Arcana Revision Hell: Preparation

Dig a little deeper in the Well, boys
Dig a little deeper in the Well.
If you want a good cool drink of water
You gotta dig a little deeper in the Well.

One thing I remember really struggling with as a beginning writer was “deepening” a story.  What did that mean, exactly?  I had a story in my head.  It was “the” story.  I didn’t know how to change it.  If I changed it, then it was a NEW story, wasn’t it?  If the character wanted to be different, wouldn’t he/she have shown up in my head that way?

I’ve been deepening Arcana and its characters today.  Gregar has been bellowing that song above in my ear all night.  Deeper, dig deeper, ask why, make this WORSE.  In many ways it’s like the tip of the iceberg.  What I know or see is so little compared to the details that lie beneath the surface.  I don’t necessarily need all those details on page, but knowing them adds a whole different dimension to this story.

I have to say, I have NEVER been so prepared to start a story.  The scary thing:  I’m not quite finished with these preparations yet, either.  I modified 5 character sheets tonight and realized I need to create a new one or I’ll end up with another cardboard secondary character.  (Yes, I was originally going to kill this character, how’d you know?  Now this character is sticking around indefinitely for me to torture.)  I’ve got a map of my castle drawn, but I’ve decided it needs a history.  This castle should have its own personality on page, very much a “character.”  This story could not be set anywhere else, and I need to reflect that down to the finest detail.

The character sheets are incredible.  They really are.  Why did I forget I had this template thingie?  It combines every little thing I’ve picked up over the years that help me get to the heart of my characters.  I’m not talking favorite colors and eye color here (although if there’s something important in physical description, I do have a spot for that) — I’m talking greatest fear, darkest secret, why the hero and heroine should NOT be together, etc.  I have paragraphs or more backstory for each character.  I have meticulous historical dates where needed.

It’s crazy.  Why isn’t this story written yet?  Oh, yeah, I covered that whole fear aspect already.

And even though I have a NINETY-SEVEN-PAGE OUTLINE (boggles), I’ve already gone through with pencil once and added details, then started another pass with a few new angles I thought of.  I’ve added a few scenes — bringing the list up to around 100 scenes.  It should be a nice meaty book when I’m done.  I’m going to make a third pass through the outline with character sheets in hand to make sure I cover scenes where the characters’ fears and secrets should come out or affect the emotions.  Heck, I might even make a fourth pass just for EMOTION. 

Then I’ll type up everything, print out fresh copies, and be ready to go on May 1st.

The biggest changes so far have been making things worse.  More people die or pay some cost to achieve what they want.  The cast is a little bigger — and the overall themes are more complex than I originally envisioned, which are all good.  I have something more to say than I originally thought.  The general theme is balance vs. chaos and how the various characters all reflect different degrees — but there’s another new subtle layer underneath that just came to me today.  I definitely want to spend some time ensuring that shadowing exists in the outline.

More importantly, though, I eliminated some of the “fluff” elements.  This is a flaw of mine.  When I originally thought “Regency Fantasy” with a little “Romance,” I let a few standard tropes creep into the story, especially the ending.  Tonight, I axed every single one.  My heroine is going to be a bit subversive.  Her sister is excessively subversive, but she will pay a steep price for that independence.  I’ve done my research to the best of my ability, so I understand the consequences.  I think.  :wink:

 

There is a “Regency Romance” buried beneath the magic and fantasy, but it’s not going to end with a wedding, baby, and title, if you know what I mean.

Dig a little deeper in the Well.

Arcana Revision Hell: The Plan

While reviewing my notes last night and this morning, I thought I’d made a dreadful mistake.

As I’ve mentioned, I have a huge binder full of notes.  The first draft was finished as a Fast Draft (ala Candy Havens) back in March, 2007, and ever since I’ve been overwhelmed at the prospect of revising it.  Literally, I’ve been unable to comprehend how I can possibly complete this project. 

While I’m glad I attempted a Fast Draft (and succeeded), the lesson I came away with is that draft is an OUTLINE, not a foundation on which I can build a story.  I can’t open that file and begin revisions — I have to start FRESH.  The first draft doesn’t contain all the story threads I decided to add later (when I realized I only had “half” a book), and the characters are two-dimensional, again, because I wrote the blasted thing so fast.

It’s a fantastic story premise, though, and well worth the work, if I can decide how to tackle it.

