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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

The Story Revealed

Final guesses on the novella I finished last week included “Haitian loa” and “kitsune” — both incorrect. But then two people guessed correctly! So when I get home, tooth_and_claw and sarcastibich, I’ll send you a list of what books I have on hand, and you can tell me which ones you want signed and mailed to you.

This was actually even harder of a question than I thought, because it turns out that one of the giveaway details has never been mentioned on this incarnation of my LJ. If you conducted a search (which wshaffer almost did), you would have had to do so on my old blog, the one I was using up until 2006. The number of people who have been following me since all the way back then is quite small . . . hence admitting this was a difficult challenge, one I didn’t necessarily expect anybody to get. The best chance for the rest of you was to have a good enough memory to remember that I linked to one of those songs last year — in fact, precisely one year to the day before I posted it again as part of this series. That, I believe, was the last time I said anything on here about Ree Varekai.

I mentioned her before and during my tour last year, because music had put her back into my head, and I found that the core of the concept still held a lot of power for me. Enough power that I started poking at it . . . and coming up with a cosmology where she could exist without copy-pasting the game world she came from . . . and then working out a plot for a novella that I really need a title for, so I can stop thinking of it as the “proof of concept” story where I’m test-driving my idea to see if it works. And then during this tour I decided to buckle down and try, and now I have a draft of the novella and this is a thing that might actually happen.

So what were the clues? Well, that fourth song was from the Cirque du Soleil show Varekai — that’s why it wound up on Ree’s game soundtrack, because of her name. (I didn’t realize I hadn’t posted her full name since the old journal. Mea culpa.) The third one, as I said, I linked to precisely one year previously; it’s also from her soundtrack, and stood for the moment when she hit utter rock bottom, just before the transformation that made her whole once more. The other two are recent additions to her score: “Bad Moon Rising” for the way her fatalist aspect is linked to the lunar cycle, and “I Will Not Bow” just because it fits. That’s what she sounds like when her fatalist aspect is dominant over her survivor aspect, when a pragmatic understanding of the obstacles has become “fuck everything; I’ll just take you all down with me.”

If you didn’t guess, don’t feel bad — you basically have to know Ree to guess most of those songs are pointing at her. (Both of the people who did guess were players in that game.) But hey: the bright side is, now I have all kinds of other things that apparently you all think I should write about! πŸ™‚

As for the novella, I don’t know what will happen with it. I need to revise it, and then see about trying to sell it somewhere. News on that when I have any to share.

Guess That Story, Part 4

I’ve had two more guesses, one non-serious (but it made me think I should write a Medusa story someday); the other was “werewolves” — which is amply suggested by “Bad Moon Rising,” but alas, is not correct.

So: last shot! This is about as obvious as it’s possible for me to get — which means still not that obvious, but enough that there’s a fighting chance:

A change of pace from the three depressing songs I posted before. πŸ™‚ It isn’t all grimdark over here at Swan Tower . . . .

Any takers? There’s a signed book in it for you, if you guess right . . . .

Guess That Story, Part 3

I’ve had two more people take a stab at guessing, but no successes. One was in email, and wasn’t so much a guess as “I feel like I should know the answer based on X context” — which was, sadly, off-target — and the other was a tongue-in-cheek guess of “Lune,” made by someone who knows exactly what I’m writing about. πŸ˜› A third person said the songs would be appropriate to Supernatural, but they don’t think I’m writing fanfic; indeed I am not. This is a piece of original fiction, written in the hope of selling it, and not for an official tie-in anthology or anything like that.

Since nobody has nailed it yet, it’s time for a third hint! If you missed the first two, they are here and here.

Getting less subtle as we go along; if this doesn’t do it, I have one more I’ll post on Monday, that’s about as blatant as I can get (at least as far as musically-based hints go). Which still isn’t that blatant: you need a pretty good memory to recall the pertinent details and think “oh, so that’s what she’s writing.” But there are people reading this blog who might be able to pull it off — and besides, I’m entertaining myself posting these songs. And isn’t that what really matters? ^_^

Remember that I’ll give a signed book away to the first person (if any) who correctly guesses what I’m working on. You don’t need to guess the exact plot, just a general description of who or what I’m writing about.

Guess That Story, Part 2

I finished a draft of the story in question last night. It’s officially a novella: 18,100 words. I need to add in a few bits, but I also need to tighten up other bits, so I expect the word count will stay in that general ballpark.

