Posted on June 29th 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
News, Self-Publishing Woes, Writing
We are close to the end! So close, in fact, that I’ve already drafted the blog post to announce the release dates. I have only a very thin stack of papers left in my print-out of the Courting the Dragon’s second draft (because remember, I threw out like half the book several months ago). Once that is finished there’s a new epilogue I want to write and then it’ll be time for final polish.
Getting through this revision has been a real trip. I’ve been trying to reflect on why it was so much harder to get through this one than the last one. I think a few factors are at play:
- I wasn’t really trying to write a book for publication when I wrote Saving the Dragon. I was just having some fun with NaNoWriMo. There was no pressure to get the thing done.
- Courting the Dragon is a lot longer than Saving. You could make an argument that Saving is almost more of a novella than a novel and I would have a really hard time refuting your point. You cannot make the same claim about CtD. It is novel length. Not like George R.R. Martin or Robert Jordan epic-tome-of-doom novel length, but still long enough to get past some publishing houses’ minimum submission requirements.
- I hated my villain and a lot of other parts of the first draft. That made it really hard to want to work on the book and prompted the great word count massacre earlier this year.
- I really want this one to be good. I want to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. I want a stronger story, better writing, more character development, etc, etc. I am also really concerned with consistency for the magic system and generally continuity. I painted myself into some weird corners with random little things in Saving. Book 3 is going to be really interesting depending on how I tie up so worldbuilding in CtD.
And of course there was all of the of big life stuff all right in the middle of writing and revising this book, but we don’t need to rehash those details again.
I will say that after the long, arduous journey of getting Courting the Dragon finished, I think I will be taking a short break from Penny and her dragon. I have several projects that are begging to be finished. The Foundling is probably the closest to completion, and I really feel like that should be my next focus. After that it is up in the air whether Penelope’s Dragon Book 3 will be next in line. Odds are probably good that it will be, but I think I will need to see how I feel after Foundling.
All that is left of draft 2 to edit/revise as of this posting
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Posted on June 25th 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
A monsterous, messing stack of *most* of the pages from draft 2 that have been revised to date.
Note: I wrote this back in February but never posted it. I have left it unaltered, so in my time in the following it is still February. Better late than never.
I’ve been thinking about a complaint against one of my review videos that just came out. It wasn’t on one of my own posts or the video itself, so you probably won’t be able to find it. In any case, in the commenter’s mind, my review missed the mark because I hadn’t given enough attention to the originality of the book in question. The thing is, I’ve seen most of the elements used in that story somewhere before. Every book is going to recycle something. Usually many somethings. What makes a book shine, what makes it good, is when it reuses the expected in an unexpected way.
Every book of any quality is a unique compilation of elements. But those elements, those same building blocks, have probably been used and reused a million times. If you don’t believe me, go watch or read my (very positive) review of That Time I Broke Time by Sarah Emily Lelonek where I lay out examples of other books with the same core premise. That premise is that the heroine discovers she isn’t who she thinks and has special powers. Usually, all hell breaks loose around the time of such discoveries.
So, let’s look at the book that’s actually in dispute, which is Franc Ingram’s Heirs of Eternity.
I’ve seen the whole re-incarnated until you get it right thing in Heirs of Eternity and Katherine Kerr’s Devverry books. At first blush, these books are nothing alike, but the core premise that these characters will keep coming back and play out the same drama as different people and only one of them knows it/really understands why is the same. The execution is completely and totally different, but they use the same building block.
Then there’s the main plot thread. It has a lot in common with classics like Lord of the Rings. That’s why I said in my review that it was a pretty standard high-adventure plot. I can sum it up in one sentence: the main character must go to a particular place to do this particular thing to stop this particular evil (usually at the risk of the world ending) and he/she collects some friends along the way.
If I dig deep enough in my stack, I can probably also find a few books where the gods or god-like creatures made an oopsie and set some terrible evil loose on the world in a manner not dissimilar from the Twelve when they created the Ultras.
This is not a bad thing. I repeat this is not a bad thing.
As I said with That Time I Broke Time, tropes and story arcs are reused because they’re good. They’re a formula that our brains recognize and appreciate.
My own books are full of tropes. I like to joke that when writing Saving the Dragon I wanted to see how many tropes I could squeeze into one book. Just touching on the obvious ones, I have the rebellious princess/noblewoman trope (see Disney’s Brave for another popular example) and the shapeshifting character trope. I could go for days with examples of dragon-shifters alone. A quick glance at a list of paranormal and/or romance novels and you’ll probably find a few pretty quick. Actually, someone just fairly recently published one with the exact same title as mine. Talk about unoriginal.
