Since Paw Prints on the Wall has been released and continues to do well – thank you again to everyone who has purchased my novel – it is now my job to pick up the next project and continue working on it.
Or, well, that’s been my job the whole time. I never really stopped working on it.
It’s a never-ending juggle of time as an author. Either I’m marketing, writing, worldbuilding, or reading.
And yes, reading is an integral part of being a writer. Don’t let anyone tell you different.
But that’s a tangent for another day.
Today I want to look at how very different (and still the same) the genres are between Pawprints on the Wall and my current work in progress. Because yes, there are different tools I lean on more when I am writing Fantasy as opposed to Contemporary fiction. And honestly, Last Child of Winter is a weird mix of contemporary and fantasy, so I’m getting to use both this time around.
#1 – Graphic Texture
For Fantasy, I find that my books are heavy in the visual aspect of Graphic Texture, which I use to describe anything from sights to sounds and smells. This is because I am literally trying to make a whole new setting come alive. Yes, you’ve seen a forest before. But you haven’t seen a forest with an Eldur fortress grown out of the trees themselves. For that, I need to rely on descriptions.
And honestly, most people who pick up fantasy novels are in it for the world.
Yeah, they want to see heroes do cool stuff, but they mostly want to be transported to an unfamiliar place.
Bonus points for authors who can find the happy balance between pacing and description. I often find myself failing in that regard.
For Contemporary fiction, I still need my setting described, but I loosen the reins a bit. You don’t need to know about the history of the building the characters are sitting in (unless it’s relevant to the plot) and I don’t have to make it believable that they have paper and/or technology because I’m using what’s already in the world. I can say “smartphone” and not “flat, rectangular handheld device with a cracked screen that lit up when she looked at it.”
#2 – Characters
One of the tools that remains the same, however, is characterization. We won’t go into the debate on what comes first, plot or character, because honestly, one can’t exist without the other. I’ve mentioned before that I like to think of the first draft of a novel like a character interview. I’m exploring who they are every bit as much as the reader will when they pick up the novel for the first time. The difference is, I get to argue with them.
For any novel I write, getting to know the quirks of each character is both a struggle and a joy. I’m not sure how other authors do this, but characters come to me whole and I have to pry and nudge and watch them on the page to get to know them. I don’t build a character sheet and fashion the person I want to star in the book because every time I’ve tried, I end up not being able to write the book.
What I do instead is name three things for each POV character, and then add information I learn along the journey to their notebook page. Because yes, I still write things in notebooks with pen and paper. This trusty story-bible sits beside me until the novel is published.
What are the three things?
Glad you asked!
*What does (name) want most?
*What does (name) fear most?
*Who is the most important person to (Name)?
#3 – Pacing
This is the most significant difference between a fantasy novel and a contemporary novel. Fantasy novels are given a larger frame to work in. They can be anywhere up to 100,000-120,000 words in length and people will read them because they go into the novel expecting a quest. The worldbuilding alone takes up a great deal of space and the characters on the page are allowed to meander a bit.
For a contemporary novel, readers expect the pace to be faster. Yes, things foul up the character’s plans and such, but the time to get from beginning to end of a novel is much less. They are between 75,000-85,000 in length, so the frame to write the story in is smaller. So you can’t drag on about every pet the character ever owned from youth to adulthood, you have to pick the relevant ones that both drive home the point of the story and keep the pace moving.
The rest of the toolbox is still open, of course. I can’t sacrifice setting just because it’s contemporary, and just because I have more space in a fantasy novel to write in doesn’t mean I should use it all. Each story is different and there’s no one-size fits all for how to go about crafting it.
I’ve tried concentrating on the 3-Act Structure and all that. It’s important to know how that works, so don’t get me wrong, you should absolutely know these things about writing because it is a part of the writer’s toolbox. But, for me anyway, it is not helpful to look at that stuff until I’m writing the second draft. For the first draft, which is where I’m at with Last Child of Winter, I can only plot things out 2 or 3 chapters in advance, and oftentimes I get it wrong and have to fix it as I go.
In the end, this is a craft. And it’s art. So I just take a deep breath and try to learn who my characters are and what they have to teach me.