About a year ago, I bought Karen Wiesner’s First Draft in 30 Days because of its revision chapters.  I cut the first draft apart like she recommended, made notes for each section, did tons of worldbuilding and new character development.  All good work.  But when I started the revision, I quickly became overwhelmed again.  I was afraid.  I got it into my head that I’d never be a Regency writer — which is true.  I’m a FANTASY writer who wants to write a Regency-based fantasy.  I lost sight of that and allowed myself to skip off onto a new project.

My fear beat me a year ago.

So determined to conquer this fear, I reviewed everything and found many incredible notes.  I also found something sadly lacking.  While I had 3 spreadsheets outlining the scenes, I couldn’t find any DETAILS about those scenes.  Now a year later, how the heck am I supposed to remember what a section title of “Somedays….” means?

After building up my mental reserves to tackle this revision, I sat here this morning sick to my stomach.  Had I really been that stupid to spend so much time outlining and planning — only to never create any kind of outline?  Usually I create notecards for each scene and jot a few notes.  It doesn’t have to be formal — just enough to help me remember what that section title was supposed to mean.  Was I so afraid that I’d wasted all this time on “planning” and “research” only to subconsciously sabotage myself?

I went through all my secret drawers, looking for a baggie of notecards.  Nadda.  I decided to go through my laptop files one more time.   Maybe I’d done something different that I couldn’t remember.  After all, I was using FD30D documents.  Maybe…

With a huge sigh of relief, I found a document called “Capsule Outline” — a glorious 97 page outline, one page for every single section in my day sheet.  WHEW.  I was really sweating bullets here, people! 

So now this week I’ll read my outline, review each character’s biography (yes, I have that much detail!) and make sure they’re tightly tied to the premise, and make any revisions to my notes that I come up with.  Then hold onto your butts, because May 1st, I’ll start the second major re-VISION draft of Arcana (RHP).

Storybuilding

If you heard any cursing this afternoon, I nagged begged That Man into putting up some corkboards for me in my office.  I bought some cool new animal print ones at Target the last time I picked up some Caribou Coffee, and I had a larger corkboard I bought months ago and he never put up.  The old one had itty bitty screws.  He only dropped them twice in the carpet.  The tiger print board is a little crooked, but it’s up, and I’m already putting them to use.

The vision is starting to come together, and it’s so big, I really needed a wall so I could see the connections.  These stories all started out as individual ideas, but with some give and take, and new inspiration, I think they’re all in the same connected world:  the science fiction Regency spoof, Seven Crows, and a really old untitled idea that keeps rearing its ugly head.  This time I think I finally found the right world and characters for it.

I’m still worldbuilding and figuring out the themes, main conflict, overall story arc, etc. so I don’t know what to “write” right now while I build this other world.  Oh, I have a story I could work on.  I’m just scared of it.

It’s the Fast Draft story from 2007.  I’ve done as much research for that story as the Maya one, if not more.  I’ve replotted it with three spreadsheets and have filled a three-inch binder with notes.  Yet I still haven’t been able to write it.  It’s going to be WORK.  Hard, gut-wrenching work.  Harder than Revision Xibalba.  Harder than anything I’ve done before. 

I know what needs to be done.  It’s just getting my mind in the right place to tackle the work.  It would be so much easier and more fun to tackle a bright shiny new idea…

But you know me.  I’ve never much cared for the easy path.

The first shitty draft of a short synopsis for the Maya story is done.  Copyedits on Dear Sir, I’m Yours are sent back to Angie.  Storybuilding is chugging along on a new world (or rather, galaxy).  So I guess all that remains is to drag out my binders and spreadsheets and come up with a plan for RHP.

Let RHP Revision Hell begin.

Maya Blurb Retake Retake

I think I’m really, really close.  Thank you to Rene for her question — I think this one is even stronger.

Called “Ruin” because he destroyed his entire civilization, the Gatekeeper is sworn to kill anyone who tampers with the Bloodgates – portals to the mystical realms of the Maya gods. When Dr. Jaid Merritt’s partial translation of a codex accidentally sends her father to Xibalba through one of these Gates and releases demons from the Maya hell, the “Un-Indiana Jones” is forced to face her fears and travel to Guatemala on her first dig in twenty years. To save her father, she must survive the Gatekeeper’s wrath and help Ruin reclaim — and relock — the Bloodgates before the bowels of Xibalba empty into our world.

Aside, Kait asked about whether I should be using “Mayan” or “Maya.”  According to my references, “Mayan is used to refer to the language; otherwise, the adjective or noun Maya is used.  Mesoamericans today speak many languages (not “dialects,” as they are often called erronenously), as did their Precolumbian predecessors.”  From An Illustrated Dictionary of The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya. 

