.

I did try to maintain some true scientific facts in this world. It helps with the believability in a story of fantasy. It shows how in a world where not everyone can use magic effectively, there must be other tools people can use to get work done. A sword or a cannon can kill just as effectively as a magic spell can. I tried to maintain realistic travel times when the characters move about in the story, even when the methods of travel are magical such as by cloudships or dragon. The horses Nem and Bors use to travel aren’t majestic quarter horses, they are smaller, stockier horses like the Icelandic Horse, not much larger than a pony. These horses have an ambling gait that allows them to travel very long distances quickly and comfortable for a rider. The Jennet was a popular small horse in Europe during Medieval period for the this purpose, used by merchants and gentry to travel long distances in a hurry. A quarter horse might be able to gallop faster for a short distance, but it can’t match one of these ambling horses for speed and distance over time.

I want my stories to be as plausible as possible for the reader. To have details in them to which the reader can easily relate and help them to take that further step in suspending their disbelief and accepting the fantastical elements of the story.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I love stories. I love telling stories. I’ve always been this way. For me, writing a story is the same process as reading only backwards. Rather than look at the words on a page and watching the scenes play out in my head, I watch the scenes play out in my head and try to keep up as I write the description of what I’m seeing.

What is most important to me is that the story be enjoyable to read.

Why I write in the genres that I do is fairly easy to explain.

I loved rocket ships and dinosaurs as a child. I saw Neil Armstrong take the first step on the moon and followed every rocket launch with rapt attention. My favorite TV shows were Lost in Space and Star Trek (a LOT scarier than Lost in Space at times). My mother always complained about us watching the Saturday afternoon monster movies with Godzilla and King Kong, that watching those movies would give us nightmares. (They did, but we watched anyway.)

I always loved the old fairy tales. I loved them even more when I discovered that there was far more to those fairy tales than children’s books reveal. There were fairy tales from other cultures that the Brothers Grimm never touched on. There were fairy tales that don’t get top billing because they weren’t exactly appropriate for children. They were such simple stories, but they spoke of complex things hidden inside that simplicity. They were simple stories that one could take and expand upon and create a new story.

I was a science fiction and fantasy fan even before I started reading. Even before I knew what those terms meant. I love stories that step a little or a lot outside the reality we know. Forcing my imagination and mind to work harder and stretch to the limits.

It’s only natural the same applies when it comes to my writing.

The subject matter of each story is a bit harder to explain.

Often, an idea of a story comes to me because of a piece of music. Something in a given passage will invoke an image or a scene and the story explaining that will evolve in my mind. I’ll have that particular scene in my mind and the next step is to explain what lead to that scene and where the story goes from there.

Other times, I will get an idea for a story from some news item I hear. An exciting new discovery, a tragedy needing a different outcome– These all lend themselves to new stories.

There are some stories that come directly from my dreams. The imagery was just so fascinating, I had to find some way to describe and explain it. The only way to do that is to write a story about it.

What I find interesting in my writing is how the written story differs from the imagined story in my head. Often what I imagine in my mind is a fluid thing. Writing down the story crystalizes it and gives it solidity. What was just a bunch of related scenes in my mind now shows where and how these scenes must be connected to give them continuity in a narrative. Sometimes the story has to change, because without that change there is no way any given two scenes can exist with each other. There are also the occasional ideas that just won’t fit in the story and get removed. I do recycle ideas and scenes that get cut. There are some ideas that can become stories in their own right. And this makes a good segway to…

4. How does my writing process work?

One thing you learn is what process works for one writer doesn’t necessarily work for another. On the other hand, another person might read how some random writer works and find a resonance with that writer’s approach. The beauty of this blog tour is being able to see how other writers work and consider how that compares to one's own approach.

Getting started is usually the hardest and the easiest part of writing. It’s hardest, because after daydreaming about writing a book, it is wholly another thing to sit down and actually produce the words for that book. It’s the easiest, because all you have to do is start writing the words of the story.

