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Posts Tagged ‘progress blogging’

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 13

Marie Brennan

Lucky number 13!

. . . maybe not so lucky for our characters.

This is the start of an avalanche; it is too late for the pebbles to vote. I recently put together a “relative timeline” for the chapters so far, marking the few scenes that take place on set dates, and then positioning everything else on the basis of “these take place on the same day,” “this is a day or two later,” “this gap can be as long or as short as we need it to be,” and so forth. (This is important because a certain event in Book 3 needs to take place on a fixed date, and until we’ve finished this book and done some amount of planning for the next, we’re not sure how much time we want to have elapse here.)

In that timeline? This chapter and the next two all take place on the same night.

And they are frickin’ loaded with narrative catnip. To the point where Alyc and I rolled through nearly half the chapter in a single day, and the only reason we aren’t already up to our elbows in Chapter 14 is that extenuating circumstances are requiring us to pause briefly. Our chat messages back and forth as we swap off writing have featured comments like “unf,” “bwahahahahah,” and “MAXIMUM WHUMP!” All the work we’ve done setting up the relationships and conflicts between our central characters? Here is where it pays off — not in the sense that after this we’re done, but rather that we’re doing a full Transformer on how those are all configured, and going forward it’s going to be a brave new world. (One in which our characters are somewhat physically and emotionally bruised, and in need of recuperation. They’ll get . . . at least a little?)

Though man, right now I have no idea what I’ll even be able to say when I report on the next two chapters. The further I go along, the harder it is to avoid spoilers, while still saying things of moderate substance.

Word count: ~97,000
Authorial sadism: Under any other circumstances, the prize would go to the punch we didn’t see coming until Alyc typed that sentence. But the unexpected turn that scene took can’t hold a candle to the “death from above” moment we’ve been planning from the start.
Authorial amusement: We’ve been waiting an equally long time to make a certain character lose his ability to language. 😀
BLR quotient: However romantically this chapter started off, there is way too much open conflict here for this to be anything but blood.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com.

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 12

Marie Brennan

Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.

Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?

Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.

Hugh Fennyman: How?

Philip Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

I wound up quoting the above at Alyc early last week, at the end of about an hour and a half of us beating our heads against the wall of a certain plot problem for this chapter. We still didn’t have an answer, but we’d both hit a point where we could tell that continuing to work on it right then wouldn’t do any good; we had to walk away and let our thoughts turn to other things, and trust — hope — that a solution would present itself while we weren’t looking. (My other go-to quote in such situations is “Cudgel thy brains no more, for your dull ass will not mend his pace with beating.”)

You see, something like eight or nine months ago, we’d come up with a way to arrange for a certain cluster of plot things to all happen at once, in maximally exciting fashion. But either we’d forgotten (and failed to write down) some of the finer points, or we’d never actually thought it through in sufficient detail, because when we came back to it . . . there were some serious unanswered questions. How were the antagonists going to find out about a certain thing happening? Why was this character going to be in that place at that time? Did the timing even work? If we had [redacted] do [redacted], wouldn’t that be bad espionage, a mistake they ought to be too intelligent to make? We fiddled with the pieces we had, trying to make them line up. We brought in other pieces to bridge the gaps. And then still more pieces. We threw ninety percent of the pieces out because it was getting too complicated. Round and round we went. We whined at each other about why we’d decided to make our villains competent and our challenges challenging, and wouldn’t it all be easier if we could just let people be idiots?

There’s a fair bit of neurological science backing up the idea that you’re more likely to solve a problem when you’re not thinking about it, and as you can tell by the fact that I’m reporting another successfully completed chapter, that was indeed the case here. Both Alyc and I woke up the next morning with fresh ideas (well, I had mine on my way to bed, which is usually how it goes), and we managed to hybridize them in some useful ways. A story element that started life as a gratuitous bit of self-indulgence is now serving a legitimate plot function; we did a major plot-and-personality transplant on a side character. (Which is also something that happened in drafting The Mask of Mirrors, so now I’m wondering who in Book Three will wind up being totally rewritten halfway through.) And we managed to close out the book with a moment that doesn’t remotely measure up to the world’s most disastrous dinner in Bujold’s A Civil Campaign, but will hopefully have a bit of that feel. Given that our original plan for that particular revelation was kind of disappointingly sedate, this is far more entertaining. 😀

Word count: ~90,000
Authorial sadism: “Hey, is that your dad?”
Authorial amusement: Beldipassi’s Incredible Can’t-Miss One-Time Offer!
BLR quotient: A surprising amount of love. Gotta soften everybody up for the beating that’s on its way.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com.

