Sequels and descriptions

Bumming around with the first chapter of the second book. The revision process is a little less fun now, because book 2 needs a lot less work than book 1 did, even with all the cultural rebuilding I did. Mostly I’m killing off adverbs and adjectives, simplifying sentences, killing extra phrases that don’t need to be there.

One thing bugs me though: re-describing the characters. I know there’s a certain assumption that people who are reading the second book already read the first one, so they know this stuff and should only need a little refresher. On the other hand, there’s also an assumption someone bought the book without noticing the "Sequel to X" beneath the title, or forgot most everything between one book and the next, so they need you to re-hash everything. You need to remind them who is who, what they look like, what they’re all doing where they are now.

It used to drive me insane that every time I’d pick up an X-Men comic in high school I’d have to read about "the focused totality of my psychic powers" whenever Psylocke was on-page, and Wolverine’s "adamantine-laced skeleton and mutant healing factor." I understood that the writers were accounting for the fact that anyone could pick up an issue of X-Men, fans or not, and needed to know what was going on. At the same time, it seemed to punish regular fans by reguritating those phrases at us every dang month.

I know that novels aren’t something that come out every month so you need to pound that stuff into the reader, but you’ve got to have some level of recap in a sequel. It always feels awkward though. I never know how much is too much… and since I have a natural tendacy to over-describe and over-word my books, anything that requires me to artificially add more always makes me itchy.

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This may possibly be…

the best link ever.

It reminds me of an outline I once made for my books.

Chapter 1: Something Bad happens to Rain and Fire-Eyes
Chapter 2: Something Bad happens to Mika
Chapter 3: Something Bad happens to Liat’s family
Chapter 4: Something Bad happens to the King
etc

I think I should sum it up in the spirit of the link though.

Something Bad happens to the characters. Mostly, the other characters happen to them.

THE END.

Okay, I lied

I finished book 1 up last night. I did it by being obsessive and staying up until 6am, but once I had the late teen chapters going it seemed like a bad place to stop. Just one more chapter, just one more, and hey! I don’t recommend the method, but then I don’t really recommend OCD, either. May as well get some use out of it! And James stayed up with me to read the last chapter and tell me how the whole story pulled together. I also managed to shave like 12k words off the bloated bugger, which makes me very happy. Now, James and I may have both been more than slightly groggy, but we both think it works… so. Out it goes. My query is winging its way toward an agency as we speak. I don’t know what the etiquette on saying where you sent things is, but I’ve got one published writer friend who’s currently publishing out a fantasy series, so I shot it to his agents and crossed my fingers. Here’s hoping!

I do want to briefly meta on some of this gender-in-fantasy stuff that’s going around lately like a cold. And I say briefly because I like irony.

Relevant links that got my thinky thoughts churning are jimhines‘ post, Writing Kick-Butt Warrior Women, sartoriasMen With Boobs post, and aberwyn ‘s Tears, Idle Tears… post.

Sometimes, reading the meta that goes around fandom and working on my story, I get this angry shoulder-devil reader in my head. I write what I write for the story, but I try not to buy into the awful sterotypes and tropes that I was practically breastfed on as a storyteller. deepad  made an amazing post during the Cultural Appropriation Imbroglio which I recommend everyone read, because it took the thing to an angle I’d never considered. How we are all fed these stories and ideas and how they get into our head as "of course that’s how the story goes, that’s how the characters look, that’s how the hero acts, that’s how the heroine acts." He’s coming at it from a cultural direction, and right now I want to come at it from the gender-in-fantasy direction that’s been kicking around.

Every time I make one of my female characters cry, every time she needs help, every time she’s looked down on for being thegender she is, every time she’s subjected or even threatened with sexual assault, every time she falls in love, every time she gets pregnant, every time she’s the healer, every time she’s the psychic, every time she’s the mama bear, every time she’s beautiful, every time she’s a princess, every time she’s the witch… that shoulder-devil reader in my head squawks about how I’m betraying my gender. And part of me sits there and chews on it and wonders how right it is. I wonder if I’m undermining my own freedom to have strong female characters by refusing to write them that way.

