How one book became two

The entire process of writing fiction has been quite different to my non-fiction writing, as was to be expected.

How much different I definitely misjudged. The ability to write what you know and see it factually correct and know it can be quickly edited and handed to your editor for finalising is completely different to the process I have been through in this Epic Fantasy series.

Once I got into a rhythm using scrivener (my writing software) and the daily goals I ploughed through the first 100,000 words of my 110,000 word initial target.

At that stage I hit a major snag, which was that the story was nowhere near complete and I was a little rudderless as to what to do.

My choices were to bring it to a close as near to the mark I had set as possible and work out how to reshuffle my story to it all fit in, or to keep writing until the end point was reached.

Without providing any spoilers before it’s out, there is a major journey that takes place as part of the story and at this stage I was only about half way through the geographical journey, as well as the plot lines.

I was attending a writer’s workshop in Brisbane and ended up striking up a conversation with successful Crime/Thriller author Rachel Amphlett, who was one of the presenters.

She pointed me in the direction of a book to review, which she felt might help me, Christopher Vogler’s, The Writers Journey.

It was a great start and I pushed on ending up at 180,000 words and arrived at the end of the story, happy, feeling like I had achieved a major milestone – completing the first draft – but not convinced I had told the full story.

I took a week or so off to have a break from the act of writing after the best part of nine months writing every evening after dinner four to five days a week

When that mini break was over I had no idea what to do next. I leapt into marking up the printed manuscript for errors and issues and started taking notes about the key things I needed to fix when I sat back down to rewrite things.

As I went through my doubts about the story came back and it took me several months and a lot of reading and listening (podcasts) to get a grip on what needed to be done.

The biggest aide in this was Shawn Coyne’s The Story Grid and his podcast co-hosted with Tim Grahl. As I crammed the podcast and read the book and then brought his method to the story I knew at a macro level I needed to split the story up.

Being a novice this took nearly four months to come to terms with. I didn’t want to make a rash decision and I needed to feel confident in my reasons and that the story would still be true to what I believed it would be when I started it.

Looking back now with a lot of time spent going back over that decision I am glad I did.

It would be easy to think that when you’ve finished the first draft you have it nailed and it just needs some checking. The truth is I had no idea what to do and the different books and podcasts I used as resources all contributed to me beginning to learn the craft of fiction writing.

I was careful to not get too hung up on perfection or needing to know everything and having split my first draft into two novels I then had the better part of 100,000 words for book one and 80,000 words for book two.

I love the beginning and ending of book two now that I have written it and can see so much more to add that I pulled out as I rushed to the completion when it was only one book.

Of course book one and the overall story is so much better now too and so book two will be the better for all the extra work I have done.

That decision to split the first draft was the best decision I could make and in the next post I will talk about the editing process I have been through.

As I write this I am about to start editing the last quarter of A Fool’s Errand (book one) on the first successful major edit.

Building the world

World building is important to any fiction novel. In it’s simplest it is just setting up the geographical space that the characters and the story operate in.

For a Fantasy novel where the entire world is a fictional construct it is a much bigger job than it can be in more real life settings. I knew this before I started on the novel and I think the magical, wonderful and diverse worlds of some of the best Epic Fantasy novels I’ve read are a big part of the attraction.

It doesn’t have to be as elaborate as Tolkien’s worlds with languages and history dating back thousands of years, but the richness of the world is part of what makes the story so powerful.

The types of races, their unique characteristics, the geography and architecture all are an open slate to build on.

Which of course is as much a curse as it is exciting.

Where do you start?
How far do you go?

As a first time Fantasy author I could see a bunch of pitfalls in the process of world building. It’s so much easier to research and create worlds than lay down tens of thousands of words in your draft.

What comes first, the chicken or the egg?

For me it was a bit of both. I had to have a world and so I started there. I found an amazing resource ‘A Magical Society: Guide to Mapping’,, which covers a load of information about making a map that makes sense.

I used this to shape my world and give it the depth and texture it needed with enough earth like realities to make it feel suitable for me. In this series I felt I had enough to do to make the story work and bring out the characters that I didn’t want the additional challenge of a completely different set of worlds that would require much more from me than I might be able to give.

The basics of the geography worked well to give the world some structure, something tangible I could look at and build out from.Then came the detail.

I worked my way through creating the key realms that matched to the landmasses and suddenly it dawned on me how much more was required.

The detail that is needed to give substance to the countries, populations, religions, economies becomes mind boggling. Much as I do day to day I turned to my favourite online organisation tool, Trello, to help me capture and store the information as I created it.

