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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.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 9

Marie Brennan

For once, a chapter that’s stayed intact!

(Mostly. Okay, so we added a scene in at the start, but that’s because of the aforementioned changes to Chapter 8, which necessitated some follow-up.)

We’ve got a slightly different organization for each book. This one is divided into three parts of nine chapters each — which, yes, means that this is the end of Part One! And as suits that position, it is very full of (metaphorical) explosions. Some of which the characters see coming, some of which they don’t; some of which the readers may see coming, some of which they may not. It’s good to provide a mix.

Even more so that in the previous books, there are some strong pivots between the parts here. Not to the extent of each section addressing self-contained plots, but the context and direction of events changes pretty distinctly after this point. In a really fun way . . . and by “fun” I mean we’re raking the characters over an emotional cheese grater. But that’s what you’re here for, right?

Word count: 60,000
Authorial sadism: Push someone too far . . .
Authorial amusement: Look, it was Alyc’s idea to make the clue send him there.
BLR quotient: Oh so much blood. Past and present.

Rook and Rose Book 3, Chapter 8

Marie Brennan

I’ve been writing instead of updating! Which, if I had to choose, is the right way to go — but I don’t actually have to choose, so let’s get updating. (Especially since my subconscious was convinced I’d posted about Chapter 8 already, buuuuut . . . apparently not.)

This chapter has some of the (now expected) non-linearity, in that a scene which was in it got pushed forward into to Chapter 7, and a scene which wasn’t originally in it got added in. Those changes were both good ones; adding the scene made it super long, which shifting the other scene helped with, and then we realized we could build a link between the new scene and what follows it, with the result that this becomes a nicely coherent chapter. That’s something we very much aimed for in The Mask of Mirrors — relatively few of the chapters there just consist of one-off scenes that need to happen around that time, and many of the chapters have a unifying arc from beginning to end — but as the story has become more complex over time, it’s been harder to make that true. Much of our rearranging, though, has been about trying to shuffle the little mosaic tiles of narrative into the best possible arrangement so that, e.g., the consequences to a given event are neither dropped for too long, nor shoehorned in next to things that aren’t related to them. Revision will also help with some of that, when we can look at the big picture and see places to slip in acknowledgment of XYZ or mention of QRS so that the flow from bit to bit is smoother, but we’re doing a lot of the heavy lifting right now.

The real FML in this chapter, though, is the last two scenes. They were originally in viewpoints A and B, respectively, because we expected the second scene to have stuff personal to B. When we got into writing it, though, we realized it had evolved, and that was no longer really true. Since the first scene could work from either viewpoint, I backtracked and recast both scenes, such that the first one was from B’s pov and the second was from A’s. And all was well.

. . . until we realized that the second scene was launching something too early, and also there was another plotline we really needed to introduce way sooner, so we decided to take the “too early” bit out and replace it with the “not early enough” bit. At which point, um, that scene became very personally relevant to B.

So back I go AGAIN and RE-RE-DO both scenes, restoring the first to viewpoint A, and the second to viewpoint B. Now, the good news is that whenever we make cuts of more than, like, a sentence, I tend to save the text. So I already had the original versions of those scenes. But they weren’t as polished as the second take had been, so there was still a fair bit of me having to rework the material. And if it’s tedious to change the viewpoint on a scene once, lemme tell ya, doing it twice is enough to make me beat my head against my desk.

(Isabella never gave me these problems. There’s something to be said for five books all in a single perspective.)

Word count: ~54000
Authorial sadism: In some ways, the plotline we’re now launching in this chapter — but that won’t be apparent for a while. So I’ll give it to the scene we added in, because really, sadism is center stage with that one.
Authorial amusement: “The four most terrifying words in a knot boss’s world were one of his fists saying, ‘I got an idea.'”
BLR quotient: It begins and ends with blood.