How I Ramble-Plot a Chapter

I’m trying to include more “how I” posts, even though I realize you probably do things a different way. So this time, it’s how I plot a chapter.

This comes after I have the skeleton of the book outlined, so I know sort of what happens. Yeah, sort of. To figure out what REALLY happens, I go for a walk with my voice recorder, and I talk my way through it. To demonstrate, I’ve included the transcript of an actual plot exercise for The Coming of the Fae, which is in my new series. This scene isn’t terribly spoiler-y (just a little), which is one reason I’m using it instead of something else. I cut out teensy bits for your benefit (stammering, etc), and redacted a spoiler. I stopped the session before reaching the end of the chapter.

(Hop on the treadmill, start the recording)

Okay, we’re going to try chapter 15 again. Ah, which has changed since the last time we tried it, which is all right. And it needs *more, so we need to figure out which threads we have dropped. (Yes, I talk to myself in plural when I plot, because it’s me AND my characters. Or whatever. I’m not crazy.)

So Miknon is going to catch, I guess maybe not over here, but catch some of the highborn swapping empty crates for full ones. Um, moving the food up to their deck.

Let’s see, we also need to check back in on the prince. Oh, in the last chapter with Gil, we need to make sure we have some kind of check in with his family, to see how his mother and brother are doing after the death of Grandpa.

So this chapter, check on the prince, and maybe Miknon is an official spy. Did we already leave the fleet behind? I do not remember. (Pull up outline on phone.) Oo-hoo, do not fall off the treadmill. Ah, yes, we’ve already left the fleet behind. So we need to deal with that. Okay, so this needs to be a political chapter, pretty much.

So in the last chapter whenever it’s appropriate, we need to—we can’t find the council, so we need to keep an eye on them, so the prince asks Miknon to do it, but Miknon doesn’t want to do it. She doesn’t want to be involved in this, and Gil talks her into it, and that I guess is where we give her the friend signals.

Um, okay, so now Miknon is actually following some of them around, trying to find out what they are up to. That’s how she catches them swapping grain. Uh, some of the guards do know (spoiler redacted), dur, because they were in the room when all of this went down. But only a few of the guards. Right, right.

Okay, so, and how are they getting it through the halls—the boxes of grain— without anybody noticing. These people are up at all hours. Okay, what if they have a meeting? The council calls a meeting to update the crew on the progress of the ship and what they’ve discovered. And during the meeting– so everybody who’s awake is at the meeting, supposedly, and they’ll hold another meeting for everyone who’s asleep. And while they’re in the meeting, their cronies are sneaking down the hallway with the grain, and Miknon catches them at it. So she flies in, uh—

But we need to have a funeral, too. Too late to have a funeral, it would have already been way, way over by now. Cuz we are coming up on Mars, right?
Okay, so the meeting is to say we are approaching one of the— we’re approaching the third planet, the red one. Um, it’s half the size of our destination, but we’re going to check it out, because if it’s a possible place to live, then we’ll just move there instead. That’s a good distraction.

Okay. So a lot of backtracking to do. That’s all right, that’s why I plot ahead. (Yes, that’s in the actual recording. I try to encourage myself instead of scold.)
So when Miknon finds out, there are only a limited number of guards that she can talk to, so she has to find one of them. He’s going to pull the rest of the guards and go catch the people, who are going to throw a fit, and Kishar says, um– No, Zaidu says our deck is short on food. The guard says everyone’s deck is short on food. Oh, and Miknon can overhear this by climbing in the light sconce and pretending that she’s supposed to be there. Ha, ha, hide as a light bulb, that’s cute. Okay.

Okay, so… Zaidu says we’re short. Everybody’s short. Well, we’re more important. And ah, this is where we get to pull the (unintelligible), right? And the king promised we would be equal. Well, the king is dead. (Spoiler, sorry, but it wouldn’t make sense without it.) You promised to obey, you promised to follow the will of our leader. The leader is now the council. For now.

