I’ve been asked if I use an outline when I write. The answer is: “No.”
I don’t know why, but I’ve never been able to outline events well before they occur in my fiction. When a great idea pops into my head, I immediately write it down. That’s my writer instinct. I may not know where the idea will lead, but I’m willing to follow.
That’s how the Darkness Series began. In January 1996, when I laid down to go to sleep, the opening sentence came to me: “Dropping a cat from the top of a ten story office building was not the best way to remain hidden, but it was necessary.”
I was intrigued. I didn’t know where the story would go or why someone dropped the cat off the building, but I got up and wrote it down. A few minutes later when I was trying to go to sleep, the next two paragraphs came to me. So, again, I got up and wrote down the words.
The next day I sat at my computer and hammered out twenty pages in a few hours. At the end of those pages, I found myself in a new dilemma. I couldn’t add anything else to the storyline. Anything I attempted to add didn’t fit, sounded too corny, or took away from the characters and the building plot. I was stuck, and I didn’t know why. I printed it out and set it in a box to work on later.
Two years later, during my final year at Morehead State University, I registered to take two creative writing classes in the coming fall. During the summer I took out the twenty pages and thought I would see if any new ideas stirred to breathe life into this story. Rereading the piece I realized something. I didn’t have twenty pages of the novel. What I had was the skeleton of a novel that needed depth, description, and more urgency to push the plot forward.
I took a yellow notepad and made a lot of notes. When I was content with how I would flesh the book out, I sat at the computer and spent a week working and revising with the new ideas. The last sentence of the original twenty pages now ended on page 100; but still, I couldn’t add anything else. Frustrated, I set it aside.
Once the fall semester started, we met the new creative writing professor, Dr. Chris Offutt. He stated that his class would be treated like a writer’s workshop, and on our designated days, we could bring in a short story or the chapter of a book we were working on to have the class evaluate it. When my day came, I brought the first chapter (~32 pages) of Predators of Darkness: Aftermath in and gave each student a copy. The next week they came back to critique and offer suggestions about what did/didn’t work.
After everyone in the class made their suggestions, the professor walked to the chalkboard. He drew out a diagram on the board and said, “Leonard, you don’t have one chapter here. What you have is five or six chapters.” In a matter of minutes he mapped out five chapters. I feverishly wrote down his suggestions. The best part is that something clicked. The fog lifted. And I suddenly visualized my characters, their uniqueness, and their voices were audible in my head.
Eventually, Predators of Darkness: Aftermath grew into 340 pages, and there are four complete novels in the series. Had I not written that sentence down, I do wonder if the series would have occurred. After all, I didn’t have a plot or any characters. All I had was the one sentence. I never imagined the opening sentence would spawn four more novels afterwards (Yes, I’m working on the fifth book), which is why I suggest that writers follow their muse, carry notebooks, and don’t get chained to an outline. If a character takes an unexpected turn into a dark alley, don’t stop him/her. Follow.
A couple of years ago I published Devils Den. Due to the characters in the fantasy realm of the novel, I thought that writing a novella backstory would be a good idea. However, my muse had a much different idea.
The fantasy characters in Devils Den I’ve known—in my mind, at least—for more than twenty years. The first novel I attempted was based on these characters, but the plot was too weak to develop, so I killed the story. But the characters never died. They didn’t speak a lot, but they were there in the back of my mind, maturing.
As I started the “Prequel” for Devils Den, something strange occurred. The characters wanted their voices to be heard, and they weren’t shy about letting me know. What I thought would be 40-50,000 words, came to life on a much larger scale. Twenty years of maturing in my mind, the characters suddenly brought their world to life. And thanks to Millard Pollitt, who drew an outstanding map of the realm, so many places can be explored. The plotlines are endless.
The new novel is a 148,000 word epic fantasy novel (Name and cover soon to be announced). Since the events in this novel are twenty years prior to Devils Den, and so much occurs between the two, the new book has become the first book in its own series.
So, you see, my muse took me in a different direction and definitely farther than the novella I had planned. Most often my muse knows more than I do, so I follow, take notes, and I write down what I hear and see. If there’s a better formula than that, I don’t know it.
