Author Archive

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 21

Marie Brennan

One of the big challenges with this book is wrangling when to have all the various plot strands resolve. When you’ve got like seven of them in the air, they can’t all come down at once; apart from the fact that it would be far too pat, you’d also wind up shortchanging them all. Nothing would get a chance to have its impact properly felt.

So as we draft this book, we keep having to finesse the timing of the different resolutions. Some of them have been easy; one was a problem we raised at the end of The Liar’s Knot, which for thematic if not causal reasons needed to be dealt with before other things happened, so we could safely stick that midway through this book. But others . . . the plot that wraps up here was first tentatively slated for the conclusion of Part 2. And that would have made a fair bit of sense! Except it felt like that was too early; the reader would, somewhat justifiably, wonder what the heck was supposed to come after it. So we put something else there and pushed this back to Chapter 21, and there’s still six chapters to go after this — which, admittedly, is quite a bit — but there are other plots that will resolve better with this one out of the way, plus one thing that needs room to grow from the consequences. But then we have to put all of those in sequence, and there’s one we kept kicking down the road that we’ve decided we actually need to retrofit into Chapter 16 because it just doesn’t merit a spot in the end-of-book lineup, plus one we put into the end of Part 2 wound up not having room to breathe so we dragged it out of there and put it in a chapter I haven’t blogged about yet, and AUGH.

I feel a bit like I did at the end of writing the Onyx Court series. After four books of scrupulous research and political intrigue, it was a relief to write Lady Trent, with her much more straightforward adventure plots. Whatever we write after this needs fewer complications, more Shit Blowing Up. 😀

Word count: ~153,000
Authorial sadism: There had to be some price to pay. And somebody had to not play ball, or this wouldn’t have felt difficult.
Authorial amusement: By contrast, one person was entirely willing to play ball — and it might not be the one you expect. (Actually, having typed that, I realized I could be referring to two different people.)
BLR quotient: All of ’em together, even if someone winds up bleeding in the end.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 20

Marie Brennan

I need to step up the pace on the after-the-fact progress blogging if I want to finish this when we finish the book!

Chapter 20 escaped the non-linearity of this particular book’s drafting process mostly by dint of us changing our minds about five minutes before we started writing. We had a plan for the chapter, but it felt a clunky enough that we ended up chucking it. This is a stage of the story where it matters quite a lot where anybody is at any given time, and we had Ren being in Place A, then going to Place B, before going back to Place A for the big thing next chapter, which . . . really just chopped things up in an undesirable way. Combine that with us deciding to scrap a social confrontation we’d originally intended to deal with a certain problem, and it meant I sent Alyc an email literally the morning that we were going to start writing this that was like a thousand words of me thinking with my fingers until I arrived at a new proposal. We had a quick phone call to polish that up into something workable, and then we dove in.

We’re also doing something here which is a little bit tricky to navigate. One of the ongoing plots is, by deliberate design, a thing that isn’t all about our viewpoint characters. It’s absolutely related to what they’re doing, but it’s big enough that having it all be driven by their actions would feel really simplistic and reductionist. So instead we’re trying to go a route where their previous efforts have set stuff up, and their interventions at various points do have an effect, but they aren’t around to see everything, much less to control it. I suspect not all readers will find that satisfying, but . . . sometimes I have an issue with the mentality so common in modern Western fantasy, which Ada Palmer and Jo Walton dissect in this essay, where everything comes down to the actions of a few special people. We’re actively trying to avoid that here, but because reader expectation is often that it’s All About the Heroes, striking the right balance will be an interesting challenge.

Word count: ~146,000
Authorial sadism: Making Ren fail.
Authorial amusement: Off-label uses for numinatria.
BLR quotient: Rhetoric is literally having a shouting match with itself here.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 19

Marie Brennan

And so Part 3 of Book 3 begins! We’re truly in the home stretch now.

This one is structurally akin to Chapter 13 of The Mask of Mirrors, in that it steps back briefly to show you what’s been happening elsewhere while the set-piece of the previous chapter goes on. Mostly we don’t screw around with the flow of time in the story — that can work just fine in a novel whose plot strands are geographically separated, but when they’re all interacting in one city it would mostly be more confusing than beneficial — but it makes sense when we want to keep an intense focus on one corner of the narrative, and not dilute it with any “meanwhile, back at the ranch” cuts away.

