Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBTQ+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Tag: Stirrings

“Write What You Know”

This writing “rule” is a real bitch. It’s the one which gave me more worries and stress than anything else.

I came across this bit of writing advice in the early 90’s, before getting a home computer. It was in a writing-advice book, and it wasn’t qualified. What I mean is, the writer of the book didn’t explain what it could mean—because there are different interpretations which can be made from this statement—they only put in “write what you know.”

And I thought, “I write fantasy and science fiction. I can’t know most of what I put in my books.”

Most of the time, I did my best to ignore this bit of advice, but it always came back. When it did, it invariably interrupted my writing. It brought to me the first real doubt I had in my writing. It was hell.

Over the years, and particularly once I found Forward Motion for Writers, I came across various other interpretations of “Write what you know.” I’ve discovered there are probably as many interpretations of “write what you know” as there are writers, but my favorite interpretation is to write what I know on an emotional level.

This affects my writing. On the stories I really care about, I develop complicated relationships for the characters. I delve into their psyche. Not to say other writers don’t, simply that I do it to a depth I don’t see (or recognize often) in others’ writing. It’s part of the reason why Mercedes Lackey’s The Last Herald-Mage trilogy is still my absolute favorite of all time. In all three of those books, the MC is affected by his circumstances and relationships with other people much more deeply than her other characters seem to be to me.

And I go deeper than that. Nearly all of my characters have some sort of dramatic emotional or psychological upset over the course of their stories. I’m writing what I know in these books, and I know deep, disturbing emotional/psychological turmoil. It’s kind of difficult not to when you’re mentally ill. No matter my determination to remain calm and confident and patient, my mental illness doesn’t permit me that ability. I experience deep despairs over the most shallow things. There are times when the least provocation causes me to fly into a rage. Sometimes I weep for no apparent reason and it takes me days to identify what the trigger was. And, always, always, when I feel something, whether it be positive or negative, I feel it deeply.

I try to put that depth into my characters’ lives and emotions. It’s the best I can do to make the story as good as it can possibly be. To me, if my characters aren’t deeply emotionally affected by the events in their lives, I haven’t written the story well enough.

So my characters aren’t all going to be emotionally stable. Kaj in Fairy-Touched isn’t. Not all my characters are going to come from happy home lives. Gildas, in my July Novel Writing Month WIP this year, Where There’s Always Sunlight doesn’t. And even my most even-keeled character, Doéna from Stirrings, has a breakdown due to the stress of his situation.

“Write what you know” still hits me the wrong way sometimes, but by keeping in mind the knowledge I have which fascinates me when I put it into stories, I’m able to avoid the depression this advice gives me.

Writing Ramble

I think Real Life has finally caught up with me. I haven’t written consistently since the fifteenth of this month. As writing downswings go, this hasn’t been at all severe, which is good. It’s just taken my muse, but not so much I haven’t been able to work on any of my writing at all.

In the past two weeks, I’ve actually gotten a lot of writing-focused things done. Things which needed doing. For far too long I’d put off dealing with officially completing the first two books of my TPOM trilogy. Both had been languishing for months with missing scenes. I also needed to go through the second one to make sure I kept up with all the plot threads and had no discrepancies in characterization or worldbuilding. The latter was rather important, as I started writing on Chraest with these two books, flowing right into the second from the first in a single file because I didn’t originally see where I could cut the first book and start the second. I hadn’t built a Fantasy world from scratch in about three years, and I needed to make sure that with all the changes I’d made to the worldbuilding recently I’d kept up with things in the edits.

Since starting TPOM1 in on 21 Dec 2012, I’ve done several things with the worldbuilding. I’ve started collecting lists of spells for the Mages to perform. I’ve established some facts regarding Mage training in books like TPOM2 and a prequel novelette. Another thing I’ve done is established Chraest is not a world humanity evolved on and created a calendar and timekeeping system to reflect that fact. Since determining humans are “new” to the planet, I’ve figured out there’s a native intelligence, determined some of the humans’ history on the world, and begun building a conlang purely for fun and entertainment.

I do know the humans of Chraest, at least those on the continent where I’m writing these stories, are completely aware they’re not native to the planet, and that they’re followers of Gods who led them from the planet’s other continent where they were enslaved by the native intelligence. Part of the background is that the leader of the Gods helped free a number of humans who wanted freedom and led them back to the site where their ancestors’ ship crashed to collect knowledge and other things from the ship. They then, as per their agreement with the majority of the native race, built ships and sailed away (assured there was another continent by information on the ship) to settle where they knew they would be safe. Part of the agreement with the native intelligent race is that they won’t follow the departed as long as the Gods don’t lead anybody back over to free the humans who remained on the first continent. The native intelligence is not technologically advanced, never invented even sailing ships, and has no other way to cross the ocean. They were actually rather happy to get rid of the troublesome Gods and be relieved of the uppity humans who had enough memory of humans’ history to foment the remainder into rebellion for freedom. I may write this story in some detail at some future point, but it right now is far back on the list of stories I have planned.

