/* new */

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Prequel and Sequel

Here it is the middle of June. How did that happen? May vanished in a blur of revision. I posted about the various aspects of The Spirit Lens revision process. I know the book is stronger, tighter, and cleaner than when I turned it in the first time. I believe that both motivations and - very important in the context of a mystery - my investigators' deductions are clearer. The ending is much stronger and more satisfying.

So now I am leaping back into the development of Book 2 of the Collegia Magica series, The Soul Mirror. I left off back in April with a few solid chapters written and several additional chapters left over from a time when I thought the story of The Soul Mirror would be the first of the series.

Whoa, you might say. How did the first book of a series become the second before any of the series is even released?

The original story idea for the novels of the Collegia Magica, derived somewhat from some very early writing I did, had to do with a reserved, bookish young woman whose family had been described as "as perfectly balanced as the elegant ellipses of the planets" in a kingdom where new discoveries in science were elbowing magic out of the way. Through a series of circumstances, that unique, vibrant family had disintegrated, leaving Anne standing alone in a place she had no desire to be, faced with a mystery she had no qualifications but her own intelligence to solve. I wrote maybe ten chapters of that story before realizing that,

  1. I was having to cram in tons of backstory to explain the family's disintegration. As this was the foundation for Anne's mystery and the solution to it, it felt very flat,cramped, and rushed. It was like making a sandwich when you'd eaten all the bread the day before.

  2. the overarching mystery I had initially set out was much too simplistic.

The more I thought about it, the more I decided that the characters involved in all that backstory, Anne's family as well as the other players, were too interesting to be relegated entirely to backstory, especially when their nature and characters served as motivations for the book. Thus, I decided I wanted to start much earlier so that I could give this backstory real life, that is, to make it frontstory.

At the same time, I gave thought to the mystery and came up with a much more complex idea (which is still evolving, by the way.)

Figuring out where to start is an important decision. Sometimes it is simple. The most significant, world-altering change in the saga of the Rai-kirah - or rather in the story I wanted to tell about the Rai-kirah - was Aleksander purchasing a new slave - the day he met Seyonne. The story I told in Song of the Beast was that of a musician rediscovering the wellsprings of his art. It was not the story of a musician being clapped into prison at the height of his fame and being tortured into silence, though I had to refer to that piece of the story to give a foundation to Aidan's journey. Thus the proper beginning was the hour Aidan was released from prison.

Sometimes, you can only know where to start by knowing precisely what story you're trying to tell. And sometimes you can't know that until you've told a a part of it.

Read more of this post!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Revision 5 - Illumination

For me, the best aspect of revision is the opportunity to think deeply about plot, structure, and character now I've got the entire story in my head at once. I can't get these insights if I'm too focused on word count and grammar, so I have to formulate a list of problem areas beforehand or as I do the tighten and clean-up pass. Then I take care of those issues on the content pass, and verify on the final readthrough.

In the present case, I've had an insight that I believe will strengthen both the mystery and the character arc. [Don't worry, I'm not going to get into spoilers!]

In abstract terms, I had hedged a bit on the villains of the piece. We know some of them for sure - there is a complete story arc in this book. A few other people we're not so sure of will be sorted out in The Soul Mirror. What I'm thinking of doing is placing one of these ambiguous characters more clearly into either the villain or not-villain camp.

So why would I do this, as it seems to remove a bit of lingering mystery?

First, because it will more clearly define the positioning of another, more important, character. [Think of how a scarecrow standing in the middle of a completely harvested cornfield stands out quite starkly.] It completes a character arc that contributes to a more solid ending.

Second, because I wasn't feeling good about "exonerating" this particular person as he or she stood in the work as written. Portier and Ilario and Dante are none of them stupid. To let someone wholly pull the wool over their eyes would be unrealistic. On the other hand, to have a wholly innocent person remain darkly ambiguous for so long would also be unrealistic. So I had to make a choice--is this person a villain or a naive? Then I had to go back through that character's thread through the book and make sure my decision was well supported.

Third, because I had planned to carry this ambiguous character over into the The Soul Mirror and wasn't feeling good about it. I've had a fresher idea...

There, you see? Revision leads us into tough decision making. If we push hard enough for clarity - the goal of revision - we can feel the uncertainties we've left in our writing. Choosing, and repairing, rewriting, and repositioning, can - and did!! - leave the work stronger.

I send off The Spirit Lens last Wednesday (the 34th of May, right?) and feel really good about it. Total words cut: approx 10K. Total words revised: every other one. Beginning stronger. Ending stronger. Climax stronger. Ultimate uh-oh - much stronger. Motivations clearer, both in my head and on the page.

Now it's back to The Soul Mirror. Hooray!

Read more of this post!