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  • Writer's pictureLiz Zimmers

Conjuring the Dark: On the Magical Work of Writing Fantasy & Fairy Tale

Candle, journal, crystals, writer's map

It's spellwork. It's a circle of salt and candles. It's chanting to the Muse until she visits. No. It is none of these things, but it can feel as mysterious and fraught with uncertainty. I can only speak of how I do this weird stuff - this writing and world-building. I am an adventurer in the land of story, often bush-whacking my way through trackless terrain. I do not have smart, academic answers as to the How-To of it. Here is where I start:

1. I hear a character speaking: a confession, a question, or maybe a snatch of conversation. I pay attention when this happens, close attention. I think about the voice, the diction, the age/gender/occupation of the speaker. I build a profile in my mind (alas, I rarely write these things down; do we write down descriptions of our friends or the people we meet?). I hold this character close and await further communication.

2. I see a setting: a house, a room, a forest, a city. It is almost never a real place that I can point to on a map. Invariably, it will be Somewhere in the limitless atlas of imagination. These places do not reveal themselves in toto. I have to wander about them, finding their boundaries and stumbling upon the hidden corners where Things Happen. In my mind, I lay down a map. Now I may jot down notes, and if I had the skill I would draw that map and tack it to my wall.

3. I listen, I peer about. I inhabit the place wearing the skin of the character, and I ponder it.

At this point, I may have some semblance of plot, but probably not. I begin to write what I see and hear. As the words mark the page, they take on the aspect of roots. From the roots, a story slowly grows, like a sapling striving toward the sun. For a while, I let it grow wild. At some point I will have to make decisions ... I will have to prune and train it into a form. That is where the story really begins to flourish. It goes without saying, I am not an outliner, though I admire it and have attempted it. It simply does not work for me.

All of this is great fun, and it is great travail, too. I know, upon beginning a new project, that I will work hard and risk it all coming to nothing. But if the thing lives, oh, how sweet the reward of sending it off to readers! Contemplating the hard road ahead when I first begin, I often feel a mixture of excitement and reluctance. That is where I am now, today.

I've carved out some time to work on an ambitious dual-project, a new book and a third story collection. I am trying to learn and apply good business practices at the same time, for writing is a business as much as it is a creative endeavor. Hmmm ... I've not been very good at that part of things up to now. Not good about it at all. I shall try to do better. I'll let you know how my efforts go along and what, if anything, I learn.

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