Today I learned “complacent” doesn’t mean what I thought it meant, and though I’m going to blame it on near-universal misuse of the word when people actually mean “complaisant,” I’m painfully embarrassed about every time I’ve used it incorrectly. I knew “complaisant” was a word, but I can’t remember seeing it in… 30 years? And while some dictionaries have caved to the common misuse in secondary definitions, know where they haven’t extended it? Complacency, which people also use incorrectly because they were allowed to get away with “complacent.”
114 rough draft pages have become 187 revised pages. You can taste the halfway point from here!
Heroine spends a not-insignificant amount of time in this book in dungeons and caves and, in proper fantasy RPG fashion, the sewer. Not sorry, had to do it once before I die.1 Also in proper fantasy RPG fashion, there’s a maintenance ledge, so being in the sewer doesn’t involve being in the sewage. Even my powerful desire to overtly acknowledge the existence of urban waste management has its limits.
We meet a Friend(?) who performs a straightforward business transaction and also exchanges information for a promise to complete a quest, which will be significant both later in this book and later in the series. *waggles overarching plot eyebrows* In the outline stage, this involved two separate characters, but I consolidated long ago because a fugitive can reasonably pay only so many intentional social calls. Accordingly, I capped Heroine’s planned stops at two, with her being fully aware that’s two too many, but needs must.
I finally found a place to put the reference to donkey necromancy2 I’ve been shifting around since the planning stage. I need it for craft reasons, not (just) because I’m a self-indulgent weirdo. That’s what art is, baby—“this element is necessary to provide structural support for the project” + “this element is gonna take the form of donkey necromancy because I’m a weirdo.”
I found an opportunity to go back near the beginning and plant a minor thing that Heroine dismissed because it was such a small odd fish in a big odd pond. It’s the kind of thing I hope makes at least one reader point and say “Aaaaaah! That’s a thing!” when it comes up the second time and Heroine doesn’t notice, but it’ll also be fine for those who “oh, damn” along with Heroine later. I cannot emphasize enough how insignificant this thing is in the grand scheme, so small I’ll probably cut it later for irrelevance, but this is the embiggening draft, so I’m allowed a whiff of dopamine from afar occasionally.
The major scene in this section prompted me to think of additional ramifications of this curse, specifically in regard to erasing a place from history and forging the replacement history (“forging” being the key word). I started going off on that tangent and had to remind myself of a note I made previously (because this is not the first time this has happened): “Heroine doesn’t need to know EVERYTHING. Leave something for the next books.”3 She is not going to solve this new problem, but if I talk about it for two pages, readers will reasonably think otherwise because I’ve given it so much weight. It’s a good development and I’ll definitely use it somewhere, but this book isn’t the place for it.
The Important Nameless Characters list has been reduced from three to two. I need to finish it off. Soon. The failure is starting to press on my brain. “Hey, loser. You know you have a 90-page planning document, a completed draft, half of a revision, and a pile of notes for other books involving these people and you never gave them names. NAMES. The first item on every character-building worksheet.4 Only the means by which everyone will identify them. That? Insurmountable obstacle for you. Way to go, champ.” The only way to shut it up is to do the dreaded task and pretend I love the results, since I’ll have welded them to main characters I’ve barely met.
I noticed that although I’ve made it a point that humans don’t have magic and purchasing some from beings who do carries a hefty price, I neglected to give any idea what sorts of beings do have magic (other than dragons, of which there’s only one and he’s more likely to eat you than work for you, and gods, who aren’t so involved in day-to-day human concerns that they’re likely to stir themselves, and an erectile dysfunction hex on a cheating husband is way below the pay grade of both these sources). Halfway is too late to announce “oh, by the way, sometimes magic folk openly live among humans.” At that point, it’s dangerously close to changing the rules of the world. So I went way back to the beginning and raised a pixie-like being a possible cause of a disturbance (turns out not, but now the reader knows it’s a possibility that exists in the world), and then at the “humans don’t have magic and it’s costly” part, I specified the pixie-like and a larger-scale being have different fee schedules, so the reader also knows the latter is a possibility before they encounter one 80,000 words in.
I’m not going to say “you must ALWAYS telegraph EVERY aspect of the world” because there are stories that benefit from surprises, but you have to know the difference between “a surprise” and “pulled that right out of your ass at a convenient moment.” Since this isn’t about Heroine discovering something new, readers should be in on her understanding of the world, which requires using some nonessential information as a machete to clear a path for more important things that won’t come along until later. If you don’t create that space early on, you’re going to have to hack a hole in the reader’s long-established perceptions later, and they won’t thank you for it.
This portion of the CHONK was comparatively painless (no brand-new scenes required, huzzah!), so there’s not a ton of whining to be done. Onward, past the halfway horizon!
Up Next: What Exactly Did You DO While I Left You Unsupervised (AKA We Did Not Need More People Wanting to Kill Us, Sweetums), and Q&A with the mentor who taught Heroine how to read people (as opposed to the mentor who taught her how to kill people).
- Maybe a little sorry, I had a margin note to “Make it sexy.” In the sewer. They don’t put their mouths on each other because I’m not a monster, but some physical contact is necessary, and it’s not entirely businesslike in nature.
- “A donkey carcass—not fresh—and a novice necromancer might be the limit of her travel budget, after all” provoked the invention of a new scribble project about Nax Niquill, Novice Necromancer. I know everything looks like a distraction, but some days the Big Project deems you unworthy to do anything but stare in despair, and scribble projects are the laxative that treats creative constipation.
- Aaaaand I just made myself a note to do a Not Heroine’s Problem read and extract any such remnants that remain. Maybe we need hints about things that will be somebody else’s problem… but let’s give it a go without and see if they’re missed.
- I don’t use character-building worksheets. My process is just as much “I need the character’s background to have prepared them to do X” as “the character would do X because of their background.” I don’t prioritize character or plot. They’re a unit. Everything needs to be able to change to accommodate better ideas, and all those tidy worksheets would be obsolete about 20 minutes after they were finished.