Still catching up! I’ll admit I’ve been slow to post the progress-blogs because our non-linear approach continues, and I don’t feel like I can report in on a chapter being done when I already know we intend to backtrack and add a scene to it, even if we thought it was done at the time. But we have now slotted the addition in: a scene which has to do with a neglected side relationship, which didn’t seem that load-bearing until we looked further down the road and realized it would NOT work to leave things undeveloped over there.
This chapter has a lot of tricky little bits, actually. In one scene, we needed a character to wander close to a correct idea before getting distracted by something completely different. In another . . . there’s a certain type of error that can be hard to sell if the reader sees it happening, because they wind up being unconvinced by the character being taken in. So what we’re trying to do instead is keep the reader from noticing until the character does — to make the actions and decisions there seem logical and inevitable, until omgwtfbbq RED ALERT DANGER WILL ROBINSON. Hopefully it works!
And hey, we got our metaphysical woo on again. Been a while since we had a good dose of that.
Word count: 39,000
Authorial sadism: RED ALERT DANGER WILL ROBINSON. Also known as, it seemed like a good idea at the time?
Authorial amusement: omg senpai!!!!1!
BLR quotient: Got some non-trivial amounts of blood in this chapter. Not that anybody literally bleeds, but a whole lot of things are on the edge right now, and here and there a character steps right over it.
I continue my slow attempt to catch up!
I wrote a line into this chapter (which may or may not remain in the finished version) where one of the characters says that the attempt to do X has failed, so there’s no point in continuing on with the rest of the plan. A suggestion the character they’re speaking to rejects wholeheartedly, because who says the goal of the plan is to accomplish only one thing? It’s a species of what I’ve talked about before, where scenes need to serve more than one purpose, but in this case there’s another valence to it: our characters do, in fact, get to have lives. Even when something big is looming over their heads, they aren’t literally going to devote every waking minute to that problem. They can’t. Sometimes an investigation is blocked, and until it produces results, nothing else is going to happen. Sometimes they just need to think about something other than the end of the world. And sometimes, taking a moment for a personal goal or three is what they require in order to have the heart to face that big, looming problem.
So yeah. There’s a moderately frivolous personal goal at work here, because dammit, that matters to our characters. Don’t worry; we’ll be dropping the plot on their heads soon enough. And if the reader doesn’t care about that personal side of things by this point in the trilogy, we’ve failed anyway.
Word count: ~32,000
Authorial sadism: A detail retrofitted into the first scene, which seems like a small personal thing right now, but which is setting up a couple of emotional gut-punches later on.
Authorial amusement: Dude, how do I pick? Could be anything from the Fox Volto to L–‘s painful attempts at flirtation to the counter-pickpocketing.
BLR quotient: Rhetoric is dancing energetically here, but seriously, I wind up calling so many of these chapters for love. At this point in the story, it really is driving half of what our characters do.
It’s traditional with the New Worlds Patreon that when there are five Fridays in the month, the fifth essay is a “theory post,” looking at either some anthropological concept that’s of use in worldbuilding, or a craft question of how to get this stuff on the page. This time you’re getting the latter, with a survey of how to represent things like dialects in a story. Comment over there!
For various reasons the first part of this book (which will be divided into three overall) has something of an alternating structure: one chapter of exciting! spectacle! followed by one that spends more time on quieter character moments. So, having had our caper last time, this time we get the character stuff. (Not that the two are mutually exclusive, of course.)
It’s a bit of a grab bag, actually, which is unavoidable at times. Though we like our chapters to have a distinct identity — not just “this is what happens in words 19,000 through 25,000 of the book” — there’s going to be material which isn’t an entire chapter in its own right. Here we’re doing some more detailed work on furthering Problem A while hinting at Problem B, advancing Plot T while deepening relationships X and Y, and also making it clear that neither we nor the characters have forgotten about that unresolved thing over there; it’s just that their efforts to resolve it have not yet reached a point where they would be interesting to show on the page.
Chapters like this are the ones where it becomes the most important to pay attention to the idea of scenes needing to serve more than a single purpose. If we don’t find ways to pack these things like bags of holding, not only would the books be unmanageably long, but the threads of the narrative would get so stretched out that when they finally show up again, the reader’s reaction would be “oh, right, that thing.”
. . . and sometimes, one of the purposes that needs to be served is the authors entertaining themselves. I mean, if we can’t port in some form of the “dancing on a rooftop” thing we wrote for the game, then what are we even doing here?
Word count: ~25,000
Authorial sadism: Somebody got fired from their job, and that somebody is doing their very best to hide how much it upsets them. (Their very best is not quite good enough.)
Authorial amusement: Apart from the rooftop dancing? Getting caught out in your ignorance because you’re browsing wrong-handed swords.
BLR quotient: Love definitely wins the race this time. Lots of people working together to solve problems, even if those problems aren’t going to be solved any time soon. And even if some of them can’t quite admit what problem is there.
