I’m back from the drafting swamp! And with exciting news in tow!
I’m BACK! Oh my gosh, that was an intense couple of months.
But I come baring some news! First off: TOMORROW, me and several other authors have a very big, very COOL announcement. So stay tuned!
Second: I’ll be doing this super cool event in Dallas on April 27th. Along with 9 other YA authors, I’ll be selling/signing books at a huge concert called Edgefest. This is easily the “hippest” event I’ve ever done, and I am–needless to say–SO excited for it.
Third: I’ll be in Vermillion, SD for a series of events on May 15th. If any of you are from around there, I hope to see you!
Fourth…there is no fourth. There is just a long post in which I pontificate on book 3 and the woes/joys of being a writer.
So, after having a tough time with book 2 (A Darkness Strange and Lovely) because I only started it 4 months before it was due…and then got whooping cough, I had vowed I would not be so foolish for book 3.
I also vowed, after having such a hard time with the novella (A Dawn Most Wicked), that I would never write another crappy, wasted draft again…
HA. Well, I started working on book 3 during last May. I had 20K written by the fall, and then by the end of NaNoWriMo, I had almost 60K. But I’ll be honest: I wasn’t feeling good about what I’d written. I kept thinking, “Oh, I can just revise it into a decent book. I just need to wait for my Muse and not pressure myself.” But deep down, I knew that wasn’t the only solution…
Then the holidays came, and I indulged my fickle Muse by writing 50K in something else (Screechers) over the space of 2 weeks (So. Much. Fun!) when I knew I should be working on book 3…
Then New Years hit and I admitted to my soul twin, Sarah J. Maas, that I didn’t think my book 3 would ever come together. We talked out what I’d written and what I had planned…and it hit me as I was talking: I had approached everything in book 3 WRONG.
I was planning the wrong ending. It was an ending where everyone lived Happily Ever After and there were no consequences. It was ending for ME so that I could finish the series and not forever feel like there was more story left to tell.
But here’s the thing, guys: There is ALWAYS more story left to tell. Maybe they are mundane bits of an ordinary life, but there will always be heavy emotional consequences when you put your characters through the stories I’ve put them through. They can never truly be Happily Ever After with battle scars like they have. They can have happiness, certainly, but there have to be emotional consequences.
And yet, my planned ending just didn’t match up to that…
Essentially, in all the 60K I had already written, I wasn’t pushing Eleanor hard enough–or myself. I was projecting her toward a Fluffy Happy Ending, and the whole book felt WAY too light because of it. If Eleanor cried, then I needed to be crying as I wrote that scene. If Eleanor felt pain and loss, then I needed to feel it as sharply as my own…
But on top of all this, I wasn’t putting enough thought into the secondary characters. Joseph, Daniel, Jie, Oliver–they all needed character arcs of some sort. I was so proud of what I had managed to do with everyone in book 2, so why couldn’t I do it now?
So one day, in the second week of January, I laid out 5 rising action lines (like the one on the right), and then I figured out the emotional position of each character as the book opened…Then I figured out what their emotional breaking point was and when it needed to happen in the book.
Holy crow, that was a lightning bolt. NO ONE was dark enough. No one was being pushed hard enough. If I wanted these people to grow, then there needed to be harder losses and bigger consequences.
There was no denying it now: the ending I had planned absolutely had to be tossed.
In hindsight, it seems so obvious. But this ALWAYS happens to me. I draft along–ladeedadeeda!–and I don’t want to make my characters unhappy because them I’m unhappy. It’s easy to write the action and romance scenes because the emotional darkness is briefly pushed to the side…
But then I reach the 2/3 point in the book and ALWAYS realize I have a horrible first draft and that absolutely none of the “emotional growth” scenes (i.e. EVERY SCENE) will work.
Always, always, always I end up cutting at least 50K in a book.
And so, in the middle of January 2013, I started the entire book over from the beginning and I kept…maybe…9K of what I originally wrote.
Then, in 7 weeks, I rewrote and then revised the entire book. All the romance I’d written previously got canned. Even action scenes had to be completely reworked. A character I thought would feature in the book got cut. A location I had planned for years as the final showdown also got slashed (and an even better setting presented itself).
