Look Upon My Works and Despair

It’s been a busy month here in the Gravelands. Finishing “Corpses and Cognac,” planning what I’m going to write afterwards, starting a new job, preparing for the holidays, and somehow finding time to be social all in there. It’s a lot to juggle, but it comes with a feeling of progress, the knowledge that this is the way things are supposed to be going. The outline of life falls into place.

The outline for “Corpses and Cognac,” on the other hand…well, let’s just say we’ve reached that stage of the draft where you question everything. I’m doing my best to set those doubts aside, get the book done, and leave all major edits for Draft 3. Doing a complete rewrite for Draft 2 has fixed most of the problems I was having with the book, but a complete rewrite does come with the price of introducing its own problems. Especially when the first draft took 2-3 years to write, and Draft 2 is almost complete at about 6 months or work—about the time it took me to write the space-fantasy novella. That’s pretty good time for me, even if it doesn’t feel that way!

What I want to talk about today is something I’ve been struggling with in this draft—and every draft of every story I ever write. It’s figuring out how much of the logic and mechanics of the world I explain to the readers.

Yes, it’s important to create the rules of one’s universe. To know how things are supposed to work, and the fallout of what happens when a wrench is thrown into those inner workings; as I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, consistent internal logic is key to keeping the plotholes away. I also talk a lot about building the details for one’s world, and that falls in here too. I’ve got documents and charts detailing how Arcadia functions and its connection to our world and “Moonworld” in the Deadly Drinks series, faux-scientific notes on magic and culture overviews for other series. I can even say I’m proud of these ideas. They’re unique, and once some of the facets are realized, the implications it casts on some of the characters are…well, in typical me fashion, rather wicked. Mwahaha.

That’s where the balance comes in. What I may think of as evil genius, a reader may find dull or confusing. What I would cast as a revelation in the plot may actually distance others with all the talk of theories. And even if I find a fascinating, exciting way to pull back the curtain and reveal the inner machinations of my work…what do I sacrifice by removing that sense of mystery?

We’ve all seen it in stories, where we suddenly break from the plot for a lecture on the rules of magic or how a strange monster can be entirely explained by science, or even just a whole chapter on the history of Special Noble Family we’re never going to see again. Heck, it’s the trap many prequels fall into, trying to explain how the world-state of the original came to be instead of letting the viewers’ minds wander. (Solo, you were fun, but why? Fantastic Beasts…just, why?!?) People like to poke holes at mysteries. It’s the fuel for numerous head-canons and fanfics, and it allows everyone to cast their own lens on a story. Not that everything should be done for sake of fandom, but sometimes, it’s the mystery more than the reveal that leaves people thinking afterwards, like those twist endings that imply a fate but never confirm it.

I’m sitting at my laptop, staring at one scene in particular. It’s a big reveal conversation at a diner, metaphorical action placed in the food and movements of cutlery like all those literary short stories that get paraded around in English classes. There are fun metaphors involving barracudas too, because I can’t let things get too drab and droll. It reveals a key facet about the universe, one that changes how the protagonists interact with a certain group they’ll continue to encounter throughout the series.

I’m torn between throwing it at my beta-reader and sobbing “How do I make this work?!” and just taking a blowtorch to the entire conversation. It’s a big reveal. It changes a lot of dynamics. There are also a lot of nitty-gritty particulars. But is it right?

If worse comes to worse, we’ll see where Draft 2 leaves me once I’m finished. Then I can look back and determine if the reveal strengthens the story, or leaves it weak under the pressure of me heaping my ideas onto it and shouting “But isn’t this COOL?!” into the wind. Maybe it’s the doubt talking.

Or maybe, dear readers, I’m longing to hold onto mysteries too.

~Dorian

Once More, With Feeling

Hello dear readers, I hope you are all well! Things are busy here in Gravesworld, so I figure I’d best give you all an update before starting this week’s blog post.

First off, events! For those near Cottage Grove, I’ll be selling and signing books at Books on Main during the Art Walk, starting at 6 PM. If enough people show up, I may even do a small reading!

Then, come August, you can find me at SpoCon up in Spokane, Washington! Not only will I have my books available, but I’ll also be appearing on a number of panels, discussing everything from fantasy creatures to tabletop games and colonization in sci-fi. If you’re in the area August 10th through 12th, I’d love to see you there.

