Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Evolution of a Story


Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings) and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. And try her books for free here and here.

I had forgotten just how much work it was to move. We lived in Eastern Oregon for eight years. That's the second longest I've ever lived anywhere. And when you live someplace a long time, you gather a lot of stuff. When we found out we'd be moving, I thought it was a great opportunity to do some winter cleaning.

When I was packing up my house, I went through my file cabinet to get rid of stuff and found this folder:




If you can't see from the picture, the tab says "Joe Doe." There I was, sitting in front of my file cabinet, papers stacked ALL around me, and I'm staring at this folder thinking, "John Doe? What is that?" Then it hit me. This was where the Blood of Kings trilogy all started. 

It began with a dream. Literally. In the spring of 2007, I dreamed about a woman. She was a soldier entering a hospital with the mission of rescuing the prince. It was a dangerous mission because he'd been in a transport accident on the wrong side of the city. This city had two sides. A good side and a bad side. And the prince was now stranded in a hospital in the worst part of the bad side of town!

So in comes my soldier woman. She's stealth. She's undercover. She's packing a blaster. She's moving with her team up the stairwell. They find the prince's room, find the prince. He's sedated, but okay. They load him onto this sweet floating stretcher... (Think how Han Solo frozen in carbonite floated along and you're with me.)

So our heroine has got her man. She's moving out with him and the team. And then the curtain splitting the hospital room down the middle opens and a guy walks out dressed in nothing but a hospital gown. He starts asking our girl what she's doing. They talk. And this guy says he doesn't know who he is or what he's doing there, but he knows he is supposed to stay with the man she is taking away. Our girl doesn't want to leave anyone important behind, so she takes Amnesia Guy along.

But what she doesn't know. (And what I do know. It's my dream. I know things.) Is that Amnesia Guy IS the prince. And that the guy our girl thinks is the prince is an impostor!

That was all I remember from the dream. My girl called Amnesia Guy John Doe, so that's what I called the new story idea.

Also around this time my son and I were on a walk. He was a baby. (He's 14 now!!!) And I was pushing him in the stroller in Burbank, California. We passed by a house that had been burned down. I stood there, mesmerized by this tree in the yard. It was right beside the fence. And the part of the tree inside the yard was all charred black from the fire. And the part that was hanging over the fence and street was leafy green and blowing in the wind. And as I was standing there, I thought, "What if there was a world that was half shrouded in darkness? Half dying?"

Oohhh.



John Doe merged with the tree idea. This is where my science fiction story became a fantasy. I figured I'd be safer writing about swords and horses than blasters and spaceships. I started brainstorming my story, creating plot summaries, character names (My hero was Gideon, which later became Gidon, pronounced with a long "i.")

Here is a note written on a paper inside the folder: Alon is the gift blood sharers can use to see into the mind of the blood relatives.



If you've read By Darkness Hid, you know where I went with that. ;-)

Also around this time, I had recently met Jeff Gerke at a writer's conference in San Jose. Jeff is big on description, and he had suggested I check out a George R. R. Martin book if I wanted to read a fantasy author who handles description really well. (He did warn me about the content.) Two things stood out for me in the first Game of Thrones novel. I loved the harsh, medieval storyworld. And I loved the appendix that listed the people from each house and showed the house's sigul.

This book made me realize my world was way too small.

So I set to work. I drew a map with a ton of cities on it. I wrote lists of characters who ruled each city and everyone in their family and house. I drew flags for each house. I drew castle floorplans. I drew sketches. I went to the library and checked out tons of books on medieval history. I think you've all heard me talk about how I fell into storyworld builder's disease. It wasn't until my husband said, "I thought you were going to write a book?" that I snapped out of it.

He was right. Time to get busy. I put everything into this binder and started writing. (Think I'd done enough world building? Um, yeeah.)


