HEA

Happy Valentines Day

My partner and I don’t do anything for Valentines Day, so I forced a couple of my characters into a room to write to their significant other. Harry was not allowed to take part in this exercise. It would have only descended into dick pics…

Finn,

I don’t know why I’m doing this. I don’t see what this will achieve. I’m no good at letters. This must be fifteenth version and the others are all crumpled up at my feet, a pile paper and frustration. It’s probably best Belle’s not here or she’d be playing with them.

I’m only any good at stealing things. And that’s no good if I can’t find them. I…I miss you. I hope wherever you are that they’re treating you well. I hope you miss me, too.

Or maybe it would be better if you didn’t. I’m trouble, we all know it. I’m a scruffy little thief with a lax sense of personal morality. I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to run far away.

But…

I hope you don’t. I really hope you don’t. When I go to sleep at night I see your eyes, they way they glow like flaming brandy. I remember the line of the muscles on your arms, and that time we fell in the fishpond. I really miss your laugh. It sounds strange but I felt safe when you laughed.

I’ll get you back. I’m going to steal you one more time. And then we can go dancing as long as you like. Promise.

Byran

 

Dear Harry,

I feel that I am forever saying sorry to you. Sorry you were hurt because of me; sorry I did not have time for you; sorry I cannot stand on the top of the tower and shout to the kingdom about how much I love you.

I’m not even certain that I’ve told you that. I hope you know, even if I do not speak the words. I think I struggle because those three words are so very small. I worry that they cannot possibly carry all the meaning they need. How can they express the way my skin tingles at your touch? Or the way my heart beats when you so much as look at me? How you make me feel safe, and yet at the same time so alive.

I love you seems too shallow to express my feelings for the man who changed my life. Who has done so much and asked so little. I would give you everything in my kingdom, but it would not be adequate. So instead, I give you my heart and these three, tiny words.

I love you.

For all eternity,
Brendan.

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#JanuaryWIPjoy

I did this on twitter for my current project. Now that’s over, I thought I’d collate responses to the same questions for Happily Ever After. The event was created by the lovely@simmeringmind CX4bzZRUMAEfSWC

1 – Hmm, I don’t have a good answer for this.

2- Why do I love Lavie? She’s a broken hero, and I adore that archetype. She’s spent the last three years of her life fighting for what she believes is right. And now the fight has stopped, she gets to find out just how the experience has damaged her. She’s also a wonderfully, viscerally angry young woman, which was great fun to write.

3- Harry. Everyone loves Harry. He’s a born optimist, whose ideal evening would involve good food, plenty of drink, and then going home and snuggling with the man he loves. He’s also very fond of innuendo, which I noticed affecting me when I was writing. Not that I haven’t always found the word knob funny…

4- The Usurper has the best dialogue, I think. He’s cruel and manipulative, but he only ever speaks the truth, something that makes his jibes even harder for Lavie to deal with.

5- That it made them laugh and cry and if I ever meet the author I’m going to hug and punch her. (If you’re going to provoke emotions in people, you might as well go the whole hog!)

6-I’d definitely be friends with Harry. Everyone needs that friend who always knows how to pick them up when they’re down.

7-The first idea or inspiration came from watching the film, Mama. I was left at the end of it wondering how on earth the characters were ever going to go back to their lives. And then I got to thinking you never find out what happens in fantasy epics after the big bad has been defeated.

8-“Harry would wear a title like I wear a dress,” I tell him with a grin. “Grudgingly, and with the intention of spoiling it at the first possible opportunity.

9- The short, scrubby vegetation around us clings for life while occasional larger rocks push through like breaching whales.

10-I enjoy most of the interchanges between Lavie and Harry, but this one is probably one of my favourites:

A blush spreads across his cheek like sunrise. “I am sweet, aren’t I?”

“You’re a hopeless romantic, Harry. You’re also still half-drunk and smell like a midden heap.”

 

11-Bit more than I line, but this speech always gets me when I read it:

“Of course I love him. Do you have any idea what this is like for me, Lavinia? Do you have an idea what I am going through? I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. It feels like there is a hand around my heart, slowly crushing it. I must hurt the person I care for most in the world and I must pretend I don’t feel a thing.”

