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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.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 11

Marie Brennan

Augh, I keep forgetting to update. At this rate you’ll get the last five posts all on the same day, because there’s no way I’ll be able to hold back from crowing that we’ve finished the book on the day it happens. But that’s a long way off.

Chapter 11: in which there is no Ren pov! (She’s the one character I feel I can name outright, without worrying about it being a spoiler. I don’t think anybody out there believes we’re going to whack her before the end of the story. Uhhhh, not that I have a trunked novel where I did exactly that and the protagonist finishes out the book as a ghost or anything. <nudges it under the desk with a toe>) There’s no dramatic reason for why we don’t get Ren’s viewpoint in this chapter; that’s simply how things fell out after the Great Rearrangement of Part Two. She’s present in two of the scenes, but those are both more interesting when seen through someone else’s eyes.

This chapter is mostly still fallout, but not entirely, and even the stuff that is fallout is starting to point in new directions. Someone in here gets 95% of the way to a correct idea, but draws the wrong conclusion from it, for justifiable reasons. One of the things Alyc and I will be writing soon (because we’re multiple chapters ahead of where I am in posting) is going to be about talking that character down off the murder ledge. And the other night we figured out what the ultimate consequences of that bit will be, and they are glorious.

Word count: ~78,000
Authorial sadism: Those two things aren’t connected in the way those characters fear . . . but they aren’t not connected, either. In various ways, including one that’s going to liquefy their brains before the end of this novel.
Authorial amusement: Yes, that is indeed his way of being a smartass.
BLR quotient: For all that we have a duel in this chapter, rhetoric has the upper hand. Lots of politicking in here — and oh, we have found a way to make one moment of it bite somebody on the ass hard later on . . .

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 10

Marie Brennan

this book

THIS &#$#*@! BOOK

Chapter 10 was fine. Fine, I tell you. But it’s now playing host to an additional scene, displaced from Chapter 11. Why? Because we had to make room in Chapter 11 for two scenes that used to be in Chapter 12. Why did those move? Because there was a very large scene in Chapter 13 that needed another place to go. And why did that happen? Because Alyc and I looked at what we had planned for the end of Chapter 14, realized it was significantly larger than we had room for, and faced a choice. We could either have several slightly oversized chapters, or one ginormous one. And while I liked the original plan of sort of having an enjambment of a certain plot (borrowing the term from poetry; the run of that plot was set up to cross over a chapter boundary), playing musical chairs with scenes in the earlier chapters meant we could fit that whole thing into Chapter 13, which ended up feeling like the better move.

So, uh. Chapter 10: fallout from Chapter 9. Fairly extensive fallout, but we like taking our time on things like that — letting the characters really feel the effects of something, rather than skipping along the top and moving on. I won’t name which TV show it is, because I don’t want to spoil the effect for anybody who hasn’t seen it, but there’s a superhero show where the protagonist’s best friend finds out that the protagonist has secretly been doing the superhero thing . . . and I love the fact that the show spends an entire episode on that. Intercutting to other plots, but continually going back to the aftershocks of the big revelation. Too few stories seem to take the time for those aftershocks; they’d rather get on with the next exciting thing. But to me, and to Alyc, that’s the bit that makes the other stuff exciting: the sense that these things really matter to the characters.

After all, they need a moment to appreciate the first earthquake before the next one hits them.

Word count: ~69,000
Authorial sadism: Honestly, the deepest cut is one the reader doesn’t see — an offstage comment made by one character to another, and you only see the effect. But I asked Alyc (who wrote that bit) what the comment was, and . . . we’ll have to share it when we post the annotations for the third book. Since that’s a very buried thing, though, I’ll give the prize to the conversation that just grinds to a halt because some things can’t be fixed with words.
Authorial amusement: Arguments over “morning dessert.” And asking whether a certain character has paper — a bit like asking whether water is wet.
BLR quotient: Love is applying bandages to the wounds from last chapter, but the bleeding has yet to be stanched.