Tag Archives: first drafts

Pebbles, Cabbage, Writing, and Rice.

Whew.  It’s done, the last chapter of the first draft of Arassa is posted on Goodreads.  I feel so light and floaty!

Writing is like this: the first word on the first page is a single pebble that was so shiny you had to pick it up and put it in your pocket.  But with every word, every pebble that followed, your load got heavier and heavier, until all your pockets were filled and you were staggering.  You carried this story around with you all the time, not only when you were actually writing.  Those characters, those images, those words, those stones; they’re always with you, and they are an actual, physical weight.  So when you get throw that off, it feels giddy.  Suddenly you’re not touched by gravity, and you could do anything, be anyone.  Feelings like this must be why other people do illegal drugs.

stacked-stones-for-web

121,000 words, and that’s just the first draft.  It’ll get longer in the second, because I have an entirely new viewpoint character to add.  Revision though, is anxiety-free fun.  All of the stress of connecting with your characters, of learning to listen to them so deeply that you can feel your way through the story as it needs to be, not necessarily the way you wished you could write it is gone.  Both of you are free.  You can finger-paint with words now, you can dance in mud puddles, you can throw back your head and drink the rain, because, whatever you do or don’t do, the Story is already there, tied into paper and words with the substance and weight of 121,000 pieces of stone.  Now you can look on it in wonder and delight, and realize that it isn’t yours, and it never was; it possesses a soul of its own.

But however good it feels to lay down that weight, I know it won’t be long until I’m eager to pick up the first pebble of something new.  I need to write, and revision, like I said, isn’t really writing.  Soon I’ll start feeling irritable and a little blue, and I’ll wander around the house in a glowering funk for a few days wondering how it is that I don’t seem to want to do anything.  And then I’ll think: Ah.  It’s been weeks. An it’s time.

I pick up the pen, and an hour later, I’m back to being me.  It’s not because it’s my ‘creative outlet’ – I have dozens of those.  My costuming, my doll-making – all of those I do because I can.  Writing is what I do because I have to, because it’s a physical requirement, like eating or sleeping.  I might be able to survive without it, like I’d be able to survive if I ate only cabbage and rice, but you could hardly say I’d be living.

And huh.  Who knew?  I googled “cabbage rice” to see if I’d come up with a good image to end this with, and I discovered there’s an actual recipe for “Cabbage Rice”.

cabbagerice

Ingredients

2 cups cooked rice
1/2 cup finely cut cabbage
Salt to taste
2 tsp oil
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp bengalgram dal
1/2 tsp blackgram dal
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
Bit of asafoetida
1 tsp vangi bath powder
Few roasted cashews
Finely cut coriander leaves

In a microwave safe bowl, add the oil, mustard seeds, bengalgram dal and blackgram dal. Micro high for a minute. Now add the cabbage, mix well and micro high for a minute. Add a little water to it and cook covered on high for 3 to 4 minutes. Check if the cabbage is cooked well or else cook for another minute or so.

Now add turmeric powder, salt and vangi bath powder and micro high for 1 minute. See to it that it becomes dry.

Now add the cooked rice, roasted cashews, coriander leaves and mix well.

It calls for “Vangi Bath Powder”.  Hmmm.  They probably meant “Bhath Powder”, but I think I’ll still stick to writing!

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Thoughts on Arassa at 100,000 words

Those of you following this blog probably know that I am writing a pseudo-historical fantasy novel set in pseudo-Ancient Rome.  (All the pseudos are because I’m far too lazy to write a straight-up historical novel, and even if I weren’t, my brain’s too crazy not to invent things like magic systems that use ink written into flesh.)

But what I wanted to talk about today was the Priest.  You’ve met him, you people currently reading my chapters-in-progress on Goodreads; he’s the guy who showed up rather suddenly seeming as though he should have had more history than he did.  The reason for that is, he does.  He has lots of history, you just don’t know it.  And you should, and I’m sorry, but that’s the thing about reading this writer’s first drafts – you don’t get the whole story, because often I don’t have it all until toward the end.

I’ve known since the beginning that I wanted another viewpoint character besides Arassa.  It was suggested to me that I use Pullo, and I really thought I would….except that Pullo never really popped into my head that way.  He never seemed interested in talking to me, the mere author, he’s too busy saving that frustrating woman he’s in love with.  So I let him be, and was content with writing only from Arassa’s POV.

But about a month ago, I discovered there was someone new inside my imagination, who did want to talk to me.  His name’s Warre, and he’s a Priest of Minos, and Arassa’s sworn enemy.  He’s a little peeved with how I’ve been representing his homeland, and wants to set the record straight.  What’s more, he knows what happened in Minos when Pullo went there to reclaim the royal treasury, and he knows what’s really going on with the gods and Arassa’s new powers…he even knows what’s been happening with Sulili while she was in the Minosan camp.  He’s perfect as a viewpoint character, because he knows the exact opposite of what Arassa knows, and he believes exactly the opposite things.

