May 31st, 2021Posted by Nancy

Figuring stuff out with Che Guevara’s help. Photo: Nancy Baker

I usually alternate monthly writing goals between actual writing and planning/plotting projects. April was Camp Nanowrimo and I managed my goal of 10,000 words – but it became clear I needed to make some decisions. May therefore became “brainstorm and decide” month.

Some of the questions on the table included:

  • What exactly is the religion?
  • Who are the rulers during the period of the story?
  • What do Royal Magicians actually do? How are they chosen?
  • What bad things did Olivier do to people?
  • Who burned his studio?

Now you might think those are major issues that should probably have been solved before one novel was at 80,000 words and the other at 20,000. You might well think so. Welcome to Nancy’s backwards writing process. For brainstorming, I get out a large black scrapbook that my sister decorated with various clippings as a Christmas gift. I start by summing up what I’ve already written into the text (which doesn’t mean it won’t change) and then asking: what does X HAVE to be in order to satisfy the demands of the story I’m NOT willing to change.

For example, with the question of the religion, the “givens” in the text included:

  • there are churches and regular services
  • there are entities/figures that function as Saints
  • no Christ equivalent
  • cloistered communities exist
  • magic is not considered sinful, except in some small sects

The elements that were implicit in the story so far included:

  • not extremely gendered – no assumption of women as evil, for example
  • doesn’t come up in conversation among magicians a lot

I need it to be:

  • ok with magic – no doctrine against it
  • Cloistered orders – male and female
  • not overly concerned about prosecuting regional heresies unless they threaten magic
  • not main cause of conflict with other countries

Once I’ve outlined those categories, I start writing down thoughts and questions. For example: What if Saints are more like minor gods vs historical people?

I’m constantly aware that I’m likely failing miserably at concocting a believable alternate religion and no doubt missing some major important said religion would have on the society – but eventually something clicks and I have enough of an idea of how it fits together that I can decide “yep, that will do.” It might not work for sociology or anthropology but it works for my purposes. And sooner or later, I just need to put a pin in it and move on. So I do.

June’s project is to try to integrate all my decisions into the existing text and write the bits I’d been putting off because I needed to figure out the religion or how Royal Magicians were chosen or just who burned down Olivier’s studio.

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