Putting it all together (in my head)

So the trouble chapter in Theadia has been somewhat successfully rewritten — it could still use a bit of tidying up, but for now it’s a lot closer to what I wanted it to be — so I’m onto the next scene, which takes place maybe a few weeks later. Now that particular scene is okay (again, could be better), but the transition between the two scenes could probably be a little more coherent. The current problem is that I need it to hint at a passage of time without it being a ‘Some Time Later…’ placard.

As I’ve mentioned before, there are a lot of moving parts that I need to be aware of and ensure they’re in the correct order and make sense. Like most of my novel projects, this isn’t something I ever have copious notes for…it’s all in my head. Sure, I’ll have some notes, but rarely will I ever have the entire thing mapped out somewhere on paper or online.

With Theadia‘s latest go-round, I find that I’m filling in a lot of the gaps with these sorts of things: fixing the transitional scenes, inserting new passages to strengthen the conflict within the overarching plot line, and of course filling in the ‘Fix This Later’ blanks. All of this in my head…getting to a point in the story where I know I need to insert the action from an antagonist’s POV, or better show a character’s development from passive to active status. Things like that.

It’s certainly making the story a hell of a lot longer, that’s for sure. But I’m fine with overwriting like this, because when it comes time to edit, I’ll have enough laid out that it will be safe to streamline what needs streamlining. [This is what I did with The Balance of Light, where I excised about sixty thousand words or so. That one’s still a long book, but it reads a lot smoother than it had originally.]

I still haven’t actually finished the book yet — I’d say it’s just shy of the final climax of the story right now — but I’m not too worried about that. I’ll get there soon enough. Once everything else is put together.

Revising, rewriting, reworking…

Some days it seems I’m never going to finish Theadia. I still think it could be better, but I haven’t quite gotten there yet. Mind you, I know well enough never to fall prey to overworking it; I’ve always kept a keen eye on when my projects are veering towards that edge and knowing when to reel it back. It’s better than it previously was…but it’s still not at the level I’d like it to be at.

Part of it is that I know there are segments that are still missing. Situations and subplots that need to be beefed up so that our protagonists’ actions make more sense. Small patches of vague world building that need to be clarified to make the story more real. Things that could be improved upon. This is the level I’m at now…going through what I have so far and filling in all those blanks.

Part of it is also that I need it to have more emotion. I’m trying not to talk myself into thinking that I’m merely comparing it to the Bridgetown Trilogy (which had quite a lot of it), only that I know the story could be livelier. Making the characters more personal. Giving them lives that the reader could empathize with. It doesn’t need to be high drama, it just needs to have more of that active spirit that pulls the reader along.

My writer brain occasionally reminds me of the possible idea of doing a complete rewrite to make it more vibrant creatively and emotionally, just like the Trilogy, and though that is of course tempting, I’m not sure if that’s something this story needs. Then again…my creative instincts tell me that this is precisely what Theadia needs right now, and I’ve since relearned that following my creative instincts have rarely steered me wrong when it comes to projects I believe in. And if I choose to follow through, then I will need to dedicate as much time to it as I possibly can.

[That, of course, brings up my long-standing creative foe, Distraction. If I’m going to do a total rewrite, I’m going to need to manage my time a hell of a lot better than I have. But that’s another post entirely.]

I can see this with the last several projects I’ve been working on: MU4, Diwa & Kaffi, Queen Ophelia and Theadia. They’re all stories that I want to tell, and stories I believe in…but my instincts are telling me they’re not quite told to my satisfaction just yet. I can do better. I can write them better. I can give them more of my spirit to make them work the way they should.

Will this mean several more years of not releasing anything? I don’t think so…I’m hoping I’ll have something out later this year, though I’m not sure which one it will be. Maybe it’ll be something utterly different. Maybe it won’t be any of them. Who knows…?

Still. Whatever I do next, I’m going to need to start working on it, and very soon.

Filling in the gaps

The rewrite/revision on Theadia continues apace, sometimes quickly and sometimes at a snail’s pace. It really depends on what I left out in the first draft.