About the Author
Twitter: @Deimosweb Publishing
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Leonard-D-Hilley-IIauthor-page/157289854329916
About the Book
Chronicles of Aetheaon
Leonard D. Hilley II
Genre: Fantasy (Epic, Adventure, Sword/Sorcerer)
Publisher: DeimosWeb Publishing
Date of Publication: June 27, 2014
Number of pages: 536 printed pages
Word Count: 148,000
Often the smallest unexpected surprises garner the most demanding dilemmas, which proves to be the ordeal that entomologist Ben Whytten faces. While netting butterflies to add to his vast collection, he mistakenly sweeps what he thinks is the most spectacular butterfly he has ever seen into his net. Upon examining his catch, Ben is horrified to discover he has captured a faery and shredded her delicate wings into useless ribbons.
Devastated, Ben vows to take Shawndirea back to her realm, Aetheaon; but he discovers that doing so places their lives into immediate danger. To get to Aetheaon, they must pass through a portal rift deep inside the haunted cavern, Devils Den.
Once they cross the rift, Ben enters a world where mysteries, magic, betrayal, and power struggles await. He must adapt quickly or die because Aetheaon is filled with enchanted creatures and numerous races where chaos often dominates order. And since Shawndirea’s destined for the throne of Elvendale, opposing dark forces plot to prevent her from ever reaching her kingdom again. The faery's magic isn't enough to fully protect them, so he must trust other adventurers to aid them during their journey.
The early autumn sun blazed over the freshly cut hayfield in Cider Knoll, Kentucky. Ben Whytten rested his butterfly net against the rusted barbed wire fence and then wiped sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. Sweat soaked his shirt and blue jeans. Although fall had officially begun, the outside temperature didn’t indicate it. Sporting near ninety degrees, summer refused to let go of the climate and turned what should have been a pleasant Saturday afternoon into an intimidating taunt, daring anyone with partial sanity to remain outdoors in the sweltering heat.
After he unscrewed the canteen cap, he tilted it back and took a long drink of cold water. Beads of water dripped down his short brown beard. He sighed and twisted the cap tightly. His piercing brown eyes studied the sky. Not a cloud in sight. No breeze to help combat the hellish sticky heat.
Ben combed his sweat-matted brown hair from his eyes with his fingers. He picked up the butterfly net and looked across the straw-colored field at the small grove of pastel leafed maples that lined a winding stream. The shade was inviting, and he guessed a good ten degrees cooler than the open field. He took a deep breath and trudged across brittle grass stems that crunched beneath his hiking boots.
Collecting butterflies during autumn was better than spring or summer because the diversity of species increased. The fall forms of butterflies were generally brighter, larger, and fed in greater clusters on the ironweed, milkweed, and clover. Brilliantly colored swallowtails puddled along the creek beds. Plump moth larvae were also easier to find as they searched for places to spin cocoons or burrow beneath the soil to pupate before the colder temperatures set in.
“If colder weather ever settles in,” Ben thought, “Hell will have truly frozen over.”
Long narrow grasshoppers jumped and took to flight as Ben crossed the field. Their wings buzzed as the alarmed insects glided and drifted downward, landed, and propelled themselves into the air again.
Reaching the shade beneath the maple branches, Ben leaned against a thick tree trunk and closed his eyes. The shallow stream trickled softly. Cicadas hummed. In the distance a woodpecker rapped the bark of a massive dead pine. Weather had stripped away sections of the rough pine bark, revealing the smooth yellow wood underneath. The soothing sounds of nature relaxed him, and he was thankful to be outside, alone.
Dr. Isaac Deiko had planned to collect insects with Ben this particular Saturday, but at the last minute, he called and said that he couldn’t go. Deiko had to help set up tables for a gun show in a neighboring town.
The news didn’t disappoint Ben. He’d rather collect butterflies and other insects alone. The outdoors was a place where he gathered his thoughts and meditated about life. The forests, bluffs, and meadows were the best places where he felt at peace. Leaving the fast-paced, bustling technological-craving addicts for a calmer, slow-paced life without all their distractions was worth more than millions of dollars to Ben. He’d give up all the instant gadgets for the tranquility that his grandfather and great-grandfather experienced while working on their farms.
Ben kept a serious outlook on life while Dr. Deiko spent more time playing practical jokes on their colleagues and students, which often irritated and infuriated Ben. He knew if Deiko came on this field trip, the collecting possibilities would be little or none simply because Deiko was clumsy-footed and boisterous.
Ben had never extended an invitation for Deiko to join him in the first place. In fact, Deiko had invited himself when he found out about Ben’s collecting plans for the weekend. Although Deiko was a biologist like Ben, Deiko was more concerned with uncovering a discovery to make him famous, whereas Ben loved science and didn’t care if anyone other than his students knew he existed. Of course when final exams rolled around, most of his students would rather he didn’t exist. Other than giving his students field trips from Hell, his tests were considered harsher than rigorous ten mile hikes through steep mountainous terrain.
