Somebody asked me a while ago why I’m not worried about revealing the whole story to potential readers by doing these posts. I just don’t think “they went to a location and performed an unspecified task” is all that spoilery? In fact, I think anyone who came in search of juicy clues would be peeved by the lack thereof. This is very much about the writing process, not what happens in the story. Half the content of these posts is whining about how much I hate coming up with names, which isn’t exactly “Oh great, now I know there are NAMES, you’ve RUINED IT!” material. I had a 2-page synopsis up for a while as an example of how to write a romance-focused synopsis when the romance is deeply entwined with a fantasy plot a 2-page length limitation doesn’t provide enough space to adequately explain, and that was spoilerific, but I also surrounded it with HERE THERE BE SPOILERS signs and hid it behind a spoiler tag so you’d have to actively participate in the spoilage.
I have a massive, life-impairing anxiety disorder. There are very few things I can’t find a way to worry about. This one’s in the clear. I am confident you could read every single one of these posts and not have substantially more insight into the actual content of the book than what you’d get from reading the book description at point of sale. You will, however, have taken a guided tour of the labyrinthine crime scene that is my brain. Don’t forget to purchase a commemorative tote bag when you exit through the gift shop.
104 rough draft pages have become 171 revised pages.1
Despite spending only about 12 hours in the Big City (and sleeping for a couple of those), our intrepid MCs are there for 30 rough draft pages, which is a CHONK (the technical term for 12.5% of that draft and a third of the length covered by the previous eight revision updates). Rather than classify the CHONK as one-day section, as I’ve done with most of the others, and post one update about it when it’s finished in September 2037 (haha, a jest about my blazing speed, it is to laugh), I’m going to carve it into manageable pieces (a) so I can keep you apprised of progress and (b) so I don’t despair at the size of Mt. CHONK sitting next to my keyboard.
Past Me oh-so-helpfully wrote “Describe getting into the city and wandering through the streets with the horse.” I do try to extend some grace to her because I know writing is hard, but just so we all understand, the era of graciousness endures solely because I lack access to a time machine. Past Me has committed countless acts of aggression against me and better keep her running shoes handy, I’m just saying.
Tasked with building a bridge with nothing but my nemesis’s woefully inadequate directive to go by, I set about performing a survey of the terrain and making a list of the materials needed to cross it. Heroine is a fugitive from this city, so she’s not free to stroll through the gate and meander like a tourist. Therefore, the first item on my to-do list is getting her in without being seen. Security is in a heightened state of alert because of the dangerous fugitive, so Heroine can’t rely on unconventional entrances being unguarded. I need a distraction, but what kind? How about one that foreshadows a battle that’s going to take place well after they leave the city to seed the possibility of this future problem?
It’s relatively easy to spew forth “this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened.” My favorite part of revision is finding places to go “boop, this is connected.”2 These aren’t random events the characters are stumbling through. Things happen as a consequence of prior events, both those explicitly stated on the pages of this story and those that we only glimpse in profile from a distance. Hero mentions something Heroine said the previous day. Heroine had a life-altering experience half a year ago and has to deal with both the before and after of that. There’s a 300-year-old curse, which is only the final act of a much, much longer scheme. The more lines you can draw between moments taking place on the page, the past (both recent and distant), and the future (through foreshadowing), the greater the feeling a story is the natural product of its world’s history and that things happening now matter because they’re creating a future, even if we see only a limited distance into it.
