Archive for the ‘The Affairs of Dragons’ category

One of the nicest beatings ever

July 14, 2008

So, yeah, Wynette read my draft of the first two acts of Affairs. Her take:

“This would be a really good book from anybody but you. You can do better.”

Uh, thanks? Uh, uhm…really. How am I supposed to feel?

Let’s be clear: she’s right. The things she bitched about were things that have been troubling me as I’ve been writing: some serious flaws in Deaclan’s motivation which–were I to address them–would derail my trip towards that plot point this novel had to hit; the way plot had to keep giving way to the weight of backstory and worldbuilding this novel was trying to carry. There’s other stuff I would like to improve, too, but those are the things that can’t be addressed within the current framework. The bottom-line problem is that I am a character-driven writer and I’ve been trying to write to a plot point. Which is to say that I’ve been writing a plot-driven novel. Of course I can do better than that.

So, where do we go from here? The headline: this book won’t go to press this year. Oh, it *could*: I’m the publisher, after all. And it wouldn’t be an embarrassment in the scheme of things…but it wouldn’t be my best art. And that would be sorta pointless. Instead I will dig back in and attack this story (which, as those of you who’ve been playing along know, will have numerous volumes by the time it’s done, mostly because the idea is Too Freakin Big) from the other possible angle of entry. Which will obviate (no, who am I kidding? alleviate) the worldbuilding problem I’ve been fighting. I’d actually had a hard time deciding which of these two points of entry to use, and now I have sufficient data to be certain which is the way to go. It’s going to be easier, and probably better, this way.

Why, then, the perpiscacious reader asks, if trying it the other way will be easier and better, didn’t you just damn well do it that way in the first place?

That would be because I had made the mistake of attempting to think like a publisher.

Oh, sure, I’ve got to think like a publisher. But when thinking like a publisher gets in the way of thinking like an artist, I will succeed as neither. I’d chosen Affairs as the starting point for the series because it’s got a better hook. It will probably be easier to sell. All things being equal, that’s better, obviously. The problem is that all things aren’t equal. The other approach, beginning with The Shadow of the Sun, is more art and less hook. Hamlet meets the Tain Bo Cuilagne meets Paradise Lost. How the hell do you soundbyte that? Who besides Irish mythology geeks has even *heard* of the Tain Bo?

Don’t glaze over. It will be a good ride, nay a great one. It just doesn’t have that nice *hook*.

Back to the study for me, right after the launch.

Performance Anxiety

July 11, 2008

Last night the vast majority of Affairs, which I have designated Acts I & II (because, structurally speaking, that’s what they are, even though there is no explicit designation in the novel) went to my alpha readers. Now it is time to write Act III, which will be relatively short. I know what *must* happen in this act, e.g. the climax & conclusion: I feel confident of how I will write them. But there is a small set of plot points which, were time and word count no issue, I would also include–and I am dithering over whether to include them or push them into the next volume.

I use the word “dithering” advisedly. I am in my full-on neurotic-writer place this morning. I’ve had to get out my magical Writing Earrings and Writing Mug which I bought up in the mountains during last year’s writing retreat. (How did they get to be magical? By association. I bought them in my Writing Place, during a week–a WEEK–when I slammed out 75 rather kick-ass pages. Have I mentioned I can’t wait to get back up there next month?)

I don’t have time to dither. The Shorn launch is next weekend, and one of the Mercury Retrograde authors plans to bring me a ms. while he’s here for the event. It will make today’s neurosis look like a quiet afternoon at the beach if I have not finished this novel, which I planned to finish in May, by then. And I’ll be damned if I will be STILL WORKING on this novel at this year’s retreat. What’s a neurotic to do?

Well, I know what comes before that decision point. I will go write that this morning, and trust the muse to know what he’s doing, as usual. I’m fairly certain he already knows exactly what to do, and the reason I’m dithering is that I’m applying the wrong side of my brain to the problem.

Must go write.

Nerves…of steel

July 6, 2008

The closer I get to the end of Affairs, the more ways it finds to make me nervous. Today I am writing a scene that must be there for structural reasons–but it is turning out to have a surprising emotional charge, complete with elements I must keep under control lest I pull in thematic stuff that belongs in the next volume, because it is the first time Lesle and Deaclan have been alone in the same room since he pulled the rug out from beneath me *again*. I am once again walking the tightrope of being true to what these characters would really think, do, and say about everything that has happened of late–and controlling the flow of the novel.

This is complicated by the sheer mechanical issue of page count, which in turn is complicated by Mark.

Mark has been upper management for the vast majority of his career, which means he’s got finely-honed methodologies for attempting to control things beyond his power. Since he helped me arrive at appropriate pricing for Shorn in the UK and European markets, one of those things has been Affairs. Suddenly he’s gone from simply being proud of my artistic achievements to seeing the business side of it– and he asks me questions like “When will you be done?”

