The Benefits of a Daily Word Goal

In honour of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for those who haven’t heard of it before), I thought I’d write down some thoughts on the benefits of having a daily word goal.

First, it’s important to point out that opinions are divided about keeping a daily word count. When I was in graduate school, my adviser told me that focusing on writing a certain amount of words per day was the wrong way of going about composition. In his opinion, this led to my writing being, at times, a little unfocused. What’s more, it seemed that a lot of people agreed with him. Needless to say, I didn’t, though at the time I struggled to articulate why that was the case.

While I think there’s something to that advice in regards to academic writing–a focus on productivity can sometimes distract from the equally important issues of focus, clarity, and brevity–for me I just have to produce in order to feel like I’m really writing. Admittedly, some of this is chaff that will get ditched in the final version, but it’s just a part of how I work. I’ve tried to work in other ways, but it just never seems to gel for me.

I usually set myself a pretty high goal, because I know that, as a result of both being able to type quickly and having a pretty strong sense of what my narratives are going to look like, I can usually meet them. Usually, I try to make meeting my daily writing goal the first thing I do during the day’s work. Once I accomplish this, I feel like I can move on to other aspects of the writing process, such as revision and polishing (which, for me, take a significantly longer time than the original composition).

From my point of view, having a daily word goal is particularly important for those just starting on the writing journey, whether it’s part of participating in NaNo, or whether it’s unrelated. New writers often struggle with finding the momentum to keep going, to keep pushing forward, to keep putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and getting those ideas out there. Setting a daily word goal–one that is realizable but ambitious–can give you that added bit of motivation.

Just as importantly, however, it’s a good motivator to help you stay motivated. I’m not one of those writers who has to wait for the muse to hit before I sit down and start writing (if I did that, I don’t think that I’d ever get anything done). Typically, I just sit down at the computer and start writing. For those for whom this isn’t the case, however, knowing that you have an obligation–to yourself if to no one else–to meet a certain goal can be quite an imperative. If you’re so inclined, I’d also suggest joining a group of other writers, either through Twitter (which has a very supportive writing community) or in person. This will ensure that you have a level of accountability, even when it doesn’t happen to be #NaNo.

As with all things having to do with writing, however, it’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all model for the process. If you don’t want to set yourself a goal that’s fine, but if you do, make sure that it’s one that you can reasonably attain. Spend a couple of days just writing, to get a sense of just how many you can reasonably expect to do in a given day. Once you do that, you’ll have a good idea of what you can accomplish, so base your daily writing goal off of that. Then, the key is consistency. Before you know it, you’ll find that you’ve produced a substantial body of work.

A final cautionary word. While I personally flourish when working toward a daily goal, I have to make sure of two things. First, I make sure that, even if I don’t meet my goal, that I don’t get discouraged and let that keep me from continuing. Second, I make sure to build in days off. It’s important to make sure that you give yourself time away from writing.

That’s all for today. Happy writing, everyone!

On the Pleasures of World Building

Ask any fan of epic fantasy what they enjoy most about the epic fantasy, and they will almost certainly tell you that they love seeing the way that epic fantasy authors create their own secondary worlds,

Certain fantasy authors have become famous for their ability to craft secondary worlds that have a level of depth and sophistication that are truly the envy of all of those who write in epic fantasy. Tolkien, of course, tops the list, if for no other reason than that he even provided his fictional people with a language all their own (and, of course, there is the fact that he created a fictional history that’s literally thousands of years long). Other, more recent authors have become giants in their own right. Brandon Sanderson is famous for his ability to create worlds that are as delightfully complex as our own, and George RR Martin has shown again and again that he has a very firm grasp on the convoluted histories of his own fictional world (even if he doesn’t always have the same grasp of his primary narratives, but that’s a different blog post). And of course Terry Brooks, in his sprawling Shannara series, has shown the ways in which an epic fantasy can have impacts that echo through numerous generations of a single family.

