Tag Archives: worldbuilding

Revisions Completed (Until Next Time)

Today, I completed the deep revisions for Sand of Bone.

Pause for extended fanfare of trumpets…

I’ll have to wait for beta-reader feedback to know how close the novel is to the proofread-for-publication stage, but I’m quite pleased with how it turned out.

Currently, the novel comes in around 128K words.  Somehow — despite the fact I completely altered and expanded the worldbuilding, and let myself play much more with dialog — I cut nearly 30K from the previous draft.  Thirty thousand words!  I don’t know where they went.  I feel as if I’m actually telling more story than before those words disappeared.

I had all sorts of things I wanted to say about revisions, and writing, and writing as a form of reading, but I’m honestly just too danged tired.  So off to bed with me, so the brain shall function tomorrow.

And I’ll play that fanfare again.  I earned it.

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Honing the Pivotal Scene

I don’t talk about process as much as I think about process, mostly because I’m fairly certain everyone would respond with, “Well, duh, Blair.  We all know that.  Where have you been?”  But now and again, I find writing about process helps me better understand it.  And once it’s written, it seems silly to leave it sitting about with nothing to do.

So.  Here it be.

I’m working on a pivotal chapter near the end of the arc’s Act I.  It’s a point of decision that’s been set up by previous events, the turning point on which the rest of the novel depends, where secrets are revealed, lines drawn, and action chosen.

As is usual with these scenes of mine, it needs a great deal of work.

My pivotal chapters tend to get chatty.  Very chatty.  The characters discuss options and ideas and reasons in detail, debating the sticking points and questioning their predictions.  It took me awhile to realize the characters spent so much time talking things through because I, the writer, was still trying to figure out motives and consequences.  It took me awhile longer to properly edit out (most of) the extraneous conversations because I do love me my dialog.

I’ve also realized my pivotal chapter problems–which I try to solve with dialog–stem from a weak foundation, and that weakness is a byproduct of pantser style coupled with my penchant for writing to That Scene at all costs.  (That Scene being the seed the novel originally grew from.)  Now, in Sand of Bone, I have a better grasp of the story, and new worldbuilding pieces are properly in place.  The pivotal scene no longer needs all the words it currently holds.  What was once required to make the characters’ decisions understandable and acceptable can be set aside, with proper preparation.

Every few paragraphs or so, I find myself flipping back to previous chapters for a spot of editing.  Usually it’s a single line or a quick dialog exchange, defining a small piece of the world or establishing a minor character before I put either one to use in the pivotal chapter.  The purpose of those little tweaks and tightenings is to remove the need to explain reasons and motives during the pivotal scene.  In other words, if I know I’m going to need the rifles to set Act II in motion, I’d best make sure everyone knows where the mantles are and why the rifles are hanging there before we’re praising God and passing out ammunition.

A decision-process is an exchange of information—explanation, consideration, comparison, justification.  It’s tempting to include that in pivotal scenes because the decision is so important, right?  After all, I want the reader to accept the decision.  Not like it or agree with it, but see it as a realistic choice based on available information and character goals.  And no writer wants the reader to toss the book across the room because the character makes consistently inexplicable choices.

But you know what’s worse?  The reader who quietly sets the book aside and forgets about it because the pivotal scene was so filled with stray facts and character asides and tidbits of backstory that it bored them completely.

My revelation is this: the pivotal scene isn’t about the decision.  That’s the job of everything that comes before.  The pivotal scene is the emotion of having decided, the fear of the consequences ahead, the terror of being wrong, the desperation to have others agree.  When we make a big decision in real life, we certainly agonize over it.  But the moment of sharing and acting upon that decision is just as terrifying.  Sometimes, it’s more terrifying.  It’s what happens in those moments, hours, or days that makes or breaks the decision.

That’s the pivotal scene.

So my reminder to myself today is this: new information should rarely—and I do mean rarely—be given to the reader during a pivotal scene.  Characters in the scene can get some new information, but then the exchange is about the impact of the fact not its explanation.

This is not to be confused with climactic revelations of the I-am-your-father type.  But even then, if the temptation arises to explain–right after the revelation–just how that connection could possibly be so, some quite critical pieces of backstory and foreshadowing have been neglected.

Once More, With…

… with feeling.  Or different feelings.  Or deeper knowledge, or better strategy, or greater confidence.  Or hubris blind to incompetence.  We shall see.

I am inflicting more revisions on Sand of Bone.  Once upon a time, repeated revision rounds felt akin to shaving away words and layers in an attempt to make my novel-peg fit into a proper slot.  But the freedom of how I’ve chosen to present my stories, along with the reading and consideration of reviews given to Sword and Chant, have given me both a positive push and clearer understanding of my goals.  It’s made these last two rounds of revisions exciting and enlivening.