Though there was going to be a cut away at the end of the previous chapter/previous part, whose content has now been relocated to the beginning of this one. We originally thought it would work as a stinger because we were originally going to try and fake the reader out about a certain event. (Actually, since we’re not doing it, I can go ahead and say: we were going to try and make it look like we’d just killed a particular character.) But when we actually got there, we decided the odds that anybody would be successfully faked were low, meaning that maneuver would be nothing more than cheap drama. So we ditched that bit and made a bigger scene that put more focus on the surrounding events, and I think it’s working better overall.

We also had to throw out half a scene because it hinged on the “omg is that character dead???” tension, and since the reader now knows otherwise, it was better to just reorient things in a more direct fashion. Fortunately, the one really cool detail in what we threw out has found a new home in Chapter 20!

Word count: ~139,000
Authorial sadism: Chekhov’s old injury. We didn’t have to lean on that, but we did. Though now that I type that, maybe the prize should go to someone not being consulted on a major decision . . . or the decision itself.
Authorial amusement: Somebody’s taking the plot into their own hands.
BLR quotient: This is the chapter where rhetoric is working overtime to keep blood in check.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 18

Marie Brennan

The end of Part 2! And another big set-piece, this time of a very different kind. We’re two-thirds of the way through the final book of the series; this is the time on sprockets when we start pulling out all the stops.

If the last chapter featured several emotional moments we’ve been looking forward to since before we even started writing, this chapter features the payoff for a whole slew of plots. Including some the reader may or may not have even noticed were underway — but that’s okay, because when I say “payoff,” I don’t mean this is the end of them. More like all the little, subtle, possibly-unremarked bits come together visibly at last, and we the authors get yell “THANK GOD FINALLY YOU KNOW” and proceed with the effects of that reveal, our sleeves finally empty of cards.

<shoves the nine of spades back inside the cuff>

And it also features the payoff for a thing we didn’t see coming until, like, two chapters previously — the thing I mentioned back in the post for Chapter 16. I said there that it will need finessing; that’s true here, too, in that a key piece of information got lost in the shuffle, and I won’t know until I revise whether it needs to go here or a little bit later. Two pieces of key information, possibly, but I suspect the other one will fit in just fine in a scene slated for Chapter 23.

Word count: ~132,000
Authorial sadism: I want it to be the scene I tagged in our spreadsheet outline as “Following bloodcrumbs,” just because that’s a delightfully horrifying phrase, but it doesn’t actually win the prize. It’s a tie between the machine-gun series of flashbacks, and everybody realizing where they’ve wound up.
Authorial amusement: A certain character justifiably thinking an action of his would have no consequences. Surprise! You’re wrong.
BLR quotient: With the sheer quantity of ideas unfolding here, rhetoric’s got a strong lead. Love is what keeps everybody from losing their shit in the face of that, though.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 17

Marie Brennan

In which we get to do a big set-piece again! Not that doing so has quite saved us from the non-linearity that’s been such a recurring feature of this drafting process — but in this case there’s nothing truly new we added in, nor anything we removed. There were just two short scenelets whose content we knew and temporarily skipped over in writing, and we had to rejigger the final scene because the staging of it really wasn’t working the way we wanted.

. . . please disregard the bit where we might rejigger that final scene again because there’s a plot beat we need to get somewhere into the final portions of this book, and if we don’t find a good place for it elsewhere, then this might be the best spot for it.

All of that notwithstanding: this chapter is so satisfying, y’all. It features several moments we’ve been building toward since literally before we began writing the first book. And for once, they’re not even horrible moments! Sure, some people wind up crying, but it’s good tears. The sort born of grace from an unexpected quarter. We need those moments every bit as much as we need the ones that put our characters through the meat grinder.

Word count: ~125,000
Authorial sadism: Scurvy should never be your inspiration for anything.
Authorial amusement: Best. Duel. Ever. (It’s not an actual duel.)
BLR quotient: Love. There’s just no contest this time.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 16

Marie Brennan

. . . is this an intact chapter? One that had nothing pulled out of it, nothing stuffed into it, nothing so much as rearranged?