As we’ve embarked on our own epic fantasy story, we’ve found that one of the things we’ve enjoyed the most (aside from crafting our story, of course) has been the ability to create a world that’s entirely our own. From cosmology to countries, from customs to conflicts, we’ve begun putting the flesh on the bones of this sprawling secondary world (a term from Tolkien, by the way). It’s a little like being able to create your very own toy chest, with all of the attendant joys and perils.

Part of the pleasure for us comes from our love of history. The advantage of writing epic fantasy rather than historical fiction means that we can draw upon historical reality, even while we don’t have to have the same level of fidelity that a true historical novelist does (we don’t have to worry, for example, that some reader is going to criticize us for not adhering to history). At a broader level, it’s also fascinating to watch the ways that events that happened in the distant past in our created world have effects and consequences that echo down through the generations. In that sense, writing a history of your world is a little like writing actually history in that you gain a more nuanced understanding of how events and choices in one particular period can echo down the ages, changing everything that comes after that.

Another enjoyable aspect of world building is the excitement of discovery. Though of course we have a pretty extensive set of histories already built, any author will tell you that there are times when you’re writing a narrative when you accidentally find out that something happened in the past–whether that of a character of your fictional world–that totally changes how you thought about things. Just as importantly, it can sometimes radically change how you conceived of your plot and, while this is certainly a good thing a lot of the time, it can also be quite a challenge.

I guess you might say that fantasy-world building is a bit like playing God. After all, it’s entirely up to you what your world is going to look like, how its people are going to worship (assuming that you pay attention to matters of religion), how magic works (and what its history looks like), and how all of this impacts the characters that, presumably, you’ve already created. And, of course, you’ve got to make sure that your story meshes with your fictional history in a way that makes logical, organic sense. It’s all quite a lot to keep straight in your mind.

Because, of course, there are some more challenging parts of the whole world-building process. It’s very easy–for us, at least–to just sort of tumble down the wormhole. Sometimes, we get so invested in the creation of our world and all of the things about it that we forget that there’s actually a story that we’re trying to tell that’s set in this world. It’s hard to really explain this to someone who doesn’t either read or write epic fantasy, but it really is difficult sometimes to give the stories that are set in the present the love that they deserve. On the other hand, spending so much time building up a secondary world does give us opportunities to explore more stories in the future, so there’s always an upside.

Overall, world building is definitely one of the most satisfying and challenging aspects of writing epic fantasy. Just as you often find yourself both falling in love with and getting frustrated with the characters that you create, you often find your world taking on a bit of a life of its own. Sure, you may start off creating a theocracy loosely modeled on the Byzantine Empire, but soon you find elements of the Crusaders and the Templars moving in and that, in turn, begins to inflect the entire way that you had conceived of the essential conflict at the heart of the story. Sure, you start out with an empire sort of like Rome, but then it becomes a little something different, far more permissive of female empowerment than its historical predecessor. These are the sorts of changes that make world building such a pleasurable part of writing epic fantasy.

As we move forward with our series, we look forward to continuing to discover more about this world and the peoples that inhabit it. Just as importantly, we’re also looking forward to thinking about not only the past of this world, but also the future. There are so many stories that we’ve already started developing in this world, and we look forward to sharing all of them with you.

On Writing Queer Characters in Fantasy

There’s no doubt that as a genre fantasy has made some great strides in terms of representation. Even epic fantasy–notoriously conservative in its depiction of gender, sexuality, and race–has begun to catch up with the times, with women and people of color (and even some queer folks) finally staking their claims. It’s really quite refreshing to see the enormous diversity of voices that have come into their own as the genre has entered into a new phase, that it’s begun to move beyond its very Euro-centric biases.

However, to our eye it’s still pretty rare to find queer people as the heroes of their own stories. There are some recent exceptions to this rule–Tessa Gratton’s Lady Hotspur is one notable example–and of course the Kushiel books have a lot of queerness in them. However, it still seemed to us that epic fantasy needed its own queer couple to root for, a pair of heroes that were very much in love, indeed whose love would prove to be absolutely vital in their epic journey.

