Wherein I develop a new analogy for what revision feels like to me, plus general musing on revision vs drafting because I’m deep into revision brain, working on THE FIERY CITADEL. Did I mention revision?
We had a lovely warm day on Saturday, and I got out the lounge chair to do a bit of sunbathing. Jackson elected to go with the package deal: sunbathing AND affection. He leads a pretty good life. Good thing I’m not concerned about my tan lines!
Otherwise I’m deep into revising THE FIERY CITADEL, sequel to THE ORCHID THRONE, the first two books in my Forgotten Empires trilogy. This is the series – totally new world and characters! – that I’m doing with St. Martin’s Press. I turned in the draft of book 2 in April and my editor, Jennie Conway, sent developmental edits back to me while I was at Nebula Conference. She’s a terrifically insightful editor and gave me great feedback on tweaking the story. That’s a primary reason to go with traditional publishing, if all goes right (and some of this depends on having a good agent and serendipity), then you get to work with a fantastic editor who really brings out the best in your work and helps you to grow and move the story into the next level.
But… you know what they say: growth is painful.
I’m one of those writers who loves drafting. I used to say I hated revising – and I did – but now my feelings aren’t so strong. I don’t love it as much as the freefall rush of drafting, but it feels like good, necessary work now. Some of that is working with a good editor.
I used to have a critique partner who was the opposite of me: she *loved* revising. She called it “God’s work.” For me, revising always felt like fixing the mistakes I shouldn’t have made the first time. I’d tell her she had the wrong deity.
What’s funny is, now that I’m writing full-time – and theoretically have more bandwidth, hours, and concentration for my stories – I’ve become less demanding of myself that way. I no longer regard revising as “fixing mistakes,” but as part of the process. If we compare sculpting to writing, then my first drafts now are the rough of the figure with the surrounding marble chiseled away. The figure is recognizable, perhaps even showable, depending on your standards. In the revision stage, however, is when I bring out the shadows and highlights, when I polish the features so they have the perfect expression. I layer in the surrounding details, giving the figure context and deeper meaning.
Huh. Kind of does sound like God’s work.
Talking about my towering TBR pile today. I pose a quiz question for my listeners, too. What should I do??? I’m talking about revisions, how I’ve changed my view of them, along with my progress on THE FIERY CITADEL. Also thoughts on Mary Robinette Kowal’s THE CALCULATING STARS and THE FATED SKY.
These three books are on sale right now. THE MARK OF THE TALA, the book that started it all, first in The Twelve Kingdoms series. Also THE PAGES OF THE MIND, my RITA® Award-winning novel, which kicks off a new phase in the overall series, and PRISONER OF THE CROWN, first in a stand-alone spin off trilogy, The Chronicles of Dasnaria. If you’ve been thinking about reading my books or this series, it’s a great time to start!
Our topic at the SFF Seven this week regards the writer’s Seven Deadly Sins: the list of things you MUST avoid if you want to finish a project on time. Of course, if you’re supposed to be writing, and you’re reading this, you’ve already broken three of mine. Oops. But never fear! There is still hope for you. Read on.
The amazing and delightful Liz Argall, who draws the comic Things without Arms and without Legs, draws while she listens to panels. She did this wonderful sketch of one panel I was on at SFWA’s Nebula Conference. All the panels I was on ended up being wonderful, but this one was particularly amazing. The topic was “Burnout: How to Recognize It and Maybe How to Avoid It Next Time.
It’s a somewhat clunky title, but really wonderful for the topic. Because something that came out of the discussion – moderated by Laura Anne Gilman and including RR Virdi, Tina Connolly, and Rachel Hartman – was that creative burnout is really difficult to extricate ourselves from and not so easy to avoid.
Laura Anne, who did an amazing job of moderating, asked us all to tell our stories of creative burnout or coming close to it, and the commonalities were striking. This was mine:
For twenty years I balanced a career day job as an environmental consultant with writing. I usually wrote 1-2K words/day before switching to the day job. I slowly built my career, making more money each year, and I kept thinking that eventually I’d make enough to quit the day job. Every writer’s dream! Then my team got cut, and I was laid off with decent severance. My company offered to help me find a new job, but I wanted to see if I could make it as a full-time writer. I figured that, ,without the day job absorbing my attention and energy, I could easily double my daily wordcount.
(At this point, the entire room groaned. It was kind of hysterical that this collection of all writers foresaw the error in this.)
I was writing 4-5K/day, building up a self-published series and working up new stuff for trad – and the money was okay – but by July I was feeling ragged. I was sitting in the sun in San Diego, at the RWA Conference, having wine with Thea Harrison. She asked me how I was doing saying, “I hear you’re a full-time writer now – how exciting for you!” And I started to cry. Because I wasn’t having fun and I didn’t understand why. She told me I was starting to burn out and that I needed to get a grip and fix it, that she’d burned herself out and it took years to recover.
The remarkable thing was, for each and every one of us, someone else recognized the burnout and said something. A friend or family member had to point it out. Also, there was crying mentioned in every case, except for RR Virdi, who manfully laid claim “only” to deep depression.
We discussed ways of recovering and avoiding creative burnout, which mostly involved rediscovering play, and the simple joy of creating. Which meant divorcing it from monetization. Sometimes that meant something creative that was NOT writing, or at least, not writing anything that someone else expected or would evaluate.
