My Process for Writing Fantasy

[I did this interview for an online fantasy community about my writing process, how to break writer’s block, my favorite mythical creature and more…]

  1. What inspired your novel, The Shadow Watch, and how long did it take to complete it?

The original, and most basic, inspiration came from an idea I had many years ago, a sort of loose re-imagining of angelic beings. The Watchers in The Shadow Watch were once this sort of guardian order of magically gifted people, who could fly, and who tried to keep peace in the world until some of them sought power and brought about a magical apocalypse. The second inspiration came from an image of a gallows in a city square, and two slaves forced to build it. This image led to the event that catapults Tori, the MC, onto her journey in the story. 

I wrote the first 8,000 words or so of The Shadow Watch separately from the rest of the book. I had some inspiration and hurried to get it down in the matter of a couple weeks. I let the story lie for about 5 months until I had time to start being serious about it, and until I had a better idea for where the story was going to go. That was when I started posting it to Wattpad, and I finished it about 7 months later.

2.How long have you been writing?

I wrote my first short story in middle school, I think. It was about a sleepwalking serial killer, and it was terrible. But I really discovered my love for writing during my freshman year of college. I had an amazing professor who praised my narrative essays, and that got me thinking that writing was something I was good at. I started pursuing fiction during my sophomore year when I took a creative writing class. I’ve been writing fiction for about 8 years now.

3.Which one of your characters is your favorite to write?

My favorite is probably Kale. He is an exiled sorcerer with a tragic past, who faces some very tough decisions. His perspective comes to me easier than any others, though I’m not sure why. His voice just kind of breathes onto the page, and I’m always excited to write from his perspective. He’s kind of a loner, so perhaps I can relate to that, since I’m pretty introverted.

4.What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

I’ll offer four things:

  • The biggest piece of advice I can give is to keep at it, and make it a habit. When I make myself write everyday, I produce my best writing. It’s hard to get good if you do it sporadically, or never finish a project.
  • Finish that first novel, learn from the process, and be willing to set it aside and move on to the next thing. It took me awhile to do that with my first novel. But it was the best thing I ever did.
  • Try to take every failure or rejection as an opportunity to learn and grow as a writer.
  • Keep reading good books, and make note of what those writers do well. And then, keep writing. The more you write, the better you’ll get.

5.What tips/guidelines do you use for developing unique and in-depth characters?

Like most basic plotlines, I don’t think there are many truly original characters out there. You can often boil them down to tropes: the boy or girl who discovers a power, the warrior princess, the unloved sibling, the brainy sidekick, or whatever. What makes a character unique is how YOU paint that character with your own flare, that in-depth aspect, and the way they relate to their world.

I try to see the world through my characters’ eyes. That is what makes a story and the world of a story come alive. I try to really get at their motivations and let their backstories really influence their thoughts and reactions to events in the story. That is a learned process that I am still growing at every day. But knowing what motivates your character, knowing what they want and what they are willing to do to get it, is what makes a character in-depth and relatable, even if they are an antagonist or an anti-hero, like some of my characters.

6.How do you personally get over the bane of any author’s existence, writer’s block?

I know it is simplistic, but eventually, as Stephen King says, I have to sit my butt in the chair and write, and there is no way around it. Sometimes I just have to slog through a tough scene, even if I don’t like the outcome, and get past it, and then go back later.

That being said, sometimes I do need a break from my story world, so I can come back to it with fresh eyes, and sometimes that is exactly what my stories need. I let myself take a break sometimes, and I play around with other ideas.

My advice is: Sit your butt in the chair and try something else, if it is just not coming. Too often, writer’s block can become an excuse to stop the habit. Play around with that horror idea on the backburner, or some poetry, or whatever it is. Write a blog. Write something. Don’t break the habit, if you can help it. One day, the inspiration for that main project will return.

7.How did you develop the finer details of your world?

The world of The Shadow Watch developed as I wrote the first draft. I didn’t sit down and lay out the details for years like Tolkien. I’m more of a pantser than a planner. So, I let the story bring out those aspects of the world as the story demanded. I discovered cultures and mythology as they came up or seemed necessary to the story. I started small and expanded as the characters ventured out. Then, when the first draft was done, I wrote out some brief general statements about the cultures and lore I’d created, and I expanded on those a little bit. Not at all exhaustive, but it sort of cemented some of those important things in my mind. Then, as I worked through the many drafts to come, I fine-tuned the world building and fleshed those ideas out more.

8.What’s your favorite aspect about high fantasy?

I love magic, but I also love fantasy, like Game of Thrones, with very little magic in it. I would say my favorite aspect is really the worlds. I love the politics and history and cultures of fantasy worlds. I love being transported to someplace else. And I love how the characters in high fantasy often sway the trajectory of their entire world.

9.If you could be any mythological creature, what would you choose and why?

Hmmm… I love dragons. I am not entirely sure whether I would want to be one, but I will go with it, because dragons are pretty awesome. 

10.What’s your main motivator for completing your novel?

Honestly, if I had not started posting to Wattpad, and been forced to stick to the twice-a-week update schedule I gave myself, I think it would have taken me much longer to finish The Shadow Watch. I was motivated because my readers wanted to know what happened next, and I wanted to surprise them and hear their reactions to the ending. I think there is a lot of power in putting your work out there for people to read. Similarly, the decision to self-publish The Shadow Watch has really motivated my edits and progress on Book 2.