Wednesday, December 26, 2012

AMA: Answers part deux!

Lying in bed recovering from the Christmas hauling/mauling and a sinus infection and slightly high on cough syrup, let's answer some questions! (Note: All the following answers are cherry flavored. For those of you who prefer the green Nyquil, apologies.)

To business!
Jessi said: I was one of those wrimos who constantly posted on the NaNoWriMo forum. I've come to bother you, yet again :P 
Almost done with book 3 of Eli. Did you know that some of this big world building stuff was going to come together the way that they do when The Spirit Thief was still in the works? I started reading Spirit Thief before the 4th and 5th came out, and I can see how awesomely epic The Spirit Eater acts on it's own within a trilogy. Im excited to see where 4 and 5 go from here! 
How many rewrites does it take for you to reach the point where the story really starts to cinch together, and the writing doesnt feel like gobbledygook? I'm on a second rewrite, and after moving around time, things are working quite nicely.
Thanks for doing this!
Thank you for helping me out of a bind! (Seriously, writing things people actually want answered? SO MUCH EASIER than coming up with stuff on my own!)

I'm so glad you'r enjoying The Spirit Eater! Nico has a very special place in my heart, though it took me much longer to get a feel for her than for my other characters, mostly because she was so quiet and Eli was the opposite of quiet. To answer your question, you got me. While I always knew the general meta plot of the Eli series, Book 3 was where everything really started coming together. Before I was always hinting at larger things, but Spirit Eater was where I had to start actually ponying up on those promises, which meant I, as the author, now had to know exactly what I was doing.

Looking back, I consider The Spirit Eater as my trial by fire. It was where I first realized just how absurdly ambitious I was being, first saw the enormous scope of the work ahead. Honestly, it scared the shit out of me. I was absolutely convinced this was it. I was going to mess this up and everyone would finally realize I was a hack who didn't know what she was doing. I was also pregnant, and the combination of dread and hormones was murderous.

But I didn't have a choice. I had a contract, I had to write this book. More than that, I owed Eli and everyone else this story I'd dreamed of for so long. So I did it. I wrote and rewrote and pretty much forced myself to figure everything out. Spirit Eater was the fourth book I ever finished, but in many ways it felt like the first because by the time it was over, I felt like I'd really mastered a book for the first time.

So to answer your question, no. I didn't know how it would all come together when I was writing Spirit Thief, only that it would. By the end of Spirit Eater, however, I knew EXACTLY how Eli's story ended, and I used that knowledge to go back and make changes in the first two books that tied everything together. This was one of those times where the slow pace of publishing works out in the author's favor!

To answer your second question: one of the things I say a lot (I mean, a lot a lot, to the point where my husband finishes the sentence for me) is "the book gets written in the second draft." As we all know by now, I am an obsessive planner, but despite my best efforts, my first drafts are still giant messes. True, some are messier than others, but they're all F'ed up to some degree. This is perfectly natural. Every general knows that no plan survives the first encounter with the enemy.

This used to really bother me, but after much gnashing of teeth I finally realized that a first draft is exactly that: a first try. It's the place where you discover exactly how and why all those awesome plans fall apart. By the time I'm ready to do the second draft, however, I understand where things went wrong (since, thanks to all that planning, I actually know what I was trying to do). Because of this (and because of my extremely thorough editing process), nearly all of my books gel completely by the end of draft 2. Everything after that is fiddling with subtleties.

Of course, it's taken me many books to reach this point, but I swear you will reach it. We talk about craft a lot, but really, most of story telling is just applied problem solving. Learning how to solve your novel, to make everything click, is just as vital and hard as learning to craft a sentence or create a character. But with practice, patience, and the steadfast belief that there is a story worth telling buried under all that gobbledygook, you can make it work. Remember, in the world of your story, you are god. It is impossible for you to make a mess so huge you can not solve it. You just have to be patient, clever, and unyielding  and everything will work itself out. Scout's honor.
OathBreaker said: 1) Now that your finished? Is there anything you would change about an Eli book? Put in, take out. Give a character more page time?
2) If you were to or have written a dragon story. What kind of dragon would it be? Friendly, neutral, hostile. Color? Scaled or unscaled? Fire breather or somthing else?
3) I asked you about Warcraft once but I'm curious what other universe you'd like to write in?
1) The only real changes I'd make are both for the Spirit Thief. First, I'd make Renaud less cackling evil and the plot less predicable. Hey, what can I say, it was the second novel I'd ever written! The other change I'd make is I'd give Nico more page time. She's almost a shadow in book 1, and while that's perfectly in character for her, I really should have shown more. As I mentioned in the question above, I didn't understand Nico very well then. I should have spent more time with her. Oh, I also would have brought Sparrow in a bit earlier. Otherwise, though, I'm very happy with how everything worked out!

2) As it so happens, I AM working on a dragon story right now. An AWESOME one that I will be writing ASAP. My dragons are feathered and come in a lovely variety of colors. They are also beautiful, confusing, complex creatures who have adjusted... poorly to the modern world. Poor darlings have issues. I love them to pieces and I hope ya'll will too! But it's far too early to say more (books aren't even written, so much can change), so I'll just leave it at that.

3) I would give a kidney to write a new series of Shadowrun novels. I'm a huge fan of the SR mythos and universe, but the novels are AWFUL. I can write much better ones (have, in fact, GMed much better ones). Catalyst, CALL ME!