And the guard says, well, I can go tell all the lower decks that you’re doing this, and and what will you do then? And Zaidu says our magic is better. And the guard says, do you have enough energy to do your magic when you’re on short rations. Well, we wouldn’t be on short rations if you’d let us take the food. And Kishar says, we don’t want a riot on the ship, and lots of dead bodies would spread disease. We are almost there— he’s right you know. Do the whole Orthallen bit with this. This was a poorly, uh, we apologize for the misunderstanding, and we will put everything back. And Miknon stays in the light sconce, which she gets to, by the way, by sneaking out of the tunnel grille closest to it and gradually coming on. Ah, so she stays there, and after the guard leaves—

Ah, well, okay, so he doesn’t say everything. He says, um, we didn’t realize the other decks were as short as ours. Of course we’re sorry blah blah blah. (Yes, I really said that.) After they leave, then they say, why’d you do that. Well, we can’t afford a riot until we have enough energy to blast them with our magic. Wait until we land and recover, and then we can do whatever we want. Okay, that’s a good start. (End of session.)

I’m sure you noticed several things.

First, I backtrack and change my mind a lot. That’s okay; that’s why I do the pre-plotting.

Second, I change things in previous chapters. Also okay. The back of the embroidery is generally a mess, but the front is the point of the project. In other words, if it works out in the end, it doesn’t matter if the process is messy.

Third, I don’t add much description. That comes later, but it does come. Ditto the emotion. During these plotting sessions, I usually say things like, “He’ll be sad,” or “Insert drama blah blah.” *Shrug* It works for me.

So, does this give me a “finished” plot?

I wish, but no. It does give me really good notes that (usually) let me get the chapter drafted before I go back and edit it. It’s still pretty likely that I will think of stuff to change or add. Again, it doesn’t matter how messy the back of the embroidery is.

What’s the point of this?

Well, first is to entertain you. I know I always like hearing the nitty-gritty details of how authors actually work. If you want a whole book about it, try The Making of Delgath, by Michael J. Sullivan.

Second is to reassure you that it doesn’t matter if your process is different from your writing buddy’s. If it’s working for you, then it’s fine. If it’s not working for you, then try something else.

And in case you missed it, this book is now out! Yay!

Happy writing,
Marty C. Lee

© 2023 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

What Motivates Me to Write

Does “having fun” count?

What if I’m not always having fun? Then what’s my answer?

I actually pondered this for a long time, especially whenever the writing got hard. And for a long time, I didn’t have a really great answer.

When I finally found it, it was a combination of finding out more about my personal Clifton Strengths, and a serendipitous sentence that fell out of my own mouth without me realizing it.

First, Clifton Strengths. It’s a fascinating “personality system,” except it doesn’t touch introvert/extrovert or anything like that. Instead, it asks “what are you good at doing?” And it doesn’t mean carpentry or singing or homework.

My top Strength is Input, which means my brain is good at taking stuff in & collection information. If you’re like me, this is your cue to stare blankly and say, “Isn’t that what all brains are for?” But apparently— not. Brains strong in Communication are good at creating understanding between people. Brains strong in Adaptability are good at being flexible, no matter what comes up. There are 34 different Strengths. Wow!

So, what does Input have to do with my reasons for writing?

I wondered that, too. In the meantime, I gave an interview where I was asked why I write. To my surprise, I found myself talking about God and creativity. So there’s that. And it’s true.

Which leads me back to Strengths. In my Strengths group, we had a conversation about how our #1 Strength is usually the reason for why we write, or for the specific books we write. A #1 Responsibility might write because his fans were waiting, for instance, or a #1 Belief might write to spread a philosophy.

Okay, where does that leave #1 Inputs?

I was very confused. What does collecting information have to do with writing a book? Isn’t one an inward process and one an outward process. And what does that have to do with my prior comment about God?