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 11

Marie Brennan

. . . what was that about a chapter in two days?

Admittedly, and as I mentioned before, we already had one scene more or less pre-written. More than that, if I count the portion of a later scene that got lifted more or less wholesale from its original version, and the tiny (<200 words) coda that follows it. So we had a bit of a leg up on this one. But still! That makes this a two-chapter week, which is excellent momentum to have.

We’ll have to slow down before the next bit, though, because we haven’t fully planned it out. Chapter 12 is currently looking like a grab bag of “uhhh, we need some stuff that will do XYZ” without a lot of specifics or shape to it. Really, the underlying unity of that chapter will be that it puts some key pieces into place for what follows — but that won’t be super apparent while the reader is going through it. So we’ll see what we can do when we actually sit down and work out the specifics.

In the meanwhile, though, this is overall the sweetest chapter we’ve written in a long time. There are multiple fuzzy animals in it! And characters taking naps! . . . sure, there’s also that horrible moment where somebody gets told to do something abhorrent, but even that works out in the long run. We needed a quieter moment in here for some healing, before things accelerate again.

Word count: ~83,000
Authorial sadism: That order.
Authorial amusement: Basically everything to do with the fuzzy animals. And also our mutual love for the line about turfing somebody out of bed.
BLR quotient: This is definitely a love chapter. We go squish for unbreakable loyalty and unexpected acts of kindness.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com.

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 10

Marie Brennan

You know what’s a good sign? Writing a chapter in two days. (That’s apparently what happens when it’s literally caper from one end to the other.)

With this, we’ve finished Part 2. In fact, we’ve even technically started Part 3 . . . or rather, we started it back in July of 2017. As some of you know, this book grew out of scenes Alyc and I wrote as side stories for the game they’re running. While the bulk of those are not actually going into the novels as anything more than loose concepts (if that), there’s one we’ve been able to port in with only minor revisions.

The same cannot be said of this chapter. It does have its roots in a game scene — but that was 3500 words of us nodding vaguely in the direction of “I suppose prisons ought to have some kind of security” while mostly concerning ourselves with banter. For a novel, we feel obliged to provide more than token amounts of difficulty for our protagonists to overcome. And also to make this caper do something more load-bearing for the plot, in ways that involve other significant characters. So now it’s a 3-4 person caper with about two dozen supplementary minions and an assist from someone who would be in SUCH deep shit if anybody ever realized he had something to do with this. But he’s not telling, and neither is anybody else.

The characters will get a bit of a breather for the next two chapters. (By the standards of our plotting, anyway.) They’d better enjoy it while they can, because after that comes a three-chapter rollercoaster that is going to be everything we love about this series.

Word count: ~75,000
Authorial sadism: Figuring out the most awkward possible arrangement of the sardines*.
Authorial amusement: “I need nothing more to blow the shit out of the cosmos.”
BLR quotient: I’m honestly not quite sure where this kind of caper should go! Combo blood + love? It’s got several Unlikely Team-ups piled atop each other, which is one of my favorite tropes, but it’s all in the service of preventing something horrible.

*That . . . sounds so much more suggestive than I meant it to. But such is life when you’re trying to avoid giving spoilers.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com.

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 9

Marie Brennan

I mentioned in the last progress report that we’d done a fair bit of revision on earlier chapters before completing Chapter 8.

Swap out the number at the end of that sentence, and it’s still true.