Because we do get these stupid tropes stuck in our head. Even Eowyn got hurt, rescued, locked away for the battle and then married off. The Ladyhawke of the title really does nothing but scream and act as the tug-toy for the male protagonists. Princess Toadstool is in another castle. Princess Leia is the best shot with the laser pistol, but she still needs to be saved by the boys, who immediate speculate about hooking up. And that just scrapes the surface of the stuff I grew up with, I could bring you a hundred examples, but why bother, you folks know most of this stuff already, whether you realize it or not.

I don’t like the men-with-boobs trope, mostly because in my head, behavior isn’t limited by gender. Two of the most emotional people I know are my mother and my best friend; two of the most outwardly stoic are my husband and my best friend’s wife. So the "making your princesses men-with-boobs" bit is insulting, to me anyway, because what the hell is that saying? That only men can be sexually aggressive, physically aggressive, like guns, carry knives, etc? On the other hand, the books and movies we grow up with tell us that yes, that’s how it works, and it’s not really subverting that to make your card-carrying ice-cold badass a woman if there’s really nothing female about her.

Now, I’ve got a character in this book who is probably one of the strongest characters I’ll ever write. She IS a card-carrying badass ice-cold bitch. She leads a coup, raises her own army, raises herself up by her own bootstraps from the bottom of the heap to the top, and is totally ruthless about bulldozing the world around her into the shape she wants. She’s a nearly-unstoppable badass with a sword and magical speed/strength to go along with it.

I don’t think she’s my only strong female character. In fact, I don’t think being a driven, ferocious killer necessarily make you one. I certainly don’t think all my female characters need to be like her, because yikes. But when she has her breakdown and cries for a moment over what she’s done, that reader-devil went "YOU JUST RUINED EVERYTHING!"

One of my main protagonists happens to be female. She happens to be proficient with weapons, efficient, outwardly confident and stoic. It’s all about the quest for her, she doesn’t sidetrack, she doesn’t want her emotions in the way. She doesn’t cry. She gets shit done. She saves the boy, and she’d like to hook up with him but she’s too busy working and has no time for love. She’s protective and emotionally distant. She reads, when you really look at her, a bit like those old fantasy heroes, with her stiff upper lip and dedication to honor above all.

And you know what? It’s nonsense. She is the LEAST strong of my female characters. She has no agency. She does what she is told, she adheres to rigid behavior standards because she’s been told that’s how it works, she feels ashamed of her emotions. She’s terrified every minute that something changes and she needs to do something that doesn’t fit with the plan. When she cries it’s because she’s been forced to see that all she’s doing is following someone else’s plan, blindly, because she’s too scared to think about it.

So did I fit the trope or subvert it?

I don’t know, and I won’t know. I don’t writefor tropes, I don’t tailor my stories to be popular, but I would like them to be empowering. I would like them not to hurt other people. I would like people of other races, and people of all genders, to be able to read the stories without getting hurt by what I’ve put on the page. It’s not always possible. There’s a rape scene that I’ve been chewing on for about four years because it’s such a big event that I never want to do for the wrong reasons. But that shoulder-devil is really starting to piss me off.

Rewrites continue

I’m up to chapter 15, and since there are only 20 chapters in the book, I’d say I’m definitely going to be done with the book by next week, barring accident or fire or other emergency.

It’s really drying out my eyes though. I’m spending a lot of time staring at the screen. Usually I’d edit on paper and then go back through on the computer, but I’m doing so much flat-out rewriting, moving so much around, it’s really not practical to do it any way but in Word.

It’s REALLY incredible what shifting some POV around will do for focus. I have no idea why several minor characters ended up with POVs in the original draft; two of them were even characters who die in this book! Why did they get POVs? By moving the same scenes onto characters we’re supposed to continue to care about and be interested in, it really tightens things up.

I’m having some other issues, but for now I have to go take care of other non-writing stuff, so I’ll leave it for later. Time to take care of my rats!

Unseen rewrites

Rewrite of Unseen (Book 1) is going extremely well. I’m really blazing through it, which is super because I’ve never even been able to touch the thing before. In fact, I want to start sending out queries to agents this month. Yes, I said it. Sending stuff off.

Book 1 has always been something of a trainwreck for me. I need it to continue to the rest of the story, but it’s never been quite right. It’s always been a bad feeling, that the first book is my weakest one, and that the first three chapters were always the worst of the lot. Rewrites on book 1 have always been like walking into a super, super messy room. Imagine it, I know everyone’s done it. You know it needs to be cleaned up, you can see exactly what needs to be done, but doing it is such a huge undertaking that even starting it is just too much. You throw up your hands and go find something else to do with your time, because eff that.

