the final stretch – finishing a novel

I am over 90% finished with Blue Crystal revisions, as of tonight.

It’s kindof boggling. I’ve been working on this novel for over two years. Three full blind drafts. Test readers have pointed out things that need to be edited, of course, and I’ll need it to be polished, typos spotted. For instance, I have the hilarious tendency to write ‘kill’ instead of ‘kiss’. Hmm. Subconscious logic there…

It’s midnight now. I have exactly ten days to finish before NaNo comes around, and I think my test readers might not forgive me if I delay the last chapter for a month. So, for accountability… Every midnight, I’ll try to post a short post on my progress. It’s not a great read, I know, but I react very well to support. I’ll probably need it.

golden ratio applied

Personally, I think this is pretty darn neat.

  Blue Crystal Golden Ratio
Event 1 41k 40k
Event 2 61k 65k
Event 3 78k 80k
Event 4 90k 90k
End 96k 96k

My novel’s pacing (which I’m almost done revising– over 85%!), compared to the golden ratio calculator I made. This is without changing the length of the material, no squeezing to fit.

… Hypothetically, if I stuck in 2k between event 1 and event 2, my story would almost exactly proportion correctly and end up at 98k. Big for a novel, small for a fantasy novel.

a literary confession

I have never read anything by China Mieville.

He’s been recommended to me for years, actually. I remember… three years ago a fellow I knew raved about it for several minutes. Blogs praise him, word of mouth loves him, authors that I love love him. But I have never read anything by China Mieville.

As it turned out, the Sandpoint library had a copy of Perdido Street Station. I’ll let you guys know how it goes.

anyone know any good steampunk fantasy?

It’s been established that I’m going to be working on a magical-steampunk sort of setting for NaNo. And I’m really excited– I love the style, the ideas, the flavor I’ve got in mind…

… But it occurs to me now that I don’t read much steampunk.

In fact, the only steampunk that I’m really familiar with are in webcomics. Namely, Girl Genius (great, fun comic, though its creators use the term ‘Gaslamp Fantasy’), and the more serious, violent Freak Angels, which is post-apocalyptic steampunk. The Phoenix Requiem is Victorian-style fantasy, but not at all ‘punk’, so though it’s a great story, I don’t think that it counts (obviously we need more mad science). Some of the Final Fantasy games also fall into this category, though loosely.

So. In an effort to delve a little more into the genre, does anyone know any really good steampunk novels that they’d like to recommend? Plot and humor-wise, Girl Genius is very suited to my tastes. I know my plans bastardize the genre a little as I also have a magic system.

three steps forward…

… Then a shepherd’s crook about the neck from off-stage, Bugs Bunny style. Yoink!

I’ve been working on my revisions (and not posting so much, admittedly… but the deeper I go into the actual writing/editing of the book, I find I have less and less to say here). Chapters one through three have been revised, fixed up, polished (and chapter one and two sent off to my test readers).

Chapter one was unavoidably awkward in spots, a lot of world building and introductions very quickly, and chapter two extended that, but with plot. Chapter three was a dream: varied, interesting, fast paced.

And then I reached chapter four.

I don’t see any way around it. I’m going to have to rewrite most of this from scratch. Fifteen pages or so, 8-9k. Flat characters, dallying plot, and… well, let’s call it ‘plodding’. Trudging through to the interesting parts. This might take a bit longer than I thought.

the end

After months of sweat, tears, and very probably blood, I bring you the most beautiful image I’ve created in some time:

For those of you who may not understand what this is, allow me to explain. This is the last page of the last chapter of the last draft of my novel.

Three drafts, from 52k to 96k to finally 105k, bringing us up to over 250,000 words written on this novel over the last year and a half– my first version was written because of a spur-of-the-moment decision to join NaNoWriMo 2007.

It needs to be revised, proofread, ect..

I also think I’ll need an agent, or at least an agent-hunt list, by the end of the year. And a new project for this November.

when the pov character can’t make it

Finishing this last chapter, I ran into a bit of a surprise. My villain is smarter than I’d planned. He has given my hero some false information to keep his attention focused elsewhere, and is trying to solve the problem of the rogue heroine on his own. … Without my pov character being present.

The hero doesn’t get to hear what’s going on, not yet, at least. Important things are going on, and they can’t be ‘filmed’. As pretty much the last obstacle in this book (and I still very much like my plot, even if it’s not to-code, as formulas go), this has been giving me some trouble. Worse, since it’s near the end, there’s no time for another subplot.

So, what do you do?

I came up with a few ideas to work around this, and I thought that I’d share.

Timeskip. Move to a place where the character can hear what’s going on. It might be a little late, in some cases, but there’s very little wrong with throwing a character into a developed situation that they’re not expecting. Shake them up and watch them stumble about a bit. So what if you couldn’t see things developing? Figure out what’s going on as new bombs explode on the poor guy. The downside? It’s hard to keep the character confused without doing the same to your audience.

Plot Device. This one’s a little hacky. Give the hero a spy for whatever reason. I don’t actually like this idea as much as the last, but it will work, especially if you want to carefully control what the character does and doesn’t know.

Rework It. So your hero is shut off? Change the situation– find a reason that they can get there, whether it’s reorganizing how things lay out or tweaking your other characters (in this case, my villain) so that the option of inviting the POV-guy is worth whatever downside.

Figure It Out. In this case, this isn’t an option for me. But in others, this is a nice alternative. Someone says something that reminds the character of something else. Put their ‘aha’ moment far away from the event. Spur them on that way. This isn’t always an option, but if so, you can motivate the character and get the pace increasing.