(That all depends how much help I get on my mundane tasks, doesn’t it?)

And “How long is it now?”

This is because he has learned to calculate the cost of producing a book. So rather than finally going to sleep last night, he’s doing page-count math in his head and telling me that if I go all the way up to the 240K-word-count limit Wynette assures me I must observe if I am to keep the book under $20 on the cover, I will never make any money on this.

Now, which of my two advisers has published books before? Sigh.

I am trying not to take this personally. I know this is just a sign that he’s fully on board and engaged in the emotional process with me, and it is simply a fact of his personality that things beyond his control make him crazy. But now, as I sit in the study writing this two-scenes-from-the-Act-3-break moment, I keep finding my eye on the little window in the menu bar that tells how many words I’ve used up, my attention distracted by the page count in this chapter.

Yeah, you’ve gotta have nerves of steel to be a writer-publisher.

Honoring the Story

June 27, 2008

Writers I coach have to endure my exhortations to “honor the story” or “honor the characters” until, I’m certain, they would sometimes like to come and smack me. Fortunately I do most of my coaching by phone. And later, of course, they admit–sometimes grudgingly–that their stories are better for my nagging them to stick to their visions rather than taking the easy way out of story problems.

Today–this whole week, actually–I’m working from that lesson myself. At the beginning of the week, in the midst of the wheels coming (surprisingly, at least to me) off Deaclan’s how-to-be-a-majordomo cart, a member of the Nimrod organization turned up so unexpectedly that he even surprised me. Like most of the tertiary characters in Affairs, the Nimrods are based on some real-life alt-history/conspiracy theory fodder; one of my great challenges in developing this novel has been taking the subjects of those theories and bringing them to life in ways that serve the overall series, the reader, and the plot of this particular novel.

I’ve learned not to discount those little mystery presents the muse hands me; but sometimes they mean I have to stop and rethink my plans. This was one of those situations. Suddenly I had to figure out *why* that guy was so suddenly on scene: I felt I had a handle on the agendas and constraints from which the Nimrods were operating, and this guy turning up here & now didn’t fit with what I thought I knew.

So…back to my source materials. I had some background (read: alt history/conspiracy theory) that had been sitting neglected on my shelf for a while, mostly because trying to make all of those different theories line up into one coherent whole tends to make my brain explode, and when it does I must go away. But I knew exactly which pieces I could use to dig into my Nimrod motivations, and they were nice and short, so I sat down with them. At first all I was getting was nuggets of detail that will be nice for verisimilitude but not important enough to help me work out my (obviously neglected) motivational set for this organization.

Now, for better or worse, this novel is far from the only thing I’m working on right now. I am still engaged in the process of connecting Larissa’s book with its readership and planning the launch, not to mention working on client projects and having a family life. So it took me until yesterday to finally run up against the thing I needed. It made a whole lot of things that had been fuzzy make sense–and it made me have to shift aspects of backstory and a few small areas of plot. It also gave me that brain-exploding feeling that working with these theories so often does. (Right before a meeting with a client. Nice timing.)

So–Oh, groan, here I go again. I am 200K into this novel, and a month late on my deadline. I don’t want to have to rearrange things. Can’t I just wave my magic fantasy-writer’s wand and declare this difference between my fictional world and the real-world underpinnings Of No Consequence?

Yeah, I could. But honoring the real-world facts makes my story world much more believable. It was just a bit too neat to give a proper real-world sense, before. So even though it’s inconvenient, I am already improving my story. And as I began to dig into the meat of the scene, to figure out what–in my updated scenario–this guy was up to, little bits of future plot that I hadn’t quite worked out came into focus. And above all, it’s a better ride for the reader, a better and truer story.

It’s still a pain in the ass.

A short detour

June 16, 2008

Well, that scene didn’t turn out at all the way I expected–but it did turn out *right*. Fortunately it was a short, character- and relationship-enriching detour.

Now, back on the bus.

Avoidance Behavior

June 16, 2008

After a couple good days in the study, I have run up against a plot-point long planned, a thing I reasoned Edward would decide to do. It seemed altogether sensible until last night, when I realized what Lesle’s reaction was going to be: not at all what anyone else expected (including me, btw. Duh.) but inevitable given her character.

Suddenly I am waffling about this plot point. Maybe it’s right; maybe it’s not. And all at once I find that there are fifty tasks I have been ignoring that must be completed Right Now. It’s all avoidance behavior, of course.

Even blogging about the problem is avoidance behavior.