I got interested in looking at it again because of the giant Race In Fantasy LJ Imbroglio 2009 made me take another look at the portrayals of the characters of color in my book. While my book doesn’t actually contain people of modern real-world races (being a fantasy set in an imaginary world) however, it does contain a lot of characters of color. In fact, characters of color far outnumber the "white" characters, and race, racial identity, racial mixing, racial oppression, racial history… all giant important themes in the book. So I decided to go back through and re-work a lot of the races, make sure they read and felt as "real" and not just as Generic Fantasy Brown Races of various tropes. That involved re-making my concordance, doing a ton of google and researching environments, re-worldbuilding… tons of stuff. It was really exciting and enjoyable… brought me back to remembering why I love creating worlds and the people who live in them.

And then I walked into the damn messy room and went… eff that.

The problems with Book 1 are SO big that it’s always felt like that. And I got to that same point, completely digging in my heels because the job was just too big and ready to toss my binder back onto the bookshelf for another year, waste all the work I’d done on the re-worldbuilding, just to get away from that room. In short I had a big temper tantrum and didn’t wanna do it.

Luckily, I’ve got friends who were there to shake me a little and help me out.

Fox (hinesbp ) managed to give me exactly the "why don’t you open with this?" that I needed and James (zuelaji ) managed to cheerlead me and push me out of my self-pity funk to actually remember why I write. Oh yeah, I like people to read what I write and enjoy it! Duh.

Once I got chapter 1 shaken out – the absolute worst of the chapters, IMO – the direction that took showed me exactly what I needed to do with the rest of the book. Mostly… delete, delete, delete. I spent a couple hours with James and Fox (who I believe are the only people who’ve read all three finished manuscripts) asking them "does this ever become relevant? Does this character matter? Does this ever come up again?" See, I need someone to bounce those questions off of because I’ve had this story in my head for so many years and through so many rewrites sometimes I honestly cannot remember whether the current incarnation contains the information I’m looking for. For the most part, there was a lot of "Nope, kill it."

With so much extraneous crap, infodumps and exposition, excessive characters and descriptions we don’t need taken out of the way, the story is much sleeker. James and Kirstin (the_farstar ) have been reading the chapters as I finish them, and I can’t say how much I needed that feedback. Mom and Cathy used to do it, but for whatever reason they didn’t want to do it with the third manuscript and I totally lost my momentum. I’ve discovered I’m a bit of a feedback whore: it doesn’t have to be positive, but I do need someone reading what I write or I really lack motivation to write it at all. I’ve gotten a lot of comments from James to the effect of "Oh, I love that reveal, it’s much better this time around!" and it’s a reveal that existed in the last version of the chapter. With all the crap cluttering it up, the point of it got lost and he didn’t even remember it being there.

Things are just flowing so much easier from point to point now, it all seems much more coherent and drawn-together. And I think I’ll probably trim a quarter of just fat-words off of the manuscript by the time I’m done here.

I suppose the real proof that I’m feeling better about it is that I want to send it in. I’ve never wanted to send Book 1 in because I’ve always known it sucked, and if Book 1 doesn’t get published, neither do the later books (which were always much better.) I’m averaging a chapter and a half of rework a day at this point, so I should be done with it by mid-next week if I can keep this pace up. Then I can move on to tightening up books 2 and 3 and continuing the fixes that I made in book 1 that change things in later novels. I guess I’m really lucky that I’m doing all this stuff with 3 and a half books already written: I know what stuff never becomes relevant to the plot, and I have the ability to fix things that would screw up later stories before it’s set in stone.

Back to my tweakage!

Brennyn: restarting

So I’ve become so disconnected from the whole writing gig that I haven’t even touched my book in almost… well, since I finished book 3 and everyone just gave me the big shrug-ola.

So, James and I are re-reading the first chapers of book 4 that I managed to punch out and then discussing them, hoping to kickstart my brain back into action on this.

The problem is that the characters, the story, and I have three different opinions on how to write and structure the fourth book.

And they, not I, are usually correct.

Reread the opening chapter/prelude and about half the first chapter today, corrected some mispellings. I miss my characters, but they’re not talking to me right now.

C’mon guys. I’ll buy the beer!