Ben looked back across the field and chuckled. He had traipsed hundreds of acres through forests, caves, and fields when he was still in middle school. He had done so voluntarily, without a word of complaint, and yet, today’s college students voiced disdain over the least thing. The challenge wasn’t getting them to learn; it was getting them to do anything that didn’t require the pacifying need for their technology.
His inner frustration brought more heat to his face. He was seconds from rehashing how he wished computers and cellphones weren’t so controlling until the soft bubbling creek caught his attention. The gentle soft sound of water allowed his mind to leave the tensions of the classroom and return to the natural calm surrounding him. He expelled a long sigh and refocused himself.
Tall narrow blades of grass covered the sandy banks of the shallow stream. Small drab satyr butterflies fluttered lazily from grass blade to grass blade. Ben shook his head. After two hours of walking the fields and woods, he had hoped to capture a few new specimens to add to his collection. But with each species he encountered, he already had at least a half-dozen of those pinned inside glass-top boxes at home. In many ways, he believed he’d have done himself a greater service by staying home.
But regardless of what he deemed bad luck, his life was about to change.
He removed his backpack and set it down. Slowly he lowered himself and sat back against the tree trunk to rest. He set down the canteen and placed the net handle across his lap and watched the gentle stream flow. A few minnows darted back and forth beneath the water as water striders skimmed like polished skaters across the water’s surface.
Ben was drenched in sweat and drained from the heat. A cool breeze stirred along the stream, which seemed an invitation to relax a while longer. His eyes ached to close for a nap. He fought the urge to doze even though the place was so comforting and peaceful. But, if nothing interesting presented itself soon, he was going home. He dreaded walking across the dry pasture to his SUV.
Ben took his hunting knife from the sheath attached to his belt and then picked up a dried oak branch. He whittled and shaved away bark.
Perhaps it was the extreme heat that kept the most brilliant butterflies in hiding, but he still didn’t see any within the grove or along the sandy banks. Later in the evening he might have better luck, but he refused to stick around that long. He slid the knife back into its sheath and rubbed his tired eyes.
Sunlight filtered through the leafy canopy. Several birds flew low across the stream and through the trees. Seconds later two yellow butterflies glided to the edge of the far bank and landed. A larger butterfly caught his attention. At first glance he thought it was a giant swallowtail, but instead, it turned out to be an oversized tiger swallowtail.
Ben’s fingers tightened around the net handle. He pushed himself to his feet. He stepped lightly and headed toward the stream to get a better look at the butterflies. Near the bank, a blur of metallic bluish-green streaked past him.
“Damn!” he said, watching the zipping wings catch the breeze and glide.
With incredible speed, it darted up, down, left to right, and along the stream’s edge. Perhaps the sweltering heat or near dehydration was playing tricks on him, but he was almost certain glittery dust trailed behind it.
Ben hurried after the butterfly, a prize unlike any other in his collection.
Few butterflies in this part of Kentucky had such metallic colorings. One he thought of immediately was the White M Hairstreak, but this one was too large and flew much swifter. Another butterfly with similar colors was the long-tailed skipper, but the sheen sparkling off the butterfly following the stream was too bright. Its flight was also more erratic. The skipper stayed near gardens, and he doubted any strayed this far into the woods since the larvae food plant was the leaf of various beanstalks.
Ben realized he had just discovered something new. Excitement shot through him.
He hurried along the stream and jumped over a fallen tree. His sudden pursuit had not gone unnoticed. The iridescent creature darted downward and swept through the tiny branches of a shrub. But Ben moved faster.
As the beautifully winged specimen shot through the other side of the bush, Ben arced the net sharply and captured his prize. The end of the net pulled and stretched while his captive struggled to fight free.
Quickly, Ben clamped his fingers near the end of the net, but by the time he did, the struggling ceased.
He opened the net and looked inside. His eyes widened.
“What the hell?” he asked.
At the bottom of the net lay a gorgeous creature, but not what he had expected to capture. Her wings were tattered, frayed. Unconscious, he hoped, but he feared she might be dying or already dead. Broken scales and wing fragments covered her nearly nude body.
His excitement of the chase suddenly turned to regret and dread.
Ben dropped to his knees and gently set down the net.
“God,” he whispered. “I hope I didn’t kill you.”
He carefully placed his left hand beside her unmoving form. He nudged her into the palm of his hand with the tip of his finger. She breathed, but her eyes remained closed. Her radiant face was more beautiful than any woman he had ever met.