As always, I had to let the first story go to find the right story. But, unlike in the past, I was ready for this. Once I had accepted things weren’t working, I thought and thought and thought…and then the lightning bolt hit. (Muses LOVE to show up right before your deadline. I swear, they do it on purpose.) And I started over.
As I wrote, revised, and polished bit-by-bit, my amazing best friend, Sarah J. Maas, was there every STEP of the way. I could not have gotten through all of this if not for her. She would read every new bit I wrote/revised and cheer me on–while also pointing out what didn’t work. Then I would revise again and pass it onto my other dear amigo (as in, we’re the Three Amigos, you know?), Erin Bowman. She would read and point out issues. These ladies helped me SURVIVE this book.
Also, since I was pretty much a non-stop sobbing mess from mid-January until yesterday, they held my hand…or occasionally cried with me. Even my amazing mother, who so very kindly read book 3 to check for typos before I turned it in (my mother is the best mom EVER), called me yesterday sobbing. My mom NEVER cries during books or movies, so as twisted as it sounds, I was really proud I had made my mom cry! I realized when I heard her tears that I had done it.
I had pushed Eleanor and the Spirit-Hunters to their emotional limits. I had pushed myself to my emotional limit. And they came out better, stronger people for it–as did I.
Now let’s all quickly pray my editor lets me keep it that way. 😉
And, for those readers out there scared of what the ending may bring: there ARE silver linings. There IS a bittersweet sort of happiness at the end–the sort of peace that can only come after a really horrific storm. But it’s not devastating, okay? For every low moment, there is a moment just as high.
Doesn’t that music make you feel like there’s hope on the horizon? (I pretty much listened to this on REPEAT during my final revisions of the last few scenes).
But there is hope on the horizon. I may feel a bit broken right now. A bit shell-shocked. But fortunately, there are other worlds to write and characters to follow. As soon as I hit “send” on book 3 yesterday, I dove right into a Shiny New Idea and hammered out 5K.
As the Shakespeare quote goes, “Things won are done, joy’s soul likes in the doing.” Book 3 was a roller coaster of emotional highs and lows, but I don’t feel any huge sense of accomplishment. The pleasure was all in the journey, and now it’s time for a new journey.
You tell me: Do you ever treat your characters too lightly? Or do you ever read books where you don’t feel the consequences were as harsh as they needed to be?
The Fear of Opinions
March 7, 2013 @ 5:23 pm
You are a rock star! No wonder there’s been so much sprinting in the last month 🙂 Glad everything worked out for the best!!
March 7, 2013 @ 5:33 pm
There HAS been a lot of #BAMFWordBattles, and this was (as I think everyone on the poor Twittersphere knew) why! And now it’s onto MORE battles and more projects!
March 7, 2013 @ 5:29 pm
Congratulations on finishing!!! I knew you could do it, my friend. But to be clear: if you kill off Daniel, I will come up to MI and smack you with a copy of the book. Repeatedly. xoxo
March 7, 2013 @ 5:45 pm
I recall saying something similar to you before BOUND came out…and you BLEW ME AWAY with that book. You spun tropes on their head like I have NEVER seen. Let us hope I managed to do even half as well as you on my book 3… <3
March 7, 2013 @ 5:31 pm
Wow. I so cannot wait for book 2 & 3. And even more now that I know the ending isn’t “Happily Ever After”.
March 7, 2013 @ 5:46 pm
I just hope my tough (yet still uplifting!) ending for book 3 is satisfying to readers. 🙂
March 7, 2013 @ 6:00 pm
You are just AMAZING. Have I mentioned that lately? If I haven’t, then let me say it one more time – AMAZING.
It’s funny because I had a similar epiphany about my writing recently! The reason why I tire of WIPs I’m doing right away most of the time is because I only like writing the light, happy, positive stuff – and always, always want the happily ever after. There’s really no big conflict or climax, and I have problems making the villain really… villain-y and evil. So, I’m taking the plunge and just going to write from my villain’s POV, if only to give an added dimension to what I’ve already accomplished… and hopefully add some hard, meaty stuff in there!