Then another #1 Input said, “I write the books I want to read.”

Oh. Oh, yeah, that’s it.

I honor God by using the creativity he gave me (which isn’t any better than anybody else’s gifts, btw) to write the books I want to read. That makes total sense. (That’s also why I can’t “write to market” unless the market wants the same things I want.)

So, there you have it. I write the books I want to read.

I hope you enjoy them, too.

Happy reading,
Marty C Lee

© 2023 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Writing Update: Return of the Fae 2-3

My beta readers are almost to the end of book 1, and so far they seem to think it’s fine. I finished book 2, replotting and all, and doubled the length of one of the short stories. I even eventually got a basic outline for #3 finished—I think.

So now I’m trying to write book 3 while I do final edits on book 1 and the short stories. Multi-tasking, gotta love it. By the time the betas finish book 1, I’ll be ready for them to read book 2, which has a crazy assassin and a mass kidnapping—sort of. No, I don’t want to be more clear. You can find out when you read it. Mwahaha.

Anyway, that’s the latest. Lots and lots of editing, and a start on book 3, which has been a pain and a half to plot. I had to cut up all the scene bits and rearrange them by chapter to see where I had holes and what else I needed. Then rearrange them again. And again. And again. Sigh. I must admit, this isn’t my favorite step of the process, but somebody’s got to do it. Me, I’ve got to do it.

Book 3 is Academy of the Fae, so you should definitely be thinking “high school shenanigans,” except with magic involved. And not everyone wants to be there (which is totally normal, in my experience).

As usual for this series, I’m using some real events to enhance the fiction. It’s still not real, I hope you understand. But I hope it FEELS real.

Several characters have had their lives turned upside down at this point, so they’re flailing around trying to get under control. I don’t plan to make that easy, of course. The more things go wrong, the more fun it is for you to read. Mwahaha.

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

© 2023 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Minor Reveals

This post is based on a question from a reader. Thanks, Jared C., for the idea.

“What happened to Kolina and Alemana after they escaped from the pirates? Did they ever make it to Ahjin?”

The answer is in the books, but it’s a bit subtle in places for reasons I’ll explain, so here’s the whole reveal.

After their early adventures in Tales of Kaiatan, Kolina and Alemana swam all the way home, collected their stuff, then swam to the island of the gods. Ahjin gave them both jobs among his guards, and they are in Spark of Intrigue as such. You have to look for them by description, because early readers complained I had too many names to keep track of, so I un-named a lot of minor characters. At the time, I hadn’t written Tales, so I didn’t realize that was a bad idea for Kolina and Alemana. Oops.

But in case you missed them in Spark, they are mentioned again in Tales, as minor characters in the last story. Look in Izo’s wedding scene to find them. 😉

And here’s a bonus question for you.

“Do you ever have Easter eggs in your stories?”

Of course I do! I can give you two examples off the top of my head.

In Spark of Intrigue, Nia sees several history tapestries in the library. One shows the war between the Heresa and Tetsuya clans.

In Tales of Kaiatan (and Unexpected Tales), Shara and Hesketh’s romance is almost blighted because of rules laid down after the war between Heresa and Tetsuya.

And in Legends of Kaiatan, which is set farther back in history, the story of Fearless tells of a boy who got drafted into… the war between Heresa and Tetsuya. Yep, they’re all talking about the same war. I had a lot of fun with that one.

My second example is less complicated but more impactful.

In Seed of War, Zefra offers to show Nia the maps of legends her grandparents have, and tosses off the additional information that some of them even have songs with them. She’s just trying to keep Nia from being bored and antsy, and the comment didn’t mean anything in particular.

(The author was just tossing off the comment, too…)

Then in Spark of Intrigue, it turns out that one of those legendary maps and the song that goes with it are the key to solving the mystery and ending the conspiracy.