12-I love this scene, but it didn’t really fit in anywhere. Deleting was done with great sadness:

“Your Highness? Harry?” I call as I approach and there comes a sharp ‘shh’ in response. As I walk round, I can see Harry sat at the head of the chair, while Brendan is stretched out. The prince’s head rests on Harry’s shoulder and his hand clutches Harry’s shirt. His eyes are closed and his chest rises and falls in the steady rhythm of sleep.

“Pass my drink,” Harry says, gesturing to a tankard on the table. “I’m stuck.”

I grin and hand it to him. “Have you been trapped for long?”

“No, I can still feel my fingers. This is the first time he’s been able to stop all day.”  He drinks deeply and then gives it back to me. “It’s been like this all week, and it’s not going to stop, is it?”

“I expect so. There’s a lot to be done before and after the coronation.”

He sighs. “As long as the days end like this.”

“What, with a dead arm and drool on your shirt?”

He glares at me, but cannot move to retaliate without waking Brendan and there’s nothing in reach to throw.

I think about the conversation with Lord Vayne, all his talk of marriage and duty. But how can I bring up with Harry the suggestion of my marrying the man he loves? Besides, this is not the right moment. Better to let them have their peace while it lasts. Deep down, Harry knows things won’t always be like this.

And a wedding won’t be needed immediately. Things like that take time, and negotiations. And who knows, maybe Brendan and whoever is chosen will end up like Stefan and I, putting on a face for court and then ignoring each other.

Brendan mutters something in his sleep, his lip twitching in a grimace. Harry runs his hand over the prince’s hair gently and kisses the top of his head.

“Long live the king,” he murmurs.

13-The feedback that makes me smile most is that addressed to the characters – “You tell him, Lavie,” or “I don’t think that’s the important thing, Harry.” I did laugh when I got a comment saying is this a sexual reference to a Harry saying he’s plenty good at bending the knee to the king (spoiler, yes, yes it is!)

14-I want them to bond with the characters. I want them to laugh, to cry, to ache, and to heal with them.

15- Has to be Buttercup, the only creature Lavie is scared of:

Harry’s horse is a monster, over seventeen hands with a coat of pale gold. It has the temperament of a hung-over dragon and I swear when it looks at me, it’s sizing me up. Harry, of course, dotes on it.

16-The main sight is Tallman’s Keep, the imposing castle situated on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea.

17-If you follow Lavie around, you’ll hear insults (at Harry), cursing (at the Usurper), and frustrated outbursts (usually directed at Prince Brendan)

18-Down in the kitchens the smell of fresh bread, roasting meat. Brendan wears orange oil in his hair, and Lavie can never quite get the smell of blood out of her clothes.

19-Cinnamon, honey, apple, and walnut are popular ingredients used in the kitchen products.

20-The rough granite stone of the keep contrasts with the smooth silk of the ceremonial uniforms of the king’s personal guard.

21-I’d love it be a movie, and get to see how actors would interpret my characters.

22-Most epic thing was the size of it. It’s the longest thing I’ve written by a long way, even after editing cut it down by 20k.

23- Cut the filter words, draw back the introspection, change the start point to later, show more of the emotions

24- Start earlier and show the war. This isn’t what the story is about, so I didn’t want to draw out the events before the war is won.

25- Shout out to @Ianbarnes, @Leighstanfield, @MichaelMammay, @KamerheLane, and ml_keller for the CP support. There are lots of others who have been very supportive as well with beta reading and encouraging comments.

26- Fantasy is a way of exploring ideas and themes without being caught up in the how and why of the real world. It’s a way of testing with what if and applying it to the human aspect.

27- I don’t know where this image came from, but it definitely reminds me of Lavie.

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28- Lavie and Harry. They have a completely platonic relationship, but each of them can read the other perfectly. They constantly insult each other, but know the other always has their back.

29- I want people to get to know the characters. When you’ve spent that long in people’s heads, they become real and you want people to meet them. I also think it’s important to have more representation in fantasy of other sexualities and also mental illness.

30- Lavie shares a lot of my frustrations and flaws. Her feeling of trying to turn back tides of pettiness, and trying to protect people she cares about against snowballing situations are ones I understand. Also having suffered depression myself, having characters who experience the same symptoms is important to me.