Someone on the previous post said that “I Will Not Bow” made them think of Julian, which was eye-opening for me: I firmly associate that song with a different character, but upon listening to it in that frame of mind, I can see where there’s a resemblance. But no, the story in question is not about Julian, which means you get a second musical hint!

This is less subtle than the first one, though still obscure enough that the list of people who could spot the connection is pretty short. (And several of the people on that list are disqualified on the grounds of too much insider knowledge.) I will say, though, that if anybody manages to guess what I’m working on before I run out of hints, I will send that person an autographed book of their choice out of my pile of author copies — subject to availability, of course.

If you still can’t guess, never fear — there are more hints to come . . . .

Let’s play “guess that story!”

While I’m on tour, I’m taking a crack at drafting something new. I’m pretty sure it’ll be either a novelette or a novella, but if this piece works, it might also be a launching-point for something bigger. And I figure, to keep you all entertained while I bounce from city to city, I’ll give you a chance to guess at what it is!

Here’s your first hint:

Ignore the visuals; it’s the song itself that’s the clue. It rather perfectly encapsulates the character this story is about. Mind you, it’s a bit of a long shot that anybody might guess this one; you kind of need insider knowledge to put it together with things I’ve said before and realize there’s a connection. But don’t worry; if nobody guesses it from this, I’ll provide another hint to make it easier.

(If you’re one of the people I’ve talked to in person about wanting to do this story, then you are disqualified from guessing, for obvious reasons.)

Less Is More

I just sent the first draft off to my editor; that makes the fourth Memoir a Real Thing now, ’cause other people are going to be reading it.

Doing the final polishes before kicking it out the door, I came upon one scene where I felt like I needed to amp up the emotional force a bit. So I went to the middle of the scene, stuck in a few line breaks, and started typing a new paragraph that would take what was going on and foreground it a bit more overtly. I wrote a sentence . . . started another one . . . deleted it . . . wrote a second sentence . . . started a third . . . deleted that and the second sentence . . . and after a lot of fiddling, I had a new paragraph, which I joined up to the following text. I looked it over, polished it a bit, tweaked some words — and then deleted the whole paragraph.

Because I was trying to play the wrong game.

These aren’t the sorts of books in which the narrator lays out her emotional state for the reader to marinate in. Those lines I had so much trouble writing? They were too overt. They were modern in style, rather than the buttoned-up Victorian tone I’ve been aiming for this whole time. I don’t pretend this will work for every reader, but: as far as I’m concerned, that scene has more impact, or at least more the kind of impact I’m going for, when I keep it simple. Less is more.

This is on my mind right now because my husband and I just finished watching Agent Carter, and we’re also nearing the end of the first season of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I realized tonight that I’m starting to crave passionate, operatic, heart-on-sleeve declarations of love, because both of those shows feature a lot of very proper characters having All the Feels but never talking about it openly. I said before that I ship Peggy Carter and Edmund Jarvis in a totally platonic way, and I stand by that — but it doesn’t mean I wasn’t flailing during one of the last scenes of this last episode, with the two of them being so very Britishly reserved at one another. And my god, if Jack Robinson and Phryne Fisher don’t kiss by the end of this season, I might throw things at the TV. (A real kiss, I mean. Not a “no I only did that to keep the murderer from noticing you I swear that’s all it was” kiss.)

My reaction means the writers are doing their jobs correctly, of course. And this is the thing romance and horror have in common: they both carry more impact if they tease you for a while first, hinting at stuff and building it slowly before finally delivering the emotional payoff. If you rush the process, it doesn’t work as well. But if you play the tension right, if you see only hints of the monster or the occasional Meaningful Gaze between the characters . . . then you don’t need an enormous payoff to get a lot of energy out of it. One kiss can work as well as — or better than — the characters falling into bed; one brief shot of the monster’s face can horrify you more than seeing the entire thing.

When it’s done well, I adore this sort of thing. Too steady of a diet, though, and I start feeling like I need some characters with a bit less self-control. But tell me: what are your favorite “oh my god this tiny thing was so incredibly meaningful” emotional payoffs in a story, or your favorite “and then we pulled out all of the stops and fired up the jet engines and went so far over the top we couldn’t even see it with binoculars” moments?


