I’ve said before that one of the really great things about being an author is meeting other authors. Recently I met Dan Potter (no relation to Harry, I assume) who’s book cover (Off Leash) instantly caught my eye. Then I read the blurb:
Thomas Khatt had his life planned out. Not that it was all going according to plan. Unemployed, mostly broke, and living part-time with a absentee girlfriend, he thought his luck was bound to change soon. But after witnessing a terrible accident, Thomas experiences a very different kind of change, waking up with a tail, tawny fur and a disturbing urge to lick every mote of dust off his four feet! As if that wasn’t enough, magi are tripping all over themselves to auction him off to some pimply-faced apprentice as a familiar.
Armed only with sharp teeth and a sharper tongue, Thomas faces off against a lightning throwing granny, a sexy union recruiter and linoleum flooring as he desperately tries to hold the threads of his old life together. To stay off the leash, he’ll have to take advantage of the chaos caused by the local Archmagus’ death and help the Inquisition solve his murder. A pyromaniac squirrel, religious werewolves, and cat-hating cops all add to the pandemonium as Thomas attempts to become the first Freelance Familiar.
After that we started talking and I found out he’s also a pretty cool guy. As such, I’ve invited him to talk about writing. More specifically to talk about the his two writing weasels. I think there is sage wisdom in his words.
Deciding The Proper Use of Your Two Weasels
My second book has been sent to the editor. After a celebratory bout of buying myself a videogame and playing it till too-late-o’clock, I am confronted with something I haven’t dealt with for awhile: a blank page. I’m an indie and I know what I should be doing. I need to write the next book in the Freelance Familiar series. I’ve done a bit of research on Las Vegas, the setting of this book, and I already have a title for it: Snake Eyes.
I have plenty of elements and ideas that could be used in the story, but I don’t actually have a clear idea of the story yet. I have yet to make those decisions.
So I am staring at my metaphorical weasel hut where Bullet Point and Pantser are sleeping and trying to decide which one to wake up.
Pantser is the easy-going one of the pair. If I wake him up we could start immediately. Setting off with my characters, we would walk in the general direction of the ending and merrily wander to our destination while all my characters cling to his ears and whisper directions. The trouble is that Pantser likes to drink and loves the take nips of bad-idea whiskey when I’m not looking. Once he’s soused its wrong-plot-turn city and we end up having to backtrack our way out of dead ends. Even if we stay on track, Pantser loves procrastinating decisions by spending time frolicking in fields of purple navel-gazings and hunting expository mice. In short, relying on Pantser is a recipe for the book taking a long time to write.
Bullet Point is much more on task than his brother, but won’t go anywhere without a map. So we will have to spend a week or two or maybe an entire month making decisions about how to get to the end. Every character will be given their arcs and told to get in formation. After all that planning, we set off on a writing journey that should be a direct jaunt through the narrative landscape. Then slowly things start to go horribly wrong. Bullet Point is blind and deaf once his path has been set, so he can’t hear the wailings of a character that decides she doesn’t want to follow the map. Or he’ll blunder straight into narrative obstacles that I missed from my authorial tower. Only after all the characters are screaming bloody murder and weeping over their broken character arcs will I hear them from my perch and call Bullet Point back. Then we’ll spend another week making a new plan.
Off Leash, my first book was entirely Pantser’s work. It took me about two years to write the first draft, but the work was very intermittent. Rewrites required nearly two complete drafts and I changed the last third of the book entirely after the beta readers told me the ending needed work. I chucked probably 90-100K words into the trash. Not exactly an efficient writing exercise.
Marking Territory, which was Bullet Point’s debut, by contrast took me eight and a half months of nearly constant work to finish the first draft, with approximately 60K words being tossed out. Shorter than Off Leash to be sure, but man was it a constant slog to grind through Bullet Point’s map. He’d constantly get stuck and we’d have to spend weeks trying to figure out where we got it wrong. Finally, unable to move forward with outlines, I dragged in Pantser to finish the last 20k words and get us all to ending.
Now that I’ve given both weasels a bath and pruned the manuscript, I can say that Marking Territory came out pretty dang good. It’s got a squirrel-piloted mecha, black magic sword, a were-moof, shape changing witches, and it’s all Thomas’ fault. The process of molding it, however, is a story similar to that of a six-week family vacation in a van that burns oil and leaks coolant.
Unlike cars, each Weasel should get better with use. Still, I’m left with the question of which one to poke with this here stick so we can dig into Thomas’ next adventure.