31-I’ve learned about the effectiveness of armor against projectile weapons, about palfreys, and a number of techniques for improving my writing.

Meet the Cast of Happily Ever After

I can’t draw. I’m trying to teach myself, but frankly I suck. I’d love to be able to draw my characters, but that’s a long way off happening. Some people cast their words from real life, but I often struggle to find the right person to fit the image in my head. So, I’ve come to the next best thing. An RPG character creator. I’ve tried a few from playing various games over the years, but Black Desert creator is the best I’ve found so far. And even better, you can download the creator for free and not have to worry about the game itself! (It is seven gig, though, just be aware.) You can get it from here:

https://www.blackdesertonline.com/events/ccm/

So, below are the six major players from Happily Ever After. Of them, I think Lavie looks least like she does in my head, and Harry and Squeak probably look most like themselves. They’re only head shots because the clothing options weren’t great.

Lavie:

 

Harry:

 

Squeak:

 

Brendan:

 

Titania:

 

Thomas, the Usurper:

 

We’ve just Met, and this is Crazy, but here’s Trauma, so Read my Story?

Someone once told me I was very good at torturing my characters. I take this as a compliment. (My characters are currently hiding behind the couch, quivering and wondering what fresh hell I have planned for them.) It’s important to worry about characters. If things come too easily for them, then we stop caring as much. It’s a dark kind of fun, at times, too.

But there’s a time and a place.

I’ve never read Harry Potter. It wasn’t the plot, or the writing that put me off picking it up. It was the room under the stairs. It was too much, too soon. How could I care about the suffering of a character I know nothing about? It felt like instead of presenting me with a rounded character, I was being offered a series of escalating bad events in place that was supposed to endear me.

It didn’t work.

Harry Potter isn’t the only example, by a long way.  And maybe other people feel differently. But for me, I’m much more likely to want to follow a character if I see something positive first. Captain Mal Reynolds won my heart through the way he handled a hostage situation in the first episode of Firefly. (The fact he’s played by Nathan Fillion didn’t hurt, though.)

I think this was one of the issues with the opening of Happily Ever After. While I didn’t pile on Lavie’s backstory, there wasn’t much of a chance to see her as a person, either. So I’ve returned to an earlier scene that was cut, giving a moment before the heat of battle and a chance for the reader to get acquainted with the three protagonists before things go to hell. There’s the entire rest of the book for that.

What are your views? Do you suck up protagonists who have lost both parents, been kidnapped by monsters, and had their puppy killed before the story gets going, or do prefer to get to know the character before the author starts beating on your feelings?

July 2015 Query Blog-Hop

When I had just finished Happily Ever After, I did one of these and got some great feedback. I’ve done two more drafts and worked on the query, so I’m hoping to get that final polish in time for #Pitchwars. If you’d like to join in, see this post on the lovely Michelle Hauck’s blog: http://michelle4laughs.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/july-2015-critique-blog-hop.html

Genre: Fantasy, adult, lgbt+

Wordcount: 103,000

Query:

Dear [Agent]

Lavie Streaver has many identities: noblewoman, knight, and now hero. With a long war over, Lavie and her childhood friend have set the rightful heir to the throne, but, while the kingdom is at peace, she’s not. Too highborn to remain with the soldiers, and too scarred by her experiences to be comfortable with the nobility, she searches for a purpose to her life amid worries the new reign she risked her life for will be short-lived.

When the new king is torn between his duty to the throne and the man he loves, Lavie finds must choose between what’s right for the kingdom, and what’s right for her oldest friend. As cracks appear in the peace, and their friendships, Lavie finds herself continually drawn to an unlikely source – the man she worked so hard to defeat.

Starting where most fantasy novels would finish, Happily Ever After is an adult fantasy of 103,000 words featuring a strong LGBT+ cast.

Yours sincerely,

First 250 words:

The sea-warped gate in the bailey opens with a squeal, dusting me in flakes of rust. I cringe at the sound, hoping the keening seagulls cover it. Sea-salt on the wind mixes with the smell of blood and anticipation in the air as I slip into the narrow space between the inner and outer wall and signal my team to follow me.