(Fortunately for me, I was editing Seed while I was plotting Spark and desperately looking for a way to solve my dilemma. And there it was, as a throw-away line. Sometimes authors plan ahead and foreshadow their big plot twists. Sometimes they rummage through the prior books and turn meaningless strands into important threads. Ahem.)

I don’t think I have to tell you about EVERY time I accidentally made myself look smart, do I? Nah… I’m okay if you think I’m actually that smart on purpose. 😉

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

© 2023 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

How Fast Do I Write?

Short answer: Not very. If you want me to be one of those book-a-month writers, you will be very disappointed.

Long answer…

I started writing my first book in July of 2013.

Yes, that was a long time ago, thank you. It was supposed to be a 6-chapter short story, but it grew. There’s no outlining in this process because I thought writing a sentence or two for each chapter was outlining. Anyway, it took me until March 2015 to finish the first draft of 104K words. It’s shorter now, yes. So 104K in 20 months is 5.2K per month. And then it took me almost five years AFTER THAT to rewrite and edit and rewrite and edit (seven major times and hundreds of minor!) until I was ready to publish in Jan 2019.

5.5 years total for book 1.

I started writing book two September 24th, 2015.

I got partway through it, decided the not-outlining thing wasn’t working, and stalled for a long time while I learned more about story structure and reorganized a large chunk of the plot. In August 2017, I got back into it, finishing in summer of 2018. So that one took three years for the first draft, or roughly 2.6K per month not counting when I was just staring at it, or 3-4K per month only counting the months I actually wrote. Yes, that is still slower than book one for the draft. That’s because by then I knew how much I didn’t know. The editing went faster, though. I published in Sept 2019.

4 years total for book 2.

I started outlining book three in February 2018.

I wrote it from July 2018 to 25 Feb 2019. Eight months for the drafting! Pretty fast, huh? That’s over 11K per month. Definitely getting faster, although I didn’t write down when I started outlining it. And I wrote this one while I was editing book 2 and outlining book 4. It was a grueling schedule. I published in May 2020.

2.25 years total for book 3.

I started outlining book 4 in Dec 2018.

I wrote it from March 2019 to Jan 2020, which is ten months or an average of 9K per month. Still not bad, especially considering that I plotted the last few chapters right before I wrote them. Ahem. That one was published in January 2021.

Just over 2 years total for book 4.

After book 4, I rewrote the prequel story between Jan & Mar 2020, making it much longer and much, much better. It’s still a novella, so two months is totally reasonable. Roughly 9K per month. Then I edited and re-edited ten million times (hey, it felt like it), for a total of 10 months. For a novella. Nope, not fast at all. Republished Nov 2020.

I started book 5 in March 2020.

Yes, during the pandemic. That wasn’t the hard part. My parents moved in with my family in Sept 2019, but we still hadn’t found a new (bigger) house yet. THAT was the hard part. I finished drafting in mid-April 2021. The outlining wasn’t separate for this one, because it was a collection of short stories, so I alternated outlining and writing. 100K in 13 months is an average of 7.7K per month. It was published in September 2021.

1.5 years for book 5.

Time to finish the series.

I outlined AND drafted book 6 from May to late December 2021, plus an extra novella for a reader magnet that goes with it. About 110K in 8 months is almost 14K per month. They were published in May 2022.

1 year for book 6.

Yes, by this point, I was feeling pretty fast as an author. I was also feeling pretty overworked.

I started a new series in January 2022.

In it, I wrote almost two (shorter) books by the end of September. 95K in 9 months, or 10.5K per month. That series isn’t complete yet, nor am I ready to publish.

In April 2022, I started brainstorming ANOTHER new series.

It was more complicated, so it took me until the end of September to be ready to start writing book 1, though I did finish the 20K prequel during that time. My estimate was that I would finish book 1 by New Year’s, but I actually finished December 5th. 75K (before edits) in just over 2 months, or about 35K per month. Yes, you read that right. Three times as fast as ANY of my other books, and ten times faster than the slowest. Wow! It’s still in the editing process as of this post, so I can’t give you the total time.

