My Writing Process: Settings
Settings are probably the main reason the majority of my work is either science fiction or fantasy. I hate setting fiction in real world places. Also why I don't tend to write non-fiction outside of periodic (and unpublishable) attempts at an autobiography. Don't count on that ever seeing the light of day.
But, so far as settings go...
A lot of it is a question of what is required for the characters and the plot of the story. Especially when it comes to the level of detail. I have settings that I know in a fair bit of detail and some I know only very generally. Some, especially short pieces, don't need much work in terms of setting. Others require building whole worlds, but I will address world building in a separate post.
My other thing with settings is a question of how much detail do I really need to use to describe them. Again, it varies, depending what's going on in the story. Sometimes things in the setting are important to the plot, sometimes they just aren't.
That said, characters and plots can't operate in a complete vacuum. Every story needs some kind of setting and it can take some thought as to what is appropriate and in what amount of detail.
The encampment is invisible to all but those who know of its existence. The canvas of the tents is coloured to camouflage with the surrounding barren mountainside. The few fires permitted are built of the driest fuel available. Any smell of cooking food is somehow dampened as are any sounds made by the residents. Even the smallest children present are nearly silent.
A small cloaked and hooded figure slips through the encampment. Small bare feet cross the ragged rocks of the mountainside as if they were smooth. None of the few others outside the tents pay any attention to the figure.
At the door of the centre-most tent, a frail hand reaches up to touch the small bell hanging from a slender cord. No sound comes from it, but the tent flap soon moves aside enough to admit the cloaked figure.
Unlike the exterior, the interior of the tent is warm and vibrantly colourful. Soft rugs cover the ground and brilliant tapestries line the walls. Warmth is rolling off a small stove in the middle of everything. Low beds covered with bright blankets take up one side. Chests and shelves of all manner of items take up the other. At the very back is a small table with a chair on either side. One of those chairs is occupied by an ancient, frail woman wrapped in layer upon layer of shawls.
The small cloaked and hooded figure stops by one bed to shed the hooded cloak. Beneath that garment, which gets laid across the foot of the bed, there is a thin grey shift dress not quite to the knees. Wildly curly copper hair now cascades down a thin back. The girl herself is so frail looking she appears to have been recently ill and little recovered.
“Come sit and eat, girl,” The ancient woman makes no effort to move, “And tell me what it was you saw today.”
The girl obeys, helping herself to some dried foodstuffs and a mug of water before taking the chair opposite the woman. The first few minutes pass in silence while the girl eats. Only once she is less hungry does she look at the woman opposite.
“The battle is over,” The words are matter of fact, in no way reflecting the horror of the battlefield, “None were left alive this time.”
The ancient woman nods to herself, “An increasingly common tale of late. What else?”
“The raven came.”
“Scald-Crow?” The ancient woman frowns in her surprise.
The girl nods.
“What did She say?”
“A change in perception is coming... if the last oak can be found before the day of the dead.”
“The day of the dead is tomorrow,” The frown deepens, “And there are no oak left.”
The girl shrugs and returns to her food.
While she continues to eat, the ancient woman eases herself to her feet and begins moving around the tent. From one shelf, she takes an old hard bound book. From a chest, she takes a folded cloth. From another chest, she takes several stones. From a second shelf, she takes a small chalice. Each item gets set on the table.
“If you've finished eating, go play. I've work to do.”
The girl slips from her chair, takes the now empty mug to a stand containing other mugs, reclaims her cloak and leaves the tent. Just outside, she pauses to fasten the cloak around her neck and pull her hood up over her bright hair.
Slipping silently uphill through the tents, the girl begins to climb the mountain. Nimble fingers and bare feet easily scale the barren rock.
It is not a large mountain, barely big enough to be worthy of the name, and it does not take the girl long to reach the small plateau at the very top. Up there, she sits with her feet tucked under her to survey the surrounding land.
Battle after battle in a seemingly endless war has left the countryside a blasted, muddy mess. Forests have been either chopped down and hauled away for mysterious purposes or blasted with chemicals until all the foliage is gone. Swamps have expanded to take over fields, aided by relentless rains. While no rain is currently falling on the mountain, ominous clouds hang in the sky above. The girl seated on the mountain top can see for kilometres in all directions and in none of them can she see a living tree.