By god, I think it is.

And a chapter with a nice, coherent through-line, too. While each scene point at a different bit of plot — this isn’t one of those chapters which focuses on some big set-piece — they share an important thematic strand. Which leads to some really satisfying emotional stuff . . . though I’m not going to pretend all of the emotions in question are good.

In part because, while the vast majority of our large-scale plot is stuff we planned from very early on (in some cases, before we even started writing the first book), there’s one thing we literally cooked up about a week before we wrote this chapter. We’ll need to do some finessing on things earlier in this book to seed it properly, since it changes our perception of one character’s backstory, but the payoff should be great

(And by “great” I mean “kinda horrible.”)

Word count: ~117,000
Authorial sadism: The aforementioned addition. We took someone who’s fundamentally dishonest . . . and we gave them just a tiny sliver of painful truth.
Authorial amusement: “Oh, fuck [redacted].”
BLR quotient: Like a key change, we slide smoothly from love into a pit of blood.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 15

Marie Brennan

Aaaaaand back we go to the non-linearity. This chapter was written weeks ago — mostly — except for the scene Alyc and I added to it last week. There’s a character who’s sort of fallen out of the narrative that we needed to drag back in.

This is one of those places where “how story works” and “how storytelling works” are at odds. This particular character’s absence is significant, a sign of things going on where the reader can’t see. But narratively speaking, that doesn’t work: a character who vanishes from the page is one the reader isn’t thinking about. We had to come up with a reason to drag them away from what they’re doing and into interaction with a viewpoint character, and figuring out the best approach to that required a great deal of thinking. Fortunately, when we finally arrived at the answer, we managed to solve several other (smaller) problems at the same time. I’d noticed when I was revising the scene at the end of this chapter that a particular person was doing very little there (and they person they’d brought along was doing so little, we’d failed to even mention that one’s presence); what we wrote for the insertion gave us good reason to remove both of the superfluous ones from that final scene. It also lets us bring up a particular problem right away, rather than coming up with reasons why the person who knows about it sits on the information straight through Chapter 17. The real reason for the latter was “there just wasn’t any chance to bring it up before then, and even Chapter 17 was a crappy place for that discussion,” so it’s nice to have this elegant of a fix.

Let’s just pretend it didn’t take us about two hours of discussion to come up with it . . .

Word count: ~109,000
Authorial sadism: Putting someone half-drugged and flat on their back in front of the absolute. last. person. they want to see.
Authorial amusement: Somebody getting set down not once but twice with the reality that other people have problems too, y’know.
BLR quotient: Mostly love, since this is mostly about people working together to fix problems. But rhetoric literally delivers a rousing speech at the end.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 14

Marie Brennan

At last we arrive at the chapter which occasioned the Great Rearrangement of Part Two. It’s an unusually short chapter, but it wouldn’t have been if the thirty-five hundred or so words that got relocated out of it into Chapter 13 were still here. And besides, the rearrangement was only partially about making verbal space for the events of this chapter; the rest was about making conceptual space for it. Here at the midpoint of the book, we’re back in the groove Alyc and I both like, where the chapters have strong organizational cores. This one isn’t all a single sequence of events, but the big set-piece here stands on a foundation of fallout from the previous chapter.

And it features one of my favorite stunts Alyc and I have yet pulled in this series. I can’t describe it in detail, but attempting to talk around it: there was a bit of plot that needed to happen, and in the normal way of things we would have come up with a swashbuckling caper to take care of it. But swashbuckling capers take a lot of words (which we probably couldn’t spare here), and besides . . . it would have felt a bit like old hat? “Oh look, the authors are doing that thing again.” But then we came up with a clever way to combine the requisite bit of plot with the big thing we wanted to do in this chapter, and to do it with an unconventional approach to boot.

. . . I promise, it’ll make sense when you read it. And it makes me grin, because sometimes the offhanded stuff is the most badass.