Ladies, gentlemen, and those who for reasons of gender or misbehavior count themselves as neither, I am exceedingly pleased to announce that I have a finished draft of the fourth Memoir of Lady Trent, at 88,748 words.

(What’s the title? You’ll have to wait to find that out until after Voyage of the Basilisk has been released. Because I’m mean that way.)

Undermining the Unreliable Narrator

In my recent discussion of The Name of the Wind, one of the things that has come up is the way in which Kvothe is an unreliable narrator, and the text does or does not separate the character’s sexism out from the sexism of the story as a whole. This isn’t solely a problem that crops up with unreliable narrators — it can happen any time the protagonist holds objectionable views, or lives in a society with objectionable attitudes but you don’t want to make the protagonist a mouthpiece for modern opinions — but it’s especially key there. And since I brought it up in that discussion, I thought it might be worth making an additional post to talk about how one goes about differentiating between What the Protagonist Thinks (on the topic of gender, race, or any other problematic issue) and What the Author Thinks.

I don’t pretend to be a master of this particular craft. That kind of separation is tricky to pull off, and depends heavily on the reader to complete the process. The issue is one that’s been on my mind, though, because of the Lady Trent novels: Isabella is the product of a Victorianish society, and while my approach to the -isms there hasn’t been identical to that of real history, I’ve tried not to scrub them out entirely. Since the entire story is filtered through her perspective (which, while progressive for her time, is not always admirable by twenty-first century standards), I’ve had to put a lot of thought into ways I can divide her opinions from my own.

There are a variety of tactics. Because I think things go better with concrete data rather than vague generalities, I’m going to continue to use The Name of the Wind as an illustrative example.


An Invocation for Beginnings

There’s a lot of inspirational dreck out there — well, I shouldn’t call it dreck. No doubt it inspires somebody. Generally not me, though, because the sentiment is too saccharine, too happy-fuzzy-warm to have any real impact on me. And yet, things like the demotivators are too cynical: they’re good for a brief laugh, but when you need something to get you going, they probably aren’t going to help. (Unless they do. Brains are weird things, and each one works in a different way.)

Which is why, when I found an inspirational thing that worked on me, I ran out and bought a poster of it. (Mine is green. The color is unfortunate either way: oh well.) The inspirational thing is a video by ze frank, An Invocation for Beginnings:

It works for me because it’s not happy-fuzzy-warm. It’s funny and it’s random and every so often it hits the point right on the nose. If I tried to quote my favorite bits at you, I’d end up quoting half the speech, but I’m especially fond of “Perfectionism may look good in his shiny shoes but he’s a little bit of an asshole and nobody invites him to their pool parties” and the whole part about the pencils. And then the last bit: “And god let me enjoy this. Life isn’t just a sequence of waiting for things to be done.”

Sometimes when I sit down to write, I don’t feel like doing it. I don’t want to be working on that bit of the story, or I don’t want to be working on that story, or I don’t want to be working at all. The Invocation helps me remember to enjoy that night’s work for what it is, to sink myself down into it and have fun. Maybe this isn’t the big thrilling climax to anything . . . but I can still get a cool turn of phrase or add in a detail that wasn’t there before. I’m not just waiting for this book to be done.

Let’s start this shit up.

tonight’s writing lesson

Do not end your day’s work with a line like this:

Lord Rossmere was not speaking to inform us, though; all that was prelude to his next statement.

Because when you come back to the text, you will not remember what that next statement was supposed to be. (Possibly I never knew, and that was just me reminding myself to justify the “as you know, Bob” dialogue that precedes it. I haven’t worked on this bit since before my NY/DC trip, so I really don’t recall.)

On the other hand, I am pleased with this line:

I did not say to him that I had kept the information secret precisely to avoid our current situation. First, because it was only true in part; and second, because Tom was stepping firmly on my foot.

Would you believe that Tom was originally a throwaway character invented solely because somebody like Lord Hilford wouldn’t travel alone? The stuff about his working-class origins came later, so that he and Isabella wouldn’t be nonentities to one another. And then I decided, almost on a whim, to have him become an actual colleague, at least to the extent of going to Bayembe with Isabella. Next thing I knew, he was a fixture of the story, and one of my favorite characters in the entire series.

It only looks like we plan this stuff. Half of it happens by accident.