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Posts Tagged ‘metaphoric weirdness’

130K! (actually 131K!)

Long-time readers of this blog know that many of my metaphors for writing are related to textiles: weaving, or embroidery, or whatever. Well, the end of this book is presently the narrative equivalent of the test garments I sometimes sew, where I trace the pattern out on the cheapest muslin I can buy and baste the pieces together, then rip them apart and cut them down or stick in extra pieces of fabric and then sew the results back together again, and the whole thing ends up covered in Sharpie ink as I mark where things need to be changed or fitted together or whatever.

The comforting point to this metaphor is, doing that helps me figure out how to go about sewing the real fabric together, so I do a better job the second time around. So I’m telling myself that this “muslin draft” I’ve got going here is okay, because in the revision I will take all those Sharpie marks and translate them into a much better draft. Cyma’s train station scene will go away; Eliza will have that ability I just decided tonight that she needs; I’ll figure out what the hell to do with [spoiler] plot thread that has, at present, completely fallen out of the story. But before I can do any of that, I need to nail down the central points of this ending, and then reverse-engineer them to figure out how they should be set up. So, ragged Sharpie-covered draft it is.

At least tonight was fun writing. Tomorrow, I think we’ll have a seance, and then it’s onward to the Giant Ridiculous Climax!

Word count: 131,042. I might as well go ahead and give this book the trophy for Longest Onyx Court Novel now; I know it will win in the end.
LBR quota: A bit of (hopefully) ringing rhetoric, courtesy of one Eliza O’Malley!
Authorial sadism: Sorry, Cerenel. Of the people in that scene, you were the best mouthpiece for the elitist point of view. At least I gave you a good reason for it.

ID’ing the pattern

I’ve gotten a number of reviews of both Midnight Never Come and In Ashes Lie that say some variant on, “this takes a while to get going, but once it does, it’s pretty awesome.” (Or sometimes, “this takes forever to get going, and I gave up.”) I fully expect that as more reviews come in for A Star Shall Fall, I’ll get a few that say the same thing.

And I’ve finally figured out how to characterize it in my head: these books are arrangements of dominoes.

That is to say, the opening stages of each book are about lining up the stones, creating patterns that will — once set in motion — crash into each other in (hopefully) interesting ways. And the important part of this epiphany is, I’m not sure I could write these books any other way. Not so long as they are both (1) historical and (2) full of intrigue. I have to set the scene (in terms of both time and place), and I have to set up the political board (to steal from the metaphor I had Walsingham use in the first book). If I skip either of those steps, the dominoes will not fall as they should, because the reader will have no idea who these people are and why they’re doing what I just said they did.

So I don’t feel like this is a flaw, per se. Just a “mileage may vary” kind of thing. There are better and worse ways of doing the setup, and my success with it has probably been uneven; I’ll certainly be looking at the opening parts of this fourth book with an eye toward making the setup as engaging as it can be. But my feeling that the current scenes for both Dead Rick and Eliza kick them into a higher degree of motion than they were before? That’s just how these books go. The dominoes have begun to fall, and pretty soon the various lines I’ve laid out will begin to collide with one another, revealing the pattern of the whole. It’s like Lune’s Act III conversation with Tiresias in Midnight, or Vidar’s appearance at the end of Part II in Ashes, or [redacted on account of spoilers for Star].

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go knock down some more dominoes.

the state of the revision

Warning: graphic metaphor ahead.


I currently have the vivisected body of Part IV lying in front of me. (Figuratively speaking; I’m working with an electronic file, not one of my cover-the-floor-with-paper stunts.) I’ve sliced it open and gone to work moving things around: transplants for a few organs, repairs to others, a bit of experimental reconnection that I’m hoping will work. Generally, I feel good about the changes. Having it lying there all bloody is making me nervous, though, because this revision is due on the 17th, and I’d feel a lot better if I could stitch this part up and get it on its feet again, so it can walk around a bit and tell me if anything isn’t functioning the way it needs to.

I can’t, though, because it doesn’t have a liver. There was one before, but it never worked all that well — just well enough to pass — and I’m pretty sure it can’t handle the load the new transplants will place on it. And while a liver isn’t so vital of an organ that you’ll keel over on the spot if yours is kind of gimpy, it isn’t an appendix, either; we really want one that works. So I need a new liver, and I need it in the next week. And I can’t go stitching up the body until I have one, because I’d just have to cut it apart again to put the thing in, and besides, there’s stuff that needs the liver to run right. Which means I’m increasingly fretting about how much work it’ll take to stitch the body up again, and how frantically I’ll have to work to get that done once I have the damn liver.

Fretting, in case you were wondering, is not good for productivity.

