Part Six: Inspiration

Hello family, friends, and fans!

Inspiration can be a tricky thing. It is, in my experience, rarely a complete sentence or complete thought. It is parts, fragments, and building blocks of something larger that require time and effort to piece it together. Inspiration is not a blanket gifted on a cold night; it is a thousand strings you must weave into something of substance. That’s why the work is so important. That said… how do you recognize inspiration, or better yet, what do you do with it once you have it?

I make a scene independent of time or place in the story. That becomes the kitchen, so to speak, to try out several recipes to utilize this spark of inspiration. In the kitchen, you need to know who you are cooking for. Is this inspiration a phrase, a feeling, a device? Is there an emotion tied to it? Is there something larger that connects it?

There was a phrase that followed me when writing the first draft, a phrase never said by a character in A Promise of Iron.

“Burn. Burn. Burn.”

These words are simple and uninspired to the unfamiliar eye. To me, and my character, they are broad in implications. These words are cold, detached, inhuman. They also evoke pain and more than a little psychosis. When it became clear to me who this phrase belonged to, it helped to shape the motivations and narrative of that character. I found purpose behind actions, behind words. I found truths and realism in behavior. I found background and context to justify those actions. Inspiration did not come fully formed, but it was a spark that led to a flame that led to a fire.

I tried to find a place for those words, some scene that could support them and pay homage to the gods of inspiration. But I couldn’t; it just never worked; the implications were always far more important than the words.

Inspiration can be three words, or one word said three times. Inspiration can be the words or the hidden depth behind those words. It can be the feeling or the motivations that lead to a feeling. It can be a war, a sword, a spell, or the thousands of layers of mythology and worldbuilding that you build like a shrine to display them. Inspiration takes on many forms, especially when it inspires you to work at that problem. Go into the kitchen. Bang some pots and pans around. Sometimes what you cook tastes terrible, but sometimes you come up with something exceptional. Bad ideas aren’t bad if they lead to good ideas. 

Thanks for reading.

Salt and Ruin,

-Brandon

Part Seven: Cultures

Hello family, friends, and fans!

Crafting a fictional world takes time, not only in the writing of but the reading of. You can’t come right out and say culture A is blah blah blah. Subtlety rewards the careful reader… those rewards lead to an expectation, a familiarity that fosters a prediction of action, behavior, and voice. When your reader can anticipate the actions and motivations of distinct groups of people, you as a writer have successfully cemented the first stones of cultural worldbuilding. But it is a tricky thing to balance between predictability and familiarity.

In A Promise of Iron, you will find that cultures encompass religion, dogma, sexuality, and ethnicity, a common theme in our history until the onset of national identity. This division, borrowing from history, has been at the center of conflict through much of our past. There are three distinct cultures explored in A Promise of Iron, four if you count Roharan, which I do not. Seveli, Cyllian, Rukish are the main points of interest, the main points of contention, and the main background for the forces at work within the story. 

I wrote this story with an aim for realism. In that effort, I may have labored far too much on the motivations, then that much more on hiding those motivations within the pages. Writing first-person arguably makes that task easier. I can use the ignorance of my characters as a way to hide information just as much as I use it to discover. You will need to read the book to get the finer points (no spoilers here), but I will pose a few questions as you read. Why are these cultures different? What makes them so distinct? What events lead to those distinctions? What common themes run through all cultures of men?

Thanks for reading.

Salt and Ruin,

-Brandon

Part Eight: Breadcrumbing

Worldbuilding takes time, which is tricky. Your readers need to know enough about the world without the story getting bogged down into exposition (which I struggled with in my early drafts). Showing, not telling is the common theme… but that is a direction… to what many refer to as breadcrumbing. How do you leave enough bread crumbs to get your reader through the forest without spending all morning baking bread?

I learned a couple of valuable lessons from some helpful and talented people: mystery is good, and details are not the story; they move the story. These seem obvious, but when writing your first real work, they can be easily overlooked. In the beginning, I had such an obsession with detail that I had pages devoted to the most unimportant tasks that even I found myself skimming over it. I wanted to make sure my readers got it, that they understood the intent, that they were so well versed in the lore that we could have a spirited debate over the finer points of Rukish to Cyllian exchange rates and their impact on the regional economy.

Around version three, I set to tackle word count in earnest. My earliest draft was an obese 175k word manuscript with more than one full chapter devoted to little more than details and noise. Some candidates for removal were apparent, some less obvious. At the time of writing version three, I was also taking a creative writing class. The class focused on short stories to refine your style and approach to storytelling. I wrote a story that featured God and Satan debating the end of mankind over coffee at a Starbucks; only we never came out and said who they were. My instructor gave some valuable feedback that has stuck with me ever since. In leaving breadcrumbs on who these mysterious characters were… I had left a loaf of bread. He said to me (and I am paraphrasing here), “If they (readers) haven’t figured it out by now, they aren’t going to.”

His comment, directed at my detailed word vomit, was at its core, about trust. You need to trust your readers with the story. You will have readers that delve into the details, that obsess over the lore, that send emails wanting clarification on plot points that may not be congruent to the story as a whole. You will also have casual readers that read your book and say nothing other than (hopefully) “you should check out this book.” One is not greater than the other, and you can’t write a book for one in exclusion of the other. You need to write something that can appeal to both.

Like many things in life, breadcrumbing is about balance. Leave a handful of breadcrumbs for your more casual fans to snack on, hide another handful well enough to reward your more devoted readers, and keep that third handful to yourself- because the mystery is what keeps us coming back for more.

Thanks for reading.

Salt and Ruin,

-Brandon