Today, I take back my home. Today, I kill a man and end the reign of a tyrant. The idea of it makes my body tingle. Everything ends today. Either we defeat the Usurper and set the prince on the throne where he belongs, or we fail and nothing matters anymore.

“…Lavie?”

The voice makes me start and I curse under my breath. One of the soldiers accompanying me points ahead and I hear something else. Footsteps.

“Sir,” I correct the man sharply as I draw my sword. “Wait here.”

I slip into the inner bailey and press my back against the wall by the steps. The unseen figure is almost at the bottom and my fingers twitch on my hilt. As he emerges, I step out and drive my sword into his belly.

Our eyes meet in the gloom. He’s not a soldier, just a runner. He’s also barely more than a boy, fifteen at most. His pale hands clutch at his stomach, as if he’s trying to push the blood back, and a gurgling cry spills from his lips. I give him mercy and put my sword through his heart.

Happily Ever After, chapter one rewrite

The old, sea-warped gate in the bailey opens with a bitter squeal, dusting me in flakes of rust. I cringe at the sound, hoping the keening seagulls cover it. Sea-salt on the wind mixes with the smell of blood and anticipation in the air. I slip into the narrow space between the inner and outer bailey and signal my team to follow me.

Today, I take back my home. Today, I kill a man and end the reign of a tyrant. The idea of it makes my body tingle. Everything ends today. Either we defeat the Usurper and set the prince on the throne where he belongs, or we fail and nothing matters anymore.

“…Lavie.”

The voice makes me start and I curse under my breath. I’m getting ahead of myself and it will get me killed if I’m not careful. One of the soldiers accompanying me points up ahead and I hear something else. Footsteps.

“Sir,” I correct the man sharply as I draw my sword. “Wait here.”

I slip into the inner bailey and press my back against the wall by the steps. The unseen figure is almost at the bottom and my fingers twitch on my hilt. As he emerges, I step out and drive my sword into his belly.

Our eyes meet in the gloom. He’s not a soldier, just a runner, carrying messages and equipment where they’re needed. He’s also barely more than a boy, fifteen at most. His pale hands clutch at his stomach, trying to push the blood back, and a gurgling cry spills from his lips. I put my sword through his heart. He doesn’t even make a sigh as he falls, eyes now glassy, to the floor.

I choke down nauseous fury. Another life destroyed by the Usurper. There’s no time to mourn or rage though, and all we can do with the body is stuff it out the way by the sea-gate. Our mission is too important to jeopardise for the dignity of a corpse. I add the nameless boy to the list of those I will avenge as I wipe his blood from my sword.

In the shadow of the bailey wall, I split my team. Half make their way to the gatehouse to let in the prince’s army. The rest follow me to the keep. I can hear the battle on the wall raging, steel on steel echoing off the dark stones. Every shout and scream ignites my blood until I’m sure I must be glowing.

The killing ground between the wall and the keep is empty. Maybe the gods favour us, but a wash of dread douses my battle lust. It shouldn’t be this easy.

“Don’t stop until you’re in the keep,” I tell my men. “If anyone falls, even me, keep going. It doesn’t matter who kills the Usurper, as long as someone does.”

I want it to be me. The idea of someone else doing it disturbs me more than any thoughts of swords or arrows. Even still, I run as if every creature from the pits is after me to the heavy oak doors of the keep. They’re not barred, which sends another icy shudder through me.

I remember the way to the throne room with ease. I know that’s where he’ll be. Since our army drew up outside the castle, we haven’t seen the Usurper once. It doesn’t surprise me. He took the castle through cowardice – posing as an envoy of peace and trade, then poisoning King Reynald at a feast in his honour. He’ll be clinging to the throne as long as he can.

The steps to the throne room rise up like a mountain. For a moment, I cannot even contemplate the idea of reaching the top. My legs shake. Sweat soaks the hair under my helmet, spreading through the padding beneath my armour.

“This isn’t right,” one of the soldiers mutters. “Where is everyone?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I say. “It ends, now.” I put one foot on the first step, then the next, and the next until I am standing at the throne room door.

