Hello and welcome to what is both the last installment of this year’s Know the Novel link-up as well as my last blog post for this year as I take a December hiatus to enjoy the holidays and recharge for the new year. (Go back to the beginning of this year’s Know the Novel series here.)
Today we get to look back on Lightning and the writing process thereof, as well as plans moving forward and future dreams for the story!
1. Firstly, how did writing this novel go all around?
The process for Lightning was rather slow (I started outlining on June 1st, 2022 and finished drafting on November 7th, 2023), but not painfully so. Since I had other things taking up my attention for a big chunk of that time and this was my first focused drafting project in years, it seemed appropriate to go a little more slowly and let myself get reacquainted with the process.
There were some trouble spots along the way–Alaric and Ash co-existing almost always came out more stilted than I wanted, and Ash became the problem child for a little while–but overall I think it was a decently smooth writing process. Nothing like the process of Calligraphy Guild, but I don’t think any of my future projects will be like Calligraphy Guild in that respect, lol. There’s definitely a lot of work to be done to bring Lightning to where it needs to be in terms of storytelling and writing quality, but the writing process overall was pretty much what would be expected given the circumstances.
As for outlining Thunder, I’ve gotten through the first several chapters’ worth of outline, I’ve changed an important detail from where I started, and overall I like the direction of things. I just need to hone in on some areas and iron out my ending so I know for sure what I’m aiming for. (Plotting toward a specific ending is usually not a consideration in my personal outlining process, but this book has a particular ending so I need to know how to get there).
2. Did it turn out like you expected or completely different? And how do you feel about the outcome?
I think I expected it to be more action-led, and it’s actually a more philosophically-leaning story at this point. There is action, but mostly the action kicks in at the end of the book, going into Thunder. I like the philosophical elements, so I’m not disappointed, but I may adjust the balance some when I go back to edit.
3. What aspect of the story did you love writing about the most? (Characters, plot, setting, prose, etc.)
The prose and dialogue were highlights, at least in certain parts, but it should be noted that those elements tend to reflect character and thus character was a significant factor. I don’t think that all of my prose and dialogue were great in this book–there are some spots that make me cringe already, and a couple that I cringed at even while I was writing them, lol–but some of my favorite moments when I read it back are favorites because of particular portions of prose or dialogue.
4. What was your least favorite part?
I know I said characters were part of my favorite elements, but they were also really difficult at times, lol. I don’t think I’m as “close” to these characters as I am with those from some of my other works, and while I don’t think that has affected how they come out on paper as much as I might have feared, I think it has made the writing process a bit more difficult sometimes.
Also, the worldbuilding shown is not up to snuff yet. Overall, this doesn’t “feel” as much like a sci-fi novel as I want it to yet. (It won’t be the most sci-fi-heavy science fiction novel, anyway–part of the point is that the world is still very familiar to our own–but there is some tech that I’d like to incorporate better in future drafts.)
5. What do you feel like needs the most work?
The worldbuilding. I’ve developed lots of bits and pieces over the years, and an overall “vibe,” but it’s not as cohesive and detailed as I would like it to be within actual novels.
Also, Ash and Alaric’s relationship and each of their character arcs (which I think are connected issues). They’re so awkward when they show up in scenes together and they’re not supposed to be. I need them to get along, or at least challenge each other naturally, lol.
6. How do you feel about your characters now that the novel is done? Who’s your favorite? Least favorite? Anyone surprise you? Give us all the details!
Favorite is Nyla. I like different things about different characters, but Nyla is the only one that hasn’t significantly annoyed me at one point or another–whether in the way she was coming through (or failing to come through) on paper or just in her character as it’s meant to be.
I’m not sure about least favorite. Everyone else has been my least favorite at some point or another (except maybe Ash), but they don’t usually stay there. I guess the most accurate answer is that since I’m not actively writing there is no active least favorite right now. XD
Most surprising was Ash. For the most part he progressed the way that I expected, and came out on paper more-or-less as intended, but I didn’t expect him to be the difficult one to write toward the middle of the book. He’d been easy up to that point, and then suddenly we hit the middle of the book (and the murky middle of his arc, I suspect) and his interactions with everyone started to become difficult, so that was a surprise. But I’ll iron out his arc and those interactions in future drafts.
7. What’s your next plan of action with this novel?
- Outline Thunder (finishing hopefully no later than the end of January)
- Draft Thunder (finishing by March or April at the latest)
- Set both novels aside to focus on worldbuilding for Esleon (as long as needed)
- Come back and edit both books as a single story as well as individual books
8. If you could have your greatest dream realized for this novel, what would it be?
Obviously the first thing is to publish it, and I think this one would be cool to publish traditionally if I can find a publishing house that will take it. (I suspect it falls into that awkward ditch where it’s too Christian for secular publishers and not Christian enough for Christian publishers.) But I may or may not wait on that route; it will likely depend on how I feel about the project following edits and how my next writing projects go. If I release my worldbuilding book, for instance, I might take more time on getting Lightning out.
In more fun dreams, beyond practical publication thoughts, I’d love to have the duology adapted into graphic novel form as well, and possibly adapted for film.
9. Share a snippet of one of your most favorite scenes!
I shared most of my non-spoilery favorites in the last installment…
Ah! There is this one… I wrote this one ahead of time because I was excited about it, so I think it qualifies for favorite scene. XD (It is admittedly cliché, but clichés exist for a reason and it’s because we like them, so here you go. The shooting-training-with-romantic-tension trope scene for this book.)
