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Are you a writer or a follower?

When I write, I don’t read other people’s works. I know that a lot of authors are also voracious readers both within their genre and outside of it, and I like to read as well (when I have time). When I’m writing my own new works, I don’t like to be tainted by the voice and style of others.

I am a writer, not a follower. I write my own story.

Imagine trying to write a song while listening to the radio. Intentionally or not, your song will be influenced by whatever you’re hearing whether you realize it or not. My writing is the same way.

I have read articles that ask the question, “How would ____ write this?” They often refer to famous authors, such as Stephen King or Ernest Hemingway. Although it’s worth gaining general knowledge of the mechanics of writing by studying famous literary works, asking the question, “How did ___ write?” is the better way to approach it.

Every writer has their own method, their own approach, their own voice. I’m no different. I have tools and processes and quirks that work for me, and they may work for others, but they may not. At the end of the day, I am writing my own books, not rehashes of something written by J.K. Rowling or R.A. Salvatore.

When I find myself struggling with a certain passage, I don’t ask, “How would ___ write this?” I am a writer, not a follower. I write my own story.

NaNoWriMo and Ohlen’s Bane

November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I had already begun writing my new novel, Ohlen’s Bane, at the tail end of October, a process that included brainstorming and then creation of a plot event list. I set up Scrivener to have proper chapters and scenes based on that plot event list and had even begun writing Chapter 1.

Now that November and NaNoWriMo has come along, the timing is perfect for keeping me motivated. Over this past weekend I cranked out over 12,000 words on Ohlen’s Bane and am now neck-deep in Chapter 4.

I set up Scrivener to have a project goal of 100,000 words, and a session goal of 3,000 words. It’s very rewarding to see that 3,000 word goal whoosh by with tons of creativity and energy left in me. I think 50,000 words by November 30th is a very achievable goal.

When writers cheat

Writers cheat. I’m not talking about blatant or even subtle plagiarism. I’m referring to taking short cuts when it comes to plot devices. How often have you read, “It is written…” or “It has been prophesied that…”? I see this technique as a way to explain away why something happens without really explaining why it happens.

There’s nothing less exciting for the reader than inevitability.

As I begin writing the sequel to my first novel, Ohlen’s Arrow, I have imposed upon myself the requirement that I answer “Why?” for every character motive in my story. My process involves making a plot event list, which is nothing more than a sequential list of events that occur in the story. Each event is a single sentence that translates into a scene in the book. I then organize those scenes into chapters.

When I state, “The monsters attack the castle”, for example, I must answer the question, “Why did the monsters attack the castle?” What is their motivation? Simply declaring, “They’re monsters, that’s what they do!” is nowhere near good enough, and would easily come across to most readers as transparent and cheap. If a character gets promoted to a position of power, how unoriginal would it be if I declare that it was prophesied by the mystic elders of the First Millennium? This makes it sound inevitable, and there’s nothing less exciting for the reader than inevitability.

Answering “Why?” requires that I do some backstory research, which can be described as Iceberg Tips. Even though a great deal of the backstory behind my character’s motives won’t actually appear in my book, there will be hints of it and the discerning reader will glean why Argo the Orc hated Prince Ruprect with every fiber of his ugly hide. Without the iceberg, there can be no tip.

Reviews of Ohlen’s Arrow from Amazon.com

I would like to quote the following reviews of Ohlen’s Arrow, posted to Amazon.com:

“I enjoyed taking this journey with Ohlen and his friends. The balance between action and character development was perfect and the story was easy to follow. That can’t always be said of a book in this genre and as a reader, I appreciate it. I’m happy to hear the author has begun the sequel, and I’m anxious to find out what’s next for our hero.”