Thanks for being so inspiring <3
March 7, 2013 @ 6:28 pm
Good luck!! I think the key is to just dig deep. Don’t be afraid to hurt YOURSELF. And don’t be afraid to become the character completely. 🙂 It sounds so simple, but GOSH it’s hard.
March 7, 2013 @ 6:17 pm
I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s rewritten an entire book. I’m jealous of authors who can just pour it out on the page perfectly, but my process seems more like a sculptor with a rough piece of granite. I carve and refine and carve and refine… and then sometimes have to start from scratch with a new piece when the true path reveals itself.
Looking forward to seeing the conclusion to the series. Congratulations on your hard work.
March 7, 2013 @ 6:29 pm
Ha! I TOTALLY used that exact analogy a month ago. I told Sarah I felt like I was slowly chipping away at the story inside the marble. That is very much what drafting and revising feel like. 😀
March 7, 2013 @ 6:21 pm
Congrats on finishing, very exciting! I’m a little scared of whats goin to happen in book 3, but I’m going to read it anyways. 😉
March 7, 2013 @ 6:30 pm
Don’t be scared! Book 1 wasn’t a “happy” ending in the traditional sense of the word. 😉 There were consequences in that book–and in book 2. So book 3 just has some more consequences thrown in. 😀
March 7, 2013 @ 6:50 pm
You have more determination than any other person I know, seriously lol I would have bundled up in a corner and cried for years if I had to rewrite all of that…
I agree with what you’re saying, though. I like my books dark, so when I feel an author stopped from doing something just to spare the character’s feelings, it bothers me. And it bothers me when I do it, too. Basically, if the character is not in turmoil for 98% of the book then I’m not very invested lol This makes me sound like a horrible person geez…
But, in more important news, YOU ARE GOING TO DALLAS AKJFGHBSHFK I live an hour and a half away! Baaaah I need to find someone to take me I WILL COME AND MEET YOU SOOZ (does that sound scary? I’m not scary, I swear. I’m 5’1 and sound like I’m 8)
March 7, 2013 @ 6:57 pm
Aaaaaah!! I HOPE YOU CAN COME!!! OMG, where do you live?? There must be a way to meet up!
March 7, 2013 @ 10:40 pm
I live in Waco right now because I’m going to Baylor for my Masters. But I WILL SEE YOU. This is a thing that needs to happen!
March 7, 2013 @ 6:50 pm
Oh Susan you are such a rockstar!!! It takes so much courage to slash everything and start again – especially on deadline. Also — this made me SO excited to read books 2 and 3. Why aren’t they in my hands right now, why!? I miss Eleanor!!!
March 7, 2013 @ 7:00 pm
Aww, thanks. <3 It is so frustrating to realize that, yet again, I have written a horrible first draft I have to throw away…but it ALWAYS works out in the end. It's really only these books that are under contract that require such massive redos. I don't know if it's because I lose sight of the voice/story between books…or there's just more pressure because I KNOW it will be published (so my Muse shies away), or what–but every. Freakin'. Time. 🙂
March 7, 2013 @ 7:03 pm
Congrats, Susan! I’m excited that you finished and I can’t wait to read it! 🙂
I’ve been having trouble with my main characters so I done a character chart, and thankfully, it helped loads.My writing is slowly getting back on track.
March 7, 2013 @ 9:44 pm
Yeah, sometimes just breaking things down–character, a scene, the emotional arc, whatever–can help you spot holes or spot a solution. Good luck!! 😀
March 7, 2013 @ 8:07 pm
Congrats Susan!! It’s so exciting to see you finish book three! This was such a lovely post that filled me with hope for my own writing <3 You are an absolute rockstar.
As far as my writing goes, I feel like in this first draft I've been too light on my characters. It's something I'll need to focus on in revisions for sure!
And many, many times while reading a popular YA I've thought the consequences were laughable. Like the character inadvertently causes the deaths of many all in the pursuit of his/her true love and then carries little to no guilt over it? Yeah right.