In other news, not only has Bones and Bourbon continued to do well, but its sequel “Corpses and Cognac” is in the works. We have a tentative release month for it over at NineStar, so long as I am able to complete a workable draft by the end of summer. I’m currently three chapters (out of twenty-one) into Draft 2, and for various reasons, I’m rewriting most of the book.

Sound scary? On the surface, but in this part of the process for me, it’s business as usual. Now that I have a couple books (well, a novel and a novella) under my belt, I have a better idea of what to expect for the jump from Draft 1 to Draft 2. Thus, today’s blog is about the refining process of later book drafts, as we slowly lurch from writing to editing.

In reality, the draft numbers are arbitrary for me; when it comes to the Deadly Drinks books, I’ve actually written them numerous times before Draft 1 is completed. These “Draft 0” stories are the preliminary runs deemed unfinished or unsuitable for publication. Bones and Bourbon’s Draft 0 was only the same in title and protagonists; it didn’t even have Nalem or Farris, much less anything even resembling the same plot. Corpses and Cognac had much of the same characters, but its various early drafts kept wandering in strange directions, ending too early or getting lost in weird concepts that didn’t fit the rest of the book.

Draft 1 is what I call the completed draft I decide I want to refine into a book. The overall characters are in place, the plot hits most of the moments I want, and I have an idea of the book’s themes. If I already have so much in place, why am I still rewriting the entire book for Draft 2? Well, there are a number of reasons…

  • Updating the writing style. I finished Draft 1 back in early 2016, after a couple years of false starts and Draft 0’s. It wasn’t an easy book to develop, so after my beta reader gave it a look, I let it sit for awhile as I started the third book and edited Bones and Bourbon. As such, I’ve written quite a bit since then, and my skills have improved quite a bit. It’s time to bring “Corpses and Cognac” up to that level.

  • Strengthening story elements. All the prior drafts were about figuring out where I wanted the plot and character arcs to go. Now that I have an idea of what I want to keep, I can cut out the extraneous details and build up what works best. This is the draft where most of the foreshadowing comes into the story, new concepts are fine-tooled to fit the story (while making sure they remain consistent with the series as a whole), and the cool descriptions come in.

  • Reworking an antagonist. Because I realized, in the middle of writing Chapter 2 of this draft, that elements of one antagonist were perhaps a bit too similar to Lady Delight’s in the first book. Even if it was just me being paranoid, I still figured it better to change things now than hope no one notice later. Hence, changing how that antagonist works—and fiddling with my outline in the process.

  • Finding the humor. “Corpses and Cognac” began as a rather bleak story, all things considered. Then again, so did Bones and Bourbon. I have to know the story first before figuring what makes elements of it funny. Humor and the darker elements of a story are delicate to balance; they best work together when they ebb and flow, so readers are eased out of the deep stuff by a moment of light and brevity.

  • Letting the characters speak. Draft 1 is a journey in what needs to be said. Draft 2 concerns how that’s spoken. Retz and Jarrod alone sound quite different from each other, from their word choices to their sentence structure. Now that I’ve worked with both old characters and new, it’s time to make sure each of them sound distinct (and for the reoccurring characters, that they sound familiar too). By the end, the goal is that readers should be able to tell who’s who even if they ignore all dialogue tags.

In the end, is that a lot? Well…perhaps it is. As it turns out, that’s the nice thing about giving the draft time to sit while working on other parts of the series in the meantime. After months (er, years) of thinking on it, the words are flowing like a fine wine. Even if the words and some of the story elements are new to me, I’ve lived with this story so long that I know where it needs to go as I write it. Armed with the first draft and a rocking playlist, I’m ready to polish this draft into the novel it needs to be.

Right now, my main goal is to treat this like an extended NaNoWriMo; write every day that I can, and try to hit a higher word count when possible. However, it’s also important not to burn out, so I’m making a concentrated effort to take time to relax, be social, and plot out other projects. Through a balance of dedication and recharging, this draft of “Corpses and Cognac” should finish up by summer’s end, maybe even with time for a pass by my beta reader and some literary polish for Draft 3 before it hits my editor’s inbox.

I’m excited. Are you, dear readers?

~Dorian