Tim Akers: Five Things I Learned About Writing The Pagan Night
The Celestial Church has all but eliminated the old pagan ways, ruling the people with an iron hand. Demonic gheists terrorize the land, hunted by warriors of the Inquisition, yet it’s the battling factions within the Church and the age-old hatreds between north and south that tear the land apart.
Malcolm Blakley, hero of the Reaver War, seeks to end the conflict between men, yet it will fall to his son, Ian, and the huntress Gwen Adair to stop the killing before it rips the land apart. This is an epic tale of mad gods, inquisitor priests, holy knights bound to hunt and kill, and noble houses fighting battles of politics, prejudice and power.
Trust your talent
This book was an ordeal. I have notes on it going back nearly a decade, bits and bobs that I had scribbled into my notebooks while I was writing other stories. I started the actual writing a little over six years ago, and turned in a rough draft to my agent five years ago. Since then it’s been through at least seven full rewrites, some drastic, some cosmetic, and at least one that nearly broke my will to be a writer. I got lost in the process. The book very nearly got lost with me.
But it turns out that I’m a pretty good writer. That’s why I started in this business in the first place, after all. I like to write. I’m good at it. People enjoy the books I write, assuming they’re able to find them in the ceaseless cloud of other books that are getting published at the same time. And whenever I thought I had lost the book, I was able to find it. I just had to bury the revision notes, and my memories of what I had already written, and write the book that I thought was interesting.
Five years is way too much time to spend with a single book. It becomes precious to you, especially as the days and months tick by since you’ve had anything on shelves. It’s very easy to overwrite a book like that, but even worse, it’s easier to get fed up with it and throw it out there in a suboptimal condition. There have been versions of this book that I would have been perfectly happy publishing. There have been many more versions between those versions that were absolute shit. But none of those drafts were as good as the final book. I had to bear down through the overwriting, resist the frustration and financial stress that it was causing, and get to that final draft. I’m glad I did. I think my readers will be glad, too.
George Martin is EVERYWHERE
The inspiration for this book is two-fold: the cultural integration of the Angles and the Saxons following the Norman Conquest, and the religious integration of paganism into early Christianity. As every good human being knows, GRRM based his books on the War of the Roses. Because we are both drawing on similar source material, a lot of the notes I got from editors, my agent, and early readers said something along the lines of “This feels like Game of Thrones.” At one point someone even suggested that I change my geographical axis so that the conflict was between East and West.
This is unspeakably frustrating, but something I’ve learned to accept. Intentionally running away from those comparisons would mean writing a different book than the one I wanted to read (which is how I decide what to write). It would mean making cosmetic changes that would impact the theme, without improving the book. And it would mean abandoning the things I love best about the genre.
But seriously, George, if you’re reading this? Please finish so the rest of us will stop getting compared to you. Thanks?
Scale it down
One of the best notes I got during the revision process was from my agent. He told me to take my battle scenes and make them fight scenes, and convert all of my fight scenes into tense conversations. This let me focus on my strengths while also allowing me to really craft those fight scenes into something beautiful. There are still major battles in the book, but by drawing the focus down to a couple key moments I was able to ground the reader in the characters without getting swept away in cavalry charges and shield lines. The best way to write big action is with little human details. It’s an amazing trick.
Write What’s Hard
This is more of a general statement about writing, but it’s a lesson that was hammered home during The Pagan Night. Throughout my writing career, I have made an effort to figure out where I’m weak so I can improve. There are so many different skills that go into writing a book. There’s worldbuilding, plotting, pacing, character development, description, dialog, revision, and so forth, and so on, until the end of time. When you start writing you may excel at some of these skills, or all of them, or none of them.
When I first started writing, my most glaring weakness was dialog. So I sought out books that depended on dialog, wrote scenes that were nothing but dialog, and talked to other writers about how they approached this one aspect of the craft. Years later, I’m pretty good at dialog. Now I’m working on fight scenes.
The point is that the temptation is to only write what you’re best at, and try to spackle over the rest. That will create the illusion of a good book, but the better book, the book you could have written, will never be realized. Make your weaknesses your strengths, and your strengths into phenomenons.
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Tim Akers was born in deeply rural North Carolina, the only son of a theologian, and the last in a long line of telephony princes, tourist-attraction barons, and gruff Scottish bankers. He moved to Chicago for college, and stayed to pursue his lifelong obsession with apocalyptic winters. The Pagan Night is his fourth book, and the first in The Hallowed War trilogy.
Tim Akerts: Website