Time to turn off blog and just go write the scene. I can, after all, excise it later if it turns out to have been wrong…

Welcome to Mercury Retrograde

June 9, 2008

I am not someone who must check her horoscope first thing in the morning; as many of you know, I have essentially no *beliefs*, only suspicions and experiences and observations. One observation that will surprise no one who knows me: there is something oddly numinous about Mercury’s retrograde phase, something that changes things in surprising and frequently unpredictable ways. I’m not talking about the fact that mail servers seem to be behaving badly right now, which they are; I’m not going to get into the disaster stories I’m hearing from people who had the poor judgment to attempt software upgrades during this phase. (Just don’t do it: that’s what you need to know.) As far as I’m concerned, the significant thing about Mercury in retrograde is the effect it has on *me*, particularly on the muse.

I am supposed to be spending a lot of bandwidth on discussing my race to finish Affairs right now: and no, I haven’t forgotten, nor am I done. [Bad writer! I am seriously late on my deadline. Fortunately I know the publisher. 🙂 ] I’ve simply been unable to talk about process, or about much of anything regarding my creative life. This is a well-known feature of the retrograde, at least for me. I’ve been working steadily–but in typical Mercury Retrograde fashion, I’ve fallen into a sort of communications black hole, and while there’s a lot of words being conceived and written in here, they just can’t seem to find their ways out beyond the event horizon to reach other people.

So, to catch you up a bit: the muse woke up at the beginning of this cycle and decided that nothing would do but to drop everything and go back to the beginning of the novel, and start building in that neglected subplot-and-a-half. Classic Mercury Retrograde stuff, actually. I finally finished that over the weekend; at last I am ready to work through the final section before the climax. My word-count estimate was Just Dead Wrong, as usual: I am currently at 197K words, give or take, and I *still* estimate about 20K more. Maybe more than that, actually.

Yeah, I can’t estimate.

The most surprising statistic to me, since I’ve spent all this time working on a subplot that was all about Deaclan: the PoV proportion is still hugely tilted in favor of Lesle. Which seems appropriate, since this was supposed to be her novel in the first place. As of last night, 68% of the pages thus far are written from her PoV. Yes, I’m a geek, and I do chart and conduct the occasional structural analysis: I need to do this, just to control for how often I get hijacked by characters. One more observation for the structure geeks; the rest of you can look away lest your eyes burn: this novel is turning out to have a Syd-Field-classic 3-act structure. My Act 2 has 5 reversals, not counting the reversal into Act 2 or the reversal (not yet written) into Act 3. Of those mid-act reversals, one is driven by Deaclan, the rest by Lesle; which, I guess, is proportionally correct. So maybe my plot is working. 🙂

I’m feeling a sort of existential insecurity about this novel at present: not *can I finish?* because I know I can; I could tell you exactly what the major plot points are, for the rest of the novel. It’s more “Oh, gods, what if it SUCKS?”

That’s normal for me, too. I’ll just have to keep writing and see how I feel about it when it’s complete, and pass it along to my alpha readers, who I know I can trust not to let me embarrass myself in public. 🙂

Eleventh-hour plot restructuring

May 16, 2008

Making fiction-sausage doesn’t get much uglier than this. When Deaclan blew me off my story map a few days ago, I realized in short order that I had to rework the plot for this last section of the novel. My story bus gets hijacked frequently enough that I’ve actually got a methodology now. In the interests of full disclosure…

I’ve got two computers in my study. (Yes, I’m a geek. And I’m married to somebody in the computing industry, which means I have a great deal of tech support and the occasional hand-me-down from a defunct company, which is where I got Study Computer #2, my laptop.) I have an external monitor (another defunct-company hand-me-down) hooked up to my laptop, so there are two good monitors and a laptop screen at my disposal–which is a good thing, because it turns out I need to look at a lot of data at once when I’m developing fiction, particularly when I’m performing reconstructive surgery on a plot. So on one of my monitors I bring up Power Writer, the program in which I do all my fiction writing. (If you’re not familiar with Power Writer, and you write novels, this is a thing you want to know about: go here.) And on my other monitor, the one connected to the laptop, I bring up MS Word and start brainstorming in a new file. (Fortunately I’ve also got my favorite new productivity aid, Synergy, running, and can talk to both computers with one keyboard and mouse.)

In my brainstorming file, I ask myself questions like What does Edward want now? What is he afraid of? What is he going to do about it? and then attempt to answer those questions. The answers frequently surprise me, and always lead me to discover things that belong in my developing plot. But then, of course, I must also ask myself questions like What is Deaclan going to do about this thing Edward plans? — which leads me to even more plot points. All of these new plot points must be logged in my story file along with whatever notes I’ve got on them. I must go through this same exercise with each of my important characters, not just my PoVs.

In the process, for better or worse, I also discover pieces of motivation that have to be set up earlier in the story: things I was not consciously aware of until I began this exercise, even though they’ve been driving certain behaviors all along. Now I dive into earlier sections of the novel, layering in a few paragraphs of the rumination Deaclan favors (he says far more to the reader than to just about anybody else, as it turns out) or performing minor adjustments to existing dialogue.