Ooh, ooh! *climbs through the screen and gently grasps your shirt* Know what else is a fun way to show a place didn’t spring into being on Page 1? ADDING WEAR TO THE WORLD. I can’t visualize, so I have no idea what people “see” when they’re given a description, but I’m very aware of the words on the page, and the vast majority of the time, there is no indication the entire scene isn’t dressed with brand-new, perfect stuff.3 Tags still on the pillows. Rugs that have never known the touch of a foot. Candles still wrapped in plastic, wicks pristine. Of course you can’t describe every detail of every thing, but writers will spend words telling me what a candle’s made of and at which monastery on what craggy mountainside but not that it’s burned down to a nub, that it’s been used. Nothing’s chipped, threadbare, mismatched, patched, nearing the end of its utility, being nursed along to extend its life as long as possible, whether out of love or necessity.4
And it’s not just the props and environments that are fresh off the assembly line. People seldom remark upon Bob’s new haircut, because that would mean Bob is capable of change and therefore so is everyone else and that way lies chaos. There may be an occasional scar (typically used to stereotypically judgmental effect), but no one will be ill, injured, or missing a limb unless it’s a plot point. How often do you see elderly people mentioned simply existing in the world, much less participating as more than a plot device?5 It’s amazing how many story worlds have an obvious but unstated law that everyone will be spirited away when they reach their mid-thirties. There’s no everyday evidence of history, continuity, the passage of linear time.6
Okay, if somebody hasn’t written a book about where the super-adults missing from 99% of story worlds went, somebody should. They can’t all be enjoying retirement because they’d still need food, textiles, shelter, etc. Some of them would be making shoes or whatever, but some of them would have to deal with the toothier perils of the world they were dumped in, and monster slayers past their prime aren’t exempt from this banishment. (Speaking of monster slayers past their prime getting back into the fray, might be time for a re-read of Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames, which doesn’t otherwise meet the brief but is a helluva good time.) The Premise Rules state there can’t be any youngsters there (near-universal belief that wrinkles make you unfuckable results in powerful birth control magic, I guess), but there will always be an influx of new 30-something arrivals booted out of youth-worshiping story worlds to refresh the population. What’s it like to be the 35-year-old “new kid”? There would have to be a Welcoming, Orientation, and Settling Committee. This is a place they’re going to, albeit against their will (well, theoretically; maybe some of them are happy to go, maybe somebody has a reason to try to get there prematurely), so they’re colonizers. This habitable world wasn’t empty. How are they acting out their invasion on the world’s existing occupants, and how’s the “we’re intruders here”/”fuck ’em, it’s ours now” infighting going? Do we get the point of view of the world’s existing occupants faced with this invasive species that somehow multiplies without ever producing young? And many of them would have had children who were left behind to be the unsupervised protagonists in the Youthiverse. How much time do they spend worrying about their kids or trying to find a way back to them? Do they get reunited at the drop point on the kid’s Old Day, and who finds out their kid died young when they never show up? Are romantic partners with any amount of age between them going to stay true when the older one gets whisked away first? Would it be a cultural thing in the Youthiverse that you avoid falling in love with anyone more than a week apart from you in age so the inevitable separation isn’t a lengthy test of fidelity?
Aaaaand that concludes this brief lesson in how quickly weird little ideas get completely out of control when given even a little space to grow. My brain vehemently rejects the burden of yet another novel, but I do need to practice my short forms…
Oh right, this is a REVISION post. Remember when I rambled about making up gender-nonspecific titles for rulers vs. just calling every ruler a king? Yeah, well, it’s since come to my attention the title of the damn book is Kiss of the Shadow QUEEN, which I could shrug off it was just on the cover but it’s a sobriquet used in the text, so now I have to fret over what to do about that. I just came up with a really elaborate solution, but the correct one is probably something ridiculously simple like “queens are the people married to kings.” Either will make me rend my teeth and gnash my clothes eventually, I’m sure. Words were a mistake.
Past Me described something as [sarcophagus but not] because the word falls into that realm of explicit real-world association I’d rather avoid (more like “croissant” than “china,” but still in the zone), so I had to make up another word7, which is less agonizing than naming a person but adjacent. And that’s how I learned the roots of sarcophagus are “flesh + eating” (I know “phagos” and can’t believe I never noticed that before), and now you also have this important information if you lacked it previously. I was delighted because this secondary character can now explain the enormous stone coffin in her office with “which means ‘devourer of flesh,'” which really does a lot of setting and characterization work for me.
I caught myself using the word “magical” as a first impression of a wondrous sight, out of habit. Since magic in this world is known to bite you in the ass, it wouldn’t be synonymous with “delightful.” I’ve cleaned up what I have now, but that’s the kind of thing that sneaks back in subsequent drafts, so I’ve added a search-and-destroy note about it to my pre-pub checklists (one for me, one for the copyeditor). As soon as I identify a known issue, I put it on a list for someone else to watch for because if I could see them all myself, I wouldn’t do them in the first place. That’s why it’s crucial to have other eyes on your work before publication. We know what it’s supposed to be, we know what we meant, we remember thinking about fixing it and that’s the same as fixing it, right? If only.