Li Yu’s Twelve Towers, retold by Nathan Mao. Seventeenth-century Chinese collection, picked up for research. This book is on the old side (printed in 1975), and I have to admit I side-eye some of Mao’s choices. You might have noticed this says “retold by Nathan Mao” rather than “translated by;” he is very free with the text in places. Example: he gives each story his own title, thus obscuring the fact that it’s Twelve Towers because each title mentions a lou (a tower/pavilion/pagoda/etc). Example: he leaves the ending off the first story because it’s “anticlimactic.” He does at least include endnotes that alert you to these decisions . . . but still. As for the stories themselves, although Li Yu is generally praised for the “realism” of his observations of human behavior, the story Mao calls “Father and Son” (actual title something more like “The Tower of My Birth”) contains series of coincidences that would make a Shakespearean comedy blush — but hey, I find that kind of thing amusing!
Historian of the Strange: Pu Songling and the Chinese Classical Tale, Judith T. Zeitlin. Also picked up for research. This gave me a lot of great context not only about Pu Songling’s Liaozhai zhiyi, but about broader Ming/Qing ideas around topics like obsessive collecting.
People and the Sky: Our Ancestors and the Cosmos, Anthony Aveni. I can’t recall who recommended this to me, but it came up in the context of me asking for a book that would give me comparative astronomy/astrology. This isn’t quite what I was looking for — I want something that focuses more specifically on different cultural systems for the constellations and their meaning — but it’s very interesting in its own right, organizing itself around the different uses we’ve gotten out of the sky and its astronomical bodies, and within that being admirably multicultural in its survey of examples.
Sengoku Jidai: Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu: Three Unifiers of Japan, Danny Chaplin. Also picked up for research, albeit for different reasons. This appears to be self-published, which explains why it was so badly in need of a copy-editor — not just typos and errors of punctuation but “that is not the word you meant there, sir” and (least forgivably, in my mind) the decision to not mark long vowels on any of the Japanese words and names, of which there are an abundance. Having said that, it did what I needed it to do, and my impression from reviews is that most of its errors are more of “you contradicted yourself” sort rather than a “you just don’t even know your facts” sort. It’s a massive brick (I’m glad I read it in ebook) and for my purposes I could have stopped halfway through, but I went ahead and read the rest, giant wads of “I will now name every daimyō who participated in this battle” notwithstanding. Dear heavens was this period just bloody and insane.
Rashōmon and Other Stories, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, trans. Takashi Kojima. Not research, though you’d be forgiven for thinking so! I just happened to be at Kinokuniya and picked this up, along with a folklore collection and a copy of the Kojiki that may take me forever to tackle, given that it’s the kind of volume where the top quarter of the page is text and the remaining three quarters is footnotes. But this book is quite slender, collecting both “Rashōmon” and “In a Grove” (the story that actually provides the plot of the film Rashōmon), along with several others. None of the stories were my particular cuppa, as they ooze a kind of cynicism about human nature that I don’t particularly enjoy, but it was good to read for general cultural broadening.
Easy Field Guide to Indian Art & Legends of the Southwest, James Cunkle. This doesn’t really count as a book, being a tiny pamphlet I snagged at the Grand Canyon. It’s specifically about artistic motifs in Mimbres bowls, and I like that the sketches of each bowl include (where relevant) the “kill hole” chipped in the bottom before it was placed over the face of a buried individual.
The Hero Twins: A Navajo-English Story of the Monster Slayers, Jim Kristofic with illustrations by Nolan Karras James. Illustrated, bilingual retelling of the Hero Twins story, also acquired at the Grand Canyon. My main complaint is that the art wasn’t as well-planned for binding as it could have been; often there’s a key segment of the painting in the gutter where the pages come together, making it harder to see.
In which, as is traditional, we get our caper on again!
I guess that’s a minor spoiler, but really only in structural terms — we do have a habit of putting some swashbuckling action into Chapter 3 of each of these books, a la the Lacewater duel in The Mask of Mirrors. This particular one features a plan going very wrong and then a plan to fix that being not through at all well enough, though in fairness to the person who failed to do the thinking, the outcome was still probably better than if they hadn’t done anything at all.
It also features an amusing little callout to the game that lies behind these novels. The whole series takes place in Nadežra, so we can’t do the “fish out of water” absurdity of Game!Ren being dragged out into the wilderness and having to learn about The Naturez . . . but I can and did put her near a cow, which is more or less an alien creature to her, and far too large for comfort. When you have a character who’s highly skilled in their chosen field, of course the fun thing to do is make them deal with something totally outside that field — a realization I had as early as my second published novel, when I made my accomplished ninja protagonist ride herd on a bunch of adolescent girls. 😀
True to form, this chapter was done somewhat out of order, including both its final scene being written when we were a couple of chapters further along and something significant being added to one of the existing scenes. (It took an embarrassingly long time for me to notice that, uh, maybe somebody who’s vital to a future plan ought to be told about it . . .?) Also some pov stumbles: we managed to sail right past the point at which we were supposed to shift to a different viewpoint, then realized that actually, there wasn’t as much meat as we thought on the first one, so we wound up having to redo all of it in R–‘s perspective. So basically, par for the course these days.
Word count: ~19,000
Authorial sadism: The cow is the least of it. We need to remember to give someone nightmares over the consequences of that insufficiently-planned plan.
Authorial amusement: Using the weapon of the enemy. Also, yes, we have totally made a running motif of the coat thing.
BLR quotient: The rhetoric got very bloody all of sudden.