There were a few scenes we’d skipped over in our earlier polishing because we didn’t feel like handling them yet, and because they didn’t impinge directly on what we were going to be writing next. This week . . . well, the latter stopped being true, so the former stopped being an excuse. 😛 We had to dive into a whole tangle of stuff going back to Chapter 4 and sort out or rework our logic there, and furthermore, we had to face up to the fact that in our initial spate of writing we’d short-changed the background development on a particular plot strand. A whole conflict was more or less hand-waved as “oh, there’s factionalism going on in this particular group,” without us defining well enough who the factions were and who was in each one, what stories they were telling about each other, etc. It’s actually the same group who got boosted to a much larger role in the story halfway through the first book, necessitating us backtracking and rewriting earlier material to account for their increased significance, so I guess that’s par for the course?

It was moderately sloggy work — as Alyc put it, “our longest and most difficult conversation that didn’t have to do with V–‘s state of undress” — but very much worthwhile, because in the long term it lets us make use of a certain worldbuilding concept that was important in the first book and will be important in the third, i.e. it’s good to reinforce its significance for the reader. And it’s starting to fill in a bit of the current void of Part Four, which is many chapters away, but not so many that it isn’t good to start thinking ahead to what’s going to happen there.

(It is still so weird for me to have such a clear idea of where the story is going later on. But I can’t imagine a collaboration working with my usual level of planning, or rather my usual lack thereof.)

Anyway, with this in the can we are officially just over a third of the way through the draft.

Word count: ~68,000
Authorial sadism: Alyc called this the “let’s give V– a bad day” chapter, to which I countered that this is kind of the “Let’s give V– a bad day” book.
Authorial amusement: Did you think we weren’t going to have more fencing flirtation eventually?
BLR quotient: Hmmm, a tougher call than usual. Kind of an equal mixture, I guess.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com.

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 8

Marie Brennan

It’s the return of the progress-blogging!

When we last left our intrepid pair of authors, it was October and I was about to spend a bunch of time traveling. We’d gotten stuck on a scene in Chapter 8 because the setup for it wasn’t quite there yet in the earlier chapters, so we figured we’d take a break to sort that out before proceeding. Then . . . well, as some of you know, Alyc got injured in a way that required two surgeries to fix. And we had to handle revisions on The Mask of Mirrors during that time. Then I was traveling some more. Then a pandemic happened, and also me having to write a different book very fast, and also copy-edits for the first volume, and also page proofs. What with one thing and another, it wasn’t until early this month that we were able to pick ourselves up off the floor and take another look at Chapter 8.

Whereupon I promptly noticed that multiple things would be improved if we kicked that scene into Chapter 9 — so yay, that isn’t a problem we have to solve yet! We warmed our brains back up again by doing revisions on the earlier chapters, some of which were necessitated by changes in The Mask of Mirrors; we also added in a new scene that, per my comment on Twitter, involves a plot-relevant strip-tease. Then we dove back into Chapter 8, now with added breathing rooms for the major scenes happening there.

Because oh yes, there is some major shit here. Both of the fun, caper-y sort, and of the “we’re going to have to steel ourselves to do this to the characters” sort. (Except that once I get into a scene like that, it’s usually very easy for me to twist the knife. It’s the run-up where I’m all, “uhhhh, do I really want to do that . . . ?”)

So: the story is rolling forward again, and at speed. We still need to fix the setup for that one conversation, which will necessitate revision on a few scenes we skipped over in the initial pass, and there are some other plot tangles to sort out before Chapter 9 will be ready to go — but we’ve got a semi-complete outline from here through the beginning of Chapter 16, so the forecast is good for us to make steady progress for a while. And by the time we get through all of that, we’ll have sorted out more of what’s to happen after it. In the meanwhile, it feels good to be back on this bike!

Word count: ~61,000
Authorial sadism: Ren’s monologue. There were just so many options for where to stick the knife in; we used as many of them as we could.
Authorial amusement: UNLEASH THE RATS! (and one very confused cat)
BLR quotient: So very much blood. Some wounds are the kind you need to lance before they can heal. Though that . . . probably wasn’t the best way to do it.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com.