Word count: By an accident of math (which is almost certainly off by a few words thanks to tweaks that aren’t recorded in our spreadsheet, but whatever, I’ll take it), this chapter ends at 100,666 words.
Authorial sadism: The worst part of what we do to [redacted] in the first scene is, you don’t even get to hear half of it.
Authorial amusement: . . . yeah, basically that stunt I described above. It’s fun to end a chapter on a note of “wtf???”
BLR quotient: I’m actually gonna give it to rhetoric, because despite the costume it’s dressed up in, a lot of what’s going on here is the playing-out of some metaphysical ideas.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 13

Marie Brennan

We are mean in this chapter, yo. In several directions at once, because while some of it is just us trying to make the reader think an awful thing has happened, that’s amidst a bunch of awful things actually happening.

Writers are professional sadists sometimes. ^_^

This chapter makes me realize that in addition to posting the comments we leave for each other on the draft, I should post the tag lines we put on each chapter. Those began as a practical necessity: Google Docs provides you with a handy-dandy auto-generated sidebar outline, but in order to get it to recognize the header for the first scene in each chapter, we had to put a line of ordinary text between that and the chapter header. Naturally, being smartasses, we began getting very snarky and ridiculous in some of the lines we wrote. This one alludes to a particular bit of real-world history, which is being ever so vaguely paralleled in our plot — like, not really, but I realized that X thing in the story sort of resembles Y thing in history, so naturally when a conflict occurs, I’m going to nickname it after the relevant war.

Also, this chapter features the bane of all writers: that thing you put into the story that seemed like a good idea at the time — that in fact was a good idea at the time — but is now threatening to shoot your plot in the foot. We had to figure out how a certain character could block something from happening, without knowing it was a thing they needed to block. This was what we technically refer to as “a pain in the ass.” I suspect it will still need some finessing in revisions, because there are a whole lot of factors we need to interfere with, ideally without it seeming too (in)convenient that the interference is happening. But we got enough of the way toward a solution that we were able to move on.

Word count: ~95,000
Authorial sadism: I’m blaming 90% of it on Alyc, because 90% of it is that final scene, which they wrote on their own.
Authorial amusement: Look, you don’t have to torture somebody for information if they’re eager to sell it to you.
BLR quotient: Sometimes the blood is metaphorical. Sometimes it is very, very literal.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 12

Marie Brennan

To make up for last chapter having no Ren pov, this one is nothing but Ren pov. As with the previous one, that isn’t so much a conscious decision as the result of how the Great Rearrangement of Part Two ended up going. But it’s good to have, since while we’ve got multiple viewpoint characters in this series, Ren is undoubtedly the most central of the lot.

This chapter features a scene which . . . well, look. We knew we wanted to have X happen, so, cool, that’s the point of this scene. Let’s come up with some context to embed it in. Aaaaaand by the time we were done with the context, that had become the point of the scene, with the original mission being a side note that gets dealt with along the way. Not coincidentally, a scene I thought would be less than 2K wound up 3400 words long. (This was part of what prompted the Great Rearrangement.) It’s all good stuff; we came up with a bit of worldbuilding that lets us tie several things together in a way the book very much benefits from. But it was quite unexpected, as a simple “we need to set up this later meeting” conversation turned into a contest with deep political and theological implications.

And that’s only the first half of the chapter! The second half winds up pulling the curtain back on one or two of the few major elements of the long-term plot that we actually didn’t plan from the start. In general, if you’re reading this series and wonder “omg, did the authors have this planned all along?,” the answer is yes. We had a much clearer roadmap for this trilogy than either of us normally does, so there’s a lot of stuff — not just major but minor — that we always knew we were going to do, and seeded hints of along the way. But there were two significant decisions we made while drafting The Liar’s Knot that weren’t in the original game plan, one of which comes to the forefront here and sets up a bit with the other. (If you’ve read the Doppelganger books, it’s a bit like the moment where Satomi says “Wrong” to Miryo: I didn’t see that coming until I typed it, and it wound up being so pivotal to the end of the first book, I honestly don’t know how things would have played out without it.)

Word count: 87,000
Authorial sadism: Yanking a certain character out of the story, with nobody — the other characters included — being sure what’s happened to him.
Authorial amusement: Speaking of things we didn’t plan for, one side character who was a complete non-entity until he abruptly spoke up at the end of book two has a pleasingly excellent moment here.
BLR quotient: More politicking and the aforementioned worldbuilding addition, so rhetoric pulls ahead.