About CHRYSALIS

Posted by arnaud on March 8th, 2017

As is now customary when I finish a first draft, here are some thoughts about the writing process for CHRYSALIS. The book is finished, which means I now know what the story is, but it is still in a somewhat rough form, which is a byproduct of the way I write. More on that later.

Genesis

I really don’t remember much about how the first idea came into my head–not at all like WHISPERER’S REVOLUTION’s inception which was really clear for me. In this case, I just thought one day that a story about older people in love going into a machine as their lives end to merge together and begin a new life as a new entity was interesting. Almost at once came the question: what happens when those two people were not in love? How do the two halves live together afterwards? What if one of the two really didn’t want to be merged? I seemed to have a large potential for conflict there and we writers do love conflict. Conflict is our fuel and the more we have, the better.
The second part of the story idea came a bit later when I thought that those merged people were special and that it would be difficult to have them live with their old families, so they must be living together, outside normal society in something which must look like a closed village. The word was out: village. I do love The Prisonner, and The Village has a special meaning for me. A place where you might end up without ever wanting to but from where you can’t escape. Another potential for conflict.
Now, the weird part is that for some reason, I wondered what would happen if one of the two people being merged died during the procedure–these are elderly people we’re talking about and the merging process should be an ordeal, so it stood to reason that from time to time some people didn’t make it through. What then happened to the other? What did they become? My idea then became that when that happens you exit the machine pretty much unchanged, but you can see and talk to dead people.

So the two ideas merged: old people being merged together but one dies and ends up in a village where she is prisonner. Because of course, it’s about a woman as it’s often the case for me.

After that point, my Hollywood logline became: The Prisonner meets Ghost Whisperer (or Sixth sense, you get the idea).

Writing

On WHISPERER’S, I had something like 18 months for the idea to grow inside my head and when I started to write, it was with an idea fully formed and even if the characters were still not very well defined (aside from the Whisperer himself and the King), they were there. Writing that story was easy.
For CHRYSALIS, I only gave myself a couple of months and I had a feeling from the start that the story wasn’t ready. Doubts are the writer’s worst enemies, most of all because they aren’t real, they’re all in our heads and often have no basis in reality. So I started that novel full of doubts, and behold, the writing not only was slow, it was crawling. It’s at these times when you start thinking “that scene could be written tomorrow” and tomorrow doesn’t come for a couple of weeks. After a fair amount of time drudging in that book, I came to the realisation that it wasn’t working. Why? The answer was easy in that case: I was bored. It was a story about older people and I hadn’t found my spark. I was writing boring scenes and couldn’t find in myself any reason why I should go on besides the fact that my own pride told me I couldn’t quit–it’s nice to still have pride in these moments. I spent quite some time asking myself why I didn’t feel anything for that story. The main character was nice to write, which was a start, but the rest? Nothing. I don’t remember how the solution came to me, but it is quite simple. I had started writing in third person, because it’s what I had always done. In this instance it didn’t work, so I rewrote the first scene as first person and I liked what I got. Changing viewpoints didn’t even enter my mind as I had started writing–I so much love third person it was a no-brainer to use it again. What’s different about that book is that the main character is really alone. I never intended to write another viewpoint and the main character’s voice made the difference.
So, I rewrote everything–about 20 000 words. To this day, I still find some forgotten “she” instead of “I”. Every time I fix them, but I keep on finding more. I hope they will all turn up in the next phase of edition.

What about the voice then? I like it very much, though I worry a bit that the character sounds too much like me. I tried to add a few things which are different from what I would say (she’s a repressed believer, for instance, which was new for one of my characters) but in the latest chapters when things get technical, I find that her voice slips a bit more to become much like what I would use myself, especially in the use of words. It’s something I will have to watch for in later edits.