There is a hastily erected barricade across the door that seems to be made mostly of the couriers’ benches. It does nothing to stop us and we tear into it like it was a suckling pig. As enough is dismantled for me to push through, I see him.

As I suspected, he’s sitting on the throne. The Usurper, the man who killed my king and plunged my home into three years of chaos, watches me with a smile. I tighten the grip on my sword and stride towards him.

“In the name of Prince Brendan, prepare to die.” My voice is too high, sharpened by my emotions. His smile grows.

Something gleams in my peripheral vision. I stagger back and catch sight of a bull of a man charging towards me.  I duck as an axe grazes the edge of my helmet.  Deafened and dazed, I bring up my sword, head ringing too much to think beyond that. He swings the axe round and the impact judders up and down my arm. My grip on the weapon falters and my heart starts to beat faster. I bite my lip, forcing myself to focus.

Kicking out, my boot connects with his knee and I push my sword forward, driving his arm back. My opponent grunts with surprise. He wasn’t expecting my strength. They never do. I thrust, out and up, catching him at the point where his gorget meets the neck of his breast plate. The sword squeals over the steel and grates on his collar bone. It does not penetrate far into his flesh, but it’s enough.  As he falls, the blood spilling from his neck in ever more feeble jets, two of my men take down another of the Usurper’s lieutenants. A third man hangs back, injured, but not fatally. I’ve gotten good at telling what’s fatal these last few years.

The Usurper stands up from the throne, King Reynald’s crown perched on his head at a disrespectfully jaunty angle. My hatred seethes like boiling oil. I signal for the others with me to stop. This is my moment. This is what I have been waiting for. His jet-black armour clanks and creaks as he steps down towards me and I examine it carefully, looking for weaknesses.

He sweeps a low bow. He wears no helmet and there are blue veins running under the skin of his hairless scalp. His eyes seem to change colour as I watch.

“I have been waiting for you,” he says in a soft voice that carries through the carnage of the throne room. I can feel the eyes of all my men on me. It makes me feel strangely naked.

“Draw your sword.” My grip tightens on my own weapon. “Or must I cut you down like a toothless dog?”

“My, the young prince did well in finding such a ferocious champion.”

Hah, shows what you know. I found him.

“Your sword,” I say again. My cheeks burn as they flush with anger.

“No need.” His voice is so smooth, like honey on a warm day. There is something equally sickly about it, and my stomach turns in a way that blood and broken bones have not managed. “No need, my dear. I surrender.”

I draw back my sword, ready to swing, ready to take his head from his shoulders. Ready to end it. And then I realise what he has said.

“I…what?”

It is not, on reflection, the best reaction. Brendan would have said something noble, and Harry would have made a quip that shattered dignity like a weapon, but I can only trip over my tongue.

The Usurper kneels at my feet, neck bent in supplication as he offers me the hilt of his sword.

“I surrender.”

 

 

Editing Happily Ever After

Writing the novel is always the easiest bit.

Having finished Happily Ever After about a month ago now, I’m beginning the next stretch – editing. This is probably the most grueling part of the process. Not necessarily the hardest, as I think querying probably wins that prize, but it’s definitely a hard slog.

I’m waiting for most of my beta readers to get back to me. If you’d like to be involved, do drop me a message as I could always use more opinions. I’ll make a start on making large changes to the plot, pacing and so one once I have a consensus on the issues that need addressing, and then the process will have to begin all over again.

In the mean time, though, I’m familiarizing myself with the plot and characters again by rereading and making changes to the sentence structure to improve flow, clarity, and remove redundancy. I’ve been removing up to a hundred words a chapter of unnecessary stuff. Some of the things I’ve been on the look out for –

  • Extra words – just is my bugbear. I use it far to frequently in ways that don’t really add anything to the story. Not every instance will be removed, but I’m doing my best to be ruthless. I’m also on the look out for is -ing structures that can be changed to a simple verb, and has / have used unnecessarily

Before:
“But you agree with me, right? We can’t just let him off for all he did.”
“I don’t think that was Brendan’s plan. He’ll just throw him in the dungeon for the rest of his life. I think that might possibly be worse than killing him.”
Just as long as I can poke him with a stick until we’re both old and grey.”

