The Plotsing, Planning, and Pantsing of Hollow Reign

Hey folks! We’re less than a week out now from the release of chapters five and six (yay!), so I thought I’d write a little bit about my end of the creative process. Hopefully down the line Rowan will illustrate a bit for us about his, er, illustration process, too. Right now, I’m in the middle of doing a first pass draft of Chapter Nineteen, and this week, Rowan’s in the process of illustrating chapters 5-6, as well as also working on a million other projects, like character designs, a logo, and some other nifty things we’ll share a bit more about later on. I’ve been pretty swamped this week (I teach both college students in evenings and weekends and K-3 Reading during the days), but I’ve been hoping to share a bit more on this blog and to illuminate a bit about our process…  

In writing circles, especially on Twitter, you see some discussion about whether writers are Planners (self-explanatory) or Pantsers (flying by the seat of their pants). I feel like I’m a bit of both, though I lean toward planning. And here’s a bit more on that…   

Is the whole story written? Can I know what’s next?

The whole story has definitely not been written yet! BUT, I do try to keep myself working a minimum of ten chapters (approximately two months) ahead of the release schedule. This is both for my sanity, as I’m not someone who excels under high-pressure deadlines, and because my editing process is a bit long-winded. I tend to be a quick first-drafter (probably because I work from detailed outlines) and then spend most of my time developing the visuals of the scene later on, as well as ensuring minute details we’ve added or modified match up. Sometimes, writing ahead also allows me to sneak back to earlier chapters before they’re released and add in a little detail or description that might serve as an important clue for later on… 😉    

How much do you have planned?

My planning and writing process are also done in tandem. For Hollow Reign, although the story is only in chapter increments on the website, it’s also more loosely broken up into story arcs for my own planning purposes. I can’t really get into detail what that means or looks like at this point without spoiling things, but just know it refers to larger plot events, twists, shifts, or transitions.  

I think I wrote the first three or four chapters completely freehand before sitting down to plot out what specifically would come before the next big plot twist. Keep in mind, however, that when I say ‘freehand,’ I’m still drawing from more than a decade of notes, older drafts, and world building. Around then, I took a break from the active writing process to smooth out the first arc (through approximately Chapter 20), and to start asking myself some questions about long term benchmarks, specific character motivations and journeys, and stakes. Then, after writing up to the next medium-sized plot twist, I spent a few weeks working more actively on developing character backstories, design, and a timeline, and also wrote out detailed character profile worksheets for each character in the order they’ve appeared. Eventually, we hope to post some of these in our character gallery with spoilers redacted. 🙂  

This is all a very long-winded way of me trying to say that I do all things at once. At this time, I have written through Chapter 19, and have chapters 20-30 outlined in detail. But, even beyond where I am with my outlining process, I have a bullet-pointed list of all major events for virtually all of the arcs through the end. I can also tell you that I know exactly what happens in the epilogue already. 😉 

That’s a lot of planning! Do you ever deviate from the outline and “pants” it?”

A little! There have already been places in what I’ve done so far where I’ve moved scenes around, or changed the order of some plot events. Usually when this happens it’s because I’ve found something I want to better develop for later on, or because I’ve found an opportunity to write some levity and fluff. There are times when Hollow Reign goes down difficult directions in terms of content, and given we already live in a difficult world, I do my best to sandwich those things in between sweeter moments (both for the characters, and for the readers).  

There are also some cool things in the story that admittedly came about entirely because of one off, throw away gags or lines that we looked back at and realized “hey, wait a minute, that could be cool — let’s actually do that!” that then get developed into the story proper. 

You’re an English Teacher, right? Do you actually use all the stuff my English teacher talks about when you write, like The Hero’s Journey and that kind of stuff?

More often than not, yes. You can definitely trace Pietro’s story through the steps of The Hero’s Journey. At the same time, I don’t specifically write thinking, “Oh, what comes next? Better consult my Hero’s Journey chart.” Some of it is more accidental. Some of it isn’t. You can also definitely trace chunks of the story thinking of things like rising action, climax, and falling action, although these aspects function a bit differently in a longer, digitally released serial text than in a true novel.

Also, if you really want to make your English Teacher proud, spend some time looking at the illustrations. We spend a lot of time making sure the use of color, perspective and movement in the images reflect themes in the text… that’s right, folks, the curtains really aren’t just blue because they’re blue. 😉    

How long will it take you to write everything? To release it? 

We’ve ballparked that we need an absolute bare minimum of three calendar years with no breaks or hiatuses to write, illustrate, and post all of Hollow Reign. I anticipate it could be as much as five years, again, with no breaks or hiatuses. Realistically, because we are human beings with lives and shit happens to people, it could go even longer than that.

Given that this is mostly a passion project for us, neither of us are in a huge hurry to finish it. That said, neither of us are in a huge hurry to take a break from it, either. My hope is that in the event that we ever do need to take a brief hiatus, it’s a planned, well prepared hiatus and you won’t be left on a cliffhanger!  

Will there ever be chances for readers to get early releases?

It’s possible that this is a perk we might add on our future Patreon down the line. 

How do you make decisions about when we get one or two chapters a week? 

That decision is mostly on my end and has to do with the natural ebb and flow of the chapters. Some are longer than others, or contain a lot to digest even in a short length. Others simply pair well. I try to be very deliberate in my decisions about chapter posting, only leaving you with a true cliffhanger when I feel it’s appropriate for dramatic pause and suspense building, never just to be mean. Sometimes, it also has to do with what Rowan can do (it takes a bit more time and energy to do two illustrations rather than one). Sometimes, if a chapter is highly visual, we might even do two illustrations in a week for one chapter.  

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