I can’t think of a book or movie off-hand that follows a similar arc to my first one, but I am sure one exists (if you know it, please tell me in the comments. I’m dying to read/watch it). My second book plays with the arranged marriage trope. My third planned book of the same series will follow a questing plot #NotASpoiler. I’ll bet when I say “questing plot” all sorts of stories come to your mind. And I’d like to think that I put my own personal spin on the tropes and character archetypes I’m using. I manage to make myself laugh, at any rate. Then again, what do I know? Maybe my stories are a colossal snoozefest and you all are too nice to tell me so.
In any case, this is why I didn’t choose to focus on Heirs of Eternity’s originality. I thought there was something much more important to focus on, and that is what I think Franc does best: writing beautifully rendered characters. So, to the commenter who thought I missed the mark, I say to you: I stand by my stance that the strength of Heirs of Eternity does not lie in the plot, the wide cast, or the worldbuilding, but rather in the exceptionalcharacter creation that Franc displayed in writing Oleana. WhoOleana is drove her on that go-to-this-place-to-do-this-thing-to-stop-this-evil-style journey. Her strength didn’t let her give up even when her weakness begged her to. Her inner turmoil was far more interesting and soul-rending than what was going on outside of her. She gave everything, all that she was, to see her mission through to the end. Thatwas the story. And I hope to see so much more of such talented character building from Franc in the next one.
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Posted on February 5th 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
I finally fixed Courting the Dragon’s plot problem.
I threw away the plot.
Alright, the main plot points are still the same. The blurb that’s already posted on this website is still wholly and perfectly valid. But I threw out that stupid outline that’s been suffocating me from day one.
Didn’t I just say that outlining is important for sequels like two or three blog posts ago? Yes, yes I did. And I stick by that statement. But that only works if you wrote a good outline in the first place. I’m here to tell you, this one was garbage.
If you follow me on Twitter you’re probably aware that I took a machete to my more-than-half-finished draft a while back and I’ve been building it back up. Most of what I axed at the time was related the to the villain I hated oh-so-much and the utterly failed attempt at using him as a pseudo love interest. That didn’t work out for all kinds of reasons, primarily because Penelope wasn’t having it (I don’t blame her) and I just couldn’t make the guy likable.
But that still left me with a heap of things I didn’t like, and a whole big section that feels like a Regency Romance novel that makes me want to beat my head against a wall. It isn’t anything against the genre. I’ve read quite a few that I enjoy (a bunch of things by Johanna Lindsey come to mind). The problem is that writing in that way made my female characters feel very vapid to me, and it’s really the antithesis of the personas I built for Penny and Tiffany in Saving the Dragon. I have no idea how other authors manage to write strong female characters in such a setting. More power to them, honestly. If you have any tips to leave in the comments I’m all ears.
So, for the time being, that section I’m unhappy with is still technically part of the draft. I expect it to bleed red in the first round of hard revisions. Like, big red X’s and all new scenes scribbled on the back and in the margins. There’s a plot point in there I somehow need to keep, and I have a few ideas about how to do it dancing in my head. BUT. That is a problem for future me. I’ve promised myself no more big cuts before the last line of the first(ish) draft has been written.
So, what did I do about the plot?
I went back to who my characters are.
Penelope isn’t someone who waits around for someone else to come up with a solution. To quote her in one of her new scenes: “Have you ever known me to sit in a tower and wait for rescue?” And yet, I had her doing exactly that for a substantial part of the very early draft. Some of the things I had her doing were so appalling out of character that it made it impossible to do anything with her.
Don’t even get me started on what Salarath was up to. Let me just say, sulking is not a good look on him.
Getting reacquainted with my heroes put a few things in sharp perspective for me, and made doing a few more surgical removals (prior to the no-more-big-cuts-vow) a simple matter. I graphed on some new scenes to replace what I’d sliced away, and suddenly some things fell into place nicely, because Penny and her dragon were acting like themselves again. Whew.
From that point, I decided to take a road somewhere between the complete and utter pantsing that I did for Saving and the tightly constrained outline I initially did for Courting. My characters were at point A, but I knew they needed to get to B, C, and D before I could even think about writing the finale. So, I noted B, C, and D, and then just let the characters take me to them.
Do I have a few crap transition scenes that are totally going under the knife in first revisions later this month? Abso-frickin’-lutely.
Am I a thousand times happier than I was with this draft a month ago? You have no idea.
When I finished my first round of big tear-outs, I’d taken the draft down from over 50k to ~43k words. I’m now coming up on 70k again (probably more by the time this post actually goes live). At this rate, Courting may very well end up being almost twice as long as its predecessor. I ain’t mad about that. I don’t think everyone who has been looking forward to this book will be either.
