The creative habits of writers are as varied and idiosyncratic as writers, themselves. Some plot everything down to the Nth degree, while others can only create in a white-hot glow of passion and mystery. I am a plotter: I must know who, what, when, where, why, and how before ever I commit more than a few words to the page. I don’t need to know everything, but the more I know about my story the more I can focus on how best to tell it.
With the tale of Athalaric — the idea for which served as a catalyst for my last post — I started with the idea and have moved on to what master crime writer Lawrence Block calls “creative procrastination”. The idea is percolating; bits and pieces are falling into place, usually without structured thought on my part. This is the stage where dreams come in to play, where niggling questions get jotted down, where themes boil from the froth of creativity, and for me, at least, where the first layers of research are done.
Athalaric’s story is set in the “time of Justinian”, which puts it somewhere in the early to mid-6th century AD; it is set physically in central Greece, in and around the ruins of ancient Delphi. Beyond a few sketchy details, I know very little about the reign of Justinian or the social/political situation in early Medieval Greece. This is where Wikipedia comes in. Over breakfast, or during the lulls in my work day, I open a browser window and type in the relevant search terms. I read articles, follow links; I sometimes even go in search of a physical book. Just this morning, I read about the Plague of Justinian, which decimated the Eastern Roman Empire in about 540 AD, the end of the Vandalic War, the Slavic invasions of Greece, and the history of the site of Delphi. This touched off a narrative in my head, of a Vandal wanderer returning to Carthage, circa 541 AD, descending into plague-scarred Greece amid incursions of barbarian raiders as he bends his steps toward a home that is no more.
So, I know a bit more about Athalaric, now. I know he’s a big man, blond of hair and with long mustachios weighted with beads of silver and ivory; I know he rides a monstrously large gray gelding called Khraban, seventeen hands high and taken from the train of a Magyar prince. I know he’s drifting south, bound for Carthage to see its destruction for himself. And, with the exception of what I’ve written here, I’ve not committed a single word to the page. Yet.
There’s still the matter of a woman in distress to mull over . . .