There are other things I can work on, and I’m going to do those, so I don’t have to do them post-liver transplant. But it’s harder than usual to trust my usual work pattern — namely, that the idea will show up by the time I need it. Generally it does, and I know from experience that I’ll get better results if I relax and let the hindbrain do what it has to. Unfortunately, that doesn’t silence the little voice whispering but what will you do if it doesn’t . . . .

I’d feel a lot better if I just had the goddamned liver already.

Dear Brain: I’ve had a stressful year. Please don’t add to it any more than you have to. (And consider very carefully what goes on the “have to” list.)

Off to work, while I wait for the liver to arrive.

I am mighty(er)

I’ve come up with an analogy for what writing this book feels like. (Warning: weird metaphor ahead.)

Say you’ve been going to the gym for some months, maybe a year, and lifting weights faithfully. And the numbers have gone up, sure, but what does that mean? Then one day you find yourself messing around with a friend, and the two of you get into a wrestling match, and you’re gasping and snarling and trying to get a good grip so you can exert some leverage and damn it’s hard — but then halfway through you realize that a year ago, this friend would have had you face-down on the floor crying uncle in about four seconds flat. And maybe all that weightlifting really has done something.

I don’t think what I have so far is brilliant, but I also know what’s what revision is for. I think I’m getting my foundations in more or less the right place, and that means bringing things up to code won’t be too tough. Sure, for the first time in my life I find myself routinely writing three hundred words and then ripping them right back out again, that very night, to start the scene over from scratch — I’ve written fully 15% more than I have of actual book — but that isn’t defeat; that’s victory. That’s noticing my friend about to get me in a pin I won’t be able to escape, and squirming out of it before I can be trapped.

I’m stronger than I used to be.

(Though not physically. My puny self needs to get back to the gym.)

How It Works

I intend to pitch another Onyx Court book to my publisher, that would be set in the mid-eighteenth century and form . . . call it bookends, with And Ashes Lie. Either one stands on its own just fine, but they do form a pair.

I’m pondering that story in my off moments, even though it’s Not What I’m Writing Just Now. Come up with an idea. Elaborate the idea. Oooh! It would be fantastic to have Character A do this thing where they tell the guy thus-and-such, ’cause that would put a really nice twist on the idea.

Go away. Do other things. Ponder.

No, wait. Given what happened in MNC, it totally doesn’t make sense for Character A to have those lines. They’d never say ’em. But they’re good lines . . . .

Okay, so invent Character B. Duh.

Keep pondering. While doing other stuff.

So how does Character B get into the story? Who is Character B? (A problem for next book, dear . . . .)

No, no. A problem for this book. Because it would be so much better if Character B were a side person in AAL, and then became more important in the next one.

Ooh, good! Let’s remember that.

Ponder some more.

AHA! Yessss, my precious. Introduce Character B when Thing X happens. It illustrates that thing we wanted to do after MNC, and puts them on the board before their big important moment in the next book and stuff for the Victorian one, too! and oh yes this will do nicely.

Series writing is a new thing to me. Doppelganger got slightly revised to better support its sequel, and I’ve constructed a few closed-trilogy ideas, but this is the first time I’ve really gotten down into the guts of something conceived of as interlocking pieces, rather than as sections of a whole. Apparently this is how it works: your brain ricochets back and forth between different parts like the victim of a pinball machine, but every so often you hit something and rack up a few points, and then if you’re really lucky lights start flashing and bells start ringing (and then be sure your ball doesn’t slip past you out the bottom . . . .)

Pinball: my newest weird writing metaphor.

best books and best books

Well, that’s it. I’m done with the revisions on Midnight Never Come, and I must say I’m rather pleased with the state of the book. Which sparked me to ponder the difference between “the best book it can be” and “the best book I can write.”

Most of what I do is the former. This is the latter.

Let me put it in metaphorical terms first. You know that height is determined by both genetics and nutrition, right? As in, your genes allow for you to be a range of possible heights, but your nutrition will determine where in that range you fall. (Broadly speaking. I need the metaphor, not the biological specifics.) Well, most of the time what I’m doing is feeding my books all the nutrition (effort) I can give them, so they reach their full potential in terms of growth (or rather, quality.)

I think of it this way because my ideas tend to come out of my subconscious, and are inflexible to a certain degree. They are what they are, and if I care about them enough I will write them, but that doesn’t guarantee that every one is a groundbreaking new leap forward in my skill. There will always be some development — I never want to coast — but I can’t necessarily take an idea that’s capable of being five foot nine and make it six foot just because. I make them the best books they can be, given the ideas they’re built on. If there are flaws, weak points, it’s a problem in the foundation; the only way I can do better is to write a different book.

Midnight Never Come has eaten everything I’ve thrown at it, and asked for more. I can’t feed it enough to make it hit its full potential. It is the fourteen-year-old-boy of novels.