After:
But you agree with me, right? We can’t let him off for all he did.”
“I don’t think that was Brendan’s plan. He’ll probably throw him in the dungeon for the rest of his life. I think that might possibly be worse than killing him.”
“Just as long as I can poke him with a stick until we’re both old and grey.”

  • Contractions – for some reason, when I first wrote this, Lavie didn’t seem to use many contractions until about chapter seven. This means her earlier narration is quite stiff. I’ve been going through and adding them where needed to improve this

Before:
Harry’s voice brings me back to reality. I am not in some cave or dingy tavern. I am in the castle. I am home.
“I’m awake,” I call back. Pushing the blankets aside, I get to my feet. It is dark and I have no candle or lantern. I cannot even see my toes.

After:
Harry’s voice brings me back to reality. I’m not in some cave or dingy tavern. I’m in the castle. I’m home.
“I’m awake,” I call back. It’s dark and I have no candle or lantern. I can’t even see my toes.

  • Redundancy – sometimes I’ll say effectively the same thing twice. Maybe I thought the emphasis was needed, maybe I didn’t have enough faith in my readers to get what I meant the first time. Either case is lazy writing and needs to be dealt with.

Before:
It’s Harry who says it, though I’m sure we were all thinking it. We’ve been standing in the throne room in silence since the Usurper was led away. Brendan is staring at the throne, Harry is staring at Brendan, and I am trying to resist the urge to just curl up and go to sleep right here on the floor.

After:
It’s Harry who says it, though I’m sure we were all thinking it. We’ve been standing in silence since the Usurper was led away. Brendan is staring at the throne, Harry is staring at Brendan, and I am trying to resist the urge to curl up and go to sleep right here on the floor.

  • Character consistency – it’s natural for characters to develop through the story, but sometimes they change just because I get to know them better. Then I have to go back and make sure that knowledge is transferred to the earlier chapters. For example, about half-way through, Brendan notes that Harry is the only one who uses his name anymore. But the early chapters are littered with examples of Harry using titles instead

Before:
“I’d advise you not to mention that to His Highness. He’s proper sore about the dressing down his uncle gave him.”

After:
“You better not say that to him. He’s proper sore about the dressing down his uncle gave him.”

  • Nice phrases that don’t add anything – one of the harder tasks. There will be phrases, sentences, even whole paragraphs which have nothing wrong with them, but don’t add enough to be kept in the story. Chopping these out always feels like ripping off a plaster, but the book will be better when they’re gone.

Before:
I put on my helmet, mount up and move my horse towards the front. The banners are raised and Brendan gives the order to move out. We ride at a good pace through the darkness. The horizon ahead must be lighter, but we cannot see it behind the hills.

After:
I put on my helmet, mount up and move my horse towards the front. The banners are raised and Brendan gives the order to move out. We ride at a good pace through the darkness

I’m utterly indebted to the lovely Samantha Cook who edited The Mortician’s Boy for me and helped me to develop the tools needed to look more objectively at later works. If you’re after a free-lance editor, I can highly recommend her services.

Sun vs Snow Query Critique Workshop

See here for details. Of course, of anyone has any feedback I’d appreciated it. This is an unedited manuscript, so I haven’t really considered the query. As such, it’s very rough, I’ll warn you now!

Title: Happily Ever After

Wordcount: 107,000

Genre: Fantasy, Adult

Query:

Dear [agent name]

They say that endings are just new beginnings and that could not be more true for Lavie Streaver. A noblewoman turned knight, she and her childhood friend, Harry, have fought long and hard to survive, raise an army and set the rightful heir, Prince Brendan, back on the throne. Enough blood, sweat and tears have been shed to drown the kingdom thrice over, but the war is finally over.

Lavie finds peace is harder to live in than she expected. She no longer has reason to be with soldiers, and doesn’t fit in with the nobility. Searching for a reason for her life, she finds herself seeking out conflict wherever she can. Fortunately, it does not seem to be in short supply. Assassins, raiders, and politics all threaten the fragile kingdom. Lavie worries the new king will not have the strength of resolve to reign, especially when he cannot chose between his duty to the throne and the man he loves.

