How I Waited Three Years to Start My Novel… And Why I’d Never Change That.

fantasy writing, like all writing, takes time to come together.

fantasy writing, like all writing, takes time to come together.

In today’s post, I wanted to share a personal story about inspiration in creative writing, and how we can hope for it, and lay the groundwork, but we can’t force it.

It’s interesting how sometimes a story just needs time to settle…. A lot of time, in my case.

I’m feeling “inspired” today to talk about my original idea for “The Crimson League.” I don’t know if I’ve ever done that on this blog. I got the original idea Freshman year in college after a dream. I wanted to write a story set in a different world about a resistance group fighting an evil sorcerer, and I wanted some characters to have magic, others not to. (That all ended up being a big part of my final novel and trilogy.)

I liked the idea of magic in Herezoth being symbolic of whatever strengths we possess that we sometimes wish we didn’t, or whatever strengths other people have that we wish we did, because we don’t fully understand the investment that goes into cultivating talents we’re unfamiliar with on a personal level.

That’s where the similarities between the first idea and the finished story end, though. I originally wanted to link magic to the elements. And I also was dead-set on writing a portal story.

You know…. I wanted the main characters (at least two or three of them) to come from our world. That way, the readers could experience Herezoth through their eyes. Herezoth would be just as foreign to them as to the reader…. Just like Harry Potter when he “discovers” the wizarding world at age 11.

I thought that was the only way I could make this story work. I named my protagonist Lucia Jedword. I tried my portal idea, and fell flat.

I ended up writing another novel based on an entirely different idea, a novel I’ve never done anything with, because it’s awful. After that, three years after my original idea for “The Crimson League”–three years–I was spending some time at my aunt’s house. I was looking for a new project and wanted to give Herewith another shot.

Right before I went to bed, for no reason at all as far I could tell then or tell now, I understood out of nowhere what I had gotten wrong.

  • My story needed a protagonist FROM Herezoth. One intimately connected with, personally invested in the world.
  • I knew immediately, immediately, that I needed to name her Kora. I just knew that was her name…. from the Spanish “Corazón,” which means heart. I needed maybe a minute to give her the full name Kora Porteg.
  • I understood how she would be the fulfillment of a centuries old legend no one really believed anymore. I originally wanted Lucia and her friends to fulfill a legend, and I immediately, upon envisioning Kora, knew how I needed to adapt the legend I had originally construed.

I started writing what became the first draft of my novel the next morning and never looked back.

WHY THREE YEARS?

I look back now and wonder, why did it take me three years to figure this out? HOW? It’s not as though the solution I came up with was genius or anything. It’s a pretty obvious fix, an obvious follow up to what I first tried to do.

I just know I’m glad I didn’t realize it right away. I had a lot of fun writing my first, awful novel, and I don’t think I would have been mature enough as a college freshman to write the story I ended up writing and am still reshaping into a second edition.

Writing my first novel honed my skills a bit, to make me able to write a first draft of a second novel that had potential. Also, a lot of the struggles and challenges I faced in grad school, as I was writing my Herezoth trilogy, deeply influenced it in ways that never could have happened if I’d written the novel before then. I can’t believe how much shallower and how different the story and characters would be if I had written my trilogy earlier in my life.

I’m not sure why I felt moved to discuss this today…. It just made sense. I’m curious about whether other people have had moments of crazy inspiration about a plot or a character like I did at my aunt’s house, when the idea for Kora just hit me fully formed. I mean FULLY formed.

I’m also curious about how long other writers have waited for inspiration to really act on an original idea. What say you?

I

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24 responses to “How I Waited Three Years to Start My Novel… And Why I’d Never Change That.

  1. Well since I have started school and a new position at my job writing has taken a major back seat. I think of my w.i.p’s that I need to finish, but never have the time in doing them. I’m always tired or have homework to do. I need to make writing a priority if I want to be a writer. Inspiration comes from all kinds of things, even my struggles.

    • I think I find my biggest struggles to be my biggest inspirations. They fuel my writing because my writing is how I tackle them, how I deal with them, or at least how I figure out how I should deal with them 🙂 Good luck figuring out time to write. That’s always hard for me too. But it’s worth it!

  2. 10 years, give or take.

  3. Yeah, Victoria, inspiration for different facets of my current WIP hit me all the time, continually bringing more clarity to the story. I started the first draft of my novel 2.5 years ago, but I’ve been writing background material for the setting for my novel for over 30 years. A lot about the setting and the characters within it has changed during that time, but a lot has stayed the same too. To say that I’m not rushing things is an understatement, but if it takes a while longer to bring the story into a form I feel good about publishing, then so be it.

