Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Writing Wednesday, Throwback Edition: If you tell the truth, you don't have to have a good memory

So today's blog post is a bit of a cop out since the dentist took way longer than I thought it would. But first, an update...which is sadly also a cop out. #winning at life today, guys. -_-

SO, I've got good news and bad news. The good news has to do with contract work. As the name would suggest, contract work is writing you're hired and paid to do. This kind of writing includes everything from ghost writing (where you write a book and let someone else, generally famous, have the credit while you take the paycheck) to writing your own story in a popular franchise, like the authors who write the Star Wars novels.

Now, traditionally, I've stayed away from contract work because I know I don't play well inside other people's ideas. I have to be freeeeee! This time, though, a contract fell into my lap that was so unique, so once-in-a-lifetime-awesome, I couldn't say no. I can't share this contract yet (but oh god, when I can, it will be ALL I TALK ABOUT), but trust me when I say it's very good news...and also kind of sucky, because taking the contract means accepting other people's deadlines whether they fit with your plans or not.

All of this is a fancy way of saying the third Heartstriker novel, (originally titled A Dragon of a Different Color, but now changed to No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished for reasons that will be very obvious upon reading), won't be out until Summer, hopefully in July. I'd really really hoped that I could have it out in March, but in order to meet my contractually obligated deadlines for this new project, the Heartstriker manuscript had to be done and out the door by the end of December, and it wasn't. This was entirely my fault. I was on schedule, but then my plot fell through (as plots sometimes do) and everything got thrown off schedule. Normally I'd just keep writing, but since I signed a contract, I have to put my own book aside and honor that.

This really sucks and I'm really sorry. I hate making you guys wait, but I swear I will make the book worth it! Heartstriker fans will not be disappointed, but you will have to wait just a little longer. Again, mea culpa, but hopefully when finally I'm cleared to announce this contract project, you'll all agree it was worth being a few months late on Heartstriker Family Drama!

And speaking of late, my entire morning blog time got eaten up by the dentist (don't forget to floss, kids!), and since my schedule is already stupid, possibly inhumanly tight this month, I'm coping out and doing a blast-from-the-past repost of a blog I wrote long ago for the now dead Magic District group blog. If you've never looked around, this was a super cool blog I did with lots of then new, now pretty famous authors including N.K. Jemisin and Diana Rowland. Definitely worth a look!

So without further ado, let's set the Wayback Machine to 2010 and have a look at important writing lessons as learned by Rachel Aaron, baby author. Enjoy!

Writing Wednesday, Throwback Edition: "If you tell the truth, you don't have to have a good memory."

This fantastic pic of Judge Judy becomes relevant in a few paragraphs, but is always awesome.

Originally posted on The Magic District, 2010

So my series, starting with The Spirit Thief, comes out on October 1, followed by The Spirit Rebellion in November and The Spirit Eater in December. So many books! But don’t they make such a lovely little set? Anyway, while all this is going on, I am busy at work on Book 4 in The Legend of Eli Monpress (The Spirit War), and I am running into some interesting situations.

See, way back when I wrote The Spirit Thief, I knew it was going to be the first in a series, but I didn’t actually know much about that series other than how it ended, which was very far from where it began. Over the course of three books, I’ve had to get a lot more specific and detailed. This has caused more than a few problems because I’ve never written a series before and I was wholly unprepared for the level and amount of detail I ended up having to keep track of. Thousands of little decisions made over years of writing that have to be kept in mind because, in the world of the books, they are now history, irrefutable, and completely un-fudge-able should I find them inconvenient later down the line.

Some of this was alleviated by keeping a wiki for my dry, bookkeeping kinds of details, but more and more as I dig into book 4, I find myself face to face with decisions I made about my characters months or even years ago. Some of these were well thought out, and some were decisions I made in the heat of the moment and now don’t actually remember making.