Thus, when we set out to write The Filliquian Chronicle, we knew from the beginning that we knew that our leads-Nicholas and Alric–were going to be lovers, and that what began as basically a one-night stand (with profound political consequences). However, as their journey has unfolded, we’ve found that simply having them engage in sexual encounters with men was not only repetitive; it also seemed like a betrayal of the religious system that we’d developed. So, with each of the books that we’re writing, we’re really asking our characters, particularly Nicholas, to think outside of the boundaries that have been imposed upon him and which he has taken to heart.

In that sense, The Filliquian Chronicle is itself a questioning not only of the ways in which people use faith to (often hypocritically) restrict and punish the expressions of healthy human desire, but also of the categories that we use when we talk about the expression of gender and sexuality. After all, the world that we’ve created doesn’t have to operate according to the same rules as ours does. Thus, in a nation like Troyeis, monogamy, even in marriage, is something of an anomaly rather than the norm. Indeed, as we’ve begun to follow Nicholas (who’s something of an ingenue), we find him experiencing the full range of human sexuality (even when he’s not comfortable doing so at first).

Indeed, it’s transpiring that, despite the many struggles Nicholas and Alric have endured and the many challenges their relationship has faced, that they do truly love one another. Though we still haven’t quite figured out the ending of the series as a whole, part of us hopes that these two characters will become the sort of figures that people can get invested in. After all, part of the reason we started writing this series was to fulfill the gaps that we sensed when we were younger fantasy aficionados yearning for queer heroes.

As we’ve begun to sketch out the later threads of our narrative, we’ve found that we need to add in more characters in order to capture the full range of human sexual and gender expression (or at least as full as we can come within the scope of one series). Indeed, when we started writing the storylines for the second major arc of our story, we found that there were a number of characters that were just clamoring to get their own voices heard. Some of these were characters that had already introduced in the first arc, but a number of others, including a young woman who is pansexual and a character that would probably identify as trans in our world, suddenly began to make appearances.

We want to emphasize, however, that we’re not interested in tokenism, and we’ve working very hard to avoid that particular fictional trap. We don’t want these characters to be defined exclusively in terms of their gender or sexuality, though of course that is a key part of who they are and we make no apologies for that fact. However, we also want our readers to see and to understand them as fully-fledged characters in their own right, with complex realities and ways of looking at the world. And, while some of them are heroes, some are decidedly not. To our mind, it’s high time that we have some unequivocally queer villains out there.

All of this, of course, is quite political, and we are very much aware of that fact. Representation matters, and it matters that our characters are queer (in all of the many ways that that word is defined). We’re almost making a concerted effort to include people of color in this world, not just as window-dressing and not just as dispensable characters. In fact, Alric is what we in our world would be called biracial, since his father is from the France-like nation of Troyeis, while his mother is from one of the southern kingdoms. What’s more, it matters that they engage in explicitly queer sex. We’ve made clear from the beginning of this process that we wanted to write an epic fantasy that was a fantasy in all the senses of the word, and we like to think that we’ve succeeded.

Are we going to get everything “right?” Almost certainly not. We understand that there are a lot of risks in including various minority groups in our fiction, precisely because, though we are queer ourselves, we recognize that there are many types of experience that we will never inhabit. However, what we hope to keep doing, as we work on The Filliquian Chronicle (as well as our various other projects), is to provide our readers, and ourselves, an opportunity to really and truly explore the world in new ways. If we happen to stumble a bit along the way, we hope to be able to make them learning experiences. And through it all we hope that you, dear readers, will enjoy reading our books as much as we enjoy writing them.

The Benefits of Writing out of Your Comfort Zone

As anyone who knows us is well aware, we’re passionate fans of big, sprawling epic fantasies. We’re talking about books that could easily double as doorstops (think Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, and George R.R. Martin). We love seeing the way in which they manage to bring together various narrative strands, we love the world-building, and of course we love the epic heroes and heroines. And, to be honest, we just love the sheer physicality of an epic fantasy novel.

