I'd like to thank Rayne Hall for agreeing to share insight into her writing process with us.
How do you develop your plot and characters?
I often start with a location – an intriguing, scary, creepy or puzzling place. In the case of Storm Dancer, it was a desert landscape with a violent storm approaching on the horizon. I ask myself, who would come here, and why?” This gives me a character to start with. With Storm Dancer, I chose a character who was fleeing into the desert to escape her pursuers, not realising the threat of the approaching storm. Then I ask, “What do they want here? What are they going to do about it? What challenges do they face?” This gives me the beginnings of a plot. I add more characters whose goals conflict with what the main character wants. In Storm Dancer, the second character is hunting down the fugitive. Those two goals conflicted right away. I continue asking more questions, especially questions starting with “What if…?” What if one of the two enemies knows local conditions and realises that the storm will kill them both, unless they cooperate and find shelter together?
I freewrite in longhand in a notebook, jotting down ideas and letting my creativity flow. When I feel that I have a good grip on the main plot and the core conflicts, I develop a basic plot structure and sit down at my laptop to start writing in earnest. Having a structured plot keeps me focused and helps me complete the book faster than if I just meander along. However, I allow myself to deviate from the plot if I get better ideas along the way, or if my characters take the story in a different direction. Sometimes, the finished story is very different from the one I set out to write. This happened with Storm Dancer which I intended as a straightforward epic fantasy filled with swashbuckling adventures and romance. It wasn’t until I had nearly finished the first draft that the main character, warrior Dahoud, revealed that he was possessed by a demon. This changed the whole story, made it much darker, and forced me to rewrite everything. Towards the end of the second draft, Dahoud shocked me yet again: he confessed that he was the Black Besieger, the monster everyone feared and hated. He was hiding his identity from everyone - including his author. I had to start the book over again, this time with a Jekyll/Hyde character, a noble hero who fights against his dark side. The resulting book is much better, darker, with more depth and meaning. The swashbuckling fantasy I had planned would have been a forgettable piece of fluff. But the dark novel about the conflicted hero stays in readers’ minds.
How many books have you written and which is your favourite?
I write fiction in several genres, as well as non-fiction books. If I include my unpublished early works and the books I have co-authored with other writers, the number is over 100. Of my Gothic Horror story collections, the favourite is The Bride’s Curse: Bulgarian Gothic Ghost and Horror Stories. In the Writer’s Craft series, I think Writing Vivid Settings: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors is great. Among my novels, the Dark Epic Fantasy Storm Dancer is definitely my favourite.
What was your hardest scene to write, and why?
Several scenes in Storm Dancer were hard to write, in the sense that they didn’t work and I had to rewrite them complete many times until they finally clicked. The scene were the citadel collapses into the sinkhole, and Dahoud and his arch rival need to work together to rescue people trapped in the abyss felt shallow - until I realised that it’s about trust and wrote it that way. In one of tensest scenes of the novel, the two main characters want each other dead, but can only survive by sheltering together from the storm. This scene became even tenser when I added Dahoud’s demon stirring up their evil desires. When magician Merida dances on a roof in a burning town, desperately trying to call rain, the scene came to life when I brought Dahoud into the scene to drum for her dance. The scene where Dahoud delivers himself into the enemy’s hands as a human sacrifice became more meaningful and scary when I made the torturer female. The final versions of these scenes don’t even resemble their first drafts.
Have you ever travelled as research for your book?
I like to visit locations similar to those where the story plays out, and I also immerse myself in the characters’ activities. While I was working on Storm Dancer, I used my holidays to travel in North Africa, Turkey and the Middle East, because those regions resemble the fantasy world I’ve built for the novel. I absorbed visual details of the wild landscapes, the deserts, the mountains, I listened to sounds and inhaled the smells, and I talked with people about their lives and the problems they face. Since the main male character has a secret fantasy about wrestling females, I joined a mixed-gender wrestling club to learn the basic skills and understand what makes those guys tick. (The men were all perfect gentlemen, very considerate)
Have you ever tried to write a novel for a genre you rarely or never read?
When I was fifteen, I tried to write an erotic novel. I hadn’t really read much in that genre. This was in the days before the internet, so there were no discreet downloads, you had to furtively buy erotic books in a railway station bookshop where no one knew you. The only erotic literature I had read were certain stories from the unabridged Arabian Nights, and a porn novel a classmate had smuggled into school and shared under the desk. Not only did I lack knowledge of the erotic fiction genre; as a fifteen-year-old virgin I also lacked insight into what it was all about, so my tales about a courtesan’s erotic adventures in historical Venice were not very plausible.
Would you share something about yourself that your readers don’t know (yet)?
I used to perform professionally as a bellydancer - of the very respectable kind, I hasten to add - entertaining audiences in Persian restaurants, at church fetes and in Women’s Institutes. I loved feeling the rhythm of the drums pulsing through my body and converting this energy into movements, with hip drops, shimmies, figures of eight, and transmitting my joy of the dance to the audience. While I wasn’t a stunning beauty, I had the ability to enchant people, stirring them, arousing in them an energy that filled the room like an aura of happiness. The owner of a restaurant once told me, “When other dancers come on, people clap politely. When you enter, they go wild.” I drew on my experience for my novel Storm Dancer. During her months of captivity in the harem, Merida learns bellydancing basics. When she escapes, she evades her pursuers by pretending to be tavern dancer, and has to use her skills to entertain an real audience. I thoroughly enjoyed writing this scene.
What authors did you dislike at first but then develop an appreciation for?
I tried several times to read Emily Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights, but couldn’t get into it. I found the characters’ names confusing – two women named Catherine are both crucial to the plot – and I got muddled over who was who. On the fourth attempt, I suddenly got it – and the book took my breath away. Once I grasped what a piece of sheer evil Heathcliff is, I understood the story’s scope, meaning and message. Emily Brontë created a person of such evil, so realistic and believable, that I consider him the most evil villain of classic literature. The movie versions all show Heathcliff as a romantic, dark and brooding anti-hero, completely missing the point. Now that I understand the plot – and the scope of Heathcliff’s machinations – I consider Wuthering Heights a masterpiece. No other work of literature delivers such a meaningful message about the power of forgiveness transcending evil.
You can find Rayne Hall on Amazon and her website:
Books on Amazon: viewAuthor.at/RayneHall