The Research stuff

In every book, I try to add something new (It was cryptography in my first book, some geographic strange areas in my second, pottery in my third book, astronomy in the fourth). What would I choose for this one? My character chose for me (as is often the case). She plain told me she wanted to learn about birds husbandry. Now, that’s a vast subject and I wasn’t sure I could use it well in the book. For one thing, I had no idea how to include it in the plot, but when I think about it, these small hobbies I give my characters often don’t have anything to do with the plot (aside from the one about cryptography, but that’s another story altogether). The issue here is that it’s something she has to learn that has no bearing on the plot. I devote quite some time on it, but I couldn’t find any real payoff in the story. It allowed me to introduce characters and to give the main character a bit more freedom, but that’s about it. I’ll have to see in the edit whether I keep these chapters or not.
As always, I devoted a sizeable amount of time researching the subject. Research is my weakness, which is why I don’t write Science-Fiction (I did a short story once and I needed to enter into relativistic calculations. On another short story, I had to build an orbital model so tough I never got to write the story ). Here, I got to research all sort of stuff on birds, how they are bred, handled. What is their psychology. Fascinating stuff and I didn’t use it all, but that sort of deep research takes me time. When I look at how it influences the plot, I’m not sure this is time well spent, but who knows. Writing these scenes sometimes help me find the next step in the story, so maybe the research isn’t a complete loss.

Genre and Theme

This one is always difficult to pin for me. I always start with the assumption that I will end up with Fantasy. In this instance, I knew from the start that the story could go to SF, Fantasy or even Horror. This bothered me even if it shouldn’t have. The book is what it is and it shouldn’t be my work to know before it is over–though sometimes, I have trouble knowing what a book is even after I have written it. So I wrote it as a straight Fantasy even if by the end, it’s almost Science Fiction. In the rewrite, I’ll have to make up my mind about that, because it’s important, especially when you want to sell the book to someone. Would you accept a submission where I told you “I’m not sure quite what this is, but would you look at it anyway? And please, tell me what you think this is.” Probably not.
For the themes, I seem to have a few choices, which is a first (this is usually the tough part for me). I’ll have to make my choice as I re-read the book prior to the rewrite and see where I can steer that story so it resonates better with the reader.

Writing Group

I have always believed that submitting to a writing group should be done when the book is done–or at least when the first act is done and you have a firm grasp about what the story is and where you think it will go. The simple reason is that your colleagues within the group might be outliners who think you know everything about your book. They will question you, expecting answers, and it’s better when you know what those answers are. After I was done workshopping WHISPERER’S REVOLUTION, I had intended to submit BLOOD PRIZE–my previous book–which was done. I have a number of personal problems with that book which all stem from the fact that it was written over 2 years with a 1-year gap between the two parts and that during the writing of the first part, I was in a bad place. That book is a violent mess I had intended to fix and the group seemed like the perfect opportunity for that. I started submitting it and the response to the first scenes was almost unanimous: it was too graphic for their taste. They had only seen a glimpse of it and already they knew it would be a tough read. Now, for any other book, I would have gone on with my submissions, but I know that one. I know the darkness inside and some part of me knows no amount of scrubbing will erase completely the sordid atmosphere that book exhudes.
The only option at this point was to submit my current book, CHRYSALIS. I was at 20 000 words by then with no idea what I would write next. That’s a hefty advance when you submit 3 to 4 thousands words a week (one of my writing group companions actually writes her scene minutes before she comes in, so having no buffer isn’t an issue for everyone. It is for me). My main problem was that the setting was almost skeletal in my head (I’m not a descriptive writer–not in the first draft anyway) and I had no idea what that world looked like. So I was uncomfortable to say the least when I submitted the first pages. The reaction was much better than on BLOOD PRIZE, which was a good thing, but my comrades had interesting questions. One of them was about the religious component of the main character. I often go on diatribes as I write a character and this one had a long (maybe too long) monologue about how she was an atheist because her mother had forced religion on her. The group asked if religion was to be an important theme in the book. At the time, it wasn’t, but I thought that it could be. It would be an interesting departure from my usually religion-free books. So I said yes, religion will be an important part of the book, and now it is. It was fun having an atheist being confronted to the spiritual realm and to see how she would react and how maybe her beliefs would change as the story developped. I think overall, this has been the best part of my interaction with the group. The discussions we have allow me to shape the book in my head (for rewrites) or even in the next scene (if I’m currently writing). As always, I’m indebted to them.