Just a few thoughts that I had on the situation. Feel free to add your own!

one chapter to go

Blue Crystal
(Current) Word count: 99,050.

Table of contents:

  1. Chapter One: Vastii in Black
  2. Chapter Two: The Celestite Baron
  3. Chapter Three: Paid in Sand
  4. Chapter Four: A Walk in the Dark
  5. Chapter Five: Bloody Hands
  6. Chapter Six: Mercenaries and Fire
  7. Chapter Seven: Terms of Endearment
  8. Chapter Eight: New Years Day
  9. Chapter Nine: Nature
  10. Chapter Ten: Duty
  11. Chapter Eleven: Vastii in Red
  12. Chapter Twelve: Three Faces in Filigree
  13. Chapter Thirteen: Catch a Star

‘Three Faces in Filigree’ is written. After Catch a Star, this draft will be finished, and I can start editing.

There are days you think, “What am I doing, how can I hope to tie everything up, how can I make the ending unpredictable yet still make sense?”. And then there are days when you read over the previous chapter titles, remember what happened in each, and suddenly feel so satisfied.

novel-writing and controlling information

A random subject, I must admit, but this has been on my mind recently.

Part of my book involves… we’ll call it a mystery. Unclear motives, conspiracy, a bigger picture than the protagonist sees. I’m exactly three chapters from ending the book according to my recent chapter plans, and as more and more climax-heightening information comes through, I have to wonder… is the big reveal, aha-moment too obvious? The characters have every scrap of information they’d need now to put things together. A stressful chapter, a distracting goal, and a wrong take on one of the events ought to keep the characters busy… what about the reader?

This is probably the most agonizing part of writing fantasy. Fantasy is a setting-genre. It has a great deal in common with sci-fi, westerns, and even historical fiction for that reason. And yet the genre constantly overlaps with the event-genres… action, adventure, romance, mystery, thriller (suggest that fantasy is an event-genre by the necessity of a ‘quest’, and I will vaporize you with my scary teacher-stare). So in able to be able to fully command the genre, one must be at least adapt at the subtleties of romance and mystery, the chill of a suspense novel and the tension of a well-crafted fight, no matter the era of weapon.

Back to my original question: how do you know when you’ve made the reveal too transparent? Like spotting a scratch on a piece of furniture– when you know where to look, it jumps out at you. I have some ideas– only a survey of test-readers can be accurate, but there are a few tricks that I’ve noted.

One upon a time, I was an admirer of the Harry Potter series. (Hey, at least it’s not ‘Twilight’). One thing that I admired about Rowling’s work was how thoroughly she would foreshadow her endings. By the fourth book, I caught on to her style enough to see them coming ahead of time, but the first three books left me hitting myself, declaring “Stupid! Stupid!” at the end of each one. Rowling also has a lot of characters, each involved with their own activities, and lots of quirky detail, to hide what’s important with what’s not. So what if the pet rat has a missing toe? It’s an old, pathetic rat that’s had one too many encounters with a garden gnome or something, nestled right in a description of how haggard it looks. And there was that vacation it was hauled off to in Egypt over the summer. It might have caught something. Plenty of reasons not to think it has anything to do with plot.

Use of detail, amid lots of other detail. Logical rationalization, yet a point unique enough to stand out. Foreshadowing each element as its own separate island, as if they’re not connected. Mistaken assumptions that the reader is lead to agree with can be startling to overturn.

But then, my next example uses something entirely different. Gosford Park, a murder mystery film… which was more about the people and less about the murder.

I will warn you, I really, really loved this movie. Watch it five times, and you might have picked out all the subtle sub-plots. Everyone is guilty of something… some more than others. There’s bickering behind closed doors, affairs, blackmail… in fact, all the sub-plots can be so interesting that they take away focus of the murder entirely. The reveal isn’t dramatic. On the contrary, it’s quiet, and not exactly a ‘pursuit of justice’.

So… is detail the secret? I haven’t made a habit of reading mystery for some time– I think I need to go back to it. Does anyone have any great references that they’d like to point to?

new query letter!

I’m just about to finish up chapter seven– six more to go, but I’ve been having trouble motivating myself to finish the last thousand words before I get to the fun, violent part of the book.

So instead, I took a break to write a new query letter (minus the boring title-genre parts). I think they’re getting better; feel free to tell me if I’m completely deluded. 😀

Cheers!


In Marla, wars are fought with assassins, not armies.

The duke of Marla’s northern providence had been in the king’s disfavor since the duke married the king’s sister. The king’s opinion worsened when the duchess died suddenly and without explanation.

Duchess-to-be Wyrren Jadis is the king’s niece, but very much her father’s daughter: honorable, unsubtle, and with a firm sense of duty. Twelve years after her mother’s death, the king uses a mounting revolt on Jadis lands as an excuse to have his niece kidnapped and brought to his underground city of Vastii, which struggles to recover from plague, famine, and violent objections to their unfair monarch. Armed with a formal education, a specialty in a non-combative magic, three talented maids, and a high-ranking slave, Wyrren isn’t quite prepared to be her father’s assassin. But the king means to use Wyrren to accuse the duke of murder regardless of guilt, and he isn’t above making examples of her maids, or her slave, the man she secretly loves.

In the deepest tunnels of Vastii, far from the palace gentry, red crosses are drawn in chalk where effects of the plague have been seen. Wyrren’s slave is also a doctor, accustomed to slums, and has evidence to support a friend’s theory that this plague might have been started intentionally months before their arrival, and not by the king.