I tell people, just write down the description of the story to yourself:

“This is a story ‘bout a man named Fred,
Out-of-work engineer, barely kept his family fed.
Then one day Jed was shootin’ up some food,
When out of the ground came something really rude:
Zombies that is. Mindless undead. The House of Representa–”

By golly, the story will just start flowing as you describe it!

The first step is the germ of the story idea.

I write quick notes describing the scene or idea I imagined. It’s rather random what these notes may cover because it is whatever is in my head at that moment that made the idea so interesting. If I’m already working on another manuscript, the note is as far as it gets until I’m done with the first story or I need a break and want to write something different for a while.

When it becomes time to actually begin the manuscript writing process, this is where it gets blurry and messy. I generally write a story in a linear fashion, from beginning to end, just like reading it. Now and then, a new idea comes to me and I may go off on a tangent. This can be bad for productivity, but good for the story itself. This is where I refer to the outline to see if this idea really does fit. If it is better than what the outline set, then I'll change the outline. There are occasions where I may be stuck and decide to jump ahead to a more interesting part. Then I'll return and try and write the bridge between the the written scenes where I had gotten stuck.

To me, an outline is a skeleton rather than scaffolding. It needs to be able to move and adjust as the story evolves rather than remain rigid and unchanging. At the same time, it must hold the story to its proper form.

During all this, the story is gelled rather than crystalized. It’s soft and flexible. Easy to change and adjust. It’s in blobs and chunks and doesn’t have very strong continuity.

There are other times when I get an idea and just sit down and start writing furiously. I write and write and write and write and write until several weeks later I stop, look up, and discover I’ve just written a manuscript. Or rather, a pseudo-manuscript. My story, Music on the Wind, is just this sort of writing. It is a lot of passive description of the story, littered with actual narrative and in other places notes to myself to use this idea or that idea to cover a given part. (Yeah, MotW needs a lot of work to turn it into a readable book.)

Once I’ve declared the manuscript complete, I set aside for a couple of weeks to a month. I will go and do other things. Read some really good books. This is actually a vital part of my writing process! After reading something, I go back and read my own manuscript.

Reading other books and seeing well-written and edited examples helps make my own errors really stand out. I fix those errors as best I can, and only then is the manuscript ready to be seen by the eyes of others.

From there, it enters the editing stage and goes out to my editors. Truth is, at this point the “book” is still a piece of crap. After the manuscript has been through a round or two of editing, I start seeding it to proofreaders. New proof-readers usually go into a panic as they read it and see errors and mistakes, or find a part in the book that is just terrible. Editors sometimes don’t catch everything. That’s why you have proofreaders.

You don’t so much write a book as you refine it. It’s a back and forth process twisting and turning the various pieces until they fit together and flow smoothly. Between the “blob” manuscript and the “release” manuscript, I may go through four or five versions.

Because I have a lot of downtime as a writer during the editing phase, I use this time to take care of the business-side of writing the book. Filing the copyrights, preparing the entries on the various distributors so that all I have to do is upload the finished manuscript in click on the “PUBLISH” button. It’s also during this phase that I turn to creating the cover art for the book. I’m a firm believer that the cover should reflect a scene from the story and not just be a generic image. The temporary cover I created for Dragon uses the painting that was the inspiration for the city of Balon in the story. I’m at the point where I’m looking for an artist to help me create the covers for the series.

I always send out the book for one last round of proof-reading before release. In my opinion, this is the most important activity of the process. This is the last shot at catching errors before I release the book for sale. I choose certain people for this because they are good at catching incongruities and small errors. When an author asks you to proofread a book, this is not a small request. It’s vital that there be no more errors. Errors can ruin a book’s chances in the market.

When I’m satisfied my team has caught what we can, then I simply construct the ebooks and send them out to the distributors.

The actual process of creating the ebook file and distributing it is outside the writing process, even though it is part of the publishing process. Generating the file is not difficult. But it is fairly technical when it comes to making sure everything is right. My blog entry here is long enough. This can be covered at another time.
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