What she can see is the approach of more uniformed men accompanied by more of their war machines. There only appears to be one group, but they are rapidly nearing the hidden camp. Drawing a deep breath, the girl lets loose a warning howl, then a second and a third. She slips off the plateau and scrambles down the mountain as fast as she dares move.
The camp is all but gone by the time the girl slides the last short distance. Only the centre-most tent remains and the ancient woman is standing in the entrance, waving to the girl to hurry. Small bare feet slip and slide across the rock in her haste. As soon as she is close, the girl dives into the tent, curling into a ball on the floor as the ancient woman allows the flap to drop.
As the girl huddles on the tent floor, her eyes squeezed closed, the world tilts sideways. Her stomach also tilts sideways. However, the girl is used to the sensation and does her best to ride it out until the world around her settles.
She spends a moment just allowing herself to relax before opening her eyes. Slowly, she uncurls from her position on the floor and eases herself to her feet. Looking around, she spots the ancient woman sprawled on the tent floor not far away. Frowning in concern, the girl goes to examine the woman.
As she does that, another woman, a younger one, slips inside the tent. She glances around before coming over to the girl.
“Is she alive?”
The girl shakes her head, “She was working a ritual when the warning sounded. She didn't have the strength.”
The younger woman's shoulders slump and she sighs, “We won't be safe here long. The armies are everywhere.”
The girl slowly straightens up, her green eyes passing over the contents of the tent.
“Did she teach you anything?” The younger woman also straightens up, “What ritual was she working even?”
“Our only hope,” The words come slowly, “Is for one of us to find the last oak by the day of the dead.”
“That's no hope at all. The day of the dead is nearly upon us and there are no oak left.”
The girl shrugs, “The words are the raven's.”
The younger woman swallows hard, “I suppose it must be possible then. 'Though I don't see how.”
Silence falls over the tent for a short time. Then the girl draws in a deep breath, straightening her shoulders.
“Take care of her. I must go.”
Before the woman can stop her, the girl slips away, out of the tent and through the camp.
Instead of being on a mountainside, the camp is now in the depths of a swamp, the tents arranged on the limited patches of solid ground remaining. The girl is cautious as she makes her way across the murky ground, her bare feet picking their way from solid earth to solid earth.
Without any real direction or destination, the girl keeps herself moving as the remaining daylight fades. The moon rises early, allowing her enough light to continue on, but once it sets, she is forced to stop and rest until dawn.
Having left the swamp far behind, the girl is now out in the open, her only source of concealment her cloak. She huddles down in it in the pitch dark, praying to every deity she knows of for safety and guidance.
My Writing Process: Characters
Honestly, characters are where most of my work starts. And also why so much of it may never see publication. Writing to character is a near impossible way to write novels. But characters (and people) and how they act and react, why they sometimes act 'out of character', their pasts, presents, and futures, their families and experiences... that's what absolutely fascinates me and keeps me writing.
Most of the main characters who feature in my published work come from one of two sources:
Either I borrowed a general concept from elsewhere and made it my own. As of right now, I doubt few who didn't know me as a teen could pinpoint the origins of a number of my oldest characters.
Or a name came to me and the character developed from there. Kedri of Kedri Dancer came from a typo in another piece I was working on prior to writing her story.
Secondary and lesser characters, at least in my work, develop as necessary from interactions with my main characters. Some of these have gone to take on more important roles of their own and others fade out of things.
That said, what I find works best is to allow my characters to tell their stories through me, rather than force them into events. Which is why I say I write to keep the characters in my head from driving me crazy. They want their stories told. And they come out the way they come out. (Sometimes literally)
I will do more specific posts on aspects of character development in the future. If there is something specific you would like to know about my characters or character development process, leave a comment and I will try to address it in a future post.
"Dragons aren't real!" They scream at me from the sidewalk. Half a dozen of them, standing there, bare hands stuffed into pockets, shivering in light jackets, jeans, and running shoes. Too "cool", I guess, to dress appropriately for our cold and deeply snowy weather.
I ignore them and keep working.
