Elizabeth Vaughan: Five Things I Learned By Writing Wardance

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Spring returns to the Plains, and with it, the Time of the Challenges, when warrior fights warrior in a contest for rank and status. For Simus of the Hawk, now is the time to raise his challenge banner, to fight for the chance to finally become Warlord. 

But his deadliest challenge does not come from other warriors, or even the sundered Council of Elders. For on the first night of the Challenges, a mysterious and deadly pillar of white light scorches the night sky—instantly changing everything for the People of the Plains.

Now a warrior-priestess, Snowfall, stands before Simus, who dares to speak of peace, of reconciliation. Her knives are sharp, her tattoos alluring, and her cool grey eyes can look through Simus and see…everything.

Now Simus and Snowfall must solve the mystery of the pillar of white light, and protect their people from all the destruction and chaos it brings. Snowfall fights for her place beside Simus, despite resistance from friend and foe.

The warrior-priests have abused their power for many years. Can Simus face the challenge of trusting Snowfall with his honor? And perhaps . . . with his heart?

1.  Persistence is the name of the game.

Yeah, butt in the chair, fingers on the keyboard.  I have to write and write and write some more to get words on the page that I can fix.  And sometimes sitting with the laptop on my lap and staring at the wall is writing.  So are all the little scribbled notes that I stick in my purse.

Thinking about the book, the story, the characters every day.  Not letting myself get distracted by TV, movies, video games and other people’s books.  Because it is so much easier to consume rather than produce.  And creation is hard.

And while I know that – knew that from experience from all my prior books – it seems I have to be re-taught this lesson every single time I sit down to write another book.

You would think I would learn.  But noooooo.

2.  OMG, I am waaay too nice to my characters.

I take them out for long walks, and picnic lunches where everyone talks over their problems and after a bit of discussion, come to an agreement.  They tell jokes, make sheep eyes at each other, and express concerns over their issues.

Bleh.

I usually have to stop myself, take a deep breath, then set the picnic basket on fire, throw rocks at the characters,  run them up a tree, and then set fire to the tree.  Drama, excitement, suspension, those are emotions that make a book.

If the characters are going to declare their undying love for each other, it is far more interesting and satisfying if they do so while under the threat of death, dismemberment, or being ripped from each other’s arm by some other really bad thing.  But dang it, I usually only figure that out in the 2nd draft of the book.  See paragraph 4 below.

3.  My sub-genre may require a HEA for the main characters, but secondary characters are subject to RIF without notice or hearing.

True story – when I was first published I went to a meeting of our local romance writer’s group.  Someone asked me how the latest book was going and I said.  “Good, but I don’t think I have enough red shirts.”

Dead Silence.  Blank stares. (Mind you, this was in 2005)

So I explained the concept of red shirts; ie: Not a big enough body count.

Dead Silence.  Blank stares.

Then someone broke the silence and asked ‘you are writing a romance, right?’

Yup.  But that doesn’t mean that heads aren’t gonna roll.

Understand that in romance there is a contract with the reader that at the end of the book there will be a HEA.  Happily Ever After.  And I love happy endings.  Which is why I write romance.  The hero and heroine will be in love, and in each other’s arms, and while facing challenges will do so together, forever.  Smoochy-smoochy.

Secondary characters?  Not so much.  No contracts.  No promises.  Off with their heads, and such other body parts as to make the story interesting.  See paragraph 2. above.

Now, if the secondary characters live long enough to get their own books in the series, well, okay.  They are granted immunity and their own HEA.  Still might hurt them a little bit, tho. Just to keep things interesting.

Oh, and the world behind the hero and heroine?  Turmoil, chaos, a ripping apart of the old ways and traditions.  Yup, that’ll do ‘er, as I like to say.

So.  Hero?  Safe.  Heroine?  Safe.  All the other characters?  I wouldn’t trust me, if I were you.