As the cracks begin to appear in the kingdom, and their friendship, Lavie finds herself turning to an unlikely source of help – the man they worked so hard to defeat. Happily Ever After is an adult fantasy exploring what happens to heroes when their quest is over and featuring a strong LGBT cast. 

Yours Sincerely

Rose Black

250 words:

The stone steps rise up like a mountain. Standing at the bottom, for a moment I cannot even contemplate the idea of reaching the top. I’m exhausted. There’s sweat soaking the hair beneath my helm, spreading through the padding beneath my armour. My blade is coated in blood already, and my mail is choked with gore and viscera.

There’s a roar from ahead which reignites my determination. I can still hear the words Harry whispered to me before we parted: Go kill that bastard, Lavie. Signalling the men behind me, I put one foot on the first step, then the next, and the next until I am standing at the throne room door.

A hasty barricade has been erected, but we tear into it like a suckling pig. If there had been archers we might have been in trouble, but arrows only last so long in a siege and so long passed a while ago. As the gap grows wide enough for me to push through, I enter the last part of my journey.

He is actually sitting on the throne. The Usurper, the man who killed my king and plunged my home into three years of chaos, is sitting there, watching me with a smile. I tighten the grip on my sword, hearing the soft crunch of my steel grieves as my wrist locks into place.

I’m going to gut you like a fish.

Last-minute instincts kick in as something gleams in my peripheral vision. I duck as an axe nearly takes off my head.

How My approach to Writing Novels has Changed

When I started my first novel, I was eighteen. I’d written many stories before this, but this one felt different. I didn’t know much then. I just enjoyed writing for the sake of it: building new worlds, creating new people to populate them. That hasn’t changed, but how I approached a new project has steadily evolved over time.

My first novel had so much planning before I started. There were maps, time-lines, character biographies and so on. I had chapter plans and little record cards with important notes for quick reference. I went through about five or six plans for the first chapter before I even put pen to paper. The whole thing took me about eight years on and off to write. Frankly, it’s about as good as you’d expect from something created by a teenager with no experience or teaching.

My next book only took five years. I still had a chapter plan (it’s saved in Evernote on my phone even now). This time thought, I didn’t worry about drawing out all the other details. Again, it wasn’t great. I thought it was at the time, but looking back on it is painful. I might go back to it one day. I like the setting and several of the characters, but my biggest problem was I didn’t really care about the main character.

Apple was spawned a little differently. I had the idea for the first chapter and it was only after I had written that and part of the next one that I really knew what genre story it was, let alone where it was going. Once I had worked out it was a horror story, I stopped and planned out the rest. I knew the end right from that point, which meant writing towards that climax was always a little painful, but I was happy with it. The story went through several changes as it progressed through editing and beta-readers, but the end was never going to change.

The focus on the ending continued with The Mortician’s Boy. I felt comfortable writing towards a destination, even if many of the stops on the way were vague and hazy. I think this story changed less through the editing stage. It was more about polishing the narrative than sculpting it. I didn’t bother writing down any time lines or character guides but I knew what the nexus points where and made my way between them.

Happily Ever After started with a thought sparked from a film, and again, was a first chapter I had to get down. I knew the ending, I had the perfect image in my head. I knew what the last couple of lines were going to be. I looked forward to getting to that point. It was going to be powerful, dramatic. And when I got about half-way through the book I knew it was never going to happen. The characters had got away from me, evolved in their own right and I knew if I forced that ending, then it would feel false. It was a little disappointing to know I’ll never get to portray that moment I saw so clearly, but I’d rather stay true to my characters.

And what of the latest project? This one is completely organic. I have no idea how it will end, and the setting is still working itself out in my head as I write. This means I’m almost certainly going to have a hell of an editing job when I get to that point, but on the other hand it’s exciting. I like the idea of giving the characters the rein and seeing what they do with the story.

How do you write? Are you a details planner, or do you just see what happens and go with it? If you’ve done both, what advantages and disadvantages have you found?

Wordle of Happily Ever After

Someone pointed out that Wordle is a great way to look at your word usage in a visual manner and see if there any of the basic words like just or very that you are over-using. This is the result of my first draft of Happily Ever After (Can you guess the character names?)

HEA wordle

Bigger version here:

It looks like just is still an issue for me. Something to be aware of when I go back and edit.