Insider 4/12/2010 - Doug Seacat

My name is Doug Seacat and I do some writing for Privateer Press. Reading about how someone writes is probably not very exciting, but I’ll give it a go. I’d hardly be true to myself if I turned in something abridged. I promise to go over word count on every blog.

The first thing I wanted to mention is that almost everything we print is a collaborative effort. Every piece of prose or background text that winds up in a book goes through an exhaustive revision and review cycle. It sometimes seems like this process is geared to make me revile whatever I’m writing by the time we’re done, but it’s necessary. Revision is absolutely essential, and the more you can do in a given time frame, the better. Deadlines eventually put an end to that foolishness, which is a good thing or likely I’d still be revising material I wrote years ago.

A writer has to have a thick skin, or at least pretend he has a thick skin. I always accept feedback and force myself to digest it. I can cry into my pillow on my own time, but to make the writing better I have to listen. People reading my drafts might not always be right about the best way to fix a problem, but I have learned never to ignore their sincere complaints.

For the fiction I write, I usually work closely with both Matt Wilson and Jason Soles, and when they are satisfied the work goes through our editor, Darla Kennerud (the latest in a dignified chain of editors we have run ragged and driven to insanity). Along the way, I pester just about everyone in earshot, regardless of what they might happen to be doing at the time. Stressed about your project deadlines? Maybe you’d like to discuss how Magnus could get the drop on Caine instead. Have important calls to make? I think you would just as soon help me figure out the logistics of a naval battle between four pirate vessels and the Atramentous! Some people call this “talking in the halls,” but I call it “writing.” Staring at my screen is also writing. As is sitting dejected in my chair with a puzzled look on my face. It’s all about the internal journey. Sometimes it is hard to tell if I am writing or just deciding what to eat for lunch, and in truth these things are related. Particularly when I’m working on a Trollblood story.

Some of my favorite tales have arisen almost spontaneously from exploring the characters we create. The Pirates of the Broken Coast are a good example. Matt Wilson drew a dozen character-filled sketches—we decided a mutiny had brought them together—and the story of their fall to piratical degeneracy almost wrote itself. On other occasions, our stories are part of an intricate long-term plan related to the bigger goings-on in our world. These plans are usually malleable enough to be adapted to the new ideas that crop up to take us in unexpected directions.

Character creation is one of the most important things we do. For major characters, I like to have a sit-down discussion with Matt. During this time, I take notes. As I will demonstrate, these notes serve mainly to keep my hands busy during the meeting; they become incomprehensible gibberish when I look at them later. This is why I have learned to type at about 100 words per minute. After these meetings, I head back to my computer and type a real summary of what we discussed.

Notes on several Retribution warcasters. Some of this makes no sense to me, and I wrote it. Kids, learn to type!

Some of the people we work with are amazing multifaceted talents. Several create award-winning cartography, are accomplished artists, have a knack for photography, have mastered advanced mathematics, or can sculpt. I am not one of those people. By way of example, the following sketch was, believe it or not, vital to figuring out the story in Forces of WARMACHINE: Mercenaries. This sad sketch turned into an exciting story featuring the new Mercenary warcaster, Drake MacBain

When you read the short story in the Mercenaries force book, this will make perfect sense. Seriously!

It’s hard to believe, but the intricate map featured in Five Fingers: Port of Deceit started with similarly incomprehensible sketches I inflicted on cartographer Pierre-Alexandre Xavier. I cannot overstate how much respect I have for people who can actually draw.

Once I have a good grasp on the characters we are featuring, I take the time to hammer out a detailed outline. This is a major step of the process, as detailed preparation is key. Eventually I am confronted with the following. This is the worst part.

It doesn’t matter how much I write or how often I complete another tale: staring at a blank page never gets better. This is when all those vague summaries and things I glossed over in the outline become thorns to dig into my side and bleed away my creative enthusiasm. Fortunately that doesn’t last long. Things get better once I have a few paragraphs down. The main thing I try to remember is that those first difficult sentences don’t have to stay if I don’t like them later. They might exist only to build momentum so I can get on a good roll. I’ve had a number of stories where I’ve thrown out the entire first scene by the time I get through the revisions. Those first sentences still had to be written to get the story underway.

The aggressive release schedule we’ve been doing for Mk II has seen this whole process accelerated. This means facing that blank page more often, but also means it’s easier to remember how easily it can be defeated. We just wrapped up the HORDES: Primal Mk II new fiction, and now we’re on to the Forces of HORDES books. There are some great new characters on the way, and I’m looking forward to exploring them. First in the queue is a certain gluttonous villain spawned from the twisted brain of Chris Walton for the Skorne.