Archive for the ‘The Whisperer’s Revolution’ Category

End of year thoughts : 2014

Posted by arnaud on January 1st, 2015

I’m not a person who likes to make new year resolutions I know I won’t be able (or willing) to keep, but I do like to see a sense of progression in what I do, so I find it useful to look back at what happened before. So here it is : my view of 2014 from a writing angle.

The Whisperer’s revolution

Now, that book really has been a surprise for me, not only in it’s writing process, but in how the book turned out. I already started editing it (see below) and what I found was that the writing quality has increased so much (when I compare it to Shrouds) that I can feel comfortable now submitting the rough draft with minor edits to the writing group. That’s a huge improvement over what I produced earlier (The Fifth Compendium for instance took me twice the time to edit as it took to write because it was so laden with mistakes that the rewrites were major).

The story itself had been brewing inside my head for a long time, with different ideas merging into a single plot line. There was at one time a feeling that I had to start writing it or I would lose ideas like a boiling cauldron sending out splotches everywhere. I never had trouble finding ideas, but to feel like I was brimming with this one story was really great.

The writing went smoothly even if the characters kept driving the story in unexpected directions. There was one scene in particular where I sensed I was so immersed in the world, that it drained me: writing a good man coming to the decision he must sacrifice an innocent friend to save his kingdom was a really powerful moment for me as a writer (much like Liseria telling me she murdered her mother while I was writing The Fifth Compendium)

I also feel very proud of the Whisperer’s ending. I don’t want to spoil anyone, but I think it’s surprising enough and still makes a lot of sense with the characters. We’ll see how my beta readers enjoy it. I might get cursed at some point, but I think my decisions made the story much stronger.

Editing

A very large part of this year was spent editing not one novel but two. I always knew I had to go back to Shrouds after I finished The Whisperer’s Revolution and I plunged right into it armed with my friends at Reading Excuses comments, but when my new writing group started to take off, I felt like I couldn’t give them Shrouds where my edits were more on language this time, and I decided to feed them with The Whisperer’s Revolution. The surprise there was how less work Shrouds needed when compared to The Fifth Compendium and how less Whisperer’s needed when compared to Shrouds. It shows evolution in my writing, I think and I look forward to the next novels to see even better stories (though I expects some diminishing returns in that area).

What I also noticed was my shift in dealing with magic systems. The Fifth Compendium is about discovering magic and its uses, so the third part of the book is all about the magic. In Shrouds the magic is everywhere but the bad guy has found new ways to use it, so the book tries to understand exactly how he does things and counter it. Emerald Shower was also about someone discovering magic (a dark version of magic anyway) and how that magic is taking hold of her. Already there I had started to shift my focus from the workings of magic to how the magic changes a character. In The Whisperer’s Revolution, I went along the same lines with a character dealing with her increasing abilities (even though she’s not the real protagonist). This I think came from the realization that as a writer I’m much stronger dealing with character than description. Setting is why I started to write in the first place, but over time, my writing mind started to use characterization more and more.

Anyway, despite a lag in September where I didn’t have time to edit, I still managed to finish Shrouds and edit the rough draft of Whisperer’s for the first act. Great work.

Writing Group

At the beginning of the year, I already knew that my Paris writing group was tanking. In fact, I had used the group not as a writing group per se, but as a way for me to practice my spoken English. I mean, that group was so transient (over 40 members, with average attendance of 3-4 for every meeting) and with so much time in between (once a month), that no good work could be done. At one time, I had decided that I should only submit short stories there because where the group renews itself every month, no-one will be able to judge chapter 24 of a novel without having read what came before. Still, I had hopes in this year that I could keep the group going and that serious members would somewhat appear. Then I had a meeting where I was alone (when 6 said they would come) and I decided to allow the group to die, so I stopped paying the monthly meetup cost and waited. No-one said anything when the group went from active to standby and no-one said anything when the group died. I had made my peace with that, so I wasn’t devastated. Leading a writing group is a frustrating job at best when nobody takes an active part.

But something good came from it anyway. During the group’s last throes someone new contacted me. I explained that the group was past dead now and we got to talk. I met him once and had a great time, exchanged some emails. Then he himself met other serious writers and this new group was born. We’re all writing genre (which is difficult to find in Paris) and are in different points in our writing careers (ranging from new to published), but all are really there to learn and work. So I’m really hopeful about this group. I had so wonderful comments on my work I already know the next draft will be much stronger. Yeah group!

Conventions

I loved both Eastercon and World Fantasy, but I wasn’t prepared for the monster that Worldcon is. Apparently, as things go, Loncon was a larger beast than usual and I think it shows. I had hoped to meet a few acquaintances there, but aside from Gillian (because I knew she would be in the dealer’s room) and Aliette (because I attended one of her panels), there were so many people I didn’t get to see anyone. The interesting parties (the publisher’s) were all secret and private, so I didn’t go to any. The panels were difficult to get into (especially on Saturday where British walked in and bought day-passes) and far too many for me to choose well (I mean, who can choose between 16 different tracks with different lenghts?). Anyway, I got to see interesting panels (Charlie Stross is always great to listen to), but nothing as interesting as World Fantasy (When you heard Tom Doherty speak about publishing, really nobody can compare afterwards).

