The Story behind the Story

Recently a contact from my alma mater reached out to interview me about The Exile, my first published novel.

Fellow Hillsdale College alumna Gianna Marchese, the Editor in Chief of the Student Stories Blog and the college’s Social Media Coordinator, took the time to ask the following questions. You can find her full article here.

“Tell us about how this novel came to be. Where did you find your inspiration?”

“As with most stories, The Exile evolved quite a bit since its inception—which is really for the best, considering I started it when I was fourteen. I remember getting the initial idea for a “princess story” as I read C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, simply because I have always found books and films set in far-away, historical cultures fascinating—and again, I was fourteen, so of course, princesses.

“I had actually created a whole mythical world of my own, in whose setting I had been writing little 5-10 page detailed synopses of tales and folklore over the past several years. The Exile began as one such synopsis, told mainly from the perspective of the princess, Clare. But as the story developed and the synopsis ran into 12 pages and beyond, I found myself more intrigued with the character of Clare’s foil, the warrior and ex-slave, Delta. Long after finishing the synopsis, I remained haunted by Delta’s character and the pair’s dynamic. So I decided to start a novel, narrated by Delta, to see where it went.”

“Walk us through your creative process. How did the princess-story-inspired-by-C.S. Lewis evolve into The Exile as we know it now?”

“Over the next four years, what started as a princess story turned into something I still struggle to categorize: an adventure story in which two individuals’ simultaneous diametrical opposition toward each other and need for each other forges a blend of annoyance, respect, and loyalty. While my understanding of both characters deepened throughout the process, the most “sweat” I put into the book was the research. Transforming a mythical world into an actual historical backdrop is no picnic, but because of the obscurity of the time frame, most of my research focused on the details of medieval life and Scandinavian clans. The names of the clans and the cities are all fictitious; however, most of them are taken from Old Norse.

“In general, my stories and scripts begin with three elements of inspiration: a central personality, a relationship, and some tension. This creates what I call “the situation” (shocker, I know), and from there I ask three basic questions:

  1. Who are these people (to the reader and to each other)?
  2. How did they get here?
  3. Where are they going and why?

The rest of the story is basically a progressive answer to all of these questions.”

“Do you think your Hillsdale education set you up for success in this field?”

“My experiences in the Rhetoric and Theatre departments left an enormous impact on my storytelling… we were always examining the multi-faceted, organic nature of every interaction, as well as the fundamental roles of word choice and arrangement of content in giving a written work its meaning. On top of that, learning about induction and deduction gave me a fuller perspective on the different approaches to plot and character development, and why certain stories require one approach instead of the other. Writing, casting, and actually stage-reading scripts for… playwriting classes gave me a chance to incorporate my rhetorical training into dialogue. I now look at every exchange between characters as a game of verbal chess, in which each has their own motives, strategies, and tactics.”

If you are a fellow writer, what steps do you include in your creative process?

Where do your ideas usually begin and how do you go about shaping them into a story?

What specific obstacles do you frequently encounter and how do you move past them?

3 Comments on “The Story behind the Story

  1. I have immense respect for writers who research stuff before writing. I find research distracting, which is why I normally write about things that I know about or that I can make up without someone telling me it’s wrong. Kudos to you for putting so much time and effort into this book.

    While my stories do go in unexpected for me directions sometimes, I mostly have a general idea as I am starting.

    Writing prompts have helped me quite a bit in recent months. They stir up all sorts of creativity.

    The biggest obstacles: time (I try to make more of it), lack of inspiration (I exercise my brain), the non-writing part of writing (like editing which I hate; I’m working on it).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Fascinating, thank you so much for sharing this! I very much agree with what you say about research– it can be so daunting and even hinder creativity sometimes.
      Isn’t it amazing how exercising your creative juices helps? I used to worry that eventually I’d run out of ideas, but the best writers say that the more you write, the more ideas you generate. Here’s to us keeping our creative streaks strong!

      Liked by 1 person

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