Theadia is definitely the first novel project where I actively chose to let myself use “I’ll write that bit later” more than just once. In pretty much every other novel I’ve written, I’d tried not to skip scenes and always wrote in order. I did this because I’m conscious of the multiple moving parts of a novel and didn’t want to make any horrific continuity errors. I’d done it once or twice in recent novels: one point in Diwa & Kaffi where I knew I had to expand on one thing but I also knew its importance was only to that specific moment in the story and not anything later on. And in In My Blue World I’d had to rewrite a scene due to a major edit that took out an extraneous character I no longer needed. Other than that, I wrote continually from start to finish.

With Theadia, I knew I’d have to give extra focus on one side of the story being told because it was kind of a new area of expertise (I use that term loosely, heh) for me; I knew what I wanted, and I knew that its scenes would complement whatever the main characters were doing. So instead of spending all that extra time trying to get it right the first time, I made a few vague references of what was happening, as well as a few notes at the start of certain chapters explaining what was going on. I did a bit of research in the background while I wrote the scenes I knew I could write easily.

So right now what I’m doing for this project is filling in those gaps. This is working out well for the most part, as I’m doing two things in tandem here: I’m writing those important scenes, but I’m also thinking of how they’ll affect the ones I’ve already written. It’s taking the same amount of time I’d have taken if I’d written it from start to finish, but without the frustrating gaps of nonwriting that I’d have spent focusing on learning more about that new area of expertise.

I still have a long way to go of course, but I’m further along and that makes me happy enough.

It’s Revision Time

Image courtesy of The Garden of Words

So for the most part, Queen Ophelia is done — in fact, I’d called it when I realized I’d been overwriting past the actual end for the last week or so — and I’m putting that one aside to simmer for a few weeks while I shift all my focus towards revising Theadia. That’s coming along quite nicely, by the way, as I’ve just started working on Chapter 13, in which our intrepid titular duo are about to embark on a flight from hell. (You know the kind: the delays, the lack of open gates, and the purgatory of waiting for your stuff at baggage claim. Some things never change.)

While I do love revising my work, especially when I’m working on something that excites me, the one side effect is the lack of new words. Right now I’m not worried because I’m actually inserting new scenes and things into the revision, but further down the line, I’m sure I’ll be itching to write something new. What that’ll be I’m not sure, but I’ll focus on that when its time comes.

Revision, at least for me, is kind of like putting the spackle on the nail holes and the grout between the tiles. I write complete rough first drafts to begin with, or as complete as I can get them at any rate. I’ll do most of the hard cleanup on the first couple of chapters — deleting the broken bits and inserting the information that will tie in with later scenes — but for most of the rest of the novel, I’ll be focusing more on spot-cleaning. That’s where I’ll fix wonky grammar, find/replace any changed names, give a bit more detail, and create smoother links between scenes. As I’d mentioned last month, I’m Filling In the Blanks.

Interestingly enough, it’s not until revision time where I finally question what the real theme of the book is. I mean, I kind of have a general idea while I’m writing it for the first time, but this is when I decide what its focus truly is. In Theadia, for instance, I knew the theme in vaguest terms was about personal and societal responsibility. But the real theme expands on that: it becomes a story about questioning who has this responsibility, and finding the strength and initiative to take it on yourself when it’s failing at every other level. I could go into even more detail here, but I think you get the point.

I do love revising, actually. The toughest part — the initial invention and telling of the story — is already over. It’s already a complete entity. I love revision because I’m familiar with the story now, and that gives me the ability to figure out how to make it even better. That’s where I start painting the walls pretty colors and hanging the artwork!

Filling in the blanks

Kaede Azusagawa from Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai

When I started writing Theadia, there were certain names for places and destinations that I knew were important, but didn’t exactly want to spend a long amount of time obsessing over. There were also a few character names I felt were too similar so a few of them needed to be changed. For the place names there were a lot of “(NAME)” inserted. I know what I’m referring to from the context of the scene, so I didn’t bother focusing on that until I needed to.

