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Write Now with Scrivener, Episode no. 29: Michael Jecks, Medieval Mystery Author

Michael Jecks has written more than 50 novels, including 33 in his Templar series of medieval mysteries. He also writes books in other series, set in modern times, the Tudor period, and 1920s Shanghai.

Show notes:

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Michael Jecks is an incredibly prolific author. After some years working selling computer software, he switched to writing about what he loves: history. Not just any history, but specifically the 14th century. His series about the Knights Templar is up to number 33, and he's written several other series as well.

Michael doesn't only focus on the 14th century. "I've got a modern day series, I've got a Tudor series, I've got a trilogy about English archers in the 100 Years' War. I've even done one in 1920, Shanghai. So I've sort of nipped around from early medieval all the way up to the present day. And, I don't know, next time I'll probably write science fiction, go the opposite direction."

This level of production dwarfs that of many writers, and Michael's daily word count is impressive. He averages about 5,000 words a day. "If I'm writing a novel, say 120,000 words, it'll take me two and a half to three months to write it."

Michael is fascinated by history. "I think it's because my birthday is the 11th of November. I was always interested in warfare. It was an interest I had from when I was a schoolboy and I first heard about King Arthur. The idea of knights in armor going out on quests was a very appealing one. Then I read The Hobbit and at the age of 11, I got my hands on The Lord of the Rings. And that just sparked an interest in Saxon and medieval worlds."

There are several medieval, Elizabethan, and Tudor mystery series. I asked Michael why he thought these periods were so popular? "I think that many people like to go back because it was a simpler time. I think people like to hark back to a period when they think, "Yes, life was easier." Not easier, as in you would live longer, but it was more comprehensible. You've got a village, somebody gets murdered. It's probably someone in the village."

One important thing in any novel is dialogue, and it's particularly important in historical fiction. Not only did people not speak as they do today, but there were words that weren't used, even foods that didn't exist. They couldn't have been eating tomatoes in the 14th century, for example. "I'm very careful about vegetables. I've got several books on the types of plants that people would have had. But, yeah, it is a major problem. You cannot possibly write a book authentically as it would have been because it'll just be incomprehensible."

Michael depends on Scrivener to help him shape his novels. "I tend to work in one-hour blocks of time, which is 1,000 words an hour. I think hard about what I'm going to do with the first scene I'm going to write, and I write it. That becomes one document within Scrivener. I set up each scene as 1,000-word blocks roughly; they never end up 1,000 words, but they always start out that way. So I can write 1,000 words in an hour, take a break for 5 or 10 minutes, make a coffee, whatever. And while I'm doing that, I'm thinking about what the next scene is going to be. And then write that scene down, so that way I can keep myself carrying on through the day. With Scrivener, the great thing is that you have all of these [in the Binder]."

Michael organizes the events in his novels by day. "I split them into separate files, and my files tend to be days. I tend to go through my books being separated by distinct periods of time, so there'll be days, and then possibly weeks if it's longer. The great thing with Scrivener is you can then drag and drop and change. If you think, 'Ah, I've given away too much in that scene, I don't want that scene there, I need to move that to two days later.' You click on it, you drag it, you drop it two days later, easy."

And Scrivener's project search helps him keep his stories consistent. "The first job I had today was running through and making sure that each of the main characters was consistent. With Scrivener, all I do is I type in the name of the person I'm thinking of, and it presents me with every scene, in order, that that person appears in. So I read through those scenes quickly. As you go into the scene, it automatically highlights each of the occurrences of that name or that string of text. You can run through really quickly and make sure that everything's consistent. I was able to do that this morning, in three hours for six lead characters."

Kirk McElhearn is a writer, podcaster, and photographer. He is the author of Take Control of Scrivener, and host of the podcast Write Now with Scrivener.

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