Anyway, two entirely new scenes (that will be in rough-draft condition the next time I go through this and uuuuuuugh, whyyyyyyyy) get us into the city, Heroine and Hero split up for division of labor, and we finally meet some people who’ve been mentioned a lot for things they did to influence the plot even before Page 1 and who will remain important throughout the series. (“Boop, this is connected.”) The last bit was a breeze to revise because it was one of the better types of scene to write: three characters, two in perpetual opposition, the third with a clear favorite (thus creating friction with the unfavored party) who will side with the other when it’s right to do so (thus creating friction with the favorite). It’s more dynamic than two people butting heads, especially when the two people rub each other the wrong way because they share their worst traits—that extra person injects some much-needed variety. Also, when a character has a different relationship with two other people in the same room, you get to see a broader spectrum of the character’s behavior and how they move along that spectrum. (Dynamically, even.) Not every scene warrants three characters, but I love the ones I get.
Up Next: Another Friend(?), and Heroine and Hero Reunite (or, What Did You DO? I Can’t Leave You Unsupervised for Five Minutes).
- My cynicism goes on a journey in the footnotes today (side effect of adding a little bit at a time to these posts over the course of weeks rather than wild mood swings during a single blogging session—I don’t know what I’d have to snort to crank out 3,000 words at once, but I know I couldn’t afford it), so weigh your interest in unnecessary elaboration against your need to limit exposure to negativity when deciding whether to read all the way to the bottom or stick to what I deemed fit for the body of the post. I didn’t spot the need for any specific content warnings below (death, maybe? it’s generalized); I just get increasingly sour starting with #4.
- I can’t make all the necessary connections while writing the first draft, no matter how extensively I outline, because the things that need to be connected don’t yet exist. A finished draft is a real thing you can hold in your hands and analyze and understand and remember. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, and that clear vision of what should have been applies to looking back at your writing as much as to whatever real-life clusterfuck springs to mind whenever hindsight is mentioned.
- In all fairness, I’m far from perfect in this regard. I don’t like writing description at all (aphantasia! can’t visualize! purely descriptive words are wasted on me!), so my natural inclination is to put as little thought into it as I can get away with. I am, however, aware the new-whole-healthy issue exists and make an active, ongoing effort during every stage of writing and revision to improve it. As long as I’m struggling to add enough description so my editor doesn’t yell at me (she doesn’t yell; she probably doesn’t even type forcefully most of the time) about everything taking place in a void, the description may as well address some of my own peeves.
- Necessity is another screed entirely. A whole lot of people who clearly have no idea what it’s like to not have enough money to meet basic needs sure do love to write “poor” characters who behave like they’re safely middle class.
- I looked it up, just as a curiosity, and 50% of the US population is over the age of 40. Yes, of course we have Boomers skewing the numbers upward, which won’t be applicable to every place at every time even in the real world, much less in a made-up one, but even if you cut that in half, if a mere 25% of your population is twice or more coming-of-age age, WHERE ARE THEY HIDING? And don’t even start with that tired “lack of modern medicine, average life expectancy of 35, gotcha!” excuse. Infant mortality tanks average life expectancy when such tanking occurs. (1+2+67+70)/4=35, there’s your average. It has never meant everybody dropped dead at 35. For anyone who survived childhood, the odds of becoming old weren’t radically less than they are for people today. Sure, modern medicine is a marvel, but just wait until you hear about all the other modern developments that are causing illnesses and injuries nobody needed modern medicine to treat hundreds of years ago—or, indeed, today, in the few places encroachment hasn’t yet laid its poisonous touch.
- Mumble mumble, cultural brainwashing perpetrated by marketers who need us to be constantly buying new shit manufactured with planned obsolescence so we need to buy more new shit and oh. my. god. is that a wrinkle? Here, you need to buy this shit, and if it doesn’t make you look new, you’re just not using enough and should buy more shit, mumble mumble. If you’re going to recreate a world of glossy, cheap veneer, do it with intent, not because you can’t imagine living in any other kind.
- My making-up-a-word process involves a lot of Google Translate. (They need an option to render a table of every translation so that I, alone and solely for the purpose of making up fantasy words, don’t have to click every target language one by one.) I pop in an English word (e.g., “devourer” or “flesh”), go through every translation, and jot down any collection of letters that strikes my fancy. And then I take some letters from column A and some letters from column B and smash ’em together until I get something that looks/sounds okay to me, followed by a general search to make sure my made-up word for a big, creepy death box doesn’t mean “sweet baby hamster toes” in a language spoken by millions of people. Anyone who’s actually serious about conlangs would be horrified by my inconsistency, but that’s just not an area of playing with language that’s ever excited me.