How C.L. Clark Cracked Chapter 20 of The Faithless

 by Peter Chiykowski

Writing a book is hard. Damn hard. Most of the time when we experience a book, it's as a beautiful finished product with a stunning cover and some helpful polish from a supporting team of editors, proofreaders, and designers.

But books don't just appear in the world looking like that. It's a long, messy, iterative process to write a novel. Getting to the end requires you to become comfortable with uncertainty, with embracing the imperfect draft, with sitting in the discomfort of not having everything figured out and working through it.

Leading up to World Book Day next week, The Story Engine Deck team has been reaching out to authors to find out how they've been using our decks in their creative process so we can share their books and their stories.

C.L. Clark, the BFA award-winning editor and Ignyte Award-winning/Nebula-nominated author, was kind enough to share some actual notebook pages and a Story Engine draw they pulled while writing The Faithless.

If you've not yet read the Magic of the Lost trilogy, The Faithless is book two. It picks up after the Qazali rebels have driven the Balladairan empire from their home in The Unbroken. Our favourite soldier Touraine and heir-apparent(ish) princess Luca must return to Balladaire to reclaim Luca's throne and face the consequences of dismantling an empire.

Around the midpoint of the novel, Cherae was feeling a little stuck and looking for a way to refresh the story with some new ideas. Here's how they explain the process.

The Story Engine was instrumental in helping me come up with a wild but interesting approach for a chapter in The Faithless (Chapter 20: A Precipice). It helped me get out of my own rut of same-y ideas, partly because of the words on the prompt but especially because of the beautiful art.

[Note: this isn't the original draw. Cherae kindly recreated it for us! Also, shout-out to the Nomnivore Games team who allowed us to license the art from the EMBERWIND RPG.]

If you look at the pictures on the cards for the draw, you can definitely see how they inspired the narrative choices but also the tone of the scene. Because it was a story already in progress, with characters who already had (more or less) their narrative engines, I just needed a new and more interesting way to bring them and their world together.

Enter the Story Engine anchors! I just kept pulling them and seeing what stuck. A lot of religious imagery came up, and it's changed the entire trajectory of a certain character!

Before I step down from my writer's soapbox, I want to point out something worth nothing about these pages: notice how many of these notes are phrased as questions?

It's an undervalued writing skill to not just ask questions, but be comfortable not knowing the answers at first. Many of these notes are for problems to be figured out in future chapters or drafts, or initial ideas for details that can be fleshed out later as the novel takes shape. The end point is a masterpiece of a novel.

I love reading and sharing process notes, and I'm so grateful Cherae shared these: both because I'm excited that The Story Engine Deck played a small role in a book series I'm gaga for, and because sharing WIP pages is a double-act of generosity:

  • An act of creative generosity in sharing craft and experience.
  • An act of emotional generosity in revealing yourself in the process of figuring things out and reminding others that uncertainty is part of the process.

Pick up a copy of The Faithless, and pay attention to how these questions are resolved in the writing, and also how much C.L. Clark embraces uncertainty, ambiguity, and complexity in their storytelling, politics, and worldbuilding. Magic of the Lost poses questions about the nature of power and refuses to give simple answers.

(Also, keep an eye out for a little cameo by The Story Engine Deck in the acknowledgments!)


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