Then there was my usual Utopiales in November. That experience has been bittersweet for me this year. I go to that particular conference because they tend to invite international writers in an environment where few people can actually talk to them. It’s perfect for me and I used that con to grab chunks of time from Brandon Sanderson, Ian McDonald, Nancy Kress and Michael Moorcock. The hickup this year was that the guests were not that interesting to me: Jo Walton, Norman Spinrad and Michael Moorcock I already met, Christopher Priest was only there a short time, and K.W. Jeter  I didn’t know. So not much interaction with established writers here this year. Aside from that, the panels were better than the earlier years (they got rid of most of the bad moderators, academics who take a third of the panel ‘framing’ the question without anyone having said a word).

And then one morning I noticed a business card on a coffee table and read it. ‘Worldcon in France’ it said on one side and when I flipped it over, there was the mysterious sentence ‘Meeting Saturday, 2PM, Room K2). I went to the website (really bare bones thing) and yes, it appeared legit, so I went to the meeting. There I met France’s fandom. All 15 of them where I maybe was among the youngest. I joke when I say they’re all the French fandom–they’re the French fandom who cared enough they went to Loncon. There are surely more fans hidden somewhere, though they might not know about it. Anyway, this group has serious communication issues if you need to find secret business cards to find them. They could have asked the organizers to have a few minutes of screen time. I’m sure it would have attracted at least 100 people there, but they didn’t.

After I went to the meeting, I agreed to join their group and the magic started. Euh, not exactly. We’re french, you know and we can’t just get to work without some heated discussions and the appropriate amount of paperwork. For now things are moving at an handicapped snail’s pace. Thankfully, we placed ourselves on the 2023 slot, so there is still time, but I wish we could start working and stop the petty village wars for once. We still don’t have a venue, so unless we find one (which is a really difficult thing, since we could attract from 2000 to 9000 and there is no way to know beforehand), that project will end up at the bottom of the sea.

Preview of next year

Next year promises to be a busy one. First, I started my next novel ‘Chrysalis‘ a few days ago. The writing is really slow for now, mostly because I don’t know what this book will look like. I still haven’t decided on a genre for it (though I’m leaning toward Fantasy-Horror) and the characters still feel a bit bland to me. I already know what is happening behind the scenes, but that’s pretty much it. We’ll see how this turns out.

Then, I need to send out Shrouds now that it is finished. All I need now is a damned hook for the logline (because ‘God detective story’ isn’t nearly good enough) and a decent query letter. Once this is done, I have my agents and publishers list: I know where to go.

Hopefully, I can send everything before Easter and go to Eastercon (in London this year) to talk about Shrouds.

Within all this, I have to squeeze enough editing on Whisperer’s Revolution to keep my writing group well fed. And if that’s not enough, I always have Emerald Shower to give them even if it needs major rewrites.

And then there’s the Writing Excuses retreat. I’m still on the fence about this one (mostly because it happens at a really bad time of year). I guess I’ll have do decide before June.

Woah. That’s a big program! Maybe I should go right away back to writing, because those 1900 words blogs don’t really count as writing, do they?

Happy new year all.

Finishing the Whisperer’s Revolution

Posted by arnaud on June 15th, 2014

I know it’s been a month already, but here is my traditional post about finishing a novel and how it went. Being a professional procrastinator, I managed to put this post off on the shabby pretext that I needed some time to reflect on the book.

Genesis

This book has long been brewing inside my head. I got the first idea while I listened to a panel on Revolution at Eastercon 2012. Often when I’m sitting there in the audience, my mind will start bouncing ideas on the topic being discussed. This time, I got the idea that I wanted to see a revolution where the one being revolted against was actually a good guy but couldn’t give away his position because some terrible thing would happen if he did. He might be sympathetic to the ones rebelling against him, but he wouldn’t move. I thought that would be a great conflict and that I hadn’t seen this sort of story yet, revolutions being often seen from the side of the insurgents.

The second major piece came to me when I was researching various revolutions. I ended reading a bit about the fall of Roman monarchy and the creation of the Republic. I knew part of the story of course, but reading about Lucretia really sparked my imagination. What if someone had used her and engineered her plight in order to bring the king down?

The two ideas mixed together wonderfully and they started to build up inside my mind until at some point I got the feeling I was actually losing wonderful ideas or lines I would never find again because I couldn’t write them down. It’s usually a good indicator I have to start writing, but I was in the process of editing Shrouds and I couldn’t let that book down, so I waited.