As it happens, since I’m starting in on the New and Improved draft, I knew it was a perfect time to start filling in the blanks. The name changes are easy, just a quick Find/Replace with each chapter I work on. [Amusingly, I had a Dani, an Andy and a Dina in the rough draft, so two of them obviously needed to be changed right away.] And while I’m at it, I’m making a longhand list of these names — as well as certain points of reference, such as the color-coded flight teams some of them happen to be in — so I can work on the continuity while I’m at it.

This was something I taught myself when I was working on the Bridgetown Trilogy, and it’s worked wonders for me since: whenever I do rewrite/revision work, that’s the perfect time for me to work on the fiddly-bit details as well. Whether it’s a specific spelling of a name or their Space Force pilot ranking, it’s important to keep all of this consistent. I used to make notes of it during the very first rough draft, but over the years I realized that was kind of limiting me. What if kicking their piloting proficiency level up a notch makes a certain plot point later on more believable?

So essentially, the reason my rough drafts are always a mess isn’t always because of story issues; it’s primarily because I’m very fast and loose with them these days. I find I work a lot faster when I keep a consistent flow and focus on the story, and not worry too much about the details. By the time that version is done (or close to done), I’ll have a much better understanding of them and can just ‘fix them in post’ instead.

The great thing about doing this is that when I decided to start another draft reread after all this fiddly-bit fixing, is how unexpectedly great the updated version reads! It’s a pleasant surprise that I always look forward to, especially during scenes I’m fond or proud of. This is part of why I truly enjoy the revision process of novel writing!

On Expansion

Image courtesy of K-On!

The other day while I was working on Theadia, it occurred to me that though this novel has already hit 130k words, it’s still missing numerous important parts. While it’s strong in some respects, I’d completely ignored other characters and events that need to be there in order to make this work. I kind of did that on purpose, as I’d started this in a very just run with it and see where it goes style, albeit with a vague-ish fourteen-page rough outline. I wanted to focus on just getting the words down instead of fretting about making them perfect right away. Besides, this is my first space opera, and I’ve got a bit of a steep learning curve going on.

But now that I’ve gotten this far — almost to the important climactic moments of the entire story — I feel like I left a hell of a lot out. Passages where I’d just written a three-paragraph ‘this is what happens in the ensuing three months’ to get to another scene…or worse, scenes of character conflict where I barely touched on the antagonist’s reasons for their actions. Again, I did that on purpose in a ‘we’ll fix it in post’ sort of way.

And then there are the multiple minor characters I introduced, had them stick around for a few moments, and then kind of disappear. There’s one I’d created a few days ago — I’d completely forgotten to give a major character a co-pilot, which is important — which made me realize two things. One, that major character hardly has any scenes except a few supporting parts and one important front-stage scene. Two, I hardly gave her that much character development other than being related to one of the primary titular characters, Claudia.

Which made me think: am I stretching this story out far too long and stuffing it with inconsequential chaff…or is this another case of story expansion?

I’ve told you before about how I’d expanded a story in the past, when I started revising The Phoenix Effect and ended up writing a trilogy instead. And though I can’t say for sure just yet, I think the same thing is happening for Theadia. I love the story, but there’s so much missing. And furthermore, it’s the same exact feeling I felt when I started writing A Division of Souls oh so long ago. I knew I had a good story, but I wasn’t giving it nearly as much breathing room as it desperately needed. It needed expansion.

At this point I’m still debating how to handle this. I have a few options here:

–Continue with the story as is and complete it, then reshape it during revision. Pare down any extraneous subplots and tighten up any weak spots.
–Continue with the story as is, just to finish it so I have something to work on when I expand it. Or…
–Start the major revision now with the plan of turning it into a duology or a trilogy.

Option 1 is not what I want to do, however. I don’t want it to be a single self-contained volume because the story would be too cramped and incomplete. Option 2 makes sense to me, but it also feels like I’d be wasting much-needed time, knowing full well that I’d be rewriting it anyway. (And besides, I know exactly how it’s going to end.)