I still have several books left to write in that series. Will they all go that fast? Probably not, but wouldn’t it be nice?

But it’s not always so smooth.

In fact, I caught Covid in December, stopped writing for almost two months, and have been struggling to get back up to my old speed, much less the new one. Sigh.

But I’ve done it before, so I believe I can do it again, eventually.

So to what do I attribute the increase in my speed?

For the past year, I’ve been studying Clifton Strengths and trying to figure out my own brain. I also discovered Strengths for Writers and the Writer-Better-Faster Academy, which applies the topic directly to writers. And slowly, I’ve been learning. I’ve also spent the past 10 years improving my writing skills, which helps dramatically. And I got an office with a door. Don’t underestimate the the benefit of not being interrupted! With all the changes, I think things are finally starting to click into place. I hope so.

Wish me luck!
Marty C. Lee

© 2023 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Writing Update: Return of the Fae series

Yep, that’s the name of my newest series. For a while, my brain called it Space Fae, until I came up with the actual name.

This is the series I wrote about in November, that is contemporary fantasy with a dash of science fiction and a great big splash of mythology. My work-in-progress tagline is: What if Earth has legends of werewolves, fae, and other myths because we used to be their colony? What if they’re coming back?

I’m having a ton of fun with the premise, and I plan at last six books in the series, though it’s set up in a way that will let me write in it for as long as I want.

I started drafting book 1 late last September and actually finished in early December, way ahead of schedule. Fastest book ever for me! So I started on book 2 and got four chapters done before I got Covid. Phooey! For obvious reasons, that brought my writing to a screeching halt for a while.

Then I had post-Covid-brain for a couple of months, and I only managed to get two more chapters written. Not very helpful. Even worse, I discovered the plot was scarce in obstacles. Sure, the characters had hard things to do, but they were doing them with no difficulty. That’s great in real life, but not very exciting in a book. Covid-brain didn’t want to talk about re-plotting the book, so I took it to my critique group to ask for ideas.

But trouble intervened IRL…

Sadly, my real life has been enough of a mess that I have not yet had a chance to see if the new ideas will work or not, though I am pretty sure I’ll need to majorly rewrite the last two chapters. Sigh.

Then a couple of beta readers got through book 1 and weren’t excited about the ending. I tried this, I tried that, still didn’t work. So I started pondering (which put book 2 on the back burner). It took weeks to come up with a rewrite that might (no guarantee) work. And I still need to see what people think about it.

In the meantime, I decided the prequel wouldn’t work as a reader magnet because it’s epic fantasy instead of contemporary, so I wrote a new short story that I hope has more of the flavor of the series. And then I rewrote it, because that’s the way it goes.

So that’s where I am right now. Will the new ending for book 1 work? How can I replot 90% of book 2? Is the new short story any good? Inquiring minds want to know, and so do I.

Wish me luck!
Marty C. Lee

© 2023 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

How Do I Choose Character Names?

Someone recently asked me how I choose character names, and I had to admit that it varies by series.

Unexpected Heroes

For Unexpected Heroes, my epic fantasy series, I started with baby name sites that had a “meaning” search. I’d type in a meaning that was significant to the culture, then I’d search for names I liked that fit the pertinent alphabet or could be altered to fit. (Yes, for that series, the letters mattered.)

After a while, I got tired of doing a search every time I needed a name, and I made a list of possible choices for easy selection, sorted by applicable culture. That made it quite a bit easier to hunt whenever a new character appeared.

To be fair, only two of four cultures cared about the meanings of their names. One cared very, very much, and one just had a pool of traditional names that they used. The third culture cared about as much as modern American culture, which is to say that some people did and some people didn’t, and choosing by sound was way more important. The fourth culture chose almost entirely by sound, stringing together lots of syllables just for the fun of it.