First ideas

Another of my little traditions is to write some lines from each of the major point of views in order to get each voice down. As an exercise, I decided to write those lines in the form of letters. I had two characters at that point : a King loosely modeled after Louis the 16th who is more interested with his astronomical studies than anything else and his opponent, the Whisperer. I submitted both letters to my writing group and alpha readers. The reaction was immediate : the Whisperer was an interesting character (even if he is clearly a sociopath) while the King came out as really unsympathetic.

I then realized I couldn’t have the King go about hunting down his enemy. He had other duties that would prevent him from being an active character. I needed someone else.

Enter his niece, a teenage girl who wants nothing to do with her royal lineage (a very good choice if I want to sell that book as YA). Now, that characters can be more active and be doing all sorts of things. The real problem here is that she’s really not fit to go hunting down a man who can slip inside most people’s minds and control them.

The solution came while I began writing. I created a character who was both free to act and skilled in hunting down bad people. Jdira is a strong character I really came to like.

With all the characters in place, it was time to start.

Act 1 : Why won’t Lucretia appear?

Being a “Discovery Writer” has its advantages, but the one problem is you really have little control over your story. The characters act and react according to who they are and what happens to them. You don’t want to nudge them too strongly in one direction or the entire plot will seem contrived, even when you know they really aren’t going where you want them to. I knew I wanted my bad guy to start his revolution by finding his Lucretia and having one of the king’s men do enough violence to her that she would go out in public, denounce him and kill herself.

But as pages and words came along, Lucretia didn’t appear. Worse, the bad guy really didn’t get the idea until really late. He started scouting for his victim, but couldn’t find her. If you’re wondering why the first act is so long (about 5k extra words), this is why.

In the end, my antagonist found his victim and offered her as his sacrifice to spark his revolution, but I really wondered whether it would really happen.

Act 2 : Not to take the Bastille

I really wanted to see the people within the city rise together and walk on the royal palace, pitchforks in hand, singing songs about slaughtering the King and all of this. Sounds cliché, doesn’t it? I was ready to add a few twists, but this was the feel I was going for.

Know what? Didn’t happen.

Why? Really because the antagonist isn’t the sort of man who would rise to the top of a barricade and make a hot speech to make the mob’s blood rise. He’s a plotter. Someone from the shadows. And the opposition? Nice people who wouldn’t order the guard to fire on innocent citizens. So, there were barricades, but not really bloodshed.

What happened was a negotiation for power between the antagonist and the King’s niece.

The one scene which really worked for me was when the King was forced to send his best friend to be judged by the rebels for a crime he knew the man didn’t commit. Very powerful scene which left me drained. This usually happens to me about once per book. It’s always a surprise to me and those moments really are why I do write.

Act 3 : Varennes doesn’t come either

I knew at the beginning that I wanted the King put in prison and his niece needed to stage a prison break and bring him out of the city before revolutionaries caught them and brought them back.

Like in the Lucretia case, I couldn’t find my escape coach and my Varennes. The main cause here was because it was out of character for at least one of the 3 escapees who didn’t want to go away. The easy solution here was to split the company up and allow the King to take his coach out.

In a sense, this splitting of the 3 gave me my ending (which I’m not going to talk about here). Suffice it to say it gave me an idea for a powerful ending which I think will be very satisfying. In my head, I saw the setting for the last battle but when I started to write it, the battle really didn’t come out as I expected. I wanted fireworks and rage, but what came out was rather poignant.

Epilogue : to outline or not to outline?

My writing process is a strange one. I build plans inside my head (or rather scenes). I might come up with half a dozen of those scenes for a given book. Some might not play well with the others, but that’s normal for me. With this pool of scenes, I start to write and see where I can go. Sometimes, the scenes unfold in the right way (like in The Fifth Compendium or Shrouds), but they might not (like here). Most of the times, the characters will surprise me and create what I think are the best scenes of the book. Along the way, new scenes do appear (usually I get my ending while I’m finishing the second act), but it’s always a difficult process. Why can’t the bloody characters do as they are told? Why can’t they follow the plan?

At some point, I wondered if I wasn’t better off dumping those scenes from the start. If I’m going to pantse a book, why not do it the whole way and forget about those scenes, since I’m not going to be able to use them?

First, I’m really unable to shut down that part of my brain. These scenes are what get me excited about writing a book in the first place. If I cast them all away, writing isn’t going to be fun for me.

Then, there is some sort of game going on between me and the characters. I want them to go left and they want to go right. How can-I convince them that left is better? The point is : if I manage to convince them that left is the only way to go, they’ll believe it and so will the reader. Really, fighting with my characters is really better for the book than either allowing them to do as they please or force them to go where I want them to. Sometimes it means the book gets longer for them to reach the right point, sometimes, they convince me that left really wasn’t such a good idea after all.

So I’m going to continue imagining those scenes, whether I can use them or not.