Tag Archives: The Art of Writing

Do I See It as I Write It?

That was what my wife asked me yesterday: “Do you see it as you write it? And do you hear the dialogue?”

The answer to both is yes. As the story unfolds, it’s like a movie playing in my head. I’d like to get some background music playing with it, too, but I haven’t yet mastered that facet of the art.

If I don’t see it, I reckon the reader won’t see it, either. I had some help with the lake monster from The Temple, pictured above: it’s really just the Liopleurodon from Tim Haines’ Walking with Dinosaurs, and I emailed artist Kirk DouPonce with the applicable clip from the movie. But I had to add the lake, the cliffs of Kara Karram, and King Ryons’ army reacting to the unexpected intrusion. Nothing to go on there but my imagination.

Kirk uses live models to pose as story characters on my covers. Because he takes the trouble to read the books before he goes to work on them, he sometimes paints a character exactly as I imagine him or her to be. I don’t know how he does that.

I watch a lot of movies and read a lot of books because it helps me to harness my imagination. In my mind, the characters that populate the stories are as real as Kirk’s models. Sometimes I find myself casting movie and TV actors to portray them; and when that works, it works really well indeed. Wes Studi as Ysbott the Snake. John Nettles as Lord Chutt. And so on–it really works. And it gets me cranked up to imagine and describe things and people that I haven’t seen in any movie. I can even see and hear Helki the Rod–and I don’t know of any actor that can play him.

Patty’s last question, though, isn’t quite so easy to answer: “When you’re seeing and hearing all these things, how do you come back?”

But we don’t have to worry about that until I start having trouble coming back.


‘The Temptation’ Marches On

The Throne

The weather is telling me I’d better shift into high gear if I want to finish writing The Temptation before it gets too cold to write outside. Yeah, I could work indoors–but when it comes to my books, I’d much rather work outdoors.

I’m typing up the latest chapter set, which will give me 25 completed chapters. The Lord has not yet shown me how to end the story. All sorts of action is going on, in and out of Obann City and the ruins of Old Obann: my characters are very busy. All I can do is pray for inspiration and plug on. I know from experience that the ending of the book will be given to me in a sudden burst: that’s how He likes to give it to me.

I really wonder what it’ll be!


Huff-Puff! Time for More Chapters

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I’ve just finished typing up half a dozen new chapters of The Temptation and sending them to Susan. The action of the story is heating up, so I’ll have to get out there tomorrow with my legal pad to find out where it goes next. I also write my Newswithviews column today, and for some reason, I’m really tired.

What will happen as Lord Chutt tries to dig up the ruins of Old Obann? Well, I can’t tell you that, not yet.

To rest my mind, I’m re-reading M. R. James’ collected ghost stories–surely the best ghost stories ever written.

And now to see if my printer is agreeable to printing the new chapters.


Why I Watch Movies and TV

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Some of you are down on movies and television for celebrating immoral and even wicked actions and letting the characters in the story get away with it. Those are not unfounded criticisms.

As a fantasy novelist, I must plead guilty to writing in such a way that the story turns out as I want it to. King Ryons gets to Obann in time to save the city. Lord Orth passes through a phase of madness and idiocy to emerge as a true man of God. These things happen because I wrote them that way. It can’t be helped.

I watch a lot of old TV and movies. One reason is for relaxation. After a day of writing, I need to veg out. I don’t think any of you will accuse me of allowing these films to shape my moral outlook.

But there is another reason.

Writing a novel isn’t as easy as it looks. The only thing easy about it is that it’s very easy to mess it up. And as I write, I have two overriding concerns: character and story. Both have to be right, or the novel will be wrong.

So I watch for the same reason I never go to bed without a book to read until I fall asleep. I want to learn how to create and manage believable characters that my readers will respond to, and how to tell a story coherently, convincingly, and compellingly. I can’t learn that unless I immerse myself in other people’s stories. And because the story-telling art is so difficult, I have to keep learning all the time.

As hard as I try to avoid it, some of the stories I watch turn out to be dreck. From these I learn what not to do! From the others, the ones that are not pigs’ breakfasts, I pick up innumerable hints that I can apply to my own stories. From C.S. Lewis, Agatha Christie, Walter R. Brooks, J.R.R. Tolkien, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur Upfield, and many others, I learn the techniques I need to make my novels stand the test of readership.

And daily Bible reading is indispensable as a guide to what I ought to put into my stories and what I ought to leave out. As a writer, I can do nothing without God’s blessing and guidance.

A steady diet of B.S. fiction, consumed uncritically, unthinkingly, for no other purpose than “because it’s there,” has a really good shot at rotting the consumer’s mind.

If you want to be a musician, you have to listen to other people’s music. The same hold true for story-tellers.


‘The Temptation’ Marches On

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I’ve typed up another 3,000+ words of The Temptation (Book No. 11 in my Bell Mountain series), and I am too pooped to pop. But I have to present these books in sets of four or five chapters at a time so that Susan can edit them. Just in case I take a wrong turn somewhere, I don’t want to have to find out after I’ve written the whole thing.

Boss Redegger the crime baron has returned, Lord Orth has to choose which way to go when both ways seem right, and there’s a lot going on in Old Obann (not a nice place). And Wytt has his hands full, trying to protect stupid humans…

I love doing this, and to God be the glory. He gives me these stories; I just do my best to write them down.


The Ol’ Horror Novelist

Every now and then I encounter a comment like this: “What’s a ‘horror novelist’ doing, writing Christian commentary?” The people who make these comments seem rather ticked off that I should be writing anything at all.

