KotSQ: Revision Update #3

Progress bar showing 5% complete for 13 of 240 pagesI’m going to take a picture of a progress bar and post that when I update because I can tell you right now I will not log in every day to keep a current total in the sidebar. Rather than guess a target number of pages/words that will be impossible to hit precisely, I’m using the known quantity of 240 rough draft pages and counting progress by checking off each page as it’s “done.” A page might shrink to half a page or grow to three pages in the next draft, but I can reliably measure when everything on one rough page has been addressed.

Before I started the fresh draft, I did a search-and-replace of names for three principal characters (yes, I put on my big-girl pants and changed them) in the rough draft so I don’t have to remember to change them a million times in the new draft. Moment of silence for the poor souls in bygone eras who had to do this manually.

Most of the names in this book came about by pulling first and last syllables from two different name lists and smooshing them together. When I pulled “um” and “bra,” I recognized that made an actual word, which means “the fully shaded inner region of a shadow,” literally “shade” in Latin, “shade” also having phantom vibes, all of which seemed super appropriate for a shadowy imperial assassin, so Heroine has been Umbra ever since the portal fantasy element was axed. The problem is Latin in a world where Latin doesn’t exist and readers recognizing the name as being extremely on the nose. It served its purpose, but I felt like I had to justify keeping it, and I don’t want to do that. I want people invested in the story, not distracted by weird-for-setting names.

When I pulled “ru” and “en,” I thought it would be hilarious if the heroine of what was then a portal fantasy said she had a strict policy of not getting involved with men who introduced themselves as “ruin,” so Hero has been named Ruen the whole time. The problem is the portal fantasy and the associated joke are long gone, excusing it by saying “ruin” isn’t a word in any of this world’s languages means I can’t use a really useful word anywhere in the story without a big logic pretzel, and there’s another major character whose name starts with R and ends with N, which is a little too samey-same. Again, purpose served, but I don’t want to be making these weak arguments later.

One of the baddies’ surnames was Jarl. I played Skyrim! I know that’s a Norse VIP and pronounced “yarl.” But I wanted to pronounce it like “jar” with an L on the end because a hard J is an aggressive, villain-appropriate sound. The problem, obviously, is how is anyone supposed to know I want them to pronounce a real-world word that lots of people are familiar with in a new and exciting way? Not gonna happen in any reasonable fashion, so into the bin it went.

(I’m not going to reveal the replacements because I don’t want to come back in three months like “lol jk those names sucked too HAVE ANOTHER SET.” When the files are uploaded for preorder, I’ll be ready to commit.)

All this fuss over three names. Multiplied by all the named characters, places, and made-up things in this book, which all go through this same agonizing process because the primary way readers will identify a thing is kind of important. It’s a lot of responsibility! Especially with a series. When I get to Book 4, am I going to bitterly regret saddling that main character with the name given in Book 1? NAMES ARE VERY STRESSFUL FOR ME.

You’d think, since the first few scenes were good enough to win a contest, I could just copy-paste them into the next draft and move on. That sure would be nice. Unfortunately for me currently (but ultimately good for the health of the story), the introductory 400 words seemed static and boring now. Changing those 400 words of sit-and-think to 800 words of dealing with a dangerous challenge accomplishes everything in the old intro AND shows off Heroine’s skills and how she performs under pressure AND eliminates the need for a boring summary in a subsequent scene because the reader saw it happen AND shows Heroine doing a kind thing for what she insists are entirely practical reasons, which is a consistent thing throughout the book. More interesting! Improved pacing! Better characterization! New Intro is objectively better; my brain is just pouty about having to make new words at this stage.

I continue to struggle with “there will be many drafts, it doesn’t have to be perfect now” vs. “YOU HAD YOUR CHANCE TO BE A SLOB, IT HAS TO BE PERFECT NOW!!!!” I start with the big, necessary fixes, then fiddle and tweak until I give up on achieving perfection, and then move on to the next scene. I’m aware it’s not efficient, but this is how it’s been for the 25 years I’ve been revising, so like it or not, that’s my “process.”

This was about a third of the first act. Between the new intro and a day without power (normal winter hazard here, not in a devastated area), it feels like little progress for a week. Fingers crossed next week will be more productive.

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