Posts Tagged ‘book 3’
I’ve written about revising before, so I’m not certain this adds much. I just want to say I love this stage. I’m in draft 6 of Promised (Book 3 of the Birthmarked trilogy), and now that I’m more and more convinced I have all the scenes I need and that they’re in the right places, I can finally work at the level where I’m questioning each word. It’s a little like working on a very long poem.
So much of character emerges here in tiny gestures and dialogue. Slowing down and sinking into each scene lets me see the firelight, smell the wood smoke and hear the voices in a rich, incredibly satisfying way.
I’ve turned on the track changes feature so I’ll be able to dovetail this draft with the one I most recently sent to my editor. You can see by the frequent changes (in red) that the prose is still very fluid.
If it seems odd to hear about the process of Book 3 when, as a reader, you may have recently finished Birthmarked and be expecting Prized in a couple months, I’ll admit it has been odd for me, too, to get used to having books in such different stages of the process. I’m thankful that today I’m in a stage I enjoy.
I swear I’ve been here before.
I’m working with this draft of Book 3, and I’ve been revising along pretty steadily from the beginning, knocking out characters and scenes, deepening what remains, and I’ve reached a place where Gaia gets out of trouble. She can catch her breath for a minute, which is obviously a disaster as far as writing goes. The two of us sit back and look ahead at the next few scenes, and the links between them are simply not there. In fact, all of the rest of the book appears to have a random quality. The scenes make sense within themselves. Some are quite convincingly grueling, even. But the underlying threads to keep them all together are not tight.
I think this is what my editor observed when she advised me to consider Gaia’s motivation in this book. I know what her motivation is. At heart, it is “fight evil.” But that isn’t enough.
This is what I’ve realized just now, and it’s connected to “Nothing’s Going to Harm You” from Sweeney Todd which I listened to while I was stationary biking this morning. I don’t like that musical. I couldn’t even watch the movie. But the song has haunted me since I first heard it years ago, and when I listen to it now, I find its peculiar combination of sweetness and menace so disturbing. I think, the man who wrote that song and that musical was willing to go to some very, very creepy places in his mind.
That’s where I want to go. Not, of course, into Sondheim’s mind, but into my own dark, squeamish corners. That’s where I need to go for Book 3. My problem is not the plot. I can’t solve this book by lining up the events and bolstering the connections between them. I need to push deeper into the characters and find out how I can hurt them psychologically. I have to find the costs there.
I don’t have my solutions yet, but I know where to go looking for them now. This is not going to be a fast fix.
When you keep erasing as many pages as you write each day, and you keep going in wrong directions, don’t think that you’re not making progress, because you are. It’s just thinking progress, not pages progress, and when you eventually identify that you’ve put your main character in a position of power and influence where her problems are global rather than personal, then add in some guards and get someone arrested, preferably her.
You might think you would know by now the absolute basic rule of fiction: make things worse. But no. It kills you to think how many times you keep having to learn this. What’s more: it’s not enough to make things worse in general; they have to be worse for her. Much worse. And now.
At least you learned it again this morning. Evil laugh.
I’m a seat-of-the-pantser. I’ve done books using an outline before when I plotted out romances in ten chapters (major intimacy in Chapter 7) so I know it’s possible, but that is not how I wrote Birthmarked, and it is not working for the sequels. The main problem is that I have to be in the scene, imagining it, in order to live where it’s going with Gaia. Since she can’t see into the future, neither can I. If the reader is to be surprised, I must be, too. But that’s a bit of a cop-out. The truth is that I don’t outline for Gaia because I just can’t. My mind isn’t working that way. I have an idea of one scene I’m heading towards with Book 3, like I had a scene I was writing toward with Birthmarked, but it’s still very open-ended, and I like the comfort of knowing it could go anywhere. Uncertainty helps me be creative.
Uncertainty is also terrifying, because I’ll go in plenty of wrong directions before I find what will work. I’ve just had a rather torturous experience writing Prized, where the first draft was 450 unwieldy pages long. For months, I kindly referred to it as “dog rot.” Yet I had to write it to discover what was going on. Nine drafts later, after lopping off 50-page sections left and right and writing dozens of new scenes, the novel now has a tight plot, and I’m so happy with it that I relish the minute tinkering of the line-by-line and can hardly bear to give that up in order to work on the next book.
It has been gently suggested to me that perhaps I could write a short first draft of Book 3 just to get the blocks in place before I embellish. Believe me. I’d love to. I think it will help that I’m writing full-time now, and not trying to keep the mental continuity going over 25-minute lunch breaks. But I also know that I just have to write a first draft, whatever its messy length, because once I get to the end, I’ll be able to see the entire arc of the story, with all its surprises and holes. I trust that this seat-of-the-pants, butt-on-the-couch process will work for me.
Just for kicks, here’s an example of how the opening of Prized changed. In the first draft, the opening lines were as follows:
The infant took two weak, reflexive sucks on the bottle, and then her lips went slack. Gaia shifted closer to the firelight and watched the baby’s chest for the swell that would confirm she was still breathing.
Bad news, but quiet. Seven months and five drafts later, the opening became this:
She grabbed the hilt of her knife and scrambled backward into the darkness, holding the baby close in her other arm. Beyond the fire, the wasteland was still, as if the wind and even the stones had frozen in the night to listen, and then she heard it again, a soft chink that could be metal or a boot adjusting against pebbles.
Outlining, obviously, has nothing to do with how I write. Thank goodness.
The law isn’t really called that, but since I’m already playing with fiction twists, changing the name is a satisfying place to start. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 says about what you might expect it would: that insurance companies and employers can’t discriminate against anyone because of his or her genes. They can’t demand genetic info about people, or their families, when they’re deciding whom not to cover in policies or whom to employ. That’s the real law here in the U.S.
It’s just too tempting, isn’t it?
Imagine the reverse: that people have to register their DNA before they can work, vote, marry, or enter a hospital. Imagine if, at the airport, while you’re taking off your shoes and exposing your personal effects to get through security, you also have to give a drop of blood so they can clear you in the genetic database. Better still, suppose you have a child who is genetically desirable, and the government wants your kid to experiment on while they try to find a cure for hemophilia, or sickle cell anemia, or cancer. Some wickedly awful fiction could happen.
I’m not personally worried about people knowing my genes. Neither are the “PGP-10,” George Church and nine fellow scientists who released their personal genetic and medical data to the public as they launched the Personal Genome Project in 2008. Over a thousand volunteers have now contributed their info to the project in the belief that doing so could “promote human welfare through the advancement of scientific and medical discovery” (personalgenomes.org). I wonder if it’s a coincidence that the PGP-10′s personal data went online just a few months after the Genetic Freedom Act was passed.
So, as I consider ideas for Book 3 in the Birthmarked trilogy, I can’t help noticing I’ll be playing on people’s fears about genetic discrimination, and possibly even adding to the misconceptions about how genes can be used for evil. But I give myself permission anyway, because I don’t think it’s genetic information itself that is the danger: it’s uncontrolled, corrupt government that’s the danger.
And in real life, we’re safe from that. So far.