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Circling back to the rising river

Tuesday, February 6, 2018 - 07:59

My friend Karen periodically holds a "backyard writing retreat" for a small circle of friends. The idea is to set aside the day for actual writing, not chit-chat (though we do some of that) or web surfing (though that happens too) or getting caught up on ancillary tasks (yup, check). So for this past Sunday's writing retreat, I committed to actually starting the revisions on Floodtide, which has been "fermenting" in messy first draft since...oh my goodness, since before last year's Worldcon? I'd have to check.

What do I mean by "messy"? In addition to a number of significant changes to specific plot points based on discussions as I wrote, there are still a lot of placeholders (**insert the conversation Roz has with the housekeeper about not getting her back pay when she's fired**). There are duplications where I still have both (or more) versions of what I drafted (#1 Nan sneaks out and tells Roz how they got caught; #2 the footman who's been macking on Nan comes out and tells Roz he got her fired; #3 Roz is left completely in ignorance of how they got caught and why Nan didn't get fired alongside her until a later point in the story). There are many characters to name (Roz's aunt back in Sain-Pol to whom she was sort-of-apprenticed to learn the laundry trade and who used her connections in Rotenek to get Roz her position...and for that matter I have no idea yet what Roz's surname is, and the housekeeper needs a different name because it's too similar to an existing character in the sereis). And all that is just in the first scene.

Sunday I started by making an official backup file of the draft-as-is (although Scrivener and TimeCapsule both have backups--I'm just a belt-and-suspenders-and-superglue sort of person). Then I skimmed through the entire file deleting or moving around editorial notes as necessary, stripping out the timeline framework from where it overlapped with Mother of Souls, deleting the files for scenes that never got any content, highlighting sections that I know for certain need to be entirely changed, moving some scenes around that I hadn't been sure where to place when I wrote them, and adding some reminders for things I glossed over in the first draft (e.g., Liv has a service dog that needs to be included in the casual description a lot more, not just when it's doing something plot-relevant).

Currently the file is 89,000 words. That's significantly shorter than any of the previous books (which all ended close to 150,000 words) but may actually be more than I end up with, if I'm ruthless. Floodtide is meant to be different in structure: more of a YA story, single point of view, and able to be read independently of the existing series. So the wordcount needed to follow multiple primary points of view, or to bring the reader up to speed on What Has Gone Before aren't going to drive the length (as much).

I've already made some changes to the original plan in support of that. For example, originally I had included Anna Monterrez as part of the "group of teenagers" that I wanted to focus the story on, but Anna really isn't part of that age cohort, as the overall series has evolved. She's one of the adults, for all practical purposes. And every time I got to a point in the outline where originally I thought she'd be intersecting the plot of Floodtide, it just didn't work. There was no plot-based reason for her to be present in Roz's life, and setting up who she was and what she was doing there would have taken the plot off sideways. She'll get mentioned tangentially in a couple of places, but she isn't on stage. (So some of the key things that are going on in Anna's life during this period are going to go into a shorter story focused entirely on her that primarily parallels the time-frame of Mistress of Shadows.)

One of the main things I need to clearly set up, in terms of structure, is exploding any sort of reader expectations that Floodtide is a "romance" in structure. And that's going to be hard, because my publisher has this notion that books need to be framed as romances to get people to read them. Never mind the grief I've gotten from readers who went into the books expecting the primary, dominant plot to be a HEA romance and deciding they were badly written books because that wasn't what they got.

Roz starts off being unwillingly separated from her girlfriend. Being a pragmatic (and red-blooded) sort, she gets over it and falls in love again...with near-disastrous consequences. She runs into her original girlfriend once more and they definitely do not get back together. She has a lot of interactions with another character that might end up romantic if this were a romance novel, but it never goes in that direction. And the primary emotional relationship she develops over the course of the book is not (currently) romantic and teaches her some important things about the breadth of possible relationships one can have in one's life and how not everything needs to be about pants-feelings. At the end of the book, Roz has a number of very strong bonds with people of rather different types, but none of them are (currently) erotic and she's ok with that for the moment. How do I set readers up to see that as a happy ending?

That's what I mean by "messy", from the trivial to the over-arching.

What's my plan? I'd thought that I needed to go through and layer in lots of editing notes so I wouldn't lose track of things, but as I skimmed though the file, I could feel the future structure coalescing under the current surface. I think I can just wing it as far as that goes. So my plan is to start from the very beginning and simply rewrite from start to finish. Not "rewrite" in the sense of opening a new file, but going through each and every bit of text and treating it all as mutable. The clay is there, but I'm not quite ready to fire up the wheel. I think this is still the stage of wedging and kneading. But I can see the shape of the pot already.

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