“I was waffling on how many stars to rate this work. Since this was Mr. Williamson’s first publication I decided to round it up to a 5 because I think his book is a great read and rounding down meant taking away a well deserved extra 1/2 a star which seemed wrong. His characters felt true to themselves and their environment. Their interactions were complex but fresh and not contrived. Mechanically it is a good story but it was the character development that made this first book such a great read. Most writers do not have Mr. Williamson’s dexterity at crafting such realistic characters. I do not think this is the end for Ohlen and his friends. I look forward to seeing where Mr. Williamson takes this group next – especially my favorite character the one we last checked in on before the story closed – talk about a delightfully complex character construct.”

Excerpt from Chapter 10, “The Dead Man Speaks”

As Merrick Stonehorn stood in the back of the crowd gathered in the courtyard, he watched Hadrick Burgoyne emerge onto the wooden dais erected before the Keep’s main entrance. An entourage of sycophantic advisers and attendants surrounded the fat, grey-haired man whose clothes were needlessly regal beyond the occasion. Despite Burgoyne’s physical size, Merrick considered him to be the smallest man he’d ever met.

The ruler began speaking to the assembled crowd – it was a monthly ritual. His speeches were flowery and puffed up civic decrees that had little substance but were intended to remind the citizenry that he was still in charge.

Merrick sensed someone was watching him. A short, wiry man with brown, expressionless eyes emerged from behind a food vendor’s cart, stood next to the giant innkeeper, and said, “His speech is especially interesting today, don’t you think?”

Both men kept their eyes toward the fat man on the dais as they conversed. The big man shrugged his shoulders and said, “‘Interesting’ isn’t the word I would choose.”

Rinn discretely glanced around to make sure no one was within earshot. “I’d say he’s doing a good job for a dead man.”

 

“I don’t like the guy, but that doesn’t mean I want to see him dead.”

“Too late.”

Merrick gazed nonchalantly toward the shorter man standing next to him. He caught a glimpse of a rare smile from the rogue.

“We need to talk. You know where,” Rinn muttered before fading back and disappearing amongst the vendor carts.

My first novel, Ohlen’s Arrow, is now available

Forgive this shameless plug, but I have published my first novel, a gritty fantasy story called Ohlen’s Arrow, and it’s now available for Kindle at Amazon.com and for Nook at Barnes & Noble for $2.99. I have also made a free sample available for download [PDF]. It is also available in the iTunes Bookstore.

Vengeance drives him. Will honor save him?

Ohlen’s Arrow is a fast paced story with gripping action, quirky characters, and a twist that turns a tried-and-true fantasy trope on its head.

A savage tribe of cru’gan brutally slaughtered his family, orphaning Ohlen when he was still a boy. Twenty years later a ferocious attack driven by a mysterious witch sends him on a perilous journey to rescue his best friend’s child. His choice between vengeance and honor will determine not only his own fate, but the life or death of those he loves.

It took me roughly three months to write the book and nine months to get the cover designed and edit the text. I have already begun the process of writing the sequel.

How edits feel

Elmore Leonard once said, “Write the book the way it should be written, then give it to somebody to put in the commas and shit.” This is a good viewpoint to hold when you’re a writer, because when you give your work to a copyeditor and they take their red pen and bleed all over it, you can’t take it personally.

Otherwise I would have stabbed myself in the heart with a rusty nail weeks ago.

As I’ve received edited chapters from my copyeditor, I got a brief sense of panic when I noticed the sheer volume of suggested changes. It makes me feel like I just started learning English a month ago. I also wonder what went through her mind as she reviewed my work. “This guy thinks he can write a book? What audacity!”

It has helped me to realize that this is part of the process. No writer, no matter how skilled or successful, produces flawless prose on the first try or even the 30th. As Elmore Leonard pointed out, it’s not really the writer’s job to do so, either. Focus on the creativity, the tone, the emotion, the description. Get the basic mechanics of your writing down, then allow someone else to do the editing, to put in the commas and shit.

