Three weeks ago, I wrote about my New Idea and how excited I was that it came to me from wherever it is New Ideas come from. I also promised to start taking my own advice by going through The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction with this New Idea in mind.

Over the past few weeks I’ve gone back and forth about how much, if any, I want to reveal about this new work-in-progress, and again, not because I think you’re going to steal it, but because I want you to eventually, y’know, buy the book (assuming I, y’know, actually write it, and, y’know, someone actually publishes it). If I go through my process step by step it’ll just be a series of spoilers. And this New Idea is one of those “surprise ending” things—hard to pull off, I know, but I’m willing to try. Just sharing my initial batch of notes will thoroughly jack it up.

But I want to figure out a way to make this useful for readers of Fantasy Author’s Handbook and The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, so what to do?

I’ll try to talk about the process, but not so much the results of the process. Let’s see how that works for all of us . . .

I started out by typing some raw notes into a Word file, just to make sure I didn’t lose the idea. It also helped me work out some of the very basic parameters of the thing, and I was curious to see how many “steps” that initial batch of notes would take me in The Guide.

An aside, first, just for the record and in case you haven’t heard this from me before: That whole thing on the cover of the book about “Six Steps” is something the publisher insisted on. Writing is not a step by step process. Please don’t think I’m trying to tell you that you start step one, keep working until you’re done with step one, then move on to step two, etc. I made this clear in the book, too.

So I got out my trusty, dirt-cheap composition book that I’d just picked up at Target for seventy-seven cents a few days after the start of the school year. I tend to buy all of my office supplies in the first couple weeks after school starts, by the way, and suggest this money-saving strategy for anyone. It makes an already low-overhead occupation even cheaper.

Right then, so having invested less than a dollar my first page of notes begins with my working title, which I really like and will probably end up being the title I stick with until someone tells me to change it or I get a better idea. I’ve already searched for it on Amazon.com and came up with nothing, so that’s a good start.


High fantasy (verging on epic)

Adult audience

That gets us through Part I: The Genres.

Step One: Storytelling cautioned me to Start with an Idea. Got it. Then I told myself to Have Something to Say.

Here’s were I can offer a little detail . . .

I’ve been affected by the Great Depression II as much as the next guy, and share what seems to be an endemic dissatisfaction with what passes for a government now, a continuing lack of energy policy except “let’s all keep driving around until we die,” a foreign policy that seems to start with insults and end with shootings . . . you know what I mean.

I want to write a book about an ordinary average working stiff confronted in a very personal, very traumatic way, with a society entirely out of control. In my fantasy version, this is a world overrun by demons who had been summoned by the reigning feudal aristocracy to fight a war against what in my notes I’m calling “elves.” The theme: Once you put the inmates in charge of the asylum, the fox in charge of the hen house, it’s damn hard to walk that back.

On to Chapter  6, then: Develop a Plot.

Still working on that one. Remember when I said this isn’t actually a step-by-step process? I have used my handy-dandy diagram (on page 26) to rough out a collision of A-B lines for both the hero and villain. I’ve also made a second graph—I’m a visual person, I make graphs—which is just a straight line starting at the bottom left of the page and moving steadily upward to the right. Along that line I wrote:

Steady, constant increase in tension, danger, and SCALE.

This is a story of a Regular Joe who sets out to take on the king. He starts in a little farm outside a little town in a little thanedom (thanedom? Oh look, some early worldbuilding!) on the edge of the map (which, uncharacteristically, I have not yet drawn) and his quest takes him to increasingly bigger cities, and increasingly dangerous locations, until the big surprise ending.

I have a lot more to think about in terms of plot, but I like that as a starting point, a foundation on which to build an actual story.

I’ve also made the promise to myself that this will be a single, self-contained novel with a satisfying beginning, middle, and end. Should the Phil-hungry public demand a sequel, we’ll jump off that bridge when we get to it, but I’m going to build just enough world to tell this story, not set the rest of my writing there for all time.

From this you can see that I actually have started thinking about the hero, and the villain (or villains), even though I’m ostensibly not yet at that step.

This cheap red Target back-to-school-sale composition book will not be far from me for the next . . . how long?

We’ll see!


—Philip Athans


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
This entry was posted in Books, creative team, Publishing Business, Science Fiction & Fantasy Novels, SF and Fantasy Authors, transmedia, Writing, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Shawn says:

    For merely twenty-five bucks you can get a fresh six-pack of ideas from the Idea Service in Schenectady.

    No? Yeah, I didn’t think so. I look forward this! This includes not just the book but your detailing of the process. This should be very revealing for aspiring writers.

    Best of luck to you and have fun!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s