I think it may be time to accept that I’m not a traditional outliner. I do need to take notes like nobody’s business because I will forget the neat little plot twists I had in store. Or I’ll forget some detail about my magic system I had intended to work in. Or whatever. I had all kinds of things planned for book three, but I didn’t write them down, so now I’m having to try and remember what they were. I’ve now started my notes file for book three now precisely because of this. But it’s just that, notes. It seems that a more free-form approach of just random bullet points in a Google doc works best for me.
The truth is, with only one completed long-form work under my belt, I’m still learning what exactly my process is. But I think that the moral of this story is you are NOT married to an outline (unless of course, you signed a contract stating that you are and you owe it to some big publishing house, then I’m both sorry for you and extremely jealous). If your outline isn’t working for you, throw it away. Start over. Get back in touch with who your characters are and the story they are trying to tell. Then write a new outline if you’re someone who needs the structure. Or don’t if you’re really a total pantser. But don’t stick with an outline you’ve come hate.
General Progress Update
I’m now very confident about getting the first(ish) draft of Courting finished this month. I had hoped to be done around the last weekend of January, but doing the editing on my first video book review turned out to be waaaay more time consuming than I anticipated, partly because I was trying to learn new software. To complicate things further, I’m now dealing with some hand and wrist issues that I’m hoping aren’t a big red flag for worse things yet to come. So that is slowing down my progress a bit from the rapid movement I was making before. Still, being well into revisions by the middle of February remains realistic, despite my hand and wrist pain. Fortunately, I revise on a printed draft, so that will give my left hand a nice break.
With that confidence about finishing the draft, I am now also ready to say that I am targeting a summer 2018 release for Courting the Dragon. I do have an exact date in mind, but I’m not quite ready to share it since these pain issues are cropping up and *cramping* my style (get it? get it?). As I get into revisions and get the second(ish) draft out to beta readers it will become more obvious whether or not that date is feasible. Start looking for an official launch announcement around March.
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Posted on January 21st 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
I recently read a blog post from a friend in my NaNoWriMo group, Franc Ingram. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Franc is the author of the author of the Euphoria Duology. The second book, Kings of Euphoria, just went on sale this week. The blog post in question is titled “Writing a Sequel is Hard” and I’m here to tell you that truer words were never written. You may want to read her post first and then come back and read this one.
In any case, Franc’s post got me thinking about all the reasons why Courting the Dragon still isn’t on sale. Of course, there are the obvious things. My divorce certainly put large parts of my life on hold, my writing included. If you want all the nitty-gritty on that, check out the blog post I did about it a while back. Then there’s the fact that I basically disappeared into my day-job for six months and only recently came back up for air. I don’t recommend 10-hr days, especially not when you have a choice about it. Fortunately, I came to my senses and now go in and come home at reasonable hours.
But the simple truth is, like Franc says, writing a sequel is hard.
My problems and Franc’s problems aren’t the same, but that not really all that different, either.
Problem #1: I went into this thinking it would be easy because I already built the world.
No, it’s not easy because I already built the world. I’ve painted myself into all kinds of not-so-fun corners because I didn’t think my magic system through beyond the first book. Granted, it’s going to result in some interesting (I hope) magical solutions in book two, but… ugh. Until you’ve had to experience the frustration that is existing canon that fans expect you to adhere to, you don’t really understand how restrictive it can feel. Hopefully, in a few months, I’ll be able to write you a nice blog post explaining how it’s a great challenge that helps you grow as a writer. We’ll see.
Problem #2: I went into this thinking it would be easy because I’m using repeat characters.
No, no, and no. This goes back to the whole canon thing. Or really, being consistent. While characters should always grow and evolve, unless they’ve had a complete soul-overhaul, they’re still the same person at the end of the day. My characters keep wanting to be whiney shells of themselves, and not more mature versions of the people they were in book one. If you know you’re going to be writing a multi-book series with a character, considering thinking through their character arc all the way through to the end before you even start book one, chapter one.
Problem #3: I HATED MY VILLAIN!
And not in a good way. I despised this character so much, the only suitable ending for him was being stabbed to death with a butter-knife halfway through. That would make for a very short book, obviously, which is why I had to do something about it. Part of what’s kept Courting the Dragon from hitting online sellers near you, is that I had to rework huge chunks of the mostly finished manuscript. Why? Because I had to figure out how to work with the villain and not against him. Have I recaptured the fun it was to write the villain in my first story? No, not at all. Have I made the villain into the character the story needed him to be? I think so. You guys will have to tell me later this year.
Tips for a better sequel writing experience?