What can I say? They’re different…

Anyway, since *I* cared about the meanings and it helped me choose, I kept a list of the meanings. It’s on this website, if that sort of thing interests you.

Return of the Fae (in progress)

For my new series, which is contemporary fantasy with a sprinkle of science fiction and large dollop of mythology, I would have originally told you that I chose the human names by origin and random selection and the fae names by ancient-history origin. Which is true…

But when I was answering the question for the person who asked, I realized that quite a few of the names are also inside jokes. Ahem.

Some of them will be explained in the story. Though not immediately.

Some of them won’t. I’m cruel like that. I’ll just enjoy the jokes myself.

No, I won’t be listing the meanings of the names for this series on my website, because they aren’t culturally meaningful. I might list some of the origins, because that would be. But we shall see. The first book hasn’t even been published yet, so I’ve got time to ponder how much I want to tell you and how much I want to leave to amuse myself privately.

I know, I’m mean. Think of it this way—it gives you something else to think about after you finish the story. 😉

Relatively Haunted series (yet to come)

My pen name is working on an adult cozy paranormal mystery series, but I don’t expect publication for a while. But just for the sake of covering all my bases, here’s how I picked those names.

Mostly by random, honestly, with a bit of “origin matters.” Modern characters were almost entirely random. Sometimes I asked people for a name and used that one. Sometimes I used a random generator.

For historical names, I used a random generator set to the proper country, or occasionally did an internet search for names that fit multiple criteria, like country AND religion.

Other than that, I just made sure I hadn’t already used the name (I kept a list) and that it wouldn’t be too much like someone else in the same story. Easiest name choosing ever.

Best Tips

If you’re trying to choose names for your characters, here are some of my best tips.

  1. Decide what’s important to you. The sound of the word? The meaning? The origin? The number of syllables? Whatever matters, write it down.
  2. Try out a few baby name sites and find one that allows you to search by the factors you identified as important.
  3. If not much matters and you just need a name, try a random name generator. You can find ones for regular human names or for fantasy or whatever. Seriously, just search the internet.
  4. Write down all the options you like every time you do a search. It might save you from a search the next time you need a name.
  5. Try not to confuse your readers with names that sound too much the same. If you can make them not start with the same letter, that’s great. If you have too many characters to make that work, at least give them different vowels or different numbers of syllables or don’t rhyme them. You know, make them sound very different.

I think that’s it, folks. There you go, a naming primer. 🙂

Happy writing,
Marty C. Lee

© 2023 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Research Books in 2022 and earlier

Instead of a “category” of book reviews this month, I thought I’d give you a list of books I’ve read for writing research. This list doesn’t include business or actual writing subjects like plot & character, just side topics that I needed to know more about for my stories. I’ll try to remember to post a new list each year. Some of the research is for books not yet released (or written).

Please remember that 3 stars still means I was happy with the book. Also keep in mind that I was rating these on the “useful for research” scale, not on how well they were written.

Weapons

Warfare and Weapons, by Christopher Gravett (3 stars)
Weapons, by Jim Ollhoff (3 stars)
Weapons of Fantasy and Folklore, by John Hamilton (3 stars)
Archery, by Adam G. Klien (3 stars)
Archery, by the Boy Scouts of America (3 stars)
The Crooked Stick: A History of the Longbow, by Hugh D.H. Soar (2 stars)
Longbow, by Robert Hardy (2 stars)
Illustrated History of Arms and Armour, by Charles H. Ashdown (2 stars)
Weapons, by Deborah Murrell (2 stars)
Weapons of Ancient Times, by Matt Doeden (1 star)

Setting & Nature

Desert, by Amanda MacQuitty (3 stars)
Volcano and Earthquake, by Susanna van Rose and James Stevenson (3 stars)
Earthquake, by Jen Green (3 stars)
Escape from the Volcano, by Felicia Law (2 stars)
Surviving an Earthquake, by Heather Adamson (1 star)