As you can see in the image below, I created lists for each of the realms, sorry no spoilers here I’ve not displayed the tops of each column, and added in the same cards in each one.

Progressively as I finalised the back-story and history to the world and those events that came before when my story started I was able to start filling in the tiles (cards) in trello and not lose my way.

As I created the races and search for visual imagery and words that reflected what I wanted I ended up in an ever-cascading world of research, none of which was actually helping me write anything that would go into my manuscript.

At that point I had a decision to make, which ended up being me choosing to scratch the itch and start the book. And I am so glad I did. The first scenes began flowing out of me and before long I had twenty thousand words on paper (well in my writing app).

Then I hit a hurdle. My main character needed to leave their surroundings and while I knew the immediate surroundings I started having to write they left XXXX and headed to XXXX (well not quite like that), and that became very problematic.

This was my first big pause in my writing, as I then had to go back and finish what I had started. It’s not just about the names of the towns or cities but in being able to adequately describe where the characters are you need to be able to give names and descriptions to rivers or woodlands and mountains.

It took me at least another three months of plotting out all the cities, towns and roads that mattered in my main landmass, and then filling in the elements around it that allowed me to progress.

It worked for me, and the next one hundred and sixty thousand words came out and the world took shape before my eyes.

I am not sure I could have done it much differently; the story directed parts of what the world needed to be and the world has obviously shaped the story.

There’s been a lot more world building happen in the later stages of the editing and revisiting how everything works together, and the beauty of Book 1, A Fool’s Errand, is that it only touches on certain parts of the map and world so there is much more to expand and reveal throughout the series.

Of course there is a map, I have had one carefully created by a wonderful artist and that will be part of our reveals once the book readies for market.

You can see it before others by joining my list.

A float in a sea of fantasy

Why Epic Fantasy?

I love many genres of fiction, but Epic Fantasy has always been one close to my heart.

Growing up, like many people of my era, I read and fell in love with Tolkien and his epic tales. The simplicity of his stories wrapped around such a deep level of world-building hooked me. While many friends hated having to read The Hobbit at school, it exposed me to a plethora of new stories.

Since then there have been many different Fantasy authors I have loved to read. I am not sure if it’s the multiple points of view, the many slow-burning plots crisscrossing through the book or the fantastical magic and anything can happen nature of fantasy.

It’s not long only epic fantasy stories that I read, I also like short fast reads in mystery and crime, I love horror and thrillers and especially dark novels.

When I was very young and first thought I wanted to be a novelist I was reading war novels like Alistair Maclean and Spy thrillers from Le Carre and others.

When I gave up on my journalism degree and moved away from thinking about writing, I lost the idea for a long time, and it lay dormant for many years.

When it forced its way back into my mind, the first novel I drafted was a fantasy novel. I still have the notes of it and map sitting in a folder in a draw in my studio. It burned away in my mind, never really getting much attention, only those few moments when I would grant myself time.

I am not sure it would ever amount to a good story, looking back at it it was a mixed type of tale, and maybe it would be better if it was more in the vein of Terry Pratchett’s style. I am not so sure that style is best suited to me. I love his books, just not sure I could be as funny.

When I did decide not to wait any longer and get on with writing my first novel another small concept surfaced. It started as a tiny idea, and it has quickly evolved into the stories I am writing now.

The In All Jest series grew from a question in my mind about the typical court jester and what if they were more than just a ‘fool’.

Once the idea took hold, it became clear that it was going to be more than just one novel and it did fit the mould of an Epic Fantasy.

Every time I sat and drafted out the bigger story the series has grown. At the moment it looks like a six book series to me.

I never imagined the sort of research I would do to help write the book. Initially, the writing was simple writing until the world-building portion commenced, then I was driven in search of answers to many questions.

What has been intriguing is how much ‘history’ I have ended up studying and how far and wide the Jester existed around the world.

The Jester existed across all continents and in every race in one form or other. Not always like the commonly portrayed Medieval Jester of Europe.

In Asia and Africa, they had powerful character types, rules and dress styles. Interestingly there are similarities in different places which may or may not have influenced each other.

The trickster in some cultures, jester in others and simply the fool all left their impression both in reality and in classic composition. Shakespeare’s fools are known to many.

The In All Jest series I hope provides a different story than the typical one found in straight Medieval history and common tales, one where the Jester is more than just a fool, and the people around the Jester are part of the bigger narrative.

One of the tag lines for book 1, A Fool’s Errand, that I have been playing with is… “It’s all fun and games until somebody kills the Jester!”