NaNoWriMo

November came and even if I had written a chunk of the book (about half), it had taken me almost 8 months. That’s writer’s block for you: you’d rather do anything else than writing in these times. In this instance, it was because I wasn’t enamored with the book. The interesting first idea and the novelty of writing first person were long gone and I was trudging through the second act, with no idea what the next scene would be. I dreaded to come back to the novel and finding I had nothing left to write (though it never happened, it’s all in my head). The idea wasn’t polished enough. The characters didn’t interest me. This was going nowhere.
In those times, a writer can convince himself that he’s drained all the well and that not a single drop remains inside. In one word: you’re a fraud. A pretender.
That’s when NaNoWrimo comes for me. After a number of books, I know something: if I set myself a goal and I push enough, I can actually do the work without too much trouble. NaNoWriMo helps me there. I have to pledge to write 50 000 words in one month and everyone can see how well I am doing. Even though I know very few people there and we seldom talk, I don’t want them to see me fail, so every night in November I write, even through conventions (where I should mingle and meet friends, but I’d rather do anything but mingling, and that includes writing). I set myself a reasonable goal (this year, 1 800 words per day–about 150 words more than is needed to complete on time) and I write.
And it works.
It’s strange how I can force myself to sit and just write. Some days I’m in the zone and I have time, so I might write twice the allotted amount. Sometimes, it’s difficult and I make just enough to meet my quota. Overall, I do only spend an hour and 15 minutes there on average per day, and after a week or two, I see my wordcount increasing until by the end of the month, I have written the same amount I did in 8. It’s all in the head: the words, the doubts. All I have to do is not to think about one and the other will come.

By december, I hit the brakes. I did write more than I did in the other months, but two or three times less than in November–no goal set, so figures. I tried to finish the book by the end of the year, but the ending was more elusive than I thought, and it took me an extra week to get there.

The ending

That one was weird. I usually feel a rush when I get to write an ending, like the words all want to get out of my head and I have to rein them in if I want to have something remotely ressembling intelligible language. In this instance, I almost didn’t see that ending coming, as though I was only writing another scene. By the time I closed the epilogue, I was almost surprised it was over.

As is often the case for me, I put some elements in the ending (regarding the magic system in particular) I hadn’t anticipated and I almost abandoned others. The essence of the story hasn’t changed, but these small things will have to be reworked in the rewrite. I also will have to fatten that epilogue, because I have a slight tendency to write short ones that leave my readers, not exactly hanging (because the story is effectively ended), but wanting. I have to learn to fade out the epilogues or I’m going to have to deal with angry readers all the time.

Conclusion

That’s another one under my belt and even if I feel like it has been the most difficult, I think it at least can be read (unlike EMERALD SHOWER aka BLOOD PRIZE which I am now convinced I can’t save). There’s still a lot of editing work to do on CHRYSALIS while I tinker on my next idea: I have caught death, but I think I’m a safe carrier.

Ending this year’s #NaNoWriMo2016 at 55306 words,…

Posted by arnaud on November 30th, 2016

Ending this year’s #NaNoWriMo2016 at 55306 words, which isn’t bad. Still a lot of work to do on that novel.

Finished #NaNoWriMo2016 one day early. Counter at…

Posted by arnaud on November 29th, 2016

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It’s November 23rd, and I just passed the 40k mark…

Posted by arnaud on November 23rd, 2016

It’s November 23rd, and I just passed the 40k mark written this month on my next novel. These 50k NaNoWriMo words in the month look good!

I usually reach 1300 words an hour. Tonight was 17…

Posted by arnaud on November 21st, 2016

I usually reach 1300 words an hour. Tonight was 1700. Wicked, right?