A door slammed and echoed near the pasture gate where he had parked his SUV.
Ben looked over his shoulder but couldn’t see who had driven up.
“Ben!” Deiko shouted. “Where are you?”
“Dammit,” Ben grumbled under his breath, looking back over his shoulder. “What the hell are you doing here?”
He hurried to the tree where his pack lay. He curled his left hand gently around the faery’s limp body while reaching into the pack.
Ben took a wide-mouthed dark plastic bottle, set it between his knees and unscrewed the hole-punched lid. Glancing back over his shoulder he saw Deiko’s lanky figure jogging toward the grove. Deiko smiled and waved when their eyes met. His jog turned into a sprint as he headed toward Ben.
Ben placed the faery into the jar, turned the lid, and wrapped the jar inside a white cloth before setting it back into his pack. No sooner had he placed it there and zipped the pack shut, Deiko’s thundering footsteps stopped beside him.
“Catch something nice?” Deiko asked.
“No,” Ben replied, looking up but not making eye contact with Deiko. “Not much activity out here today. I blame the heat.”
Deiko smiled broadly. “You caught something. Something special.”
Ben shook his head, picked up his pack, and stood. “Look around, Isaac. What do you see?”
Deiko glanced around but then his eyes focused on Ben’s backpack again. “I agree. Not much flying around. But you got something.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Your eyes. It’s the same with poker players who have a great hand and haven’t conditioned themselves to suppress their excitement or like kids that find money on the ground after someone drops it. Hell, I noticed people at the gun show who bought guns from people far cheaper than the owners knew the guns were worth.”
Ben’s eyes narrowed, and he chose to change the subject. He said, “How was the gun show? I thought you’d be there all day.”
Deiko shrugged. “That had been the plan. Not much going on there, either. Got a couple good deals though. Like this Ruger.”
He pulled a handgun from the back of his belt.
“Nice,” Ben replied. Carefully he slipped his pack over his shoulder and headed toward the hay field.
“Well?” Deiko said. He tucked the gun behind his belt and stepped in front of Ben. “Aren’t you going to show me?”
Sweat dripped from his Deiko’s black hair and beaded on his brow. Ben studied the determination set in his colleague’s dark eyes and his firm muscular jaw. Within seconds, Deiko’s boyish face had hardened into that of a fierce murderous villain. Physically, he had no weight to put behind his facial threat. He was tall and quite bony with slender arms. And although Deiko was probably fifteen years younger, Ben had no doubt if he was forced to fight that Deiko would be the one sitting on the ground looking up and rubbing his jaw. But, then, there was the gun issue. Isaac was armed and all Ben had was his knife. Even those odds didn’t stand in Isaac’s favor.
“Show you what?” Ben asked.
“Your prize. It must be something nice since you still refuse to show me.”
“How many times have I told you that I haven’t found anything?”
“You and I should play poker sometime,” Deiko said. “I’d make a fortune.”
“Being as I don’t play cards, you’re probably correct with that assumption.”
“Oh, come on, Ben,” Deiko said. Hostility loomed in his voice and darkness narrowed his eyes. “Why are you afraid to show me what you found?”
Ben studied him for a moment. Never had he seen Isaac behave like a demented spoiled brat. He had his moments, but Dr. Deiko generally didn’t keep a quiet and intimidating tone. But out here, away from others, Ben suddenly saw the violence that hid deep within the botanist, and it was creeping to the surface. Knowing that Deiko lusted for fame, for a discovery beyond what man had seen or could fathom, Ben knew he could never show the faery to Deiko. The second he did, something horrible would happen. To Ben and the lovely faery.
Deiko had not only shown the gun as his grand prize from the gun show, he had established his subtle threat by revealing he had brought it into the field. Hunting season was still a few weeks away, and no one needed a gun to collect butterflies. He had shown the gun for a reason—either as a bullying tactic or simply to exhibit dominance.
“I think the heat is getting to you, Isaac,” Ben said, shaking his head and stepping around his colleague.
“Put down the pack,” Isaac said.
Ben froze when Isaac inserted the magazine into the gun and snapped the gun’s chamber back and forth.
“Put down your pack. I want to see what you’re hiding inside.”
Ben turned. He looked in Isaac’s eyes, then to the gun.
Isaac shook his head. “Uh-uh. Just set it down.”
Ben frowned and slowly lowered his pack to the ground. He held his hands before him in surrender. “You’re making a big mistake.”
“So you did find something.”
“And if I did? You going to kill me for it?” Ben asked.
Isaac chuckled. “Depends on how good a find it is.”