I know I’ve been quite on my blog and website for quite a while. Once I published my last book, The King’s Furies, I had the idea that I’d write a weekly or bi-weekly blog post to update readers on my progress to give a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into my writing life. But as I got further into those blog posts, I realized that I don’t really have anything particularly stimulating to write about. I wanted to give readers an inside scoop about the writing journey, but to be honest, it’s kind of boring most of the time.
There are lots of memes out there like this, and they are pretty funny, but this one represents a lot of the tedium that goes into writing (see the “what I really do” at the end… the “find and replace”). Most of it isn’t blog-worthy. So much of my process is abstract, philosophical, and intuitive, so it’s difficult to put into words. So I abandoned that idea, and my website/blog has been pretty quiet ever since.
Sorry about that.
But, can I also just say 2020 and the whole coronavirus thing? That hasn’t helped. Writing as a whole took a 6-month hiatus.
There’s a bit more to my silence though. My current project is also just really, really hard to write! Well, it will be easier to write once the themes and plot are fully developed. But it’s the development of this trilogy which is tripping me up.
Books that have a pretty straightforward external genre… let’s say mystery, for example… are very different books to write from what I’m working on. It’s not to say one is harder or easier. They’re just different. A mystery is an “external genre” because the plot is driven by forces that are external to the protagonist. The plot is a series of external causes and effects that propel a character through the story. You come up with your causes and effects (often achieved through a formula), and you have your plot. The writer then works his or her magic to fill in the holes and the details and develops their character around those events. Cozies are the same way. Readers want the plot to move along and don’t often expect much from the characters. I have to add this disclaimer: writing this kind of external plot is the hardest thing for me in the whole writing process. Deciding what in the world my characters are going to do next is harder than you’d think. So I tip my hat to those who enjoy that bit and to those who do it well. I’m much happier when editing.
An external plot book is not what I’m writing. This new trilogy is driven by an internal genre. Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid method, which I study quite closely, names the specific internal genre I’m writing worldview. The big story events that drive the plot are internal to the protagonist. Because they are internal, they are harder to see, and as a result, harder to show. That makes them harder to write. Yes, internal motivations still follow a cause-and-effect process, but they drive the story more subtly than, say, a straightforward action plot. We’re dealing with maturation, with shifts in internal perspectives, in growing up and discovering truths and philosophies about the nature of the world. The story events take the protagonist, and therefore the reader, on a journey of growth and development, from one value to the other extreme over the course of a book.
The events in the story cause specific changes in the worldview of the main character, taking her from a place of ignorance to a place of wisdom or belief. But you have to accomplish this within an external framework. Your character takes actions and responds to events in her outer environment, the catalyst to her internal change.
So how is that accomplished?
Yeah, that’s the hard part. And that’s the part I’m working really hard to study right now. I’ve been busy reading up on story craft, listening to podcasts on genre and story structure, studying other masterworks in the genre, etc. I’ve also been reading like mad: non-fiction on culture, on philosophy, on self-improvement, on psychology, and other things related to human nature, spirituality, and theology. My passion lies in the human condition, and I want my books to reflect that passion. To write a good story with those factors at the core, I need to understand them.
And THEN comes the story. Once I understand how story can be used to take my readers on a compelling and page-turning story, I’ll make a bit more progress with my current project.
All of that being said, I’m not NOT writing. Far from it! I’ve actually completed three full drafts of my present book. But I consider them all to be rough drafts. Each draft has been changed. Because I’m an intuitive writer, I don’t know what I want to say until I’ve said it, and if I don’t like what I’ve said after I’ve said it, I have to start over. If a book was a piece of pottery, I have to get the lump of clay right before I can mold it into its final shape – those are the editing rounds.
At the moment, I’m spending my writing time taking various elements of my rough drafts and comparing them to what I’ve learned about story structure, about the various beats that are consistent with my chosen internal genre, and developing the themes to form a compelling external plot.
So what is my work-in-progress? At it’s heart, it’s a worldview/revelation story with a thriller/action skeleton set in a fantasy reality. Story nerds will get that, though the rest of you might still be confused. That’s okay. There’s a LOT behind that statement. And it’s not simple. That’s the real reason I’ve not been as active on my blog as I’d hoped I would be.
Oh, did I mention dragons?
Have thoughts or comments on what you just read? Let me know in the comment section at the very bottom of the page!
About Stephanie Churchill
After serving time as a corporate paralegal in Washington, D.C., then staying home to raise her children, Stephanie Churchill stumbled upon writing, a career path she never saw coming. As a result of writing a long-winded review of the book Lionheart, Stephanie became fast friends with its New York Times best-selling author, Sharon Kay Penman, who uttered the fateful words, “Have you ever thought about writing?” Stephanie has since published three historical-feeling novels, The Scribe’s Daughter, The King’s Daughter, and The King’s Furies. She lives in the Minneapolis area with her husband, two children, and two dogs while trying to survive the murderous intentions of a Minnesota winter.
Stephanie’s books are filled with action and romance, loyalty and betrayal. Her writing takes on a cadence that is sometimes literary, sometimes genre fiction, relying on deeply-drawn and complex characters while exploring the subtleties of imperfect people living in a gritty, sometimes dark world. Her unique blend of historical-feeling fiction combined with elements of romance and thriller ensures that her books are sure to please fans of historical fiction and epic fantasy literature alike.