K.D. Edwards: Five Things I Learned Writing The Last Sun

New Atlantis is a self-contained nation of magic users, ensconced on Nantucket Island after a devastating war and ruled by courts named for the major arcana of the tarot. Rune Saint John and his bound companion and bodyguard, Brand, are the last survivors of the fallen Sun Court; they make a living doing odd jobs involving varying degrees of danger, mostly for the formidable Lord Tower.

After participating in an attack on the Lovers Court, Rune and Brand end up shielding the sheltered and abused grandson of Lady Lovers and searching for the missing son of Lady Justice. Their quest leads them to a conspiracy that involves undead monsters and murder, and may be connected to the fall of Rune’s court and the brutal assault he endured afterward.

TAKE NOTES

Whether you’re a planner or a pantser, there’s so much value in capturing inspiration as it occurs to you. Writers see the world through unique filters—we see real-time events in words and phrases. So journals? They are your friends.

(And the reverse is true. I’ve LOST entire scenes by not having a journal handy. I once lost an entire solution to a bridge between tricky chapters because I ate a cream-based chowder despite my lactose intolerance, and was….er, stuck somewhere without a notepad. To this very day, I can’t remember the idea, I only remember saying to myself, “THIS SOLVES EVERYTHING!”)

It’s also worth your time to figure out a way to categorize those notes. I have a stack of old, filled journals that reach my waist, which are hell to transcribe. I’m much smarter now – I work in concert with my innate laziness, and dictate my notes directly into an email, which I then mail to myself, so all I need to do is copy and paste the email into a larger database.

These notes are my secret weapon. As a die-hard planner, I’ve never felt that having a detailed outline robs me of spontaneity during the writing process. Rather, it’s a huge safety net that I can tightrope walk over without fear.

IT’S OKAY TO USE “SAID” AND “ASKED”

Elmore Leonard said it best in his TEN RULES OF WRITING. It’s okay to use “said” and “asked.” If I find myself struggling with dialog tags, there’s a good chance I’ve forgotten that the reader’s eyes tend to skip over things like that.

In a wider sense, one of my greatest learnings during writing THE LAST SUN—a novel that leveled me up as a writer—is that I can evoke entire scenes with sparse details. It’s one of the most treasured compliments I get from fellow writers. I’ve learned that I can trust the reader to paint between the lines. I’ve learned that it’s okay to give my reader agency; it’s okay to let them finish the setting in their mind without leading them by every bookshelf, every weather event, every article of clothing.

I’ll never forget reading the WICKED LOVELY books. Melissa Marr had this one scene where she described the mansion of a crazy person by saying there was trash all along the floor, and a charred log sticking out of the drywall. That’s all she wrote, and my brain all but exploded with the details of what the rest of the house must look like, because a charred log stuck in a wall is some seriously wild shit.

WRITING TEAM

You’ll hear this a lot: join a writing group. But what KIND of writing group? For me, picking the right people changed my life. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest – joining my NC-based writing group changed my life. It didn’t just help my WIP, it made me a better writer. It made me explore my relationship with criticism, and realize that genuine feedback is a gift.

Not to mention, there’s value in supporting each other, even if someday you’ll be foaming at the mouth because of that one guy who gets published first and meets Robin Hobb before you did.

But seriously, a good writing group is a network that will help you on your road to publication, because every friend you make leads to all the industry friends they’ll make, and so on. While it was my own talent that walked me through the door toward publication, a fellow writer opened the door for me, and gave me an introduction to my now-agent (the incomparable Sara Megibow). I will owe him forever for that, even if he did meet Robin Hobb first.

KILL YOUR DARLINGS AND SALT THE EARTH

For me, 80% of editing is hitting the delete button. I rarely find myself having to do large-scale rewrites, but, by God, do I tell the readers things they don’t need to know. And it doesn’t matter how pretty the words are, or whether diamond and pixie dust rises in fragrant clouds from the prose, it weighs down the story. It blocks the fire exit. It’s like an outstretched leg, tripping the reader into a decision to get up for a snack, or put down the book for the night.

There’s so much value in writing a lot of that exposition in the first place. More often than not, I needed to do it so that I, myself, understood my world and characters better. But once I’d learned that? Its needed to be gone, and I had to develop the cold-blooded skill set to do it.

My best trick was to stick the final WIP in a drawer for 6 months, so that the passage of time made it easier for me to bear down on the manuscript with a knife and axe. And the more I did that, the easier it got. It’s worth it, to develop that mercenary switch in your head.

TAKE CHANCES, DON’T JUST PLAY THE MARKET

I need to write what I’m passionate about. If I don’t, the reader knows. Understanding the market is fine, and I’m not saying it’s entirely without influence, but writing is a labor of love. I need to be able to sustain that love over the course of the boring bits, right? Not every scene can be a character returning from the dead or a car chase or a shower scene.

I made a decision early on that I was going to write novels similar to my biggest mainstream inspirations—but to do it with main characters who just happen to be gay. Even better, to set those novels in worlds where I don’t need the words “gay” or “straight” – to make relationships of all size & shape endemic to the world-building. That was a risk, for me. That was a chance I took. And you know what? It paid off. I’m amazed at the number of people who are responding to my characters. It was so damn awesome to see how hungry people were for a story like that.

So, take chances, because I’ve learned there are plenty of people thinking the same thing I am, and are just waiting to see who else steps forward first.

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K.D. Edwards lives and writes in North Carolina, but has spent time in Massachusetts, Maine, Colorado, New Hampshire, Montana, and Washington State. (Common theme until NC: Snow. So, so much snow.) Mercifully short careers in food service, interactive television, corporate banking, retail management, and bariatric furniture have led to a much less short career in higher education, currently for the University of North Carolina System. He is ridiculously proud to guest blog on Chuck Wendig’s site, because Chuck is one of his Big Writing Heroes.

KD Edwards: Twitter

The Last Sun: Indiebound | Amazon