Adventurers, you are in for a treat today! We have a guest post by author Rachel O’Laughlin, and a giveaway at the end to celebrate the release of the 2nd book in her Serengard Series, KNIGHTS OF RILCH! Take it away, Rachel!
Craft: Letting the Story Have Its Way
My stories have a way of demanding rewrites of me. Without fail, I won’t realize it until after I’ve already drafted and done several revisions and am quite certain that everything is ship-shape. The character arcs are clean, the story builds to an excellent climax, there are snappy bits of dialogue, paragraphs of prose I’m truly proud of, and some to-die-for action. Ready for line edits?
Not for this girl. It’s never even close. I seem to have a knack for bunny-trailing, although I never realize I’m doing it. I don’t just start with a piece of ice and a blueprint and chisel out a lovely statue. I start with a piece of ice and hack off pieces until something starts to look good. I think I’m carving a dolphin, but actually it’s a mermaid! Then I see the mermaid and realize, nah, I do believe this should be Tinkerbelle. But ugh, no, I want a selkie! And um, that means I need to add on some extra chunks of ice here and here and cut off the weirdly shaped wings I added here and and and…
This happened with Coldness of Marek in spades, but it was even worse with Knights of Rilch. Eight months after first draft, I sent a relatively polished third draft to my critique partner, Darci, and she didn’t have much to say. This sent alarm bells ringing because, well, she always has something to say.
I kept asking, “What was wrong with it?”
And she would reply, “Nothing. It’s good.”
After much prodding, she admitted she just wasn’t that into it, and felt that it lacked resolution. Of course, I was a little devastated. I could just chalk up her opinion to taste. I could. But something nagged at me, and I knew she must be right somehow. I just had no idea what I was doing wrong.
Cue another month of scrounging for ideas, cramming my plot into beat sheets and struggling over the timeline. I have every little event in order. Every conversation makes sense. The pacing is good. Some of it is devastating. Some of it is victorious. Why is it not compelling? Why?
And then I had an epiphany. I can’t trace it back to anything particular setting it off, I just stared at the manuscript long enough that it finally it made sense. Scratch that—it made no sense at all, but I knew what I had to do. The entire second half of the book simply didn’t belong there. I couldn’t keep it. It needed to go the way of the Treacher (I did not just use a line from one of my own novels…okay, yes, I did).
I drafted a new second half with completely different events and different secondary characters—about 46,000 words—in less than a month. And although I questioned myself with every sentence, that new second half was perfect. It truly was. Structurally, there was nothing to change. A few hinky chapters needed makeovers, and then it was ready for line edits. I doubted it times a million, but even I couldn’t deny that it was exactly what the story wanted—it was the true account. Changing it again would be laughing in the face of Providence.
I started to realize that the sculpture I’m trying to make isn’t actually my own indecisiveness (I am indecisive, but that’s not why the sculpture has so many identities), it’s my own brain trying to find what’s already there in the chunk of marble. If I settle for a gorgeous, perfect Tinkerbelle when the sculpture truly needs to be a rather hideous selkie, I’m selling my art short.
As hard as writing is and as much craft as there is to learn and passive voice to be aware of and trends to watch and first person present to try and backstories to deepen and character arcs to synchronize and and and…we sometimes forget that our big picture is the most important thing. In the midst of all that skill-honing and outlining and staring down the finer points of our writing, it can be hard to question the very fabric we have been weaving. But it might become necessary. There’s a true way that story happened. Your story is just like a real piece of history that can be retold many ways—some of it is lies, some of it is truth. When you let the story have its way, you’ve found that truth.
Rachel O’Laughlin grew up writing adventure stories in which heroines tend to get their hands dirty, bad guys sometimes win, and someone always gets kidnapped. Her passion for history morphed into a love for fantasy in her mid-teens, when she took a brief pause from reality for immersion in the arts and a hands-on education in sustainable living. She lives in New England with her husband and two boys, listens to The Fray, and drinks too many lattes. Two novels in her SERENGARD fantasy series have been released, and a third is scheduled for October 2014.
When Serengard rebelled and the Orion monarchy fell, former crown princess Kierstaz Orion’s love for her people became a burning desire to set things right. With a price on their heads, Kierstaz and her brother Mikel led a handful of men against the new army, fighting skirmishes all along the border of Dreibourge. But months of heavy bloodshed forced her small band of knights to abandon the border—and all of Serengard—to the rebels.
Nine years and a thousand betrayals later, Kierstaz and Mikel again find themselves on the run—only this time, they’ve a boy in tow: Malcom, the son of two of the Seren rebellion’s strongest leaders. The new regime wants him dead, Mikel wants him alive, and it’s all Kierstaz can do to keep their tracks covered. Desperate to preserve the innocent life she swore to protect and the brother who has always stood by her, Kierstaz must gamble the last thing in the world she owns: her identity. Secrets are a staple of the Orion family, and those Kierstaz keeps are as dangerous as the ones kept from her.
KNIGHTS OF RILCH is the sequel to COLDNESS OF MAREK, and the second book in the SERENGARD Series.
If all that wasn’t awesome enough, Rachel is being generous enough to host a fantastic giveaway! Check out the Rafflecopter giveaway below. It’s really easy to enter!
Once again Rachel, we at TGNA want to wish you all the best with the release of the second book in the series, KNIGHTS OF RILCH! And thank you for writing such an awesome guest post.