As you mentioned, I would also dearly love to write a WoW novel, though the Warcraft Lore is so convoluted now I don't know if it could bear more iteration. Still, I have plans to build a mountain retreat named "Thrall's Rest" one day, so don't count me out completely. I would also write a bitchin' Starcraft novel, for the record.
GodOfLaundryBaskets said: What's your favorite scene from the Eli series? Why?
Arrrgh, don't make me chose! I really do adore them all, especially the ones at the end. Hmmm, well, in no particular order: I adored Miranda's scene in the Court in Spirit's End, also her big scene with the Lord of Storms. Any scene were Eli got to be a smart ass (so, like, all of his scenes). Writing Josef being the worst king ever was amazingly fun. When Nico would stand up for herself. Anything with Banage, Sarah, or Alber Whitefall (favorite line of Spirit War: "Banage will stand on his principles until they gnaw his legs off.") I also loved writing Benehime, trying to make her understandable and sympathetic even as I made her terrible.

So yeah, there's no hope. Whatever scene I'm thinking about at the time, I can probably come up with a reason why it should be my favorite. The truth is they're all my favorites, as it should be. No one should love my writing more than me!
Sophie Dean said: If you ever switched to realistic fiction, what would you write about?
Oooh, good question. Hmmm, well, I'm not really a fan of realistic fiction, so don't have many story ideas for it. Honestly, whatever I did would probably end up having some kind of fantastical element. I just can't seem to not add magic to things. If I did end up doing something realistic--our world, no magic, no science fiction-- I'd probably try to write a smart, brutal romantic thriller in the Salt vein (though not quite so dark). But the chances are slim, there's way too much awesome fantasy/UF/SF to work on first!

**The next question/answers contains SPOILERS for the end of the series! You have been warned!**
Anonymous said: What's next for Nico? Where does her relationship with Josef go from here?
Confession: this question made me squee just a bit. Oh boy, Nico and Josef. Well, they end up happy, though it takes them a stupid long time to finally confess that they actually like like each other because Nico is so shy and Josef is... Josef. Personal relationships aren't exactly his forte.

Still, can you imagine either of them ever giving the other up? Of course not! They find a way forward. Maybe they get married, maybe they just give Osera to someone more responsible and run away to raise a bunch of of very weird, violent, but loving children. The point is they're happy and together. Forever. And Eli will just have to get used to feeling like a third wheel. Fortunately, he's too conceited to ever consider himself as such.

** Spoilers end! You may resume reading!**
Alex Omega: Here's one a bit off the wall: How did you manage to keep your Eli-verse characters from cursing?
My WIP is intended to be in the lighter-hearted vein, like Eli (or actually like Salvatore's early Drizzt novels). However, I find some of my characters are, um, pottymouths. 
Wouldn't be a problem if I were writing dark fantasy, but I'm aiming for something my soon-to-be 10 year old can read without Dad giving him the thumbs-up on using profanity. How did Eli and company wind up being PG-rated?
It wasn't easy. I'm very foul mouthed in real life. The decision not to curse in Eli was one I made very early and very consciously precisely because I wanted my books to be accessible to anyone who wanted to read them. I wanted my series to be the sort you could recommend or lend to anyone without fear of offending. Part of this was marketing, why limit your audience? But mostly I also wanted a book I could safely give to my kid some day without being held back by a bit of language. In all five books, I say the word "bitch" once, but otherwise nothing.

I got around the cursing angle in two ways. First, I used substitute curse words, the delightfully English but still very PG "bloody" and my own creation, "Powers," which also served as world building. Mostly, though, I just had my characters express their displeasure in other ways. This was good, because more often than not in writing, cursing is a crutch, a way to easily show your character's emotional state without actually having to show it. By making the conscious decision not to curse in Eli, I forced myself to be clever, and ultimately I think it served the novels well.

This isn't to say that cursing can't be part of characterization. In the series I'm writing now, which has a first person POV, my main character is a mercenary. Cursing is like breathing for her, part of her unvarnished, unrefined, aggressive charm. It's also something others gripe at her for. Instead of being a crutch, cursing is something I have her use as a form of creative expression, and I've worked really hard to make her dirty language hilarious in its own right. (She's a creative curser.)

I guess it really comes down to why are you characters cursing so much? Is it their environment? Their upbringing? Is cursing part of your character's voice? If so, then I'd hesitate to cut it, especially if you're writing fantasy for a mature audience instead of a young one. However, if your characters are cursing because you can't think of anything else for them to say, that would be a problem that you should probably think long and hard about.

And whew, I think that's it for tonight! I'll answer the last set tomorrow, but if you have something for me, you can leave it on the original thread. Thank you again for all the lovely blog post fodder, and I hope you're enjoying this Holiday Q&A!

- R


Damian Trasler said...

Just got to the end of your awesome writing book. Now I have to go away and examine how/if I work... Oh, and write a thunderingly good review. Many thanks.

Anonymous said...

they just give Osera to someone more responsible and run away to raise a bunch of of very weird, violent, but loving children.

I KNEW IT!!! I had a feeling for it since Book 3!!!

Rachel Aaron said...

@Damian so glad it helped!

@manderelee <3s forever!

Alex Omega said...

Thanks so much for the advice! It's nice to know I'm not alone in the difficulty of making my WIP's language all-ages. Makes me appreciate good writers who can pull it off (the Eli series being a good example!).

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