My hands were firmly wrapped in my sleeves when I arrived in the training room. Ash stood opposite the firing wall, his stance wide as he slammed round after round into the target. I winced at the sound, but made my way to the edge of the sparring grounds, keeping a bit of distance from the shooting line and the jarring sounds of gunpowder and lead.
Ash lowered his gun and turned as he released his clip, glancing up and smiling when he saw me. I ignored the flip in my stomach that resulted. “Miss Bird. I’m glad you made it.”
He tossed the empty clip onto a table and set his pistol more carefully beside it, the muscles in his shoulder stretching.
My gaze whipped to the target he’d just destroyed, banishing the thought of his muscles. The dark spots indicating his shots were concentrated well within the center ring. My fingers twitched. “You’re a good shot.”
“Thanks. Do you shoot?”
I shook my head, fists clenching around my sleeves.
“You should learn. It’s a good skill to have.”
My chuckle was more a huff of air, not even audible.
“I could teach you.”
My gaze snapped to Ash and immediately darted away from his eyes to a blank spot on his cheek. His attention still made my stomach squirm. Though the patch of skin I stared at instead wasn’t blank; not totally. Were those freckles?
Then he was moving toward me, and I took an instinctive step back as he drew a second gun. He stilled.
“I’m not going to hurt you.”
I found the courage to meet his eyes—despite my stomach’s flip-flopping—and my lips twitched. “I know.”
He flipped the gun around so the handle faced me. My heart pounded as I stared at the metal. I imagined the feel of it, cold and ridged against my palm. I would fire. There would be a—
I winced against the sound in my mind.
Ash nudged the gun toward me again, reminding me I was here, in the training room with him. I glanced around at the blank white walls. This place was sterile. Safe. Or as safe as I’d ever known, anyway.
With a trembling hand, I took the gun. My imagination had been correct, if incomplete. I hadn’t accounted for the weight of the pistol. Hadn’t imagined my knuckles turning white as I gripped it, trying to keep it from slipping out of my sweaty hand.
I wrapped my other hand around the grip and took a deep breath, the gun a bit more steady now.
“Now look toward the target and aim.”
The target was printed on the wall in red, and I blinked as my mind immediately compared the color to blood. The circle suddenly seemed so far away. How was I supposed to hit that?
I raised the gun, my hands trembling once again.
Ash stepped closer and I eyed him, trying to gauge his opinion. He set his hand against mine and the touch sent lightning rushing through me, stealing away my breath as he adjusted my aim and held me steady.
He glanced at me and his breath warmed my temple as he spoke. “Don’t forget to breathe.”
Maybe if I refocused on the target I could forget how close he stood. How his fingers brushed against my knuckles. I drew in a deep breath.
“And relax. If you’re too tense, you won’t be able to handle the recoil.” He brushed the knuckles of his free hand down my shoulder-blade and the tension immediately fell from my shoulders, replaced by a desire to melt into him.
I swallowed hard and stared at the target in front of me. Not the time. Nor would it ever be. Rubbing my thumb against the gun’s grip brought me back to reality, rough and cold. My back straightened and I took a deep breath.
Ash stepped back, leaving my hand tingling where he’d touched it. “There you go. Fire when ready.”
After another breath, I curled my finger around the trigger. Ignoring the color of the target, I muttered, “Just a wall. Just a wall. Just a—“
I staggered back, wincing. Far louder than the gunshots in my memory, the shot left my ears ringing.
I glanced toward Ash, then at the target. I hadn’t shot the center, but my aim was at least mediocre. I might have shot an arm, had I been defending myself, which I honestly preferred to a lethal alternative.
“Are you ready for another shot?”
I looked at Ash, swallowing hard and ignoring the butterflies in my stomach as I met his dark eyes. Hopefully he’d think my anxiety was due to the gun, which at least wasn’t a total lie. “I don’t know.”
Ash smiled, his eyebrow lifting with the corner of his mouth as it often did. My gaze dropped to his freckles. “We can do more tomorrow.”
I tried not to tense as he approached. He took the gun back, his fingers grazing the inside of my wrist. The way he gripped the weapon, I almost wondered if the touch was intentional. But he holstered the gun in one swift motion and his expression was sober when I looked up.
“There’s valid reason to be afraid. But if I can teach you to shoot…” He looked toward the target, then back at me. A sad smile graced his lips. “Maybe you won’t have to be.”
I felt a twinge in my chest as I gripped my arm, remembering the loss he’d trusted me enough to tell me about, the loss that left him with these moments of bare sorrow. My gaze drifted across his face, across its lines and curves, all its perfections and the places his pain bled through. It was so easy to forget that his mask was cracked, too.
When Ash cleared his throat and started turning toward me, my attention darted back to the target wall, then quickly to the floor. “Anyway. I need to get back to the Sentinel ward. But I’m glad you came.”
“Me too.” To my own mild surprise, I meant it.
Ash turned to go, but stopped short. “Would you like to shoot again tomorrow?”
I picked at my sleeve, my reason warring with itself. “Okay.”
A faint smile warmed Ash’s lips. “Good. I’ll see you tomorrow, Sparrow.”
With that, he turned on his polished heel and left me blinking.
He’d nicknamed me?
When had that happened?
10. Did you glean any new writing and/or life lessons from writing this novel?
ProWritingAid‘s Sci-Fi Writers Week took place while I was working on Lightning and I attended a couple of particularly helpful webinars. The one that most stuck with me was one about how setting can both affect and reflect character change–even down to the clothes that your characters wear. Eileen Cook was the author that put on that particular webinar. I think that was one of the biggest things I learned about as I wrote Lightning.
If you worked on a writing project in November, how is it going? Did you accomplish what you wanted to? What has been your favorite part of the process?
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