Writing to Discover Truth … and Yourself

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By Ian Acheson

Golly gosh, I’ve struggled writing the sequel to Angelguard. The basic story of Angelguard fell out of me. I was a complete novice (well, I still am really) but the story just kept coming. I’d turn up to the blank page and out it would come.

Nine months later it was done. The first draft. Not to be read by any one, oh, except, Fiona my wife who egged me on and kept giving me new ideas and lots of names for my supernatural beings.

Many years later it was finally published. Even though there had been many, many changes to that first draft the essence of the original story of that first draft remained.

Angelguard was a very plot-driven story with a relatively simple premise focused on how the supernatural interacts with the natural world and the significance of prayer in dealing with the darkness.

Second time around I’ve found to be a completely different experience. Where Angelguard was dealing with the supernatural at the “macro-level” I wanted to move to the micro for the sequel. What role do angels and demons play in the daily life of individuals in, for example, their thought life?

Plotter vs Pantser

As you will have gathered Angelguard was definitely written by the seat of my pants. I started with two words (which actually survived the many re-writes and edits) and a general idea about involving angels and demons in it.

But I figured plotting would help shorten the production process. Sure, there’s more work up front, but the actual writing should take less time if you do a reasonably detailed outline.

I started out with an outline for a story that I thought I loved. Tried a couple of “outlining” methods that seemed to work okay and then started to draft the story.

But the story just wouldn’t come out.

So I shifted gears and worked on another angle, and then another, still grappling with outlining while struggling to bring the essence of the story (what I mentioned above) into it.

I gave up outlining and went back to pantsing. I handed the story back to my characters to see what they’d come up with. Slowly but surely, the story began to get legs and eventually it came out.


Wrestling with Shadows

During the course of the last couple of years of struggling with the story I was also grappling within myself. Sorting through my own mess, my light and dark.

Having completed the first draft early in the year I was able to reflect a little on the process. What become apparent was I needed to go through my own season of discovery about myself to be able to write the story.

I recently read an article Francine Rivers wrote in a recent Christianity Today where she talked through how most of her novels came out of her “questions of faith.”

“But questions of faith kept rising up and with them, characters, to play out various points of view.”

Similarly, I’ve started doing a course Ted Dekker has created (“the Creative Way”). One of the opening comments he makes about his own journey is similar to Francine’s:

“All of my novels began with a question I was wrestling with. A doubt or struggle in my life that I wanted to explore in the context of story.”

I recall other authors sharing similar things and I believe that’s why the latest story is often the hardest one even if you’ve written fifty of them. Because you don’t know what you’re going to learn about yourself when you’re writing it.

We write stories to discover the truth. And in so doing we discover more about the Lord and ourselves.

Yes, the sequel has always had the title, Wrestling with Shadows. To write it, I’ve discovered I needed to do just that myself so I could take my characters through their own transformation.

Did I envisage it being such a struggle when I set out? Never. Sure, I knew getting the story would be challenging enough but I had no inkling the personal battle would be so strong.

If you’re presently struggling with your story be gentle with yourself. Spend more time with the Lord and His Word. Simply hang out and talk to Him not just about the novel but the stuff inside you. He’ll help you sift through it (and others may help as well) and in so doing free you to take your characters on an even better journey in the story.

Grace and peace.

Ian AchesonIan Acheson is an author and strategy consultant based in Sydney, Australia. Ian’s first novel, Angelguard, is available in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. Angelguard won the 2014 Selah Award for Best Speculative Fiction. You can find more about Angelguard at Ian’s website, on his author Facebook page and Twitter.

Comments 0

  1. Great advice, Ian. And a BTW: every time I’d attempted an outline in the past my story withered away. Like you, I now hand the story, plot and emotions, all to my characters. Also like you, my characters always teach me lessons I need to know… and I hope my readers will appreciate.

  2. Love this post. You are spot on about the latest book being the hardest!

    I’m somewhat of a plotter but about the 7th book I wrote the story just wouldn’t tell itself, even though I had it sort of plotted out. I wondered if I was losing my mind. lol So, between God giving me then next sentence and letting the characters have the story it got written.

    This last book that I just finished, I only plotted 3 points. The first door of no return, the very middle and the 2nd door of no return. And I wrote in 4 months, even though some days it was like pulling teeth. Who knows how I’ll write the next one. 🙂

  3. Elaine & Patricia, love how you both often appear together on posts and comments. We all benefit from your friendship and kinship.

    Patricia – 7 books … wow, I didn’t realise you had written so many. I’m so pleased to hear you wrote your latest in 4 months. I hope one day I’ll have a similar experience.

    Thanks for your encouragement.

  4. Great thoughts, Ian. As you know, I discovered Angelguard was one novel I could not put down until I’d finished it.
    Thank you again for a great, thought provoking read.
    So very interesting to know about your problems with the sequel. I too am basically a “Panster” type of writer, but over the years after having spent heaps of time thinking, dreaming about the basic story, have to know my created characters inside and out as my Creator knows me. Nothing is quite as thrilling as being so involved in writing a scene with them that later I even wonder, “Where on earth did all that come from?” The characters had taken over!
    All the very best with book! I’m looking forward very much to it.

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