I only have three more chapters to review from my copyeditor, then I need to read through Ohlen’s Arrow, cover to cover, one more time before I put it up for sale. I’m very excited about this as you can imagine, but it has been a very long, tedious process. The editing and revision phase of a book project is far more difficult and tedious and time-consuming than actually writing it; I am really looking forward to getting it finished.

Ohlen’s Arrow character study: Mella

This is the next installment in a series where I introduce key characters from my new novel, Ohlen’s Arrow. Rather than doing the predictable thing — focusing on Ohlen, the main character — I’m introducing the other key participants, his friends and enemies.

Mella and Ohlen grew up together in the village of Tarun. Whereas Ohlen was orphaned at a young age, Mella had a wonderful childhood growing up with her twin sister, Ranael, until tragedy struck. At the age of six, Ranael went missing without a trace.

Perhaps because of this, and in general because of the harsh nature of living in a remote village with all the dangers that presents, Mella grew into a strong-willed woman nearly fearless in her devotion to her husband, Scarn, and her two children, six-month old daughter Mirra and nineteen year old son Therran.

Mella has deep brown eyes and long, straight sandy blonde hair unlike most residents of Tarun that have dark brown or black hair. She stands 5′ 6″ tall and has a fit body. She has a ready smile and a joyous laugh, but can also take on a stern and no-nonsense demeanor when she or her family are threatened.

Most adults in Tarun learn to use at least one weapon because of the constant threat of attack from cru’gan, and Mella excelled at the use of a bow. She’s not quite as accurate as Ohlen, but few people are.

Mella is intensely loyal to those she loves, and being a mother, is also capable of great tenderness and kindness.

Trip reports and revisions to my book

I just got back from two separate motorcycle trips, one up through British Columbia to southeast Alaska, and the other down to the northern California coast. When I take trips such as these, I carry a paper journal and write notes about what happens on a daily basis.

Upon returning home, I compile these notes into ride reports that I post on my other blog, Two-Wheeled Astronaut.

Once I was back home and settled, I got cracking on revisions to Ohlen’s Arrow and was able to get them completed. The next step is to hire a professional editor to go over the manuscript. My goal is to get the book back on the e-shelves by the end of August.

If you know of a professional editor — that means it’s their day job, not just something they do on the side — please drop me a line.

Ohlen’s Arrow character study: Merrick Stonehorn

This is the first installment in a series where I introduce key characters from my new novel, Ohlen’s Arrow. Rather than doing the predictable thing — focusing on Ohlen, the main character — I’m going to introduce you to the other key participants — his friends and his enemies.

Merrick Stonehorn and Ohlen go back more than a decade. In appearance, they couldn’t be any further apart, but in spirit they share much that would be familiar to brothers.

Merrick is a big man in both stature and personality, standing six and a half feet tall and weighing at least three hundred pounds. He’s in his late 40s and has long red hair with a few streaks of grey, and he keeps it tied into a single braid that reaches the middle of his back. He wears a large gold loop in each ear. His face, arms and hands show many scars from more battles than Merrick himself could count.

Despite his large physical size, Merrick moves about with a deceptive ease and grace. The way he moves isn’t the only deceptive aspect of this larger-than-life man. His mood can jump from friendly to deadly in the blink of an eye when he feels threatened. His trust is hard-earned, but once obtained, Merrick is loyal to his friends to the bitter end.

Merrick Stonehorn began adventuring while still a teenager and quickly gained notoriety for both his bravery and his cunning. Still in his mid 20’s, he singlehandedly infiltrated a cru’gan stronghold, killed the tribal leader, and escaped not only alive but carrying gold equal to his own body weight (which was substantial, to say the least!) This, and other adventures like it, soon made him rich.

In his late 30’s he used his spoils to purchase the Inn of the Three Fans in the lakeside town of Eeron. Despite appearances that he has settled down and given up his adventuring ways, Merrick still finds time to get into the wilds, often accompanied by his second-in-command, a beady-eyed rogue named Rinn.