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 7

Marie Brennan

I am really, really glad we are getting some distance into Book Two before Book One goes in the can.

We went into this series with a (for me) remarkably detailed idea of where the story was going in the long term. But even with that . . . stuff keeps cropping up. Bits and pieces where we say, hmmm, we have to figure that out — and then what we figure out really ought to be reflected in the previous volume. Or we change our minds on a thing because it will serve our later purposes better to do it this way instead of that way, and isn’t it a good thing we still have the option of revising?

That happened in two places this chapter, one a matter of organizational structure for a group in the story, the other a matter of metaphysics. Sadly, we won’t be able to write the entire second book before we have to ship the first one off into the maw of production, but the further we get, the better. We can still make changes even into the copy-edit phase, though it gets more annoying at that point.

As for the chapter itself . . . we’ve been so busy juggling various balls of plot and such (not to mention the interruptions of day jobs and travel) that our rough draft has been feeling rougher than normal. But we had a marathon day of writing yesterday, and I think that had really good results for us packing in something more like our usual density of description, characterization, banter, and interweaving of plots. Everything this chapter was focused on V in one way or another, which gives it a nice feeling of coherence — that’s something we try to aim for, though obviously not every chapter can have that kind of through-line. (Not without feeling totally artificial in its structure, anyway.)

Poor characters, though. Starting next chapter, we’ll be heading into the moments where all the problems between them bare their fangs and bite down. It’s still going to be interleaved with fun things — capers, trickery, dancing, naptime, small fuzzy animals — but shit’s gonna get worse for a while before it gets better.

Word count: ~50,000
Authorial sadism: The whole chapter? It’s basically “let’s dump problems on this character’s head, whee!” But the “I didn’t know” moment in particular is gonna come back to bite him later.
Authorial amusement: “Will you stop that?” (Brought to you by us noticing we’d done a certain thing, like, three times — so R— might as well notice it, too.) Also, the line about justice being revenge in formal dress.
BLR quotient: I guess when the chapter is a survey of various conflicts, I gotta call it for blood.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 6

Marie Brennan

Welcome to Plot Tetris!

I’ve talked before about how it isn’t enough for a scene to just do an interesting character thing, or a plot beat, or whatever. It has to do multiple things at once. In the case of this series, where we have so many interlacing layers of story, we’re constantly having to keep an eye on the pace at which those get measured out, and make sure nothing gets dropped for too long or given insufficient time to develop. (There’s a whiteboard. It’s color-coded. As is our outline spreadsheet.)

Which led to some serious “bang our heads against the wall” time with this chapter. We needed a scene from the viewpoint of a character who’s been neglected, because otherwise her corner of the story risks falling out of the novel entirely — okay. But what should that scene do? It needs to involve these other characters; fine. We could even figure out some character beats for it. But see above re: that’s not enough; we had to figure out a plot thing for it to be doing, too. And we went about nine rounds before we managed to settle on something that works, in terms of furthering something that needs to be furthered right now, while also fitting that specific group of people.

This whole part of the book is going to be like that. At this point we’ve got something approaching a nearly-complete outline for the next four chapters, but it involved a metric crap-ton of rearranging, pushing back stuff we expected to happen earlier, checking where we stood on pov scenes for various characters, and figuring out which beats we need to show vs. being able to mention them happening offstage. All of which is before we get into details like “giant end-of-part caper, how???” But those are chapters away, and we can worry about them when we get there.

Or, y’know, after. One of the scenes in this chapter needs rewriting, because we changed our minds about the metaphysical thing going on in it — for the better, I think, since it made my brain light up in a way the previous version hadn’t — and it’s not the only scene we’re going to backtrack to eventually. More or less inevitable, when you’re juggling this many balls; sometimes you don’t quite have a feel for what needs to happen until you’ve got more of what comes later pinned down. Or you just don’t know how much attention you can devote to it, wordcount-wise. As great as it is to nail a scene on the first try, that doesn’t always happen. But that’s what revision is for.