I spent another few months thinking over my plot. Lots more things changed. I really got into using the Hebrew dictionary to find cool words for things. I made a major plot change when I decided that I would write in two points of view. That was inspired by another series I was reading at the time. The books were called The ThiefThe Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia (written by Megan Whalen Turner, they are AMAZING, go read them all right now). I don't remember which book it was, but there was this minor character. And it was a boy, but he was always described as small and thin and soft spoken, and I thought, *gasp* "This character is a girl pretending to be a boy! That is SO COOL! I figured it out! I figured it out!" And I was totally jealous because I thought that would be so much fun to write.

Well, imagine my surprise when I got to the end and that boy was actually a boy! (I had NOT figured it out.) But I knew then that I had to have a girl in my story who was dressed up as a boy. So I went back to my plot and thought and thought and thought until I figured out how to make that work.

I was SO READY to write this book that when I finally did, I completed the first draft in a month! It was December 2007. We were planning to move to Eastern Oregon at the end of January. I would need to be packing up my house in January. I wanted that book done! And it was.

Once we got settled in our new Oregon home, I rewrote the book a few times. And I pitched it that August to Jeff Gerke, just for fun, to see what he thought, since NO ONE at the conference wanted to see YA or fantasy. And Jeff bought the book for his new publishing house Marcher Lord Press and here it is:




So pretty and look at the half-living half-dead tree and there is Achan on the front hearing those voices. *happy sigh*

This here blog post was a summary of how it all went down, but the real thing took a lot of effort and time (dream in spring 2007 until I pitched it in August 2008). And this was the sixth novel I wrote, so I did have a little practice. My first book took me three and a half years to finish and it was NOT in good shape even then and didn't sell for another four and a half years! 

But as I sat there in my house in Oregon, holding the John Doe folder, packing up to move to a new place, I marveled over how stories evolve from that first nugget of an idea into a complete book. I thought, "Wouldn't it be fun to do a series on Go Teen Writers where I write a story from scratch? And the teens could play along and write one of their stories from scratch. We could practice Story Evolution together and write a whole bunch of new books!"

That sounded pretty sweet to me.

So, starting next week, I'm going to take you through my process. I realize that not everything I do will appeal to you as we all have our own ways to doing things--and that is good. But I want to encourage those of you who can to play along with me. And at the end of the summer, we'll host a BIG contest here on Go Teen Writers that you can all enter. More on that later. For now, plan to sign up to write books with me right here on the blog. Next week I will announce which book I'm going to write with you. I can't wait!

Who's with me?










67 comments:

  1. This sounds AWESOME!!! A February challenge and now a book-writing challenge? I am SO in! And I've had an idea sitting around for ages that I just can't wait to get started on!

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    1. That will be perfect, Linea! Let's put that idea to good use!

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  2. First off . . . I love the Blood of Kings trilogy. But the initial idea? The sci-fi one? I totally would've read that one too.
    Second off . . . this contest thing. Just for clarification: you can enter whether or not you've participated in the challenges, right? Because I'm not sure if I'm joining the challenge or not (since my current focus is finishing things, not starting new ones) and yeah. Thanks!
    (And finally . . . is it bad that I just now realized that the background of BDH is the half-living, half-dead tree?)

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    1. I liked that idea too, Sarah. I liked the world. But I was too afraid back then to try a science fiction world like that.

      As to the contest, I'm not sure. We're still working out the details. We will know by next week when I announce how it will work. It's important that if you're in a finishing stage to keep going! Don't let us derail you. We never want to do that to anyone.

      About BDH, not at all! I was worried I'd talked about it too much, so I'm glad to know you didn't know. ;-)

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  3. I would love to participate in the challenge with you! I really need to get to work and actually finish one of my ideas...this will be great!
    And I love worldbuilding, too. :)

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  4. Wow, I loved the story of your story's evolution! That's absolutely amazing. :D
    I am definitely in with you for writing a book! I've got four book ideas I want to complete in the next year-ish, so this would definitely help me. Thank you so much!

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    1. Awesome, Megan. Be thinking about which one you want to tackle most, because it's time!

