Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Place to Start - How I Began My Novel

 I have been working on my novel for a long time. The original concept came to me while I was in college, though I won't tell you how long ago that was. It started with a phrase and a sketch. Over the years it has evolved, crashed and burned, and then been resurrected several times. I have a stack of notebooks partially to completely filled with notes, sketches, and outlines that detail each path I have explored in building my world.

We are moving, you see, and I need to get all my bits and bobs together into one place so that I can find it all again once the chaos is over. As I have gathered all my notes (offering envelopes and all), I have been looking through them all. Some parts make me smile at my simplistic approaches, while others make me cringe at my obvious ignorance of the craft. I've come a long way, but that journey is not for this post. No, this is about one particular list I found in the middle of a spiral bound notebook that likely dates back to pre-Gutenberg times.

This particular entry was done fairly early on in the process. Now, I am not as versed in the rules of engagement as my friends, Heather and David, but I have always possessed the rudiments of the craft. I suspect that this was during my first serious attempt to get a grip on where I wanted my story to go and how to get there. Simply put, I asked myself this question: What do I like in a novel?

This is the list I came up with:
  1. Maps: Proper maps that are illustrated well (Many maps that are put in fantasy novels look as if they were drawn by my six year old.) and look ancient. I want the map to look as if it had just come from an ancient library or sealed within a clay jar for centuries.
  2. Secret Passages: Stone walls that swing open with the clank of rusty gears. Darkened stairways hidden at the back of alcoves or behind tapestries that spiral into the unknown.
  3. Cavalry Charges: Think the Riders of Rohan charging to the field or a small band charging in at just the right moment. Think here of the Lone Ranger or the Shadow.
  4. Ancient Lore: Having the character discover something that has been lost to time through disuse or persecution.
  5. Magic: I apparently was in a state of flux when I wrote this particular item as I seem to have scratched out several ideas associated with this notation. None of those ideas have survived to the current version, so clearly it was time well spent.
Yes, dear friends, I know that these things are potentially cliche. I knew that then, which is why I have taken so much time to avoid those pitfalls. Still, it was a place to start and not a bad one at that.


  1. Don't we all love maps? That's one of the things I love about historical fiction, and the more detailed the better! Of course, secret passages, cavalry charges, ancient lore, and magic can be viewed and shown in our fiction in metaphor, making them even more...magical....

  2. By the way, I just noticed that Mike's post was the 100th for Fiction Forge Indy! Congrats to the forgers and thanks to those folks who have contributed to our 14,278 pageviews since our launch a year ago.

  3. Wow, you started it in college? Did you need a map to get there? Was it on parchment? Did you go by camel? Did you arrive on "humpday"? This is fun..should I go on? Nice post Mike and on the 100th posting too!! Thanks to all our viewers or writers or....what do we call you all????

  4. Yup, started it in college. The first draft was done on a clay tablet in cuneiform. Hell, I even have a draft done on a manual typewriter. I still prefer goose quills and parchment, though. Nothing like the classics.