Already I have eight snowballs, each as tall as me, lined up more or less in a row. I pack snow in and around them to form a long, sinuous body. Next I add a carefully tapering tail, barbed at the end, and wings laid back along the sides of the body. Then a ridge of spikes down the middle of the back, followed by fore and hind limbs with clawed toes. I mould scales all the way from tail to head.
The details of the head take longer and much more careful sculpting. The brow with a pair of curved horns. Giant, heavy lidded eyes. Tooth filled snout. Lines of whiskers drawn carefully back along the face.
I'm too focused on the work to be cold. Too engaged to notice when those on the sidewalk grow bored and walk away, laughing among themselves.
At last the sculpture is good enough. I dig the scrap of paper from my pocket. Unfolding it, I smooth out the creases and crinkles. The symbol is as clear as when I copied it from the huge, old, leatherbound tome Grandfather keeps hidden in his study. He's allowed me to read it, a few pages at a time, under his strict supervision. Now, painstakingly, I copy the symbol onto the brow of my snow dragon.
Then it's done and I step back to survey my handiwork. It's impressive, if I do say so myself.
Frowning, I turn toward the street to see a man holding a professional looking camera. He's waving enthusiastically.
"That's awesome work! Did you do it all by yourself?"
"Yessir!" I can't help a proud grin.
"Would you mind if I take some pictures of it? For a local interest piece."
"Sure." I stuff the scrap of paper into my pocket. Then I step back, away from the snow sculpture.
"Ed Trake, photographer," He walks across the much trampled snow of the open field to hand me a business card for the small local free paper. He has a laminated press ID on a cord around his neck which says the same thing.
"My editor will love this." He adds as he holds up the camera and begins taking shots. He circles around to capture the dragon from all angles, "How long did this take you?"
I glance at the sky which is beginning to darken, "All afternoon."
"Just today?" Ed's surprise is clear, "Fast work for something this big."
I shrug it off. When I'm focused on a project, I lose time and nothing distracts me.
He takes one more picture and gives me a smile, "Thank you. This really is awesome work." Then he's gone and I have to run. The sky is nearing full dark and Grandmother is a stickler for punctuality, especially for meals.
My Writing Process: Time
Wanting to write is one thing. Over the years I've heard so many people say they want to write something. Usually some story. But there's a world of difference between the desire to do a thing and actually making the time to do it. And yes, time has to be made or designated for things. Hoping to 'find' the time for anything means said thing isn't likely to happen.
In terms of making time for writing, I've hear all kinds of suggestions. One popular one is to get up earlier in the day. Some people can... I've never been able to. If I'm writing at five or six or seven in the morning, it's because I've been awake writing all night. Experience has consistently proven that I cannot get up earlier than eight or nine in the morning without paying a toll in terms of my mental health.
Another popular suggestion, and I guess it works for some, is to set aside ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes ( or a little more) and write in sprints. Again, I can't. I know others who can.
The majority of my writing time is either before my family is awake for the day. Which isn't hard with a homeschooled, night owl kiddo (she gets her school work done so I don't see any reason to fight with it) and a husband who works graveyards. Or after my kiddo has been sent to her bed (if not to sleep) and my husband is napping before his work shift. Or even after my husband is gone to work and my kiddo is supposedly asleep, although too many nights of that in a row doesn't do my mental health any good either.
That said, if it's important enough, a person will make the time for it, one way or another.
Old Fiction, Part 2
Writing Process: Down Time
My Writing Process: Inspiration
Honestly, to my mind, if you can't find inspiration for creative projects, you just aren't paying attention. Everything is fodder (and fair game) to me so far as inspiration goes.
So... books, magazines, television, movies, music, observing people in real life, every course in every subject in school... anything can inspire so long as you're paying attention and allow things to percolate and turn over in your head.
I've been on the fence for a while regarding what kinds of things to post here. So, I have a question for those who do read my posts:
Would you like to see more of my writing?
Would you like to see me post about my writing process and my take on various related topics?
Would you like a balance of the two?
Let me know in the comments. Thank you.
Alexandra A. 'Lexa' Cheshire is the author of numerous novels and short stories published through Howling Wolf Books. Lexa is a wife, mother, cat owner, and music lover.