  4. The one I am starting now was an idea in 2001! Waiting lets the thing grow, so, good thing!

  5. My ideas often germinate for long periods of time. Maybe my mind needs those extra months or years to develop a cohesive story. A lot of mental preparation goes into making a book, on a conscious and a subconscious level. Only one time did a character and a plot hit me “fully formed.” Even then, I had to do a lot of research to backup the story, and the novel took me three years to write. Great post, as always, Victoria!

    • It’s really rare for me that a story hits me fully formed like that either. Usually when a character does hit me fully formed, I end up changing lots of things. Kora is the only one I didn’t really change a thing about.

  6. Sometimes I’ll have characters that just form themselves in my head, and I wait for a story idea to come along that feels right to put them into. The story I am working on currently has that kind of protagonist, Zez Silver. He was cultivating himself in my head long before I began my story. But he fits the story perfectly, and I’m glad I put him in there.
    Other times, I’ll have stories that are just waiting for a protagonist. I have a couple of story ideas just sitting in my head (and several more are put down on paper!) and I hope to have some main characters for them at some point.

  7. I love those moments, when an idea hits you and you just KNOW that it’s exactly what you’ve been searching for. There’s no feeling quite like it.
    I’ve been writing my fantasy story since I created it for NaNoWriMo 2011. The first draft I ended up with from NaNo was appalling and I’m embarrassed I ever thought it would work. But many elements did remain when I re-planned it, several times over.
    Oddly enough my approach was the opposite to yours; I refused to have a character from “our” world in the story. I just didn’t want to link my fantasy world with our mundane real world at all. But in the end having my protagonist come from Earth was ultimately what made it better and opened so many doors. Harry Potter was also instrumental in my discovery of this fact 🙂

  8. I have a story that I’ve had in my head for about three years now. I’ve tried writing it a couple of times, but it never seems to work outside of my brain. Maybe one day, though!

  9. Ok, now I don’t feel so bad in how long it is taking me! I also came up with the character first, and it wasn’t the protagonist! This was another of the major characters. I saw her fully, as a real person and even her name. The major problem I am having is plot and the characterization of some of the other characters. I keep changing my mind and I am not seeing exactly what I want to see. That is what keeps me a bit stranded. I decided to quit trying to force it, and the more I try to not think about it, the more I DO think about it! Crazy, isn’t it? Thanks for another great post, Victoria! 🙂

    • Glad you liked this one. Supporting characters give me trouble, too. It’s much easier to get to know the BIG players. But the supporting cast adds so much extra spice and flavor to a story!

  10. Well said! I am giving my word several months of sitting in the drawer time. It means when I pick it up, I see things afresh again. We just have to learn that rushing works against us.

  11. N.E. Montgomery

    Well, let’s see: the four main characters of my series came to me almost fully-fleshed when I was in my early 20s. Two women having space adventures, one character’s brother, and the bad guy. I hand-wrote scene after disconnected scene, having no idea why these people were doing what they were doing or how they got there. I taught myself to type on my first computer (a DOS, using Wordstar, if anybody remembers that!).

    In 1998-1999, I pulled them out, dusted them off, and tried to make a novel out of them. Total fail – I had no idea what I was doing. I managed to use a part of it to submit as a novella to the Writers of the Future contest, and actually won a spot.

    After that, I wrestled with it all some more, still not knowing what I was doing, off and on for several years, but always put it away because I didn’t know how to fix it. I did other things like grad school and teaching, but always wanting to go back to my character-babies and give them life.

    It wasn’t until last year that I decided they were worth resurrecting. I’ve been giving myself a crash course in things like novel structure (which I didn’t even know existed the first couple times around) ever since. I’m finished with a mostly coherent first draft of the first book of a trilogy and 2 tie-in novellas, with the goal of sending to an editor this summer.

    So, short answer is 22 years – longer than most of my college students have been alive! They’ll be better stories for sure for the wait, and the living I’ve done since those characters first started having adventures in my head.

    😀

  12. I have a pet novella project that I’ve been working for many years… except that I haven’t really done anything with it for awhile. I got stuck, and I know that part of the reason was that I was never sure of my ending. I didn’t start with one in mind, and the one I came up with as I went had a ton of Dues Ex Machina that I wasn’t comfortable with.

    I think it actually has been almost three years since I wrote anything new for this story. Then, in January, I started writing out my thoughts about my main character and it just suddenly hit me. I had my ending! It was pretty exciting. ^-^

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