Word count: ~42,000
Authorial sadism: Ethnic Impostor Syndrome ahoy, and also seeing what it would have looked like had someone been there for you.
Authorial amusement: Wow, we entertained ourselves with food this chapter, both good and bad. Raw mussels, coffee, a coded reference to buffalo wings, and one of our characters is totally going to invent mac and cheese.
BLR quotient: Lots of rhetoric, which is part of why it’s such a snarl to sort through. But I’d be lying if I said the impending love in the final scene isn’t, like, half the reason we showed up for this book.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 5

Marie Brennan

With this, Part One is complete, and the plot has taken center stage at last!

I mean, it’s been present before this. But in a strand here, a strand there; this is the first time the reader gets a good look at the overall shape of it, and how those strands are all going to tangle together throughout this book. Complete with the entrance of a major new character, and some new metaphysical stuff, and you didn’t think we’d spend this book just playing around with our existing toys, did you?

Admittedly, we’re almost forty thousand words into the book. But this is the balancing act of writing intrigue: you can’t present the reader up-front with the problem and the people involved in it; you have to dole that out a few bites at a time. Hopefully in a way that makes the opening courses tasty in their own right, before the main dish arrives. Except that it turns out the opening courses were part of the main dish, so this metaphor doesn’t really work.

Anyway, now we move into Part Two, where both the intrigue and the ridiculous character things we’ve been looking forward to for ages really get rolling. ? There will, for the record, be five parts in total — so we’re about 20% done with the draft.

Word count: ~36,000
Authorial sadism: Welcome to your PTSD, R–!
Authorial amusement: “The [redacted] was innocent. Unlike its master.”
BLR quotient: Whole lotta rhetoric, of the sooper sekrit sort. But before that, some very nice love, of several different sorts.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com

Rook and Rose Book 2, Chapter 4

Marie Brennan

Sarah Rees Brennan (no relation) once said on Twitter that “the second book of a trilogy is for kissing.” Taken in the broader sense of character relationships, not just romantic ones, I think this is very true.

See, the first book of a series has to do a lot of heavy lifting, in terms of setting up the material of the story. It has to introduce characters and setting and conflict, and while it builds relationships, too, there’s only so much room to play around with those. Whereas in the second book, you’ve got a lot of your foundation in place, and now you’re free to dance on it. You can take the existing relationships and complicate them, give them more depth, test them or turn them upside down and shake them to see what falls out.

As you may have guessed based on me bringing this up, that’s a fair bit of what Chapter Four is doing here. Our first scene takes an existing relationship and sticks it into a wildly different context, adding in another character to fuel some interesting interactions over there. Our second and third (which are linked) show you that from another angle, and weave a minor character back into story in ways that show they aren’t as minor as you may have thought. Our fourth takes two people who previously haven’t spoken and puts them together for the first time, with hilarious results. And our fifth goes back to another existing relationship and moves it closer to center stage.

Of course all of this is doing plot work, too. As much as we joke about the eight million fanfics one could write about these characters, ultimately we can’t just coast along writing relationship fluff; there have to be more layers. (If there weren’t, it would take approximately three times as many words to convey all the substance we want to pack into this book. And it ain’t a short book to begin with.) In fact, right now we’re dissatisfied with the last scene of the chapter, because it isn’t quite doing the plot work it needs to — it’s trying, but we never quite fell into the right rhythm. So we’ll fix it later; in the meanwhile, it’s full steam ahead on Chapter 5.

Which will also be the end of Part One. Yes, we have Fun Things planned. ?

Word count: ~28,000
Authorial sadism: SHOE’S ON THE OTHER FOOT NOW, HOW D’YA LIKE THAT. Actually, multiple shoes on multiple other feet. This is a chapter full of people getting to find out what it’s like to be the other guy.
Authorial amusement: The first appearance of Y– on the scene. Also, someone missing their mark by two inches.
BLR quotient: Love takes the lead! At least in the sense that “love” = “relationships” in this particular system. But in some more conventional senses, too — eventually.

This post originally appeared on SwanTower.com.