Animals

Big Cats and Wild Dogs, by Jen Green et al. (3 stars)
Wolves, by Emma Child (3 stars)

Culture & Character

Hustlers, Harlots, and Heroes, by Krista D. Ball (3 stars)
Handbook to Ancient Greece, by Adkins & Adkins (3 stars)
Between Us: How Cultures Create Emotions, by Batja Mesquita (3 stars) (for a work-in-progress)
The Like Switch: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over, by Jack Schafer (4 stars) (for a WIP)

Science & Miscellaneous

Packing For Mars, by Mary Roach (4 stars) (for a WIP)
What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank, by Krista D. Ball (3 stars) (Fun story: her rant against stew made me realize I had a solution for that, which I did use in Seed of War. I found it amusing and satisfactory; how about you?)
Deerskins Into Buckskins, by Matt Richards (3 stars)
Bleed, Blister, Puke, & Purge, by J.M. Younker (3 stars)
The Body: A Guide for Occupants, by Bill Bryson (3 stars) (for a WIP)

I think that’s all for now. You can probably expect to see a lot more space and mythology books next year, if I can’t get enough information on line.

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

© 2022 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Writing Update: New Series

Well, to tell the truth, I’ve actually been working on TWO new series. One is adult paranormal cozy mystery (still clean, because I don’t write steamy), and it will eventually come out under a name variant. No worries; I’ll announce it. The second series wasn’t supposed to be started until after I finished the mystery trilogy, even though it’s under my usual name. I didn’t even know *what I was writing next for young adult, so it made sense to work on the other one first.

I did have a few ideas I was kicking around, but they were very different ideas, and nothing was producing plot or characters in my brain. So I kept thinking while I wrote the mysteries. I had plenty of time, right?

Then my daughter read me something off… Twitter? Facebook? Somewhere on the internet that she reads things. It was a “what if mythology is wrong” kind of thing, but I’m afraid don’t remember exactly what it said. I laughed, as one does, and quipped back about how it could be right if such-and-such.

Then I stared at her. I could write such-and-such. It would unite MOST of the ideas I’d been kicking around, which was even better than picking one or two of them. There was enough available material with lots of variety. I could have a TON of fun subverting expectations. I could mash together real-life science and history with very unreal other stuff and have a whole new (fake) history that would (incorrectly) explain so much.

So I decided to go ahead and write it.

The series is contemporary fantasy with a dash of science fiction and a great big splash of mythology, so it’s different from my first epic fantasy series but still feels close enough to be “mine.” (One of the reasons the mysteries are coming out under a pen name is because they are so different. The other is that they’re aimed at adults rather than teens.)

Anyway, that was back in early April. I did some quick concept ramblings and character picking, then I started doing research. Due to the very different sources that I’m mashing together, I had to do a lot of research. Plus, even when it probably doesn’t matter, I like being accurate. I’m nerdy like that.

Good news, though. The way I’m setting it up allows for a very long series, if I want to keep writing it and readers want to keep reading it. 😉

Then I had to do some character studies. Sure, I could just learn about my characters as I went along, like I did with my first series, but that’s a lot slower. It took me eight years to finish my first series, and four of those were just finishing the first book. I don’t want this one to take that long to get started, so I’m working more deliberately. Experience has to be good for something, after all.

Then I started plotting the major beats. That created the need for more research. Sigh.

Finally got through that (for now?), and started working on the more detailed outline. That turned up some major problems. I hate when that happens. So I worked on motivations for the past couple of weeks before returning to the outline.

As of now, I have all of book 1 outlined on my max outlining level, and one chapter for book 2, as well as over half of book 2 on the one-sentence-per-chapter level. (Book 2 volunteered…) I also got the entire prequel novella drafted, so progress is being made.

My tentative plan is to write the new series and submit it to my critique group, leaving the already-outlined mystery stories for when I’m blocked or need a break. Eventually, I’ll get them both finished.