At the very end, Laura Anne hit us with a statistic from the Mayo Clinic. The number one cause of burnout? Self-identification with your work.
So the final thing we discussed is keeping the boundaries clear, that we are not our books and stories. That’s one reason I try to be very careful to say “My book is a finalist” or “My book won an award,” rather than me. Small measures add up.
The first book in my Chronicles of Dasnaria series, PRISONER OF THE CROWN, is up for Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Book at Fresh Fiction! You can go there and vote for your favorites in multiple categories. I’m super delighted that this book was nominated. It’s up against tough competition, so I don’t expect it to win, but getting the nod is so gratifying.
Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is “Spinning the Spiderweb of Complicated Plots.” Come on over for my thoughts!
This week at the SFF Seven we’re talking about leveling up and what that means to us.
Actually, the topic is phrased as: People always say they want to take their writing to the next level. Well, what are the levels, as you see them?
It’s a really good question. Come on over for my answer.
If you’re in the Los Angeles area, Jeffe will be signing at the 2019 Nebula Conference Mass Autographing, along with a fantastic array of science fiction and fantasy authors. The event takes place Saturday, May 18, 2019, 1:30-3:30pm at the Warner Center Marriott, Woodland Hills. The event is free and open to the public, so come on by and say hello!
I put this photo on my podcast yesterday, but social media declined to show it, so I’m reposting! I spent time on Sunday lying in the sun and reading. The depthless blue skies were perfect for contrails, which seemed to appear from between my toes. Really lovely.
There’s been lots of talk on social media about the final season of Game of Thrones. Episode 4 aired on Sunday night (5/12/19) and there’s two episodes to go. While the battle scenes have been as epic and sweeping as promised, many people feel the show has gone off the rails. This is not the ending many of us hoped for.
Of course, all along, we were braced to lose beloved characters. The story created by George RR Martin has taught us well. Characters we love will die, sometimes suddenly, often brutally, and frequently without warning. He’s a master storyteller and he’s deliberately subverted the heroic fantasy tropes, enticing us to love and believe in a character, and then killing them suddenly. It’s so deftly done that, in retrospect, you can absolutely trace how the character’s personal flaws – hubris, naivete, etc. – lead to their untimely demise.
So, I don’t know about you, but I was braced. I had a checklist in my head of who’d be likely to do something stupid and die. I didn’t WANT to lose those characters but I accepted that it had to happen. Especially as the title of the show (which departs from the books) promises a life-and-death tournament leaving a single person on the Iron Throne. Also, as the story progressed, it became clear that the threat of the Night King and the devastating hordes from the frozen north posed a much greater problem than who got to be in charge. Former enemies became unlikely allies – in a tremendously satisfying way – to band together to face this world-killing threat.
I won’t go into details of how that aspect of the plot has failed our expectations of the dramatic progression of events. Instead I’d like to address why some of what’s going on feels so disappointing. It’s something I see happen a lot in TV and movies, especially long-running ones.
See, visual entertainment is necessarily plot driven. There’s a lot of reasons for this: visual narratives don’t allow for internal exploration of characters (which is why they sometimes resort to clumsy voice-overs); they appeal to a much wider audience that expects a faster pace of events with no “navel gazing;” and plot-driven stories are easier for a team of writers to produce. (They’re easily outlined in advance and produce clear dramatic beats.) I’d argue that this is why Romance seldom works in a visual narrative since love stories are character-driven.
Now, George RR Martin is a character-driven writer. Yes, the plot of the series (which is called A Song of Ice and Fire, which speaks much more to the Night King arc than the Iron Throne arc, just saying) has a complex set of plots and subplots, but they all arise from the character motivations. What the characters want drives the narrative. What happens in visual entertainment, when plot takes over as the primary driver of the story, is the character motivations can become subverted to serve the plot.
In other words, people suddenly stop acting like themselves and do things we don’t believe in order to advance the plot.
So, yeah, if your favorite Game of Thrones characters seem to be acting, well, out of character, it’s because they are. They’ve stopped being the complex, nuanced individuals (likable or not) that drew us into the story, and have become finger-puppet versions of themselves acting against a spectacular backdrop of dramatic plot.
Another example of this that will forever stand out in my mind is a late-season (this is a THING) episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where Spike attempts to rape Buffy. It’s a clumsy scene, shocking – and was written specifically to address a rape-prevention week theme. Now, I’m all for preventing rape, education, and using story to reinforce that message. But for those of us invested in those characters, it was a total WTF moment. Spike nursed a soul-deep, unrequited love for Buffy (and we know she loved him, too), and he would NEVER have hurt her. It made zero sense. The plot made him into a paper cutout to demonstrate an issue.
As a character-driven writer, this drives me crazy. As a viewer once-invested in beloved characters that have been eviscerated into paper cutouts, I mourn. Really, I’d rather have wept over their deaths than see this happen to them. I’m not even sure I want to watch the last two episodes, frankly.
Anyway, it’s too late for the show. What’s done is done. But the takeaway for writers of all kinds is: RESPECT YOUR CHARACTERS AS PEOPLE. They are not puppets in your personal play, no matter how much you might feel like you are the god of your world. As creators and storytellers, we owe allegiance to the gift of these people entering our stories. We do them honor by listening to them.
To do otherwise fails us all.