But, unfortunately, we’re already in the homestretch of the first draft, and I don’t feel I can stop the story dead while I go back and rewrite all the previous chapters and insert his POV.  My readers (who are still waiting for that kiss), might send a few brutal little gods after me.

First drafts are strange that way, when you write completely out of the right side of your brain, like I do.  No outlines, only a few grand ideas for what’s coming a few scenes ahead of where I’m currently writing, and few more scribbled notes of cool dialogue, character names, and description.  If I’m really, really lucky, I know the ending before I begin, or at least have a feeling for it.  For Arassa, I had nothing but the beginning, and that scene where Pullo kneels to Arassa and cuts his hands on his sword as a sign of fealty.  I had nothing else. I didn’t know about the Arcane, the magic system, the secondary characters like Micah or Aenius, or what would happen at the end.  Luckily, everything’s been pulling together pretty well, and luckier still (since I’m writing chapter-by-chapter and posting each one as I finish), I haven’t written myself into any plot dead ends or serious technical difficulties.  It’s been great fun, if constantly a bit nerve-wracking, and the feedback and comments from my readers (besides being helpful in content) has really helped keep my nose to the grindstone.  I feel an obligation to those readers now, and I feel really bad if I can’t get a new chapter posted at least once a week.

The worse thing about writing chapter by chapter and inventing as I go, is that the story isn’t as cohesive as it should be.  Since I often only find out important plot points as I write them down, I can’t fore-shadow as well as I should, and I leave dangling sub-plots longer than I should because I don’t know all the answers yet myself.  The perfect example being Sulili’s sudden return from the Minosan camp.  She went, she returned, and there wasn’t much said about it, because everything that happened, happened between her and the priest.  Arassa doesn’t know, so the readers (at this point) don’t get to know either. If it’s any consolation, I don’t really know what happened yet myself.  The priest and I are going to have to sit down with a cup of tea and have that long talk, one of these days!

The good news, overall, is that I can feel the ending to Arassa’s story quite close now.  I’ve written over 100,000 words – longer than I thought this one was going to be.  Silly me.  I thought this one was going to be a short book, maybe even a novella.

If you’re reading this and don’t know who the heck “Arassa” is, and would like to, feel free to check out my novel in progress on goodreads.

http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/1090425

84,000 Words!

This makes me insanely pleased and relieved, because now, whatever happens, “Arassa” (my book-in-progress) is a book. I could write The End tonight, and it would possess a minimum number of words, which I’ve been told is around 75,000.

When I first begin writing words on a blank page, I usually know only the beginning scene, a couple of events in the middle, and if I’m extraordinarily lucky, I know the ending. So there’s always a bit of nervousness until I pass that magic number, since I’m never entirely sure what I have. Is it an absurdly long short story? Is it a novella? Is it…dare I believe…is it a novel? I’m still awed by my ability to find all those words – even after writing four and half books.

For Arassa, I’m still writing blind. I know one major climatic point that will be happening soon, and I have a list of Things That Need To Happen, but I don’t yet know the ending itself. My way of writing feels like walking through a labyrinth beneath a mountain. There are many, many passages I could walk through, and many, many doors I could open. But someone has been there before me, and they’ve wound a spool of the most slender silk thread through all the passages and doors where the true story goes. Imagine that: alone in the darkness, surrounded by stone and echoes, and my only true guide is the barely-felt, hardly-believed in thread of silk between my fingers. I’m always afraid it will break, and leave me stranded and the story forever lost. First drafts are nerve-wracking.

As I walk forward, sometimes the thread slips from between my fingers without me noticing, and when I turn a corner I find myself facing a solid wall. Then I must creep backward, throwing away the wrong words not matter how much I love them, until I reach out and find the thread back within my touch. I have to trust the string; I have to trust that it took me under the mountain, and that it will lead out of again. I have to trust the string when I find myself writing scenes I don’t yet understand, and meeting characters I didn’t plan for. These are the best and most frightening times.

It feels supernatural, like the Story came before I created it, like it existed before it stumbled out of my hands. It feels like the characters have been flitting about, whispering into people’s heads, trying to make themselves heard. Most people shut them out. They’re too busy trying to make sense of their own lives, too busy thinking about Desperate Housewives, or what they’re going to do on the weekend. They’re too busy paying bills, pulling grey hairs, or worrying about the new sound their car is making. They’re thinking about their boss, or the fact that the cat might be gagging on the oriental rug (he was looking ill right before they left for work). They drown out all the voices but their own, and they never realize how lonely they are.

But now and then, the character whispers into the ear of a writer, and she manages to whisper louder than all the other whisperings of all the other whispering characters. She tells her story, and the writer takes dictation. A writer prays for the days when it feels like dictation, when the writing’s so good and so perfect as that. When it’s so much fun.

It’s not always like that, of course, sometimes the whispers get too faint, and the writer has to strain to hear; each word is a labor. Sometimes the writer doesn’t trust the character to know her own story, and starts muddling around with it, and ruins something pure.

But sometimes, all the writer has to do is be the pen.