Tuesday, December 8, 2015


Most authors outline, whether they admit to it or not. Even the most ardent "pantser" (someone who writes by the seat of their pants, making it up as they go) has a general idea, even if subconscious, of where the story's going at certain points.

I have been asked many times how I write, but haven't yet taken the time to explore the issue in the blog. I begin any story with a situation, a scenario similar to the blurb you'd read on the back of a novel. I have a journal with about twenty future book ideas, scenarios I've thought about and would like to expand on. I add to the list frequently, adding two new scenarios just this past week.

Scenario: Kid trains to be a Grim Reaper at a school where students learn how to reap souls. Reaping is a job, just like any other. Tensions exist at the school between Dragons- the original Reapers- and the Deaths, who now Reap. At end, kid must pass a test to go home.

The scenario will look something like the above, with no details fleshed out, and not much more clear. I then daydream about what will happen, and in this period, the most abstract creation occurs. As part of this stage, I develop what I call an "image outline." I develop a set of specific pictures, frozen images that I know are somehow related to my story, but I don't yet know how or even what order they'll occur in. 

I'm currently reading Ransom Riggs' novel Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. The book combines authentic old photographs with an odd story about a boy traveling to a remote island off of Wales. I've read that Riggs collected tons of actual photographs and used them to inspire a storyline, which now spans multiple books as well as an upcoming film. 

I originally developed my inspiration for The Scythe Wielder's Secret (and School of Deaths in particular) from a trip I took to Tintagel. The original blog post from my trip can be found here. While I didn't have actual photographs to ply through or inspire me, I began to envision certain pictures in my head. Images I wanted to include in the novel.

Note: all prints below are by artist Jenn Eldreth and are available for purchase. Click on the pictures for more detail or to read a quote from the books about each.

One of the earliest images I envisioned, an enormous metal door in the center of an upward-flowing waterfall (or water-rise?) Didn't originally know what this would be, but it ended up playing a major role in the books. 

The Library I envisioned was partially inspired by the Duke Humfrey's Library Room in Oxford. This is the oldest reading room in the Bodelian and the college as a whole, and was a place I worked on the earliest drafts of School of Deaths. Admittedly, it's also where the library scenes in the Harry Potter films were filmed. I tried to differentiate from the Potter library by adding glowing flower lights and dozens of massive old stones.  

Before even starting book two- Sword of Deaths- I had a single strong image in my head.
A boat, the old fashioned schooner type, on an icy sea. The boat was burning and a Dragon circled overhead. Exploring this image internally helped me develop the plot line for Sword of Deaths. 

After I have an image outline, I start from the beginning and just keep writing, trying to connect images as I go. With my current work in process I'm in much the same situation. I have a clear number of images in my mind, but no idea yet exactly how all of them will connect, and what the final process will be.

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