If you’re interested, other research books I used for this project include:

  • Popol Vuh
  • The Ancient Maya
  • The Code of Kings
  • The Blood of Kings
  • Reading the Maya Glyphs

Maya Blurb Retake

I hereby declare that May the Queen of Blurbs! 

Last night she patiently helped me tear and paste and scribble until we came up with a revised blurb for the Maya fantasy.  My beloved Sis also made a few important tweaks that I think help a lot — which Soleil also agreed with.  So it *does* take a village!

What do you think of this one?

Called “Ruin” because he destroyed his entire civilization, the Gatekeeper is sworn to kill anyone who tampers with the Bloodgates — portals to the mystical realms of the Maya gods.  When Dr. Jaid Merritt’s partial translation of a codex accidentally sends her father to Xibalba through one of these Gates and releases demons from the Maya hell, the “Un-Indiana Jones” is forced to face her fears and travel to Guatemala on her first dig in twenty years.  Together, Jaid and Ruin must reclaim – and relock – the Bloodgates before the bowels of Xibalba empty into our world.

A huge thank you to everyone who’s already commented.  Keep up the feedback – I greatly appreciate it!

Preparation

I’m still working on the blurb for the Maya fantasy.  It’s kicking my ass.  I’ve shredded each sentence, tossed it out, started over a dozen times.  How can three sentences be this hard?  Bah. 

Since the coffee stash was low, we ran up to Target tonight and I restocked my Caribou Coffee Mahogany.  I looooove that stuff.  Bought all the bags on the shelf (only 4 left — I’m ashamed to say how long that might last me).  Middle Monster needed some new crayons for school, so I decided to browse the notebooks.

It’s sort of a fetish of mine.  I adore notebooks, paper, pens, pencils.  Nothing makes me see red faster than when the monsters get into my stash of supplies.  (I am seriously tempted to put them under lock and key.  Errr, the supplies, not the monsters.  Honest.)  Target had some gorgeous notebooks and matching folders.  Staring at them, I felt…

A twinge.  An itch in the back of my brain.  A tingle in my fingers. 

I needed those notebooks for a story.  Not sure which one yet, but the color and patterns really spoke to me.  One is mostly blue with some brown, and the other has brown, blue, and orange patterns all over it.  Not my normal color selection (hint, look around at all the black and red here on the blog) but when the Muse speaks, I listen.

*Gregar’s now laughing his arse off* 

*the smug bastard had better get over here and help me with my @#&%$* blurb!!*

Maya Fantasy Blurb

Close your eyes.  Take a deep breath.  Smell the coffee brewing, fresh, crisp books, and stories just waiting to be read?  Great.  Open your eyes and pretend this blurb is on the back of one of those books.  Would you want to read the story?  Opinions and feedback welcomed.

The working title was NIGHT SUN RISING but now that I’m in the query stage, I’ve been calling it THE BLOODGATE CODEX.  Which do you like better?

Epigrapher Dr. Jaid Merritt is known as the “Un-Indiana Jones” on campus, but when her father disappears, she follows him to Guatemala with the ancient codex he discovered.  In the ruins of the city once called the Mouth of Creation, she learns that the fables she’s been translating are frighteningly real:  there really are “Bloodgates” to the mystical realms of the Maya gods, her father disappeared through one of these portals, and in the process, he accidentally released demons bent on human sacrifice.  Now she must find a way to save him, force the demons back to Xibalba, and survive the wrath of the werejaguar priest who guards the magic as the Gatekeeper.

Connections

Follow me, for a moment.  I swear this will all make sense.  The following are all somehow related:

 

In the back of my mind, I’ve been mulling over May’s crit, in particular her comments about two secondary characters for which I hadn’t done the greatest job.  In fact, I’d gotten lazy.  Remember the week of Valentine’s Day when we ran the Character Clinic, and I said that if you could kill a character, without impacting the story, then the character wasn’t needed?

Dr. Geoffrey Malcolm was a useless character.  I don’t think it’s too huge a spoiler (since this happens in chapter 2) to say that he’s the guy who dies in the first 10 minutes of the movie.  He’s supposed to help the reader feel sympathetic toward Jaid, to show how she’s damaged, but otherwise, he really didn’t have a purpose.

Huge mistake.  Huge!