Option 3, to start the major rewrite/revision now, makes the most sense. Just like the trilogy, this process would give me an even deeper immersion in the world, to further understand all of its weblike connections, and give the characters and events the breathing space they truly need.

I mean, sure, part of this is my brain thinking hey, this is a year ending in 2, which means there’s gonna be some awesome writing music coming out, and I’ve always wanted to relive the best parts of writing a trilogy…it’s gonna be great! [Granted, the more sedate adult part of my brain, while it does have those high hopes, knows that it won’t be exactly the same.] I knew I’d be returning to writing plus-sized stories again, sooner or later. I love writing them, and I love everything about the process of writing them.

I had a good run of writing four publishable standalones after the trilogy, just to prove to myself that I could write in that size and style…but I really want to return to the Big Stuff again. The physical world of Theadia is vast, as is its cast. Like the Bridgetown trilogy, it starts of with a single person’s focus and grows to become something affecting everyone. It’s a story about connections, community, and responsibility. Its recurring theme is about the often mundane yet absolutely critical points in any event that need to happen in order for everything else to go right. [I admit there may be a bit of influence from my Former Day Job in there.]

So if this unfolds the way I think it is, this is going to keep me busy for the next several months, no doubt. Not that I’m complaining, just good to know ahead of time.

More as this unfolds, dear reader. And yes, there will most likely be more writing soundtracks involved.

(Image courtesy of Gall Force 2: Destruction)

Year’s End View V

First things first: END OF YEAR BOOK SALE!

Want some free e-books? My novels are currently available for free over at Smashwords until the end of the year! That’s all three books in the Bridgetown TrilogyMeet the Lidwells!, and In My Blue World, available in all formats. Go on, you know you want them!

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I’ve been thinking, along with everything else, about where I want my writing career to go in 2022. I haven’t self-published anything new since In My Blue World in 2019, and I need to catch up on my plan of (at least) one self-pubbed project a year. I’ll give myself a break, though, considering what the pandemic has done to the publishing arena over the last couple of years. My initial plan of submitting Diwa & Kaffi to agents and publishers was put on the sidelines because of it, so I chose to use the ensuing wait time wisely by writing Queen Ophelia and Theadia. One (or both? or all three?) may be released in e-book form sometime next year, depending on where we are in revision and cover art.

Meanwhile, back in November I joked to A that maybe for next year’s NaNoWriMo I should write a Christmas romcom. (A did kind of give me an ‘oookay, where did this come from?’ look, but come on, romances are often a guaranteed seller no matter how much nonbelievers want to make fun of them.) I’ve actually been meaning to read more romances anyway to expand my reading and writing horizons. This in turn kicked off an immersive reading binge of romances and romance/mysteries, and I’m thinking this is indeed a viable avenue for me, not to mention another genre for me to read so I’m not stuck in the same reading groove. We both found Sarah Morganthaler’s Moose Springs, Alaska series really good fun, and it also has excellent doggo content. This kind of setup seems to resonate with my style of humor and plot, so I’m thinking this might be a good start.

This, of course, led to another semi-related conversation about pen names. I tend to think my given name is pretty plain and easy to pronounce (though I’ve heard my last name mangled many times over the years), but I’ve often thought about toying with a pen name anyway. I know of a few writers who’ve used them for one reason or another, whether it’s to revive a flagging career, kickstart a new one, or to keep different styles and genres separate. I do have a few thoughts about this that I may toy with in the new year. In a way I kind of like the idea, considering that I’ve put said career on pause over the last couple years. Starting off fresh across the board does have a certain appeal.

There’s something to be said about creating a new self-image, especially when you’ve been thinking about it over a long period of time and it’s something that’s long overdue. This is another one of the paradoxes in my life: while I might be a creature of comforting habits, there’s also this consistent undercurrent that I need to change things up now and again, especially when it’s desperately needed.

And in my writing career, while I’m happy that I’ve been coming up with these new stories, many that I’m proud of, I still get the feeling that I’m limiting myself somehow. Whether it’s by self-censoring or avoidance, I know when it happens because that’s when I get irritated with my work. Why am I writing all these non-action scenes? Why am I avoiding writing conflict? Why am I finding it so hard to face those scenes? It’s that paradox: I feel comfortable avoiding the conflict, but I know that does not make a good story.