And, of course, most of our writing to date has been located squarely within this tradition. Both The Filliquian Chronicle and our other writing adventures (which are, as of now, still in the early stages of writing) are epics, even if the former is told in a serialized form. Given how much we love reading epic fantasy fiction, it just seemed that the genre was our natural home when the writing bug bit us.

However, both of us have started to think about other forms of fantasy that we want to work in. In particular, we’ve started to develop some ideas in both dark fantasy and gaslight/gaslamp fantasy, both sub-genres with which we are familiar but in which we have yet to write anything (until now, obviously). We have, of course, read in these genres: both of us were and are fans (if conflicted ones) of Stephen King’s dark fantasy series The Dark Tower, and at least one of us enjoyed the gargantuan gas-lamp fantasy Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. And so, to give ourselves an outlet for some our other creative energies, we started working on stories set in these genres.

At present, we’re hard at work on a number of short projects. These include: a short story in the gaslight fantasy genre (about a Japanese princess sent to marry the Prince of Wales who’s kidnapped by a group of renegade angels); a dark fantasy set in a post-apocalyptic Appalachia that features a young woman known as a Pureborn who must go on a deadly journey; a novella/novelette about the three sisters of King Arthur and their conflict with the Lady Nimue after his death; and last, but certainly not least, a number of short stories set in the world of The Filliquian Chronicle but focusing on a number of secondary characters (at the moment, Stefan the stableboy and Julian the Corsair).

This list makes it clear that we’re really trying to stretch our wings in terms of our writing, both in terms of genre and form. Both of us are more comfortable reading and writing epic fantasy, but we we are very excited about these new ventures. For one thing, it gives us a little bit of a break from our continuing work on The Fillquian Chronicle. As much as we love that world and the characters in it, we’ve both found that we can keep ourselves fresh and sharp by working on multiple projects at the same time, and it definitely helps if at least a few of these aren’t epic fantasy.

For all of the limitations imposed by a reduced word count, there is also something refreshing about it. When you’re writing an epic, word count is less of an issue, precisely because those who enjoy the genre do so because of its sprawling stories and enormous world. With shorter projects, meanwhile, the pleasures–for both you and your reader–are significantly different. You must always be wary of introducing new plot threads (and characters) that you cannot possibly explore in any detail within the confines of a short story.

Don’t get us wrong. For two people with an epic temperament–particularly KC who, it must be said, tends to be verbose–it can be very challenging indeed to both tell a smaller story and do it in a very short form. However, writing within the confines of a short story means that you have to be especially attentive to each and every word that you’re using, since you have such a small canvas. Needless to say, honing this skill is also very useful for when you expand to larger projects, and it (hopefully) helps you avoid the sort of narrative and expositional bloat that so often beleaguers epic fantasists as they move further into their own series (we’re looking at you, George RR Martin).

There is also something liberating about writing outside of one’s generic comfort zone. Generically, it makes you consciously evaluate what it is that makes the various sub-genres of fantasy work. What’s more, understanding, say, dark fantasy and its conventions and mechanisms, allows you to also gain a richer and deeper understanding of epic as well. You find new things that you can bring into your own writing, new facets of the fantastic that can enliven your epic fantasy, giving it a richness and a depth that might otherwise have lacked.

Writing these short pieces is still very much ongoing, and we have many more ideas that we want to continue exploring. However, we already feel like we’ve learned a great deal, both about our own writing processes and about the genres that we’ve chosen to explore. When you get right down to it, we’ve found that we truly love writing fantasy in all of its forms, and we look forward to sharing our work with all of you.

Of course, for right now our focus is going to continue on epic fantasy, but we’re very excited to be working in a number of other forms and genres. Though we know it’s a lot to ask, we hope that our readers will continue with us as we take this journey into the unknown. We haven’t yet decided what we’re going to do with most of these projects (the short stories set in the world of Filliquian will most likely be available on Amazon). In all likelihood, we’ll submit some of the others for the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest and, if they don’t win, we’ll publish them either on Amazon or here on the website.