I remember hearing a story about J.K. Rowling writing her later HP books and having to go into bookstores to buy the earlier ones to check things because she didn’t remember what she’d written. The first time I heard this, I thought it was stupid. What kind of author doesn’t remember what she writes? But I owe Ms. Rowling an apology, because I’m now in the same boat (albeit a far smaller, less grand boat). I have an ARC of The Spirit Thief on my desk at all times that I use to constantly check things, and search is my favorite feature in MS Word. But as my story grows, the process of self checking gets trickier and trickier. How does one search for a motivation? How do you fact check a personality or way of thinking?

This is a question I've had to get very good at answering. But even though I do try to check everything I'm remotely unsure about, what I've discovered in the process is that my first intuition about whatever I don't remember usually turns out to be right. I’ve been wondering lately why this is. Does some deep part of me remember writing this paragraph two years ago? Am I clairvoyant? That would be nice, but I think the actual reason if far simpler and, by extension, more reliable.

One of my favorite ladies ever, Judge Judy, always says that if you tell the truth, you don’t have to have a good memory. Tuns out, this is equally applicable whether you’re suing your neighbor or writing fiction. My characters are the most interesting part of writing for me, and I put a great deal of thought and consideration into keeping them true to themselves. Sometimes this has the unfortunate side effect of characters bucking the plot when it asks them to do something they wouldn’t do, but while that can be annoying (and feel catastrophic while it’s happening), I think my books have always been better for it. But another lovely, unforeseen side effect is that by staying true to my characters--telling the truth of my people, as it were--I don’t actually have to have a good memory about what they’ve done in the novels. I just think of the situation in question and I know how they would have reacted, even if I can’t remember exactly how I wrote it.

I still check, of course. I'm not that confident! But other than a few dropped details, I've yet to find a situation where my instinct for the character was wrong. But this whole thing has taught me a really valuable lesson about writing, which is that it is totally worth the time to get to know your characters inside and out for practical reasons as well as artistic ones. Because sometimes miracles happen, ahnd you end up writing a fourth book when you only really expected to write one, and when that happens, you'll be really glad you took the time to build a firm foundation. Especially if you’re like me and Diet Coke has eaten your memory and you need all the help you can get.

Mmmmm… diet coke…

Poor baby author Rachel! I swear it gets better!

Thank you all for putting up with me today. I hope you enjoyed this blast from the past, and I swear I'll be back soon with actual new content and, hopefully, news about my Super Secret Project of Unstoppable Awesome (TM). Until then, please follow me on the social media of your choice (TwitterFacebookTumblrGoogle+) for more book stuff and practical writing advice. As always, thank you so much for reading, and I hope your day is going better than mine!

Yours always,


BG said...

*crawls into fetal position weeping about the delay of Heartstrikers #3*

If it makes you feel any better, I've also spent a bad afternoon at the dentist recently, later learning that I had been brushing my teeth in the completely wrong way my whole life. I also had a complicated morning today because my dog got sick.

The new Heartstrikers title makes me fear for Julius... But I can't wait to know more about that Top Secret Project.

Kessie said...

A delay on a book release? Over on N. D. Wilson's Twitter last night, he announced that the fourth book in his series is basically homeless right now due to publisher shenanigans, so we have no idea when we get to read it. And since it's likely the finale ... Yeah. There is disappointment. July? I can do July.

Also, I'm dying to know what this contract work might be, seeing as you've mentioned dream contracts you'd love to write for. :-D

Jimney said...

Thank you for this post, even if it was a cop-out. I'd not read it before, and it still offers valuable insight (and damn is Judge Judy right with that quote!). I'm at the moment working on a 4 book series, and yeah, I do a lot of fact-checking myself in earlier books! :) I hope life smoothes out again soon!

Lynne Murray said...

As a writer, I started out with the "2k to 10k: Writing Faster, etc." book. Very helpful and I had to go check out the Rachel Aaron novels. Now happily addicted, I just turned a friend on to the Heartstriker series and she just called to see when the next one is coming out. Fortunately, I could tell her there would be one....waiting till July now!