I kind of blame writing Diwa & Kaffi for this, really. That project, while near and dear to my heart, was partly an exercise in writing conflict that specifically wasn’t based on protagonists and antagonists. The conflict in that story is within: learning to trust oneself and others, and learning how to believe in oneself. This in turn kind of skittered my own life into an unexpected direction: I realized these were conflicts I was avoiding in my own life. Writing that kind of story is one thing, but dealing it in reality is quite another. And it took me a while to realize just how badly I was limiting myself, not just as a writer but as a person.

While writing Theadia and Queen Ophelia this year, I chose to face that. I prepped myself by having a relatively strong outline I could work from, but I had to learn to trust myself with these stories. Let them go where they needed to go, even if they went in unexpected directions. This wasn’t just the “steadily increasing the volume” action style I used for the Bridgetown Trilogy…this was about immersing myself in these stories. Putting myself into them, but also letting the characters shine as much as possible. While they’re still a bit of a pre-revision mess, they’re probably the strongest stories and the most realistic characters I’ve written. I trust these stories implicitly enough that revision will only make them shine even brighter.

Which brings me back to the theme of this whole series of posts: I’ve been running in rough draft mode for far too long. Sure, there are moments in my life, professional and personal, where I’ll shine when my strengths are at their peak, but everything else definitely needed a fuckton of work. And that work is what I’d done over the last year and a half during this weird pandemic season. And I think, finally, I’m ready to emerge in a much better edition of myself.

Taking Notes

I’m at that point in both Theadia and Queen Ophelia that I’m going to need to start taking revision notes. I’ve come a long way on both of them, and after doing a few reread sessions, I think it’s time I started writing down what I’m going to need to fix/change/rework/etc. in both novels. This is a process I’ve done with all my books after I finish (or get close to finishing) the rough first draft.

My process for this takes place during the rereads. In particular, any moment where I react to the novel — any reaction, such as finding bad grammar or typos, or knowing a scene needs fixing because it affects something else further on, or anything in between — that’s when I take notes. It’s the longhand part of my process, where I use a small legal pad (because it’s easiest to use while reading in bed) to mark it all down.

I already know of several scenes in both books that will need revision; as always, these are the ‘flailing’ first chapters where I’m still trying to feel the book out. I find that it’s just easier to riff with whatever I come up with in the knowledge that something better will go there later. I know some writers completely skip these problem scenes with a trusty old ‘WRITE THIS LATER’ note, but that tends to be a bit too unwieldy for me. I’ll write a rough scene that I think is close to where I want it to go instead. For instance, I know I’m going to need to completely rewrite a scene early in Act I for Queen Ophelia, but I wrote that outtake scene anyway because it was pretty close to what I wanted, if not perfect. There are multiple early points in Theadia where I’ve changed how certain characters meet each other or how they react upon their first meeting.

And why do I write those rough outtakes anyway, even if I know I won’t use them? Because part of my process is about mapping out the flow and the pacing of the novel in my head. I’d rather write a filler to be replaced later so that I can maintain that pace. It works for me because when I finally return to replace it, I know a) exactly how the scene is supposed to flow, and b) I know exactly what I want to replace it with. In the end, the revision of that scene takes a hell of a lot less time. And who doesn’t love a speedy, painless revision session?

Writing: Coming Back from Sick Days

On the plus side, I received my second COVID vaccine shot on Thursday morning, so I am up to date! I no longer need to worry about if or when I’d ever get them taken care of! (A has already gotten her first shot and will be getting the follow-up at the end of this month.) We’ll still be wearing masks until further notice, of course, but we’re cool with that.