There are a couple big changes, both involving worldbuilding.*  One is the transformation of Exile into Salt.  The same behavior will get you sent to that gods-hated place, but the change of name and purpose fixes plot holes, and allows for all sorts of little one-lines from characters such as the unofficial and sarcastic “motto” of Salt cures.

It also allowed me to burn far too many hours checking out salt flats, and that was much fun.  Quirky and random research topics are one of the reasons I love the work I do.

Also changed is the mortality of the ruling Velshaan.  They’ve always been descendants of the creation gods, and they’ve always aged, been vulnerable to harm, and decidedly mortal.  But now they can die only when one of their own bloodkin kills them.

Think through the consequences of that one, and you can see why I’m excited by the change.  Yes, your own kin will be the cause of your death, but what about times when withholding that death would be worse than causing it?  What rituals would be created to be a psychological buffer?  How would it feel to grow up knowing no one but your family can kill you, and that you must one day kill a parent or grandparent?  What happens when the bloodkin have a really, really big feud?

As you can imagine, those two changes alone create massive ripple effects.  The revisions are line-by-line, word-by-word, with an eye to ensuring every choice, plot point, and character attitude is compatible with the changes.

But the bottom line is I’m so much happier with what the final novel is becoming.  I’m newly excited rather than frustrated.  I’m loving it all over again.

As an added bonus, the changes fit well with a tidbit of advice picked up from Brad Beaulieu’s GenCon seminar this weekend: Plant fear of the solution in the character.

(And if you haven’t read Brad’s work before, I highly recommend it.  Epic fantasy, flying ships, Russian flavor, truly awesome and complicated characters.)

Today, I made it through the first four chapters of changes.  As long as life doesn’t deal me yet another sledgehammer to the gut, I just might get these revisions done by the end of September.  It’s only, y’know, nine months behind schedule.

*For reasons why I’ll blithely alter my worldbuilding, see On Worldbuilding, Changes, and Plot.

On Worldbuilding, Changes and Plot

A couple months ago, I put out a tweet something like, “If you can’t fix it in plot, alter the worldbuilding.”  Y’see, I’d just inserted a huge change into Sand of Bone’s world in order to give a character the reason and ability to perform an act that the remaining 60% of the novel depended upon.  The change made me happy because, even though it had a huge impact, it required so little in actual text changes.

Not long after I put up that tweet, someone else wrote under the same hashtag something like, “Worldbuilding is the story’s foundation and shouldn’t be changed lightly.”  (That’s a paraphrase based admittedly on memory, but contains the general idea.)

And I was reminded why worldbuilding checklists and such never worked for me.

Continue reading On Worldbuilding, Changes and Plot

Details Matter

A friend of mine recently shared a “Top 10 Tips” for dealing with a writer.  One of them was “Don’t call the police if you happen to see a writer’s browsing history.”  I admit, my searches for information have included topics such as preserving a severed head in honey, methods of “brainwashing,” tactics of guerilla warfare, and how much pressure is needed to crush a human skull.

Writers look up more mundane information as well.  I once spent a great deal of time calculating the weight and volume of different water quantities–a subject that would only cross the minds of folks hiking long distances.  But if writing about traveling between wells in an expansive desert, that information is critical.  The reader might not know how much a day’s worth of water weighs, but will certainly roll his eyes if a character trudges across the sand for five days with only a little canteen.

Sometimes, though, research reveals details that run counter to “prevailing wisdom.”  Most people have heard two things about water and survival: you need a gallon of water per day, and will die in three days without water.  Aside from the fact the two contradict each other, the basic information is far too general to be of any use in specific situations.  Yet I predict someone, somewhere, will one day write me a letter saying my worldbuilding was wrong because one character took mere hours to die without water, and another survived on less than a gallon of water a day for a week.  I could either adjust the details to fit what “everyone knows,” expend words in the story explaining what the real details are, or accept the fact that someone, somewhere, won’t like the way I use water regardless of the realism.

I’ll take Door Number 3.

For more detail-chat, here L. Blankenship discusses her research behind heavy-gee corsets.  The coolness of researching corsets rates far and above the mass of water, does it not?  (Note to self: reconsider character costume choices.)  Check out her other worldbuilding posts for neat stuff.

Research matters.  Details aren’t little things.  They are instead the most important pieces of a story’s living, breathing world.  Handled well and properly, the reader need never “appreciate” the writer’s research.  She will instead love and embrace the story.

And the writer will now purge her search history. 🙂