Will it work?

I don’t know. I guess we’ll see. 🙂

Marty C. Lee

© 2022 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

My Writing Method, Per Brain

I’ve actually been learning a lot about my own writing over the past three years. I know I’ve told you about developing my outlining system and about some of my experiences with specific books (see the Writing Process tag for posts), but I don’t think I’ve told you what I’ve learned about my own brain.

I’ve been fascinated by personality tests for decades, so when I heard about Clifton Strengths, I was very intrigued. A “personality” system that talks about your strengths in dealing with the world, rather than introversion or sensing or openness? Tell me more! So I took the test and started learning.

Turns out there are good reasons why I love personality theory and learning about everything. I have Individualization (enjoying differences) in my top ten, and Input (collecting stuff–in my case, information) and Learner (obvious…) both in my top TWO. And Intellection (thinking about stuff) in my top five. In fact, my top ten Strengths include FOUR thinking Strengths (and four get-it-done Strengths).

Yes, I spend a lot of time sticking stuff into my brain and then thinking about it and then thinking about how to use it. And then thinking about it just for fun. And then thinking about it some more because I don’t know how to stop. Ahem.

Anyway, when I was trying to learn how to use my brain better to write better AND faster, I concentrated a lot on the lower four of my Top Five, because Input was only useful as a background power for absorbing story and giving me energy pennies. Achiever and Responsibility are get-it-done Strengths, so they seemed obviously useful to, you know, get it done. And Intellection is my steering wheel for life. No, really. It’s not the invisible engine (Achiever and Responsibility–go, go, go!) or the frame (Input and Learner, making the shape), but it’s what I semi-consciously use to drive everything, all the time. First I think, then I do. Learner, of course, is my research superpower.

And indeed, improving my usage of those four did improve my writing speed, along with my improved plotting method. But something still seemed to be missing. If my outline process was pretty much working now, and my research process was pretty much working, and my goals were pretty achievable, what was wrong?

It was only a little while ago that I learned I had underestimated Input. Yep, #1 Input, that I thought was only good for background stuff and energy pennies is actually doing a LOT behind the scenes. I finally realized that Input is the one handing me all the puzzle pieces of the story.

Ideas? Why, thank you, Input.

Characters? Yes, Input has it.

Plot? Hi, Input!

Conflict? Input to the rescue!

I just didn’t realize how much Input was running things. Input, darling girl that she is, keeps shoving new puzzle pieces at me. Most of them don’t fit, so she takes them back again, only to hand me a new selection. It’s the “take back again” that threw me off my understanding. So many false starts, so Input isn’t really helping, right? Surely it’s Intellection’s pondering that’s finding my ideas.

Not really. Eventually, something will click, and Intellection will grab a piece and smoosh it down into the outline. There it goes! And Learner will run off to research how to make everything fit together, and Achiever will update the outline with the new plot points and characters. And then Input will nod and shuffle through her puzzle pieces to see what else might spark ideas (no matter how little they might resemble each other on the surface). Yep, it was Input’s idea in the first place, and she’s ready to go find the next one.

Which means that all the crazy reading I do isn’t just giving me energy pennies (still very important), it’s filling out a ton of pieces for Input to shuffle around when I’m brainstorming.

I’m sure you’ve heard writers talk about where their ideas come from—overheard conversations, random thoughts, etc. Mine come from Input handing me a strange collection of puzzle pieces and seeing if any fit together. Never mind that the colors don’t match, because if the edges are the same shape, Input can turn them into a new photomosaic. You just won’t see the whole picture until she’s finished. 😉

Yep, Input runs the show very quietly in the background, and you never quite know what she’ll come up with. But it will be amazing. You’ll never be able to tell that the puzzle pieces didn’t originally come from the same picture, because the picture will be soooo cool.

Now, back to writing for me, and for you, back to… what are you working on?
Marty C. Lee

© 2022 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.