The Process, writing about writing.

It occurs to me that, in the sequence of writing these blogs, that I haven’t really shared much about my process, how I write a story. Today I’m going to tell you how the Camelot 2050 Trilogy came to be and how I’m going forward with my new Work in Progress, ‘Riding the E-Rail’.

Back in the heady days of 2003 I was an avid gamer, video games, tabletops and live action games were all things I was doing regularly. I was just out of college and working day jobs but filling my down-time with escapism. A trend emerged in my local gaming circles of ‘Free-Form Online Roleplay’. A storyteller would come up with a setting and situations, feed those in prose to a group of players who would write their characters responses and then the storyteller would turn those into prose and develop the ongoing story with consequences and new events.

This was the platform into which Camelot 2050 was born. As someone who loved Arthurian Myth Science Fiction I’d long wanted to see the two brought together but never found a property that achieved that to my satisfaction. I sounded out a group of players, roughed out a story-arc and we began telling a story in a near-future setting where Camelot and the Round Table had always been a part of British History.

The game itself didn’t last very long, life and other commitments got in the way but it generated about five-thousand words of prose and a small collection of interesting characters. For some reason I never quite let go of the world I was building and, over time, I added to the document, telling the story I’d wanted to tell those initial explorers in this science-fantasy realm. Weeks or months would go by without my adding anything but always the ideas would ferment and solidify for ‘what happens next’ so you could say they were written, edited and finalised in my head.

I think the idea of a three-story arc was always part of the plan. I pulled the initial text from the emails we’d sent back and forth and possibly started a Word.doc to put it all together. As the story got longer I started looking for some external opinions and moved the whole thing to G.Docs for ease of sharing and received some positive feedback. At some point this became ungainly, load times and my ailing computer led me to break down the huge file into five chapter chunks and I’ve used this arrangement ever since.

I suppose some of the characters had come to me pre-written, the players had (at my behest) added short biographies and the rest had been around in my mind for years so I didn’t really have to give much thought to their reactions. The story itself had been orbiting my consciousness for nearly as long so, with the meta-plot in place I just had to fill in the events. Essentially it was written on a byline of ‘Is it cool?’, if yes it went in (under caveats of ‘does it make sense?’ if not then I discarded it. Another guideline I work to is whether an idea will stay with me for a number of days. I’ll have the idea, I won’t write it down but, if I can recall it after a week it’s good enough to go in the draft.

I got trapped for a while. With periods of weeks or months passing between writing stints I’d revisit the whole of what I’d written to ‘get back into it’ and this led to me revamping the prologue maybe a dozen times. There was always something to change and (as the book stands now) there still is. But all that time ate up opportunities to write new material and, had I simply forged ahead and then done a proof read and edit I likely would have finished much sooner. At the same time I was building my voice and establishing my humour and style so, while Black Knight took many years to finish, Dragon Fire only took a matter of twelve to fourteen months. As I’ve said the story was one I’d been looking forward to for years and planning out in my head, I knew my characters by that point and the whole process was much easier.

So, between 2003 and 2016 Black Knight was finished and I started Dragon Fire 2016/17. Given the trap I’d gotten into revisiting the beginning of Black Knight so many times I decided to stop second guessing myself and forged ahead. My recall of plot points was (to my mind) pretty damn good but still I had an editor and a proof-reader to review and let me know if there was anything I’d missed and there were things that went into the story afterwards. It was once Black Knight was finished and Dragon Fire was well progressed that my circumstances changed. I was working shifts and spending my free afternoons putting all the time I could into the manuscripts, then I changed jobs and (while I hated the company) the hours of work gave me time to mull over the next scene or sequence and my productivity went right up in terms of word-count.

But, coming home from an afternoon shift at eleven o’clock and then writing until three in the morning driven by the need to produce something that might get me out of that soul-crushing daily grind was pretty brutal and the disregard for the staff at my level shown finally caught up with me. So I stopped day-time work and started writing full-time.

It was when I was making a noise about the release of Black Knight via my Social Media that a friend asked me if I’d do some free-lancing. It wasn’t paid but was fun work, there was a brief and boundaries/guidelines but it took my mind to other places and presented a welcome change, a little variety from day-to-day. The vignettes and settings writing I did on Age of Steel presented a possible way forward and it was good that it came when it did because then I was approached by The Gentleman Gamer, Matthew Dawkins himself to possible join a group of writers working on a paid project on behalf of Onyx Path games. This was a great chance and I signed up eagerly but more on that another time.

So, between Camelot and my freelance work not a whole lot has changed in my process. I start with a concept or an idea and then let it develop organically within certain boundaries dictated by the story itself. Writing my new work, ‘Riding the E’Rail’ I’vm experimenting with one or two new techniques. With Camelot I had the idea and then spent a great deal of time thinking about it. By the time I was on book two and book three I already had a wealth of ideas and scenes worked out. E-Rail is a recent concept and, while I could go away and ‘stew’ on the idea for a decade, I don’t think my current readers would thank me for it. So I’ve built a background document with ideas for the history, tech levels and some of the societies present in the galaxy. I’ve got the meta-plot in mind but, with the change of perspective from third to first-person, it’ll be interesting to see how the MC interacts with or becomes aware of what’s going on outside their immediate experience. I’m still playing the ‘is it cool?’ game but I’m trying to create a ‘deeper’ story around individual experience and even some serious social commentary but we’ll see how that works out over the course of the draft. I’d say there’s been an incremental shift from a ‘pantser’ to a ‘plantser’ and we’ll see how that goes. I might even read through for a second draft this time.

So, in switching from a project that has spanned fifteen or more years to a new concept and story from scratch I am trying to step-up my game and use some of the tools suggested by fellow authors. I’ve introduced a cast of characters who I need to profile in depth for myself, that material might never make the page but, it’ll be important for me to inform their reactions/decisions as the story moves on.

I hope this gives you some ideas of your own, or is at least an informative read. Remember, there is no ‘right or wrong’ to your process. It is, after all, yours and as individual as you are.

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