Obviously, everyone is different, and your sequel writing experience may be vastly different from mine, or from Franc’s. Honestly, I hope it is. I hope you have a phenomenal time, and your plot and characters behave, and the world is sun and roses. Because I wouldn’t wish my current situation on my own worst enemy. But let’s be real, it’s probably going to suck in some different but equally terrible way. Let me know in the comments. In the meantime, here’s a list of 5 things that I am going to adhere to for my next sequel (book 3) and any future series:
- If you know you’re doing a series before you start, plot all the way through the series at least a little bit.
- Always think ahead. As you’re doing your pre-writing (and actual writing) for book one, give yourself a chance to think about how your decisions are going to impact those future books.
- Update your characters sheets/sketches/whatever as you go. Keep track of all the little evolutionary details of their character, even if it seems stupid.
- Keep all that worldbuilding/notetaking/etc that you’re now going to do in a place where you can find it easily. Everything from Saving is so scattered it makes keeping up with canon for Courting very frustrating.
- The second you hate where a character/plot device/etc is going, STOP. Don’t throw it away, but set it aside and try writing in a different direction. See which you like better. Don’t let it get to 50k where the sheer amount of things you have to change now is overwhelming. You are not married to that thing you don’t like. Period.
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Posted on February 27th 2016 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
Sneak Peeks, Writing
As I’m working on the editing and revising I’m rediscovering scenes that just amuse me. So I’ve decided that I’ll share a few of them here (provided they don’t contain major spoilers). This scene is for the readers who enjoyed the character of Guy in Saving the Dragon just as much as I did. 🙂
As always, I wish to remind everyone that is my work and it belongs to me. No one else. You do not have the write to copy, use, abuse, or pass off my work as your own. You may of course share the link back to this blog post as many times as you like.
“You’re doing the right thing.”
Salarath’s hand dropped to his lap. He arched his neck to look around the back of his chair to the wall hiding the door to his horde. A small, metal dragon’s head stuck out of the middle of the map that appeared to hang from the illusionary wall. The head belonged to the horde’s guardian, who had randomly taken to calling himself Guy after encountering Penelope. Guy was, to put it in the simplest terms, a consciousness brought about through a complex series of enchant-ments. The spell forms that maintained and shaped the energy that allowed Guy to exist were one of Salarath’s greatest masterpieces. It had taken him three rather sleepless years to get it right. He might have reconsidered it if he’d known what a busybody Guy would become.
“And what makes you say that?”
“Well, you have been moping about for weeks,” the little dragon head said. “It’s clear you don’t really want to be out of your relationship with the little thief.”
“For the ten thousandth time, Penelope is not, was not, nor will ever be a thief. I specifically asked her to retrieve one of those books. It just slipped my mind to warn her about you.”
Guy managed to look hurt despite the fact that his dragonian features didn’t much lend themselves to human expression.
“It was nothing against you. I was a tad distracted, being locked up in my own dungeon and all.”
“Well, you could make it up to me.”
Salarath eyed the dragon head suspiciously.
“You could give me a holiday.”
Whatever the wizard had expected Guy to say, that wasn’t it. His horde guardian wanted a holiday? Did magical constructs take holidays? How did Guy even know what a holiday was?
“I’ll still guard the horde,” Guy said quickly, afraid that Salarath’s stunned silence was actually concern for his riches. “I’d just like to get out a little. Maybe see a bird.”
“What is it with you and birds?”
“Well, I’ve seen their baths, it’s only right to want to see one of the creatures. Your lady told me they have wings.” Guy paused a moment. “What are wings, Your Grace?”
“They’re what birds have instead of arms so they can fly. That’s not the point! How am I supposed to give you a holiday? You’re part of the wall, for gods’ sakes!”
“How should I know? You’re the wizard.”
Salarath jerked himself around in his chair and slumped into the overstuffed back. Both hands scrubbed at the stubble growing on his cheeks as he pondered Guy’s request. If he let the guardian loose – if he could even manage it, that is – what sort of havoc would he wreck upon Steelbourgh in Salarath’s absence? The Ancestors only knew. He will-ingly turned his mind away from the horror of that prospect and on to the technical problem at hand. If he recreated the spell forms that maintained Guy’s consciousness on something mobile, could he safely move Guy from his place in the horde’s door to this other “body”? Or would he, by the act of moving the energy from the horde to the new vessel effectively kill Guy as he knew him and create a new consciousness? Furthermore, did he have a moral obligation to tell Guy that was a possibility? Did Guy qualify as a living creature? The implications of the whole situation were staggering.
“Should have put more thought into this before I created him,” the wizard muttered.
“Oh, nothing. Just trying to decide if you qualify as a living being or not.”
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