March 7, 2013 @ 9:46 pm
That’s EXACTLY what I mean. Death is such a big, big deal. And even “simpler” things (not really simple at all) like kidnapping or almost losing someone–those things carry so much weight that I think we can easily gloss over. I definitely think I glossed over them too much in book 1 (oops!), but hopefully I make up for it in books 2 and 3. 😉 Every book teaches me more about storytelling…
March 7, 2013 @ 8:09 pm
I SO needed to read this! Especially today. Hearing this story was so very inspiring! Yes, I treat my characters way too lightly at first, and always ALWAYS have to go back and make things worse. I’m 8 days from deadline on my rewrite (I’m hoping my muse knows that. ;)), and this is exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you!
Huge congrats on finishing! And on the awesome events! And on getting 5k into shiny new idea!
March 7, 2013 @ 9:46 pm
YOU CAN DO IT, PEGGY!!! I know you can! And I am so relieved I’m not the only person who goes too lightly in the first draft…because I do EVERY TIME.
And again: good luck. I am so certain you’ll get ‘er done. 😉
March 7, 2013 @ 9:42 pm
Hopefully with all the mistakes I’ve made in my current WIP I’ll be able to have a smoother process next time. First (partial) draft was more like MG. I scrapped it and started over. Second (full) draft was too light on plot. I need to remember this is what happens when I don’t outline! Outlined and now nearing completion of the third draft. I’m very happy with it, even with the dark tone that’s crept up.
Awesome post. Very inspiring. And I may have to make an exception to my no-zombie-books rule to read yours. 🙂
March 7, 2013 @ 9:50 pm
Ha! I don’t actually consider my book a zombie book (thank you, Marketing, for that label) since it’s so much more about spirits/magic. So hopefully, if you do read it, you won’t find it too repulsive. 😉
And yeah, I TOTALLY know what you mean about it feeling like MG. My very, very first draft of SS&D was so MG. It was all about a tongue-in-cheek voice. And then the second book’s first draft was almost just as light and fluffy. Even book 3’s first draft forayed into the same shallowness. Everyone was just so obnoxiously happy! >( But I finally managed to sort it all out…I *think*. 😉
March 8, 2013 @ 5:46 am
I know what you mean when you said that when your characters are crying, you should be crying while writing the scene. I just realized this a couple weeks ago when I started writing my manuscript. I was writing a emotionally challenging scene and suddenly I started crying. I was shocked at first but now I feel great that I felt my characters pain! 🙂
March 8, 2013 @ 7:16 am
Ah!!! Yay, YOU!!! 🙂 I can’t wait to read it…although, I’m going to be honest, I’m a little worried. Book 3s are kind of always rough for me to read, because I have read a few that have traumatized me…I can only imagine WRITING one (though I hope my WIP will one day have a book 3, eep!). If I have faith in anyone to do it right, though, you are one of a few people at the very top of the list, and it only a little bit has something to do with some of your favorite kdramas also being some of my favorites.
Man…drafting woes. I have them. I’m basically starting from scratch on what I wrote during nanowrimo. Well no, I already started that from scratch in January and was working on that during the last few BAMFWordBattles I participated in. Something was really wrong, though, and it touches on some of what you’ve said…I was too kind to my MC, and everybody in the book was all around too everything. Too awesome. Too mean. Too everything. Blech.
I’ve redone my half assed outline so many times I want to pull out my hair…but…this time. THIS time I’m going to come out with a solid pile of first draft to revise. This time, I WON’T get to 30k and go “no, I think I have to start over”. I’ll come back to this post to remind me. Fighting!
Thanks for all the awesomeness as always!
March 14, 2013 @ 1:11 am
Congratulations on finishing! After reading this I’m so, so excited to read the next book in the series, and then the third. I like bittersweet and dark, so all that you’ve done sounds simply amazing. I recently read a book where there didn’t seem to be any consequences and the book magically shifted from bittersweet/dark to pure Happy Ever After. In the span of about four pages–the four final pages, too. One second the star crossed lovers were hopeless, then a magically solution arrived to save them. It hadn’t even been hinted toward throughout the book… it was disappointing. Again, congrats! I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens in Eleanor’s journey 🙂