Then, finally, I am left with a list of New Problems to solve: things I have determined characters will want or need to do, for which I don’t yet know the mechanics of how to accomplish them. They include issues such as the things one of two people who are functionally joined at the hip must do in order to effectively deceive the other, within the story rule-set, and — always the most challenging — how to accomplish certain bits of magic that Deaclan will decide are necessary.

It will be a couple days before I am writing sentences again, but it is already becoming obvious to me that I was wrong in my previous post: this novel is not going to come in shorter than anticipated. Silly me. I am going to have a hell of a time keeping it from getting *longer*. But it will definitely be a more exciting final act than I had previously planned.

And this, finally, is another reason why I write sequentially and accept the shenanigans of my unruly characters. I could never have imagined this story all at one go; it evolves as I write, and is much better for it. The novel that will finally go to press will include only a vanishingly small amount of what I originally expected to write, and the muse–who mostly doesn’t say much until I am putting words on the page–is better at this stuff than I. 🙂

Yeah, my plot’s broken again

May 14, 2008

As usual, my conscious mind is the last to know. When I got nervous about Deaclan’s reaction in the last scene, I *should* have been: I now realize it changes big chunks of his plot. What I’d planned for him between now & the climax has been entirely obviated; whatever changes I make to his plot must, perforce, ripple into Lesle’s as well. I must, at this late date, engage in yet another round of plot restructuring.

Two pieces of good news:

The plot as re-planned by the muse (thought not yet fully revealed to my conscious mind) will be better than the one I’d sketched. He is better at plot than I.

The book will probably come in a bit shorter.

Now I just have to figure out what everyone will be doing instead of what I’d planned. Has anybody seen my map?

Why I write sequentially

May 14, 2008

Today I feel as if I’ve got a tiger by the tail. Yesterday I executed the plot point I had planned for that point in the story–but, as so often happens, I was surprised by a character’s emotional reaction, left with a profound feeling of uncertainty about what he’s going to do next and how it will influence the unfolding story.

Don’t read too much into my assertion that I had planned this plot point: I had only realized what Deaclan was going to do at this point in the story a few days earlier, when I began thinking about the plot point to which he’s reacting and remembered that–because of the rules of magic and magical bonds already in play–Deaclan would be immediately aware of things anyone else could only have guessed at. And that those things weren’t going to make him happy. Suddenly this event which I had originally planned as part of another plot was affecting Deaclan and his tactics, and — more importantly, to my mind — moving him into an emotional space I wasn’t ready for. One unanticipated emotional response from a character can–and frequently does–change the way the plot unfolds.

The closer I come to the end of this novel, the more nervous things like this make me. In early chapters, when characters surprise me, I feel entirely comfortable just letting them do their things and finding out what they’re getting at as things unfold. But now I am (I hope) within fifty pages of the climax, and the novel has to end in a particular place–and, more troubling yet, because the next novel will continue the action of this one, my plot structures must work across the divide between these books. I must not allow characters to reveal things that I need to use in the next volume–and I can’t fall into the trap of allowing them to stagnate because I’m trying to hold off. And when my characters surprise me, they always move my reveals forward from where I’d planned them. I am, after all, notoriously slow at most everything. I can only assume that when the muse pushes faster, he’s the one who’s right. But suddenly each of my subplots is straining towards stuff that has to be in the next book, while my main plot is time-bound. The climax must occur on a particular day, because it is a holiday; and as my characters speed up the pace of the subplots, and I try to keep my reveals under control, that day begins to seem a very long way off.

Why all this worry? Because there are only so many pages that can be fit between a single set of covers before the book becomes too expensive to produce. If there were no such limits, I would probably write novels that were 800 or a thousand pages long. Readers will only pay so much for a book, and distributors and bookstores will demand their cut of the purchase price. If the money remaining after all those requirements are met is less than the cost of producing the book, I am essentially paying readers to read my stories. And of course I want to share my stories with everyone, but I can’t afford to do that. As long as my stories go to market in book form, I have to keep the chunks of my story below a certain threshhold–and each of those chunks must stand satisfyingly alone.

This is a set of tricks which seems more easily managed by people who develop outlines and then stick to them. Unfortunately I develop outlines, draw maps of my story territories if you will, plan my trips–and then the characters hijack the bus. Every so often, when we stop for meals, I negotiate with them about moving in the direction of the climax point for which I’m shooting, and we modify our maps and set out again. But the characters have a tendency to forget to look at the map, or to drive too fast–and my nice measured story arcs look as if they were drawn by someone riding on a bus being driven much too fast on a poorly maintained road.

Which, of course, they are.

We will get there. But I’ll be uneasy until I bring my subplots to their first-book climax points.