Slow Going

This round of edits is taking a lot longer than I anticipated, and a lot longer than I wanted it to. My original goal was a flat 2 weeks. Those 2 weeks passed last Saturday, and I’m still not done.

I only have 3 chapters left, theoretically, but my pace has slowed to a crawl. This is the end of the story. It’s important, and needs to be as nearly perfect as I can make it. That being said, a lot of things have popped up that need changing.

First off is a continuation of the changes I’ve already made. If I changed something relatively minor in some random middle chapter, I have to be ready for when that issue pops back up again. Whatever change I made before needs to be reflected in the new narrative, which also means my reading has slowed down to make sure I catch those changes as they come up.

I’m also finding more places that need larger sections either reorganized or rewritten. These are the chapters where Bo’s mom needs her strength to shine, but she comes off as weak the way the story is now. I need her to be strong, but still make the same decisions to put her in the same place at the end. Bo needs to end this story alone, so her mom needs to make the decision to let her face it alone. That’s hard to do while still portraying her as strong, which is why I didn’t go too great a job of it the first (or second) time around.

The pacing here is also something I need to consider. The end chapter is very busy, and moves very quickly, but if I’m going to slow it down, I need to disperse elements of it throughout the preceding couple of chapters.

Overall, I’m thoroughly annoyed. I don’t like working slowly, especially when the project is so close to coming to fruition. It’s frustrating. But I need to go slow, to give these chapters the attention they deserve. Rushing will only leave me with an inferior project, which will hurt me in the long run.

Fixing Bo’s Emotions

This round of edits is taking quite a bit longer than I expected it to, especially since there aren’t large swaths of it that need to be completely rewritten. I think that would actually be easier. Instead, I need to fix Bo’s emotions, or lack thereof, and it’s a time-consuming, delicate process.

I wrote back in April in a post titled She’s Me that I was afraid this would happen. One of the dangers of modeling a protagonist after yourself is accidentally creating an emotionless robot. Bo isn’t completely emotionless, she just pushes her emotions back and lets the rational side of her brain take control. I did that intentionally, but maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. Every single one of my readers reported that Bo is too rational for a 15-year-old girl, and that her lack of visible emotions makes her difficult to connect with.

I actually did a little bit of research about how to show emotions. It doesn’t work if you just say “so-and-so is sad, so-and-so is angry”, etc. One, the reader will identify with the character more if they can feel what the character is feeling, rather than just being told that they’re feeling it. Two, when a real person is sad or angry, it’s visible on the outside. Their body language changes. How they interact with people changes. And how they react to their circumstances changes.

I can’t just pick out a few pages and insert “Bo gets angry” and make it all better. I have to read every single line, and after every scene I have to ask myself the following: What is Bo feeling during this scene? How does that affect how she’s going to act? How is she showing this emotion? How does she deal with this emotion so that the action in the story can continue?

Because the action has to continue. It’s a decently fast-paced story, and there are a lot of things that Bo needs to do. I can’t let her get upset and wallow in her tears for three chapters just because she’s depressed and doesn’t want to do anything. Like I said, it’s delicate. She needs to feel everything she’s supposed to feel, but she also needs to suck it up and get the job done. I have to balance it, and I don’t know how good a job I’m doing. It’s an improvement, sure, but is it enough?

Repercussions

I spent a good portion of  my walk yesterday evening dwelling on the issue of what repercussions to assign to the use of Bo’s powers in my young adult project. Because Jake is right. Bo is discovering that she has magical powers, and they’re going to play a significant role in the rest of the story moving forward. There need to be clear definitions of what she’s able to do, and what the consequences of using those powers are.

On my first pass through the story, I went with the old standby: physical energy. The more Bo uses her powers, the more it drains her physically. It’s not a bad consequence, just one that’s been heavily overdone, and has become a default for anyone who doesn’t want to bother being more imaginative about it.

A few months ago I was watching a series of lectures that Brandon Sanderson gave on fantasy writing at Brigham Young University, and this subject was an important issue for him. He did an exercise with his students, coming up with new and imaginative repercussions for magic. One of the ideas tossed out was that every time a person uses magic, one of their loved ones dies.

Think about the changes that one rule would have on the world. The impact it would have on magic users. A person’s decision to use magic would have to be heavily weighed, and the expected result would have to be worth another person’s life. Culturally, the use of magic might even be outlawed, viewed as a crime that steals innocent life.