On the negative side, the side-effects did a number on my by Thursday afternoon. Like the first shot, I started feeling the brain fogginess and the lack of energy. This time out, however, I’d also started getting full-body aches. Like EVERYWHERE. My fingers hurt. My eyes hurt. Everything hurt. Somehow a migraine slipped in there as well. All told, it wasn’t a sharp you need to see a doctor pain, but just complete okay you’ve been up for ninety-three hours you really need to sleep now exhaustion. I even had a slight fever. Which meant that Friday was spent here in Spare Oom doing nothing except listening to new music releases and maybe watching some videos. [Thankfully it started going away by Friday night and by Saturday I felt totally fine. Invigorated, even.]

And as I usually reserve the weekends for catching up on emails, doing errands and cleaning house, I didn’t have much time to do any actual writing work that needed doing. This means that I’m now about five days behind on finishing this latest Diwa & Kaffi revision and that’s bugging the hell out of me right now.

See, my problem is that I always feel guilty when I take a sick day from writing. I’m always thinking, ‘Come on…you’d just be sitting on your butt listening to music. Don’t be a slacker.’ I can remember many times back in the Belfry days when I thought this and it never worked out the way I wanted. Instead of getting a thousand words done, I’d get maybe a hundred, play a few FreeCell games, give up, and spend the rest of the evening in bed reading comic books. So this time out, I figured why go through the same faulty reasoning? I finished early on Friday, got in my jammies, and continued my reading Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries books. (I’m rereading the first five so I can immediately jump into the new one that just dropped a few days ago.) Best decision I ever made.

SO! What this means is that today, Monday, I am not catching up, but picking up where I left off. It’s best that I don’t try to do everything all at once, because That Way Lies Madness. Instead, I just start back in on the work, and go as far as the day takes me. Whether it’s just a partial or multiple chapters doesn’t matter…as long as I’m heading in the right direction.

Seems as though I did in fact learn from my mistakes over the years!

Keeping the Pace

Image courtesy of K-On!

I’m usually good at this, but every now and again I get ahead of myself and the result ends up looking like a half-assed mess of a rush job. Which means I need to do some serious revision to calm it down and stretch it out.

This time I’m talking about the pacing of the story. I’m usually quite aware of how fast or slow a scene needs to be when I’m writing it. I visualize it like I’m making a movie, but I also see it like the deliberate pacing of a song or a musical passage. I like a slow dramatic reveal, but I also like a super-dense action sequence, and each of them needs to have a specific pace. Like movies and music, it’s not just the words that tell the story, but how it’s told.

I used this multiple times with In My Blue World for each character. For example, most of Krozarr’s scenes are slow (but not glacial) and extremely deliberate because that’s how his own mind works; he’s been put in a situation he hates but has to endure, so he takes every action and thought at a pace that keeps him from losing control…and this is ends up being his downfall. Allie, on the other hand, is always, always moving, so her scenes are often frenetic — and when she stops, things around her are not good.

I love writing character scenes like this, because it’s a hell of a lot of fun to be able to tell a story with little nonverbal accents like that. It’s got to be done right, though, and it can’t be a constant thing or it’ll be too obvious and detract from the story.

I say this because I’m doing yet another revision of Diwa & Kaffi and the other day I discovered that an extremely important scene, one that changes the course of our two lead characters, was dashed off far too quickly. This is a scene that should have a deliberately slow pace, where they both are hyperaware of each other’s reactions and emotions and do not want to ruin them, and a scene that should end with a bright and happy resolution. Instead, it reads…well, it reads like an outline, really. A zipped-through scene where I mentally made a note to Fix It Later and completely forgot to do so. I’m pretty sure this was a scene where I got overexcited about the idea and forgot to expand on it! I’m a bit embarrassed at how flat the entire scene is, to be honest, so I’m going to need to give it some heavy TLC in the next few days.

This is also why I do multiple rereads when I’m in Revision Mode: I’m not just paying attention to the story or the continuity, I’m also focusing on the pacing. These rereads force me to see where I went too fast, or where I just stumbled and shuffled too slowly. This in turn helps me figure out how I’m going to fix it, whether it’s to rewrite the whole scene, slow it down by expanding it, or deleting the filler to speed it up.

I don’t always catch them right away, but once I do and it’s up to my standards, I’m usually super proud of the result!