4.  The story is not about how my monsters breed.

Wyverns!  Big, nasty creatures with teeth and claws, a wicked stinger and a bad attitude.  I spent lots of time designing my wyverns, their mating habits, their migratory patterns, their . . . .

Except that is all back story, dang it, and since it doesn’t matter for the plot I shouldn’t spend two weeks agonizing over their mating habits.  Because doing that research, watching Youtube videos of reptiles eating their prey, that is not advancing the plot, it is not getting words on the page, it is not getting the book written.  Dang it.  See paragraph 1. above.

But I kept all my notes, because you never know when a wyvern might swoop in and bite someone’s head off.  Just sayin’.  See paragraph 2. and 3. above.

5.  I learned how much I love writing.  Even the painful, horrible revision bits.

I normally do four drafts.  The first draft, wherein the characters picnic and are nice to each other.  The second draft, based on my writer’s group comments, wherein the characters suffer more and the plot really gets knitted together.  Then the third draft, based on the editor’s comments, wherein the book becomes sparkly and worthy of publication.

This book went through three extra editorial drafts.  Thank God above for editors who push and push and push until the book is everything it can and should be.  Editors who tell you that you are wonderful even as they are pointing out all the flaws.

I will be very honest here, and I am not the first person to voice this thought.  No one wants to write a book.  Everyone wants to have written a book.  Because it’s hard and while there is joy in the creation, there are painful bits to the process.  But when the labor is done, and the book is printed out and sitting on your desk, there are no words to describe the pride, elation, joy and pure relief an author feels at that moment.

At least, until the copy-editor gets their hands on it.

* * *

Elizabeth Vaughan: Website

Wardance: Amazon

6 comments

  • I’ve read WarDance. Then went back and read all the books around it, leading up to that lance of white light. Winced when secondary characters, even important ones, died. Horrifically. Because there is no free lunch, and blood must be spilt (insert evil laugh)
    SOOO glad to be back on the Plains, and in Palin. Now I need to take your advice, stop reading other writers’ books, and torture my people. Picnic’s over, folks!

  • A new book in the Chronicles of the Warlands, and a Simus book at that! Yes, please. :) I’ve loved this series since Warprize… Lara and Keir have to be my all-time favorite fantasy-romance couple. The books are awesome, and the author is, too. :) I had the privilege of going to a couple of Elizabeth’s panels at Gen Con and took some serious notes.

    Great point on worldbuilding… In fantasy, it’s easy to get lost in the details. Or it is for me. ;) After reading up on Brandon Sanderson’s “architect” vs. “gardener” worldbuilding, I definitely try to be more of a “gardener” these days. Means more time writing the story and less time writing histories, bestiaries, and… er… recipes.

  • April 21, 2017 at 5:18 AM // Reply

    Sigh. You know, I promised I’d stop buying books for, like, a whole month.
    Yet here I am. I’ve read your words and I just one-clicked Wardance.
    Sometimes this blog…. STOP INTRODUCING ME TO ALL THESE AMAZING PEOPLE, I CAN’T KEEP UP! (No, please, don’t stop. Not ever.)

  • I’m so glad to see this story. Simus (which spellcheck insists is sinus–god that would have driven me crazy while writing) was a favorite character of mine. I’ve re-read Warprize enough times that I have dog-eared (and possible dog-legged) the pages. Thank you for not giving up. And for the flaming picnics. Even if you have killed off people who rightly should have lived to their own HEA. Now, I must run to Amazon to see when I can order this book!

  • “No one wants to write a book. Everyone wants to have written a book.” I’ve never heard it put this way before, but I know from experience that it’s so true. The writing is easy, flowing, amazing at first, but then doubt creeps in, and brings procrastination, anxiety, and Baby Huey with it. They all throw a mad party in your head. You want to have this thing done, but the actual butt-in-chair time doesn’t seem like any fun. That’s when we have to push. That’s when this writing thing is a struggle. But when we get through that barrier, it’s like being reborn. Thanks for a great post, Elizabeth!

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