It’s close to being as good as it can be. I can tell. There are very few places in the book where I look at it and think, man, that could punch the reader just a little bit harder — but there are a few. And those places exist, not because I haven’t put in the effort to fix them, not because the foundational ideas aren’t strong enough, but because I simply don’t have it in me to squeeze out those last few drops of awesome. This not quite the best book it is capable of being, but it is the best book I am capable of writing.

When I wrote Warrior and Witch (to pick one example), I deliberately tried to work on a bigger political canvas. That was the major challenge of that book. This book? The political canvas got bigger again. And there are more pieces on my mental chessboard. And the embroidery of its description and style is more intricate. And a whole lot of other metaphors I could toss in there, which boil down to: I’m pushing myself everywhere. I can’t think of a single major aspect of the book that isn’t bigger and better than what I’ve tried before.

You could say, shouldn’t that be true of every book? In theory. But the truth of the matter is, my brain doesn’t cough up ideas that advanced on a regular basis. Most of them push me on one front; some push me on more. Which is fine, really, because working selectively on different aspects of my writing make leaps like this one possible. If I sat around waiting only for the truly record-breaking ideas, I’d never come up with them, or be capable of tackling them if I did.

But it’s odd to look at a book and think, this truly is the best I can do. And not have it be a negative statement (c’mon, is that the best you got? pfff), but a positive one.

<ponders> I’m not sure this post conveys what’s in my head. It feels like this reflects badly on most of the other books I’ve written, and I don’t mean for it to do that. I promise, I don’t slack on any of them.

Maybe what I should say is: most of my books are the best I can do with my ideas, while this book is the best my ideas can do with me.

meanwhile, in Weird-Metaphor-Land . . . .

While dozing off last night, I came up with another weird metaphor for writing.

When sewing, if you stitch together two pieces of fabric whose seam edges are of equal length, you get a nice, straight, perfectly functional seam. But if you need more fullness in the garment — as you do when making skirts or shoulder seams for sleeves — then one technique is to cut one piece so its seam edge is longer than the edge you’re joining it to, and then pleat or gather the longer edge until it fits against the shorter one.

It’s important for me to take my time in writing something, to not leap on my ideas too quickly, because by taking it slowly, I give myself time to pleat or gather the story.

Here’s what I mean.

This came into my head because I had an idea while dozing off. It wasn’t a big idea; actually, it was just a complication of an idea, a way of adding depth (or in this metaphor, fullness) to the next bit of story. I knew from a while back that a scene would come when Lune would convey a certain piece of information to another character: that’s like the dots or notches you use to line up two pieces of fabric before stitching them. This needs to go here. And had I been sprinting through this book more quickly, that scene probably would have happened more or less straightforwardly, with no frills. But in between deciding I needed that scene and writing it (which I’m in the middle of at present), I had some time to think — and so the idea got more complicated. Lune isn’t going to want to convey that piece of information: there’s a bit of fullness. But she’ll end up having to: more gathering. And she’ll be in trouble for having tried to conceal it: now we’re getting somewhere. And she’ll owe someone a favor for not causing that trouble: that was last night’s pleat. Bit by bit, I’m adding these complications (and other, more spoilery ones I won’t describe) that don’t really create subplots or anything — I’m not adding in new pieces of fabric — but create more fullness in the subplots I already have, packing a greater amount of fabric/story into the space/seam provided.

Okay, now raise your hand if that made any sense to you.

(I suspect most of you with your hands up have experience with both writing and sewing.)

It’s good to let ideas sit for a while. Not only does it mean you have a chance to notice when they aren’t good ideas and replace them with better ones, it gives you time to improve on the ones that are already good. Other metaphors come to mind — I’m embroidering the idea, for example (what is it with me and textiles?) — but I like the three-dimensionality of this one. Because that’s what it feels like I’m doing: making the story more three-dimensional.

color palettes

kitsune_zen made a comment last night, about different settings/story sets of hers having different colors in her head. Which added another item to my list of Weird Metaphors Through Which I Perceive Stories.

Midnight Never Come is, in my head, strongly influenced by Shekar Kapur’s Elizabeth (the one with Cate Blanchett). It’s shadowy and dark, with dark rich jewel tones. Invidiana’s black and silver and cold glittering gems.

The Waking of Angantyr, to pick an unpublished novel, is a palette of blues (midnight and pale ice blue) and grey-browns that have no real warmth to them. Welcome to the bleak Viking revenge epic, eh?

The Vengeance of Trees has jewel tones again, but they’re brighter than MNC’s, and warmed up with copper and gold.

Sunlight and Storm is the brightest of the lot: sunshine gold, the blue of a midwestern sky, the grey-blue of a thunderstorm, the yellow-green of plains grass. With a cameo appearance by the variegated earth tones of badlands.

Not everything has colors in my head (notice the absence of Doppelganger, for example), but somet things do. How about you all? Stories/novels you’ve written or read, what color palette do they evoke in your mind?