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  5. A story contest? Sounds fun!! I'm in to try - I don't know if I'll get anything finished, because I am SUPER busy with school right now, but I'll try. It will be fun to write along with other writers!!

    P.S. I really loved that dream. I get ideas in dreams too :)

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    1. Awesome, Rosie. I totally understand about school. I'm still on other deadlines, so they'll have to take priority over this one for me too. And I so love dream ideas. I wish I had more of them.

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    2. Haha, yes! Okay then - I still will try to participate, I'm just not sure I'll finish anything in time for the contest :)

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  6. Ooh, this sounds great! I would love to do it! : )

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  7. Oooh, this post is just what I needed this morning! Having recently finished a few stories, I was kind of at a loss as to what to do with my writing life, so this gave me some much needed motivation to take a closer look at some of the random plot bunnies that are kicking around in my head and potentially make something out of them. So, thank you! This post has very much inspired me. :)

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    1. Awesome, Rebecca. Capture those bunnies and we shall tame them!

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  8. Oh! This sounds like a lot of fun! And the best part is, is that I'm pretty much doing something like this. :)

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  9. Count me in!! I would love to help.

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  10. Count me in! I love all these events that GTW is doing. so much fun!

    Oh, and you should do posts like these more often, where someone explains how they got ideas for their book. they're so fun to read!

    ~K.A.C.

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    1. Yay! We love it when you guys are having fun! And good, idea about the idea posts, Katie. I'll pass that along to Steph and Shannon.

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  11. You can count me in, this sounds like so much fun!
    By the way, I love that your inspiration for the Blood of Kings trilogy came from a dream (and a very cool dream at that!).

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    1. Hooray! I'm so glad you're going to join in, Savannah! And, about the dream, I know. I sometimes wish those kinds of dreams would go on a little loner!

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    2. Those dreams would go longer if it weren't for that evil alarm.

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  12. I'm just past my teen years, but can I participate anyway? Writing has been on hold for about 2 years since I'm in college, but I really miss it!

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    1. Anyone can participate, Elizabeth. I'm not sure about the age cap for entering the contest, though. We'll have that figured out by my post next Wednesday.

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  13. I'd love to join as well! Can I participate with a story I'm already working on? I'm currently writing the climax/conclusion of my story, then moving into editing.

    Also, I love how you were inspired by a dream! My own story was inspired by daydreaming on a ferry from an island to shore . . . A very wistful afternoon, haha.

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    1. You can participate with any story you like. As far as the contest goes, we are still working out the details. We'll announce the rules next Wednesday.

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  14. I AM DOWN WITH THIS. Well, I'm in the midst of revising for an agent, so I have no clue if I'll be able to write WITH you. But it may be a good time to take all my random notes for the sequel and create a draft while I finish up my R&R. Can't wait!~

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    1. An agent? That's awesome!! Good luck with your R&R!

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    2. :) Thanks! I'm kinda terrified of her response. Just slaving away at the massive thing, trying to keep track of the so many, many subplots. Excel has become my best friend, haha! You working on anything at the moment?

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    3. Wow, an agent? That's so cool! Here's wishing you luck :).

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    4. @BookBelle: Not anything as exciting as stuff for an agent, but I am querying a finished novel and brainstorming a new one (which I'm sure I'll be doing for the challenge). And Excel is awesome for organizing. I love using it as a querying spreadsheet to organize agents.

      Again, good luck! I hope you'll be able to join in on the challenge.

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    5. @Linea Marshall querying! Tbh, I hated the whole process, but yes, I had a querying spreadsheet, too! I'm actually looking for a critique partner and I totally love the vibes I'm getting here. If you're interested, email me at nikhi96@gmail.com. I'm revising a YA fantasy. What genre are you querying for?

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    6. Cool! I'd love it if we could work something out. The novel I'm querying, Illusion, is YA contemporary fantasy.

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    7. Great! Maybe we should continue the conversation through email? Mine is nikhi96@gmail.com... Can't wait to speak with you!