Thirty years ago, I was writing horror novels and four of them got published. Lifeblood was my first–and note the tiny little letters for the author’s name. I wrote them because I’ve never wanted to be anything but a writer, all my life; I like scary stories; and horror was booming at the time. And even if I do say so myself, as Steven King knock-offs go, these were pretty good.

But it was thirty years ago, and it would be a sad thing if I never grew and matured spiritually in all those years. Obviously I don’t write that kind of book anymore. I doubt I could, even if I wanted to.

So, because I used to write such books decades ago, that disqualifies me from ever writing anything else? Is it like an armed robbery conviction and prison term suddenly appearing in the resume of a political candidate? Some folks out there seem to think so. But I think this phase of my writing career was a door that I had to pass through to get to where I am today.

I once wrote for the glory of me. Now I write, I hope, for the glory of God.

Robbie Update: They gave her a shot to subdue her nausea, and since we came home this morning, Robbie has already eaten more than she has in the last two days put together. Not a lot, but enough to give us some encouragement. Please, Lord, in Jesus’ name, make this turn out right! Amen.

And now this old horror novelist is about finished for the afternoon.


Thank You, Lord (and Bonus Hymn)

Sometimes a day of tracking the news just knocks the stuffing out of me. This hymn, and God’s grace, puts it back in: Who Would True Valor See, words by John  Bunyan–who knew a thing or three about these things!–with music by Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band.

Meanwhile, what can be done for a great city sliding into sin? That was a sticking-point today, for my new book, The Temptation. And, as He has so often done before, the Lord gave me the next step in telling the story–something I never would have thought of on my own. Something that, quite frankly, blew me away.

For which I give Him the glory and my thanks, and pray my work will be fruitful in His service.


I’m Still Writing a Book

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One of the unusual animals you’ll encounter in my books…

Don’t let anyone tell you writing a fantasy novel is easy.

Somehow today I have finished another half-dozen chapters in my new Bell Mountain book, The Temptation (No. 11 in the series), which is beginning to live up to its title. I give God the glory for that.

Robbie is all wiped out from her visit to the vet, Peep is hissing and growling at us because we have a vet’s office smell on us, Patty is trying to do more paperwork for Aunt Joan’s Medicaid while fearing for the health of our poor cat, and our poor country is being torn apart by lunatics. Other than that, everything’s just ticketty-boo.

The book soldiers on. Lord Chutt might be cracking up, and maybe the whole city of Obann with him. We shall see. I won’t know what happens till I write it.


How Bad Should Your Bad Guys Be?

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People think it’s easy and fun to create villains for your fiction. Fun, yes; easy, no.

Don’t worry, I won’t make one of those political jokes. “I stop one step short of making them as bad as Hillary Clinton.” Oops.

I find that, in writing up villains, the most important consideration is the character’s motivation. What makes him or her do bad things? Here are some of the motivations I’ve resorted to.

The villain honestly thinks he’s doing good. This easily descends into sheer fanaticism, which I don’t think is quite as common in real life as movies suggest. Much better is–

The villain has selfish or personal reasons for doing evil, which he has rationalized into altruistic reasons. This kind of self-deception is easy to find in real life. “I’m doing this for your good!” Haven’t we all heard that a thousand times before!

Burning with lust for someone (or something) that he doesn’t have, and probably can never get, the villain stops at nothing. This was what motivated Lord Reesh in my Bell Mountain books: he had a vision of Obann’s ancient greatness, and the near-fantastic powers wielded by men of those days, and nothing would ever satisfy him but to bring back those times–in pursuit of which, there was nothing that he wouldn’t sacrifice.

The villain is a moral imbecile and simply doesn’t know any better. According to classical leftist ideology, this is always the case–“It’s the unjust society that’s at fault, not the armed robber!” Yeah, where has the system failed you, sunshine?

Simple greed, simple lust for power–I’m from New Jersey, so I’ve seen how often these sordid motives inspire various crimes.

The one thing I try to do, with every villain I create, is to make his actions understandable and acceptable to himself. I believe most bad guys think they’re good guys, even if they have to engage in almost superhuman mental gymnastics to do it. Really, how many bad guys in real life ever sit down and think, “Gee, I really am garbage”? Much more common is, “I got a raw deal!”

So stay away from two-dimensional, sneering, mustache-twirling villains who tie Little Nell to the railroad tracks and kick poor Grandma out of the farmhouse.

Villains who think they’re good are much more fun to write about–and way more true to life! I’m sure you can think of a couple dozen real-life examples inside of ten minutes.


Progress on ‘The Temptation’

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Books don’t write themselves. You have to be there, writing them. This has been difficult for me, these past two weeks: doctor appointments, car inspection, really horrible weather, and so on.

Nevertheless, I plug away at it, trusting in the Lord to give me the story that He wants me to tell. Ten chapters of Book No. 11, The Temptation, are written. Fnaa, King Ryons’ double, has just gone down in history, although he doesn’t know it yet. Lord Orth is preparing for a long missionary trip into the Wallekki country. And if you haven’t read any of my Bell Mountain books so far, those last two sentences won’t make a lick of sense.

It has become necessary to re-visit Old Obann, the massive ruins across the river from the living city. It was the capital of Obann’s empire, destroyed by God’s wrath in the Day of Fire. It is not a nice place. I wouldn’t recommend messing about with it, but Lord Chutt, the usurper-in-chief, never listens to me. He has plans.

I won’t find out what happens next until I write it.


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