Monday, October 31, 2016

Writing "Hunters of the Dead"

"Hunters of the Dead" took a long road getting to where it is now, and to be honest it didn't have a glamorous beginning. A year or two out of college I was going to play a homebrew RPG with some friends; an RPG of the tabletop variety. I needed a character.

Jan was created out of leftover gameplay ideas for a different character who was originally created for a piece of fiction. But where that other character was a wizard, Jan was less into the magic and more into the gritty aspect of fighting undead with sword and shuriken. What passed between the other character to Jan was the use of shuriken as a weapon and a lot of necromancy spells (because this was a game and I needed something to do with my turns).

In the week or two downtime between character creation and the game getting started, I wrote a short story called "Hunter of Dead." It wasn't very good, but it my first outing with Jan, so I could get a feel for his personality.

I ended up doing four revisions to that story before leaving it to rest, and it was rejected many, many times.

I think a part of me knew that it wasn't very good, but true to Heinlein's rules, I intended to keep it out on the market until it sold.

Then I won Writers of the Future. It was my first pro sale, and suddenly I had friends and mentors in the writing community that I hadn't before. I couldn't put out crap. What would people think of me?

So I let all my submissions lapse and used a spreadsheet to tag which stories I wanted to take another look at, in case they were worthy of going out again, and which I would in all likelihood trunk for eternity.

While I'd tagged "Hunter of Dead" for a second look, I looked at it again sooner than expected since I was tipped off about a horror anthology and "Hunter of Dead" was the only thing I had that was remotely suitable. I printed out a copy to revise, thinking it would be quick work.

It wasn't.

As I revised I realized how much was wrong with the story, and it wasn't that the character or the concept of his world was bad. It was that there wasn't any plot. It was just a day in his life, and I realized I needed to show the reader why this day was important.

Out went the extended flashback. Out went the original ending. I threw out about half the story, and wrote in its place at least another 75%, which meant that less than 25% of "Hunters of the Dead" came from the original story.

This version benefited from not having been touched in years. I had written other stories set in the world, so there was more backstory to the history of the borderlands, and I knew more about Jan himself since I'd been planning a prequel story at one point.

I thought the story wasn't perfect, but still the best I could do, so I sent it off to a few more places that opened in the interim between when I retired it and when I did the revision. It still got kicked back, but tended to make second rounds. At the time though, it was the best I could do, so I wasn't expecting to go back and do yet another round revisions.

Time passed, and finally I got a rewrite request from Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores to improve the pacing. By this time I had several professional sales under my belt, and Jan has been with me for fifteen years (no one ever said that it was fast becoming a professional writer). He's been my player character in two different pen and paper RPGs, my ranger in Bioware's Neverwinter Nights, my Hawke in Dragon Age II, and more recently my avatar in Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright.

I know Jan, and I still believed in his story. I took a hard look at my last revision and cut it down from 9000 to 7000 words, making it tighter, stronger. I was a better writer now. I knew I could do this.

Now Jan's story is finally out there, and it can be viewed by CR&ES subscribers here as a September 22, 2016 release.

Music listened to while editing: It's been so long I don't remember what I originally wrote it to, though I'll admit there was a period in my life where every other song I heard of the radio could make me think of Jan. LeAnn Rimes's "Life Goes On" was my go to song while RPing (I'm not sure why since I can't listen to it and see Jan anymore), but while doing the latest editing I was stuck on the English cover of "Renegade" performed by Aruvn with lyrics by Jefferz.