I had the pleasure of meeting Kevin A. Ranson at a Creatures of the Nyght local book club meeting a few weeks ago. In an industry where you meet lots of people who just want to know what YOU can do for THEM, not how you can be there for each other, Kevin was a refreshing change of pace. Definitely a cool guy, and an amazing writer to boot. I’m honored that he agreed to guest post on my blog. If you’re in a writing rut, Kevin’s got the skills to pay the bills…so check out his writing tip.
Without further delay…
Taking the Time to Write the Right Story
When people find out I’m a writer, I’m asked, “How long does it take to complete a novel?”
One book took me over two decades to write: The Matriarch, a vampire novel set in and around my old college town in central West Virginia.
Truth to tell, it wasn’t ready to be written. I was telling the wrong story.
The original main character’s name was Daniel, a young man lucky enough to have the love of a young woman. One evening while left alone, the young woman is attacked by something or someone but doesn’t remember what happened. As Daniel mistakes her transformation for severe illness, he is forced to watch as a person dependent upon him ends up no longer needing him. She becomes a creature of the night and destroys her maker in revenge. In the end, she asks Daniel to join her – forever – but he’s too afraid to trust and accept…and she is lost to him.
It was supposed to be an emotional journey, but it never worked. Fortunately, I knew just enough to know I didn’t know enough to make the story work. I had neither the real-world knowledge nor the writing skill yet. After two complete drafts, I shelved it…forgetting it ever existed for a time.
Life went on.
Twenty years later, I found and skimmed through the manuscripts again, realizing the biggest problem: there was no reason to care anything about Daniel. He wasn’t the protagonist; he was a narrator. He didn’t do anything. It was the young woman’s story, and the first thing I needed to do was to give it to her.
In my own life growing up, I had several matriarchs on both sides of my family, willful and capable women who sought their spouses as partners instead of rescuers. My new protagonist, Janiss, needed these qualities but also the opportunity to develop them. I recreated her as an only child encouraged by her father and groomed by her mother, but I also tempered her with a childhood spent with two neighboring brothers, one of whom was Daniel. Janiss had the capability and the means to become whatever or whoever she wanted to be, but there needed to be a catalyst to spark her vampire hero’s journey.
But what to do with former boyfriend Daniel: her safe bet for a normal, peaceful, and uneventful life? He had to die, of course…and Janiss would be the one to kill him. If he couldn’t be a good example, I was going to make him a dire warning. Yes, I tried to save him – I never intended for him to die – but I couldn’t see how he could survive because of the second story problem.
In the original draft, the transformation had been a cakewalk. The flu? Nah. Vampires, I thought, should be both dangerous and deadly, and that needed to be seen and felt immediately. The antagonist couldn’t make it easy for Janiss and neither could I. Killing the person she meant to spend the rest of her life with (after being murdered herself) was truly the loss of everything. Worse yet, how could she go to anyone for help when she might murder them, too? It made no sense telling a story about bloodthirsty monsters if they could too easily resist their killing nature; only living human blood would do.
Daniel’s death also served a greater purpose. The antagonist set Janiss up to choose evil, gift-wrapping the boy like a Happy Meal in a scheme to destroy who she was. Instead, she chose to cling to his memory, a reminder to keep it under control. Vampires in my world are cursed with a piece of the soul and memories of those they kill through blood drain. Daniel wasn’t just her first victim; he would always be with her. Most would call that a curse, but she embraced it to hold into her humanity.
Finally, there was a local legend, a century-old ghost story about a tragic event I knew about but hadn’t before fully researched. Names, places, and a still-unsolved mystery…every element ripe for fictionalization. The novel then took on a life of its own as well as retained a distinctly Mountain State flavor. I could no longer limit the story to one book! Fully formed characters appeared from nowhere that become integral to the series, all of whom were inspired by people or personalities I have known in my life. It’s more than I could have ever hoped for, and it often continues to surprise me what my characters do next.
If you’ve been sitting on an idea for a book that feels unfinished, don’t fret; maybe you’re right. Your creation may not be ready for birth and you may not be ready to parent it into the world. Work on other things and live a little; revisit your idea from time to time. Inspiration is everywhere and in everything, so look for it all around you.
When you’re ready, it will be waiting.
Kevin A. Ranson is a content creator, horror writer, and film critic.
Heeding a macabre calling listening to “Mother Ghost Nursery Rhymes” in kindergarten, Kevin started writing in grade school and filled countless notebooks with story ideas while touring the Mediterranean in the US Navy. He is the author of The Spooky Chronicles and the vampire thriller series The Matriarch at CedarcrestSanctum.com, creator/critic for MovieCrypt.com and “ghost writer” for horror host Grim D. Reaper. Jedi master of Google-Fu, Bing-Jitsu, and buttered toast.
Author Blog: http://thinkingskull.com