Dr. Reyes, a secondary character that Jaid meets in Guatemala, was perhaps even worse.  He was the “plot needs him” character.  I needed him to be there for certain big events, but he had no depth.  I’d gotten lazy again and forgot my own saying:  every character is the star of his own story.

Dr. Reyes had no story to tell other than helping–or causing difficulty–at the right plot point.

So what does this all have to do with the other points above?  I’ve been a fan of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way for at least a year or two now, and this year, I’ve been writing more regularly in my daily journal.  I’m trying really hard to remain OPEN all the time, and just watch and wait for the right inspiration to come.  Now, more than ever, I really needed some inspiration.  How was I going to put some sparkle into these two characters after so many revisions already?

Bright and early this morning, the twitterverse and blogosphere was thrilled with Susan Boyle’s performance of I Dreamed A Dream.  I watched it and bawled.  I watched it again, and bawled some more.  While working this morning, I kept thinking about why it had touched me — and so many other people.  Here’s a 47 year old lady who’s never even been kissed!  Going out on stage in front of millions of people, putting her dream on the line.  People laughed at her.  They braced for a William Hung quality performance, and instead, she rocked the house, just as she promised. 

A fantastic story, right?  But there’s more to it, if you look at the song she chose to sing. 

I dreamed a dream.  I dreamed that love would never die.  No song unsung.  But the tigers come at night.  As they tear your dreams apart.  And still I dream he’ll come to me.  But there are dreams that cannot be, and there are storms we cannot weather.

Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.

*sobs*  That song, coming from her mouth, dreaming since she was 12 years old that she could be a singer, and now, finally, that dream has sparked to life once more.  That’s powerful stuff.

And I’m sitting here, listening, thinking, and I know that I can use this.  This emotion, the common human element of having a dream, watching it die, struggling to live anyway, trying not to hope because it’s so painful…

Dr. Reyes had a dream too, it turns out.  A dream he watched go up in smoke, literally.

As for the other television shows I listed, all of them have impacted the Maya fantasy in some fashion.  I love the FBI as portrayed on Numb3rs and tried to build a similar team under Special Agent Quinn Salazar.  I love the ambiguity in Prison Break:  one moment a bad guy is trying to kill them; the next he’s the only one who can help them.  Back and forth, up and down, there is no “white” or “black” character in that show, merely shades of gray.  Even Michael has been “tainted” by his actions.  People have died thanks to him, even though all he set out to do was save his brother.  Everybody has a line to cross, and that show makes them cross that line over and over and over.

But the biggest impact is probably Charlie’s big map of connections.  I love that idea and I swear I’m going to do this for the next major project.  Every person he comes into contact with goes up on his board and he starts figuring out how they know each other, why they did certain things, whether he can trust  them or not. 

Everything’s connected.  That’s how I found Geoffrey’s purpose.  He’s connected in a way I never expected, and that connection ends up helping Jaid from beyond the grave.  Or as I should say, even though Geoffrey has entered the White Road, he still manages to give her the clue she needs at the right time.

Now to fix–or rather complicate–Dr. Sam Gerard’s life with a little Oedipus complex, and liven up One Death a little more, har har, and then I’ll get back to the synopsis.

This has certainly been the project from Xibalba, but the story is tightening so much I think it’ll squeak when you read it.

The Maya Fantasy Opening

Revision #113 or something like that. 

It’s just that pesky first line and the next few paragraphs.  So small, yet so important.  They must set the mood, the language, the character…they must be compelling, moving, tempting you to continue turning the page.  I sat over lunch today with a notebook and pen while I scribbled, doodled, crossed out, ripped, wadded up, and started over again until I finally settled on this.  What do you think, compared to the old opening here?

He never hated his magic until it compelled him to kill.
 
From the broken shadows of his temple, the once all-powerful priest watched the encroacher attempt to work the same doomed magic.  Brilliant ruby pooled in the pocked basin of the altar and overflowed, streaming the hand-carved stone in vibrant filigree.  The blood glowed like molten rock hot from the earth’s heart, releasing magic into the night.
 
The priest shuddered, his skin crawling in the caress of power.  His nostrils flared to catch the faint tantalizing scent of sweet copper.  Such temptation.  He tightened his grip on the starved jaguar pacing within him.  Such power. 
 
The city once known as the Mouth of Creation had kept his secrets for a thousand years.  Now he must kill this man to protect that forbidden knowledge.
 
Keeping to the shadows, the priest called out, “As Gatekeeper of Chi’Ch’ul, I command you to leave my city or die.”