      Oh, and if anyone else would like to be my critique partner (I write YA fantasy,), feel free to email me.

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    8. Sure! I'll be emailing you.

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    9. Sounds good to me, BookBelle! All my best on your agent revision!

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  15. I have a story which has evolved a lot. At first it was this cliche quest for some magical book (it turned out terribly). Then I thought "Hey, how about a cursed library?". It was at first in the same fantasy setting as the original story, but then I decided on a futuristic setting. I changed my mind and decided on both--MC gets sucked into a futuristic setting via cursed book. The world she gets stuck in is sort of like Coruscant from Star Wars, but it's powered by magic and stuff... yeah... :P

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    1. I SO understand this, Jessica. It happens to my stories all the time!

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  16. I love seeing how stories grow and change. :)

    I'm not sure if I'll be joining or not--it's an insane season of life for me right now. But I'm thinking that starting a new writing project--just starting fresh--might be the thing to get me out of this writing slump, so we'll see. :)

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    1. Sorry you're in a slump, Amanda. Sometimes a new project really helps me.

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  17. This is perfect!!! I love love love this idea! I have an idea for a story but I don't know how to evolve it. I cannot wait for this!!!

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  18. My goodness, this sounds so much fun! I will definitely participate. I have a document of story ideas ready to be written, so I am well-prepared.

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  19. Why would I not be with you, Jill? Writing's what I do!

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  20. This sounds awesome!! I'm definitely in. In fact, I just had a (hopefully) exciting idea last week, and I've been itching to write it. Couldn't have picked a better time :)

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  21. I love how the mishmash of ideas can make something really great (which your books are by the way :) I LOVE Replication. How'd you get the idea for that one?

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    1. True, Emma, and thank you! Here is a video I made about how I got the idea for Replication. It's actually a pitch video, so only the first part tells the idea. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLZRHE2e0P8

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  22. Sounds like a great idea! I'm in! I'm a new reader here on this site (I found it purely by chance not long ago) and already these posts have helped me so much. I'm so grateful to everyone here on GTW. You're advice has been invaluable to me these past few weeks. I haven't felt this excited about working on my novel in a long time, so this is truly wonderful. Thank you!

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    1. We are so glad you found us, Arushi! Welcome, welcome!

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  23. I'm with you Jill! Hooray for dragons!!!!

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    1. Dragons are cool. Super cool. Unless one is trying to eat you.

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  24. I love the idea of all of us writing novels together! :) I'm at the very beginning of writing the second draft of my novel though, so I don't think I'll be diving into an entirely new book at the moment. Would the challenge include editing the drafts at all? I think I'll create my own goals that could be equivalent to what everyone here is doing--they'll just be for draft 2. :) I am also curious if it is necessary to participate in the challenge in order to join the contest at the end (I saw a few others have asked that too, so I understand if the details aren't worked out yet!).

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    1. I say creating your own goals is really smart, Rachael. Do it. As far as the contest goes, I'm still not 100%, but we'll have it all figured out by next Wednesday.

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  25. Yes, sign me up please!! I'm so into this idea of everyone preparing to write a book at the same time from the beginning!!!

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    1. Me too! It's going to be awesome! Glad you'll be joining us. :-)

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  26. This sounds fun. I will definitely do it.

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  27. I can't wait for this. Writing alongside other people really motivates me. I am just starting a project, so this is perfect timing. And I love thinking that so many of us will be creating new stories together. I am really excited to see how this goes!

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    1. Me too, Cait! I think it will be fun to see everyone working through the process at once.

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  28. I would really love to participate as long as I can without it getting in the way of finishing the book I'm currently working on (it's been a 10 year process, but I'm finally dishing out the second draft!). Just to clarify, are we all going to start a new project each, but by following the same methods - or are we going to be working on the same story together? :)

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  29. I actually just finished the rough draft of my novel, which took me a little over a month. Now I'm going to make a binder like this now that I've got my thoughts on paper, and I think it will help me a lot in editing. Especially with WeWriteBooks.

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