Peter Newman: Five Things I Learned Writing The Vagrant

The Vagrant is his name. He has no other. Years have passed since humanity’s destruction emerged from the Breach. Friendless and alone he walks across a desolate, war-torn landscape. As each day passes the world tumbles further into depravity, bent and twisted by the new order, corrupted by the Usurper, the enemy, and his infernal horde. His purpose is to reach the Shining City, last bastion of the human race, and deliver the only weapon that may make a difference in the ongoing war. What little hope remains is dying. Abandoned by its leader, The Seven, and its heroes, The Seraph Knights, the last defences of a once great civilisation are crumbling into dust. But the Shining City is far away and the world is a very dangerous place.

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1. Some things take time

It can be tough when you’re struggling to get the words on the page and people all around are talking about word sprints of a thousand words an hour, or daily totals of two, three, five or even ten(!) thousand words a day. But with The Vagrant I learned that sometimes you have to write slowly. As I figured out my process with the book, I limited myself to a thousand words a day. If I wrote more than that, the quality of the writing began to suffer. And more often than not, that thousand words would not just pour onto the page so I could run free for the rest of the day. They had to be chipped out of the edifice of my unconscious, letter by letter. But here’s the thing. Some projects are fast to write, and something of that frenetic energy gets translated onto the page and that’s great. But sometimes, the work demands to be taken slowly, and that can be great too.

2. It’s amazing how much space dialogue can take in a book

In The Vagrant, the protagonist is silent. His primary companions are a baby and a goat so for large sections of the book there isn’t much chatter. It made me realise how much of books is often the principal characters talking to each other and, from a writing perspective, how useful it is to have the principal characters talking to each other. On the plus side, it forced me to find other ways to tell the story and work hard on other elements of the narrative.

2.5. It’s amazing how much space the character’s inner worlds can take in a book

In The Vagrant, we don’t get access to the inner thoughts of the protagonist. I decided that it would be more interesting if the reader had to come to their own conclusions about him, based purely on what he did. You get to see into the heads of some of the other characters, especially the infernal ones but not the Vagrant himself. Again though, this means that a lot of what usually makes up a book in terms of speech and thoughts aren’t there, putting the focus very much on action and reaction.

3. Gender stereotyping is tricky and insidious

Some of the characters changed gender between first and final drafts. This is partly because of feedback that I got and partly because over the course of writing and rewriting, I came across a number of very cool folks posting about the representation of women in fantasy that forced me to look hard at what I was doing. I think it’s all too easy to assign gender to a character without questioning or thinking through the decision, considering why that choice has been made and what message that might be sending out.

I also tried to make sure that there was a balance of male and female characters across a variety of roles, both in the foreground and background. To a degree I did this naturally but not enough. I’m fairly happy with the balance I’ve achieved in the book, and even happier with the sequel.

4. Things that look cool in my head can be hard to put on the page

There was this one fight scene that I had to keep rewriting. It was a cool scene: Three different factions and multiple combatants going back and forth, twisting and turning, different sections of the fight playing out in multiple levels of a complex. High stakes, high drama-

It was complicated and hard to follow.

On a screen, it would have been easy. In a graphic novel, perfect (if anyone wants to turn The Vagrant into a graphic novel by the way, I’m all ears) but in text form, it was problematic. I mean, I could understand what was going on in the scene just fine but apparently that isn’t good enough so I went back and reworked it.

And reworked it.

And reworked it.

And… actually, by then it was pretty good. J

5. Standalone? Duology? Trilogy? Neverending Story?

I originally started writing The Vagrant as a standalone. It was only when I was coming towards the end that I found narrative doors were opening as much closing. When the book was submitted, and I was asked to pitch for a sequel, I found the ideas already there, almost as if I’d planned it that way.

Recently, I was asked: why did you plan to write a duology? The truth is that I didn’t plan a duology. In fact the sequel is with my publisher at the moment and having written a draft of it, I find that there is a third book knocking on the inside of my skull, asking if it can join the first two. So if I’m lucky, one day the duology will become a trilogy, or a wheeloftimelogy. But who knows? Not me. And I think that while sometimes you need a concrete arc that fits into a set number of books, sometimes it’s okay to be taken along for the ride.

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Peter Newman lives in Somerset with his wife and son. Growing up in and around London, Peter studied Drama and Education at the Central School of Speech and Drama, going on to work as a secondary school drama teacher. He now works as a trainer and Firewalking Instructor. He sometimes pretends to be a butler for the Tea and Jeopardy podcast, which he co-writes, and which has been shortlisted for a Hugo Award.

Peter Newman: Website | Twitter

The Vagrant: Amazon | B&N


  • Thoughtful points to consider here. Good list. I’m definitely picking this book up. Your story sounds interesting, and the book cover is great.

  • That is a badass cover. I would read that, based just on the cover art. :)

    #1 is reassuring to hear. I think I’ve gotten too stuck in “nanowrimo mode,” or, “write x many words a day or feel horrible about yourself mode.” No? Maybe that’s just me? There have been times when I have written 30 single-spaced pages in a day. That RARELY happens. Mostly, like you, I work at a moderate pace or the writing quality suffers because I don’t put as much care or effort into *what* I’m writing down…just that I’m writing it and cranking out numbers. So, thank you for that perspective.

    2.5 seems interesting. I’m an actor and I like how open-ended scripts can be, more like guidelines for character interpretation by actors, directors, and audience. I sometimes miss that when reading novels; I don’t like to feel as though I’m having my hand held and being told what to think of the character or their actions.

  • I too love your cover! It’s very evocative. Having read the free chapters, your writing style totally brings to mind a graphic novel. Your imagination zings off the page. As a dialogue-freak who only rarely enjoys stories that are present tense and/or heavily narrated I found myself stuck to the page. It’s frustrating that we don’t get to hear the main character speak (or hear his thoughts) but I agree that forcing the reader to figure him out by his actions makes him more real (a much more powerful character). I am hooked!

    I just wish the publisher hadn’t priced the e-book version at 9.99 pounds (nearly the same as the hard cover 10.49 pounds – nearly $20). I understand publishers want people to buy paper (I probably will), but it does get me down that I’m not given a real choice. Though I think there’s something wrong on the US Amazon site as they’re not even offering a Kindle version of your book (unlike the UK version). That’s bizarre!

  • Thanks for thought-provoking post. I liked #4, yeah, that’s my problem too.
    As to the cover,it’s awesome and bright despite the dark colors.

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