Preparing Sword of the Traitor, Day One

I’m getting very close now to starting work on the first of the Crusader series, Sword of the Traitor, and everything is at last beginning to fall into place. Over the last three weeks, I’ve shaped the plot into position, and though there are still a few bits I need to work out, I’m getting happy with the structure. Today I took the critical step of hacking a lot of pieces - including no less than three major characters - out of the story, and that seems to have finally done the trick.

What I intend to do with this book is something I have wanted to do for some time, and that is to chronicle the actually writing process on this blog - with daily (yes, I know) updates as I am in the final stages of preparation, and weekly updates afterward until the actual launch of the book, which is tentatively scheduled for sometime in late September. What I currently have in mind is to release it about a week after the next Alamo novel, with a pre-order up a couple of weeks in advance of the launch for once (which means I’m going to need to have all of my ducks in a row in good time.) The next book in the series, hopefully, will be ready to go for an end-October release.

I’ve broken down the final few days of pre-writing preparation into a series of tasks; this is a little more involved than the run-up to writing a new Alamo book for the simple reason that this is the start of a new series. It actually isn’t that much compared to some. I tend to be a pantser rather than a plotter, with fewer notes than is generally the case for most. I’ll say at this point that what works for me might not work for anyone else, and that people need to find their own path. Nevertheless, there is one thing that I believe pretty much anyone should have as a bare minimum before writing a book, and that is a list of names.

This, of course, requires at least some level of knowledge of the plot of your book. Even the most dedicated to the free-form writing style have some basic idea what they are writing before they launch, and that boils down to a list of roles, of greater or lesser importance. For this book, that boils down to about twenty - characters that have sufficient relevance to the plot as it stands now, important enough for me to have defined their characters at some basic level. If this was an Alamo book, I’d probably go to my US Census random name generator at this point, leavening it with some randomly generated Russian names, but that won’t work this time.

What I did instead was go to the Medieval Names Archive. This is a fantastic site, with pages and pages on names from different cultures, not just lists, but the meanings of the names as well, which is always excellent if you seek to work in a little bit of interesting subtext, a subtle hint for the reader, or even just a cue for yourself while you write. Naturally, the names need to sound good, sound realistic, and work on the printed page - which often rules quite a few names out as being a real handful. This took me most of the day, going through the lists, throwing away ones I didn’t want, keeping ones I did, until I finally worked out what I wanted. Along the way I worked out a few other details as well, filling in some gaps - working out the birthplace of a few characters, setting myself up for some real fun tomorrow…

Then, the next step was to go back to the site, and come up with a few lists of names. No detail required here, just lists. This is something I picked up from my role-playing days, running campaigns, and it still works extremely well now. Rather than have to break off every time I add a minor character, spend half-an-hour looking up a new name, it’s a lot more sensible to write down a few dozen names that I already like, male and female, from different backgrounds, and just drop them in where needed with a quick note on the printout where I have used them. This can be anything from ‘that guard in the corner who a character is ordering to investigate the noise on the roof’ to ‘new major character who suddenly is vital to the plot, who I decide I need while writing Chapter Two’. In any event, this is a big time-saver, and some of the names I came up with...let’s just say that the meanings suggest characters that I want to include. Zulaikha al-Sirr, for example...the Lady of Secrets. How can she not make an appearance!

Well, that’s the names taken care of, at least for the moment; when it comes to Book 2 I’ll be having to make additions and deletions of dead characters. (To note - three of the named characters I’ve done are already dead.) Probably quite a few additions; the next three books in this series have started to click into place in my head, and I’m getting a sense of where this is going in the longer term.

The next step comes tomorrow, when I do something that is going to harken back even more to my role-playing days, drawing maps! At the very least, I need to draw out the castle - yes, there has to be a castle - and the surrounding area, and while this is going to be an awful lot of fun, it’s going to be quite time-consuming! (And if I can get my scanner working, you’ll even get to have a look at what passes for my notes as well...I have a new pad of graph paper and everything!)

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