Current Works in Progress

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Writer's Unblock

So there I was, more than half way through NaNoPlaMo (National Novel Planning Month - otherwise known as October). I'd gotten my main plot arc figured out, and a couple of characters - including my main character. Then I hit my first wall. It was one doozy of a wall. It almost killed my story.

No matter how I approached the story, I couldn't get a handhold on it. It was like glass; mocking, sarcastic glass. The story that had seemed so promising just yesterday was rapidly drifting away from me, and I wasn't even sure why. I'd spent hours and hours sitting at the keyboard trying to get some supporting characters on paper. They wouldn't come out of their shadows. I fiddled around with some setting concepts, but nothing really felt right. It was all too generic. About the only productive thing I accomplished in two or three days of "planning" were some really impressive trick shots in Peggle Nights. Productive...

Then, in my real life, I had one of those pathetic, deus ex machina, "and then suddenly the problem was solved" plot twists that we writers are supposed to avoid like the plague. The solution to my problem popped fully formed, like a Greek god, right into my head. The characters wouldn't form up because I didn't have anywhere to put them - I needed my setting first. The settings I'd been trying on weren't satisfying to me because I already had a better one in mind. The story was going to take place, was meant to take place, couldn't take place anywhere else but
Aedon (the world in the picture of the map is called "Aedon").

This was a world I'd created for my attempted NaNovel last year. (It's a good thing I took these pictures of it, actually, because when we moved this past February I forgot to take it down from the wall in the old apartment. It might well still sit there, confusing the lovely Chinese couple who probably live there now.) Last year's story was a very different animal from this year's papery beast, of course, but they both fit perfectly in the same world. Perfectly.

Last year's novel was set in Ergess. Nominally a constitutional monarchy, Ergess is actually ruled by a very politically active, polytheistic "state religion". A very expansionist state religion. This is in stark contrast to Olam.
Olam is ruled by a council of merchant princes. The political intrigue, byplay, infighting and actual details of their various power bases are incomprehensible to outsiders. Luckily for us, they are also more or less irrelevant to outsiders (and us). My story does not deal with them.

My story does deal with an always feared and generally shunned religious order of assassins (they do thievery, spying and a number of other nasty things as well, but they are really famous for the assassinating). What better place to plop down their main temple than a city-state where the only truly important questions are "How much?" and "When can you deliver?" It is a perfect fit.

I am going to have to change Olam from a large country to a smaller (and more easily defended) city-state. I am also going to have to move it from where it is now, staring across the river at the Viking Krallish capital to the tip of that northern horn. I was going to have to make those changes anyway, mind you, I just hadn't realized it until I actually went to use the place. It's still perfect.

Now that I think about it, though, I may want to make some cultural adjustments to the vikings Krallish and the Native Americans Horse Lords Furlanese as well. They are both just a wee bit... over done. This year's story will also have to take place at least a hundred years before the events of last year's story. Last year's story involves some major plot events that change the entire world in fundamental and irrevocable ways, so there can't really be any overlap. Aside from that, the world is totally perfect for this story.

What actually does make this world perfect for my story is that it is a world that I've already built. The heavy lifting is already done. Realizing this gave me some very useful insight into myself as a writer. In particular, I learned two things:
  1. I am the kind of writer that needs to have a whole world built before he can get to know his characters or flesh out a plot.
  2. I am lazy.
I am too lazy to go around building a whole world for every story I feel like writing, anyway. It took me weeks of late nights and early mornings to plan Aedon last year. It was the thought of doing that again this year that was pushing me into the arms of Bjorn the Unicorn. Now that I know where the action is going to go down, now that I have the context for my story, the glass doesn't look so smooth any more. I can see handholds all over the place, in fact, and I can't wait to get my hands dirty. Is it November 1st yet? Rawr, and so forth!

(If you don't know what NaNoWriMo is, go to and find out)


  1. So this is going to be non-fiction? Just kidding. I've never attempted to write anything like you describe, but I think it amazing and remarkable that anyone would dare to create an entire new world or environment for their characters. But the imagination is an amazing thing and I hope you will consider posting excerpts from you story once you get it fleshed out.

  2. Interesting to me in that I need my characters fairly well-defined before I see their world, but in actuality, they do each fuel the other.

    I'm mostly just so tickled at the idea of "mocking glass."

  3. Way to go, the novel seems to be on good tracks. I am wondering about your religious assassins order, what will be their belief, will there be a moral code of some sort and so on...

  4. Thanks for linking me to this - unfortunately this story is completely unrelatable and separate to my previous other novels. It's a great feeling when everything falls into place and you hit your head against your desk wondering quite what took you so long in the first place!

  5. @Stephen: I will do you one better (provided you have a deviantArt account). I will be posting the whole thing as I write it on the deviantArt group I set up for that purpose. I'll post more information closer to the day.

    @liliales: I was a bit tickled by that turn of phrase as well. Nifty how we sometimes surprise ourselves, no?

    @Olivier: The religious assassins are devotees of the Four Fingered God, of course there is a moral code (compassed by The Code and The Writ). You'll have to get a deviantArt account set up so you can read the book as I write it and find out all the details

    @Tiaden: Don't worry, there will come a time when you are writing the next novel, or the one after that, where you'll say to yourself, "Hey, you know what? This story would work perfectly in that place I created before..." Also, once you create a world your mind keeps inventing stories to go with that world. It sometimes drive you a bit mad when you really want to do something completely new. :)

  6. k, I admit I have been lazy so far to read your blogs but I finally did and it has given me a good incite into what you have mentioned in the past about writing a novel. This story intrigues me, some words a little to fancy but I understand you are trying to describe the setting and main details of the regions. Keep up the good work!


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