So, in coming up with some really cool repercussions for Bo, I also have to consider what effect those repercussions will have on the world at large. It’s a daunting task. I had a few ideas that showed promise, but each one I felt compelled to dismiss. Some would change the world too much. Some would have lasting effects that I would have to carry through to other characters in the story, and then those characters wouldn’t be able to do the things I’m going to need them to do. Some were decent ideas, but would be difficult to integrate into the story I already have and would interrupt the flow. I got frustrated, and felt really dumb for not being able to figure this one thing out.

Then I made a decision. My decision was to not make a decision. This issue doesn’t have to be decided right now, and with that thought, I was free. I have a basic idea of what kind of repercussions I want to implement, and pushing the issue off will allow me to make it more of a major plot point in book 2. I want to pull at Bo’s identity, and make the use of her powers pull her in one direction or another. She’s going to have to choose who she wants to be, and what lineage she wants to claim. It has a lot of potential, and while I wasn’t anticipating having to address it, I’m excited to see how I can work it into my plot moving forward. Book 2 doesn’t have a definite direction yet, so there’s a lot of wiggle room for me to decide what’s going to happen. An identity crisis for my protagonist? Sounds like a good idea to me.

For now, I’ll leave the physical aspects in the story, and maybe lay a few seeds about what the future holds for Bo. We’ll see what happens when I get there.

That Wasn’t As Bad As I Expected

I read my feedback last night. I was fully prepared to be upset, depressed, and doubting my entire future. Lo and behold, that’s not what happened.

The feedback I received was really good. More than that, it was an encouragement. I didn’t feel berated or torn down, although my readers did point out a few things I need to work on. One of them, Katy, was incredibly satisfying. She gave me a list of questions she’s dying to know the answers to, and some of them are exactly the questions I want plaguing my readers while they wait for book 2. It made me feel really good about myself.

It’s going to sound like I’m tooting my own horn, but I don’t intend to brag about myself or sound puffed up. I’m just trying to reason out what’s different between this time and the last time. I’m definitely more experienced this time, and Katy made mention of how my writing has matured in the past year. She read Origins last summer, so I believe her assessment to be accurate. This story was also better planned and executed, both intentionally and simply because of the style. Because of the first person POV, it was naturally more focused, instead of bouncing between multiple protagonists. I had a clear idea of where the story needed to go, and plenty of action scenes to get it there.

The feedback was also easier to read due to personal growth on my part. I have more experience now both giving and receiving feedback, thanks to working with my critique partner, Jake. He helped me through my back-burnered fantasy project, a project that needs a lot of work to be worth anything. There are things wrong with that story that I couldn’t see, and hearing about them hurt my pride. It also helped me to grow.

My young adult project is far from perfect. It’s good, and both of my readers enjoyed it, but there’s still more work to do. Thankfully, it doesn’t look like I have major rewriting in my future. The story is solid; it just needs a little patching here and there. Here’s what I’ve agreed needs to be addressed:

  • Bo needs a bit more emotional development. She’s overly rational for a 15-year-old girl, and takes the upheaval of her world in stride. I like her rationality, so instead of lessening that, I’ll add things into her backstory that give her reason to be that way. She also needs more time to reflect on her experiences, instead of just bouncing from one issue to the next, and she shows little wonder in the magical world around her. As Jake so succinctly put it, if she doesn’t view it with wonder, neither will my readers.
  • Bo’s mom needs some character development, too. Her decisions don’t always make sense, and she takes more of a backseat to Bo’s actions than maybe a mother should. I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do about this yet.

A few smaller issues:

  • My last chapter is a bit rushed. I knew when I wrote it that everything was happening very quickly, and I wondered if I should find some way to slow it down.
  • I haven’t set clear limits on manifestations of power/use of magic. In a world where the hero discovers she has magic powers, that’s an important thing to define.
  • Related to lack of reflection on Bo’s part, I use phrases similar to “this isn’t the time” quite often. I never would have noticed this if Jake hadn’t pointed it out to me. As I’ve mentioned, there are a lot of action scenes, and when emotional things happen my characters brush them aside with a “I’ll deal with that later” mentality. It’s a valid coping mechanism, but I overuse it and need to figure out how to change it.

So, that’s the gist of the edits that await me. There are smaller, chapter-specific things too, tweaks that are too insignificant to go into here. Overall, I’m pleased with my feedback, and genuinely excited to get into the editing process.