I’ve decided to treat Chraest as a Fantasy world with some hints of Science Fiction for the present. This is not the first time such a thing has been done by a writer. Some many years ago, I collected the Darkover books by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and those are described as Fantasy with hints of Science Fiction, or Science Fiction with some hints of Fantasy. For now, the main hints of SF on Chraest will be the calendar, timekeeping, and mentions of the fact the humans aren’t native to the planet. I don’t intend to bring spacefaring humans in for a while yet, but I do have plans to do so. I need to make a wealth of decisions about it first, and I still have quite a bit of basic worldbuilding to do on Chraest before I’ll be willing to take the time to really focus on the SF aspects.

Now I’ve gotten the edits of Stirrings and the first two books of TPOM done, and have established this much worldbuilding of Chraest, I feel like I’ve accomplished quite a bit. There’s still a lot more for me to do, though. I need to do a lot of research of religious institutions’ organization (particularly that of Catholicism, I’m thinking) and military structure and behavior for one of my started projects. I also need to work out the timeline of my stories and the foundation and building of the Édalain Empire, Lissau’s history, and figure out the essentials of Ghulia’s governmental and societal structures for my 2YN project.

So, as writing downswings go, this has been a very productive and fun one. I may not be writing or doing plot cards regularly, but I’m getting lots of other writing-related stuff done, and I’m having a ball with it all.

Writing Insanity

There are times I think I’m more insane than being bipolar makes me. Like right now.

I have, at this moment, a total of five writing projects pulling me in various directions.


Main project I’m working on is Unwritten Letters. This is the one where I want active wordage on as close to daily as I can make it. Missed yesterday due to a variety of reasons, not the least of which was because I hadn’t been to bed the night before, but have written every previous day since Sunday and will get another scene on it today. I’m outlining two plot cards per one scene written on this project, as is my usual habit with writing now.

I’ve “set aside” Casi/Vel, whose title is now Sense of Balance and looks like it’ll be a trilogy, possibly with both characters’ points of view. I’m debating POV while I consider what I need to research to make this project roll. Usually I balk at heavy research; what I can’t take care of on an “as needed” basis usually scares me off of a project, but I’ve known for a long time that all I needed was to conceive a project whose characters grabbed me by the creative-mind’s throat and held on. SoB is that project. So, as soon as the snow starts melting and I’m done with cancer treatments (which may happen at about the same time depending on what radiation research study arm I end up in), I’ll be heading up to the public library to start my research. Can’t go ’cause of snow and ice on sidewalks right now, and taking the bus is a waste of money when I can walk there (and need the transit money for trips to cancer treatments and other appointments). So this story is “set aside” but very much on my mind, and I intend to make a list of plot points over the duration I’ll be waiting until I can start the research.

Third project is going to go a bit slower. This is the first book of Autocrat’s Rise. I’m writing this according to to the steps in the Two Year Novel Course written by Lazette Gifford. She’s teaching it now on Forward Motion For Writers, and since I have to basically build Ghulia from the ground up, I decided to join the class. This will be a slow process: one class a week, so I should be able to keep up with it (provided I don’t have any more major unplanned events like last year, which caused me to drop out of it). I’m not too worried about moving fast on this project, so using the 2YN course should do me fine by it.

I’ve picked up on TPOM3 again, too. Been getting about two plot cards a day on it, and that’s been my goal for five days this week. I need to organize the cards I have, so I know what all I need to get done. For this, I’ll probably finish the outline before I pick up on active wordage for it, then I’ll have to go through and add in all the (few) unwritten scenes in the first two books before I can call the whole trilogy complete. Then I’ll have to go through and correct age/time/date references since I finally completed the Calendar and age conversion tables (which I may write more on later). Once I get done with this, I’ll start work on A Life of Note, which follows the same MCs into different situations.

For my final project, I’ll be spending the next week or so going through Stirrings. I spent all day yesterday reading it to get an idea what I need to do to fix it, and Jennifer Amriss read through it for me and told me what I needed to know in order to do a full edit run on it (verdict was I didn’t make any character completely unlikeable and I don’t need to do too much work to emphasize certain plot points). Basically, the major issue is correcting all the age/time/date references and picking out typos and other minor things like making sure everything makes sense (came across a sentence earlier which I needed to correct). This shouldn’t take much time, though, so I should be officially DONE with it within a few weeks at most.

And these are all in addition to things like reworking the Timeline for the stories/world and Real Life Things and finding time to read and work on other crafts (namely, crocheting). I want to get UL and TPOM done before this fall, when I plan on going to college. I’d like to have ALON and AR outlined by November and be at least starting on the outline for the first book of SoB by then, too. I’m trying to learn to treat my writing professionally now, so when I’m able to start publishing, I have a backlog of outlines and story ideas to do background work on as well as write.

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