On the Writing of Manuscript #13

Now known as ACROSS A STAR-SWEPT SEA.

The copyedits of Star-Swept have been turned in to my publisher, which essentially means my work on this manuscript is complete. I will probably be making a few more changes when I see the proofs, but what I just turned into my editor will be the book that comes out in ARCs next spring, and given that more consumers than ever are reading ARCs (and some, unfortunately, aren’t very well educated on what ARCs are), it feels like it’s out of my hands at this point.

I’m not a very superstitious person, and thirteen has never been an unlucky number for me. In fact, 13 was my jersey number when I ran cross country as a teenager. So I don’t necessarily ascribe any particular feelings to the fact that this was manuscript #13. Any problems I ran into while drafting were the kind that were uniquely suited to this book, and also to my somewhat painful process. As my husband likes to remind me on days when I just want to start banging my head on the desk until it bleeds (head or desk, I don’t care), there are ALWAYS problems, and there’s is ALWAYS a moment with every book when I hate every single word and insist that I’m going to chuck the whole thing and go live in a yurt. And then I forget all that.

Like I said: painful process. Someday, I might find a way to make it healthy again. I’m really intrigued by Holly Black’s writing-tracking. I think I may try it next time.

So here are my books:

  • 1-4: unpublished manuscripts (there were also a lot of false starts in here).
  • 5: Secret Society Girl
  • 6: Under the Rose
  • 7: Rites of Spring (Break)
  • 8: Rampant (it was started before #6, but finished here)
  • 9: Tap & Gown
  • 10: Ascendant
  • 11: Morning Glory
  • 12: For Darkness Shows the Stars
  • 13: Across a Star-Swept Sea

I started writing Star-Swept in August of 2011. It went to copyediting in September of 2012. That’s a pretty long drafting process for me. It’s also a pretty long draft. Not only is Star-Swept the longest book I’ve ever published, it’s the longest book I’ve ever written by a significant amount. At the beginning of the year, I said I’d hoped to write three books this year. What I ended up doing was writing one very long book 3 times.

But, as Kristin Cashore recently reminded us, sometimes that’s the way it works.I don’t have any cool visuals like Cashore’s stack of notebooks and print outs, but I do have a Scrivener file with a LOT of subdocuments in it. Subdocs with names like “January Draft” “February Draft” “May Draft” “Old Format Files” and “Final Draft.” And then, of course, there are cuts. Probably a good 500,000 words, all told.

There were versions of this book in completely different POVs. There were versions that contained significant metatextual elements, because at one point I wanted its format to mirror the format of For Darkness. There was even a version where, in a moment of madness, I let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction and took out the For Darkness people entirely. Characters were added and deleted and combined and changed beyond recognition. The villain’s plan changed, as did the heroine’s and her cohorts. The nature of characters’ relationships changed, then changed back. The first chapter was rewritten no fewer than 8 times.

Hey, I told you it wasn’t pretty.

But in the end I realized that you have to write the book that wants to be written, and that even if a book is connected to another doesn’t mean you should be beholden to the format or the POV or the length or any other aspect. The book needs to be its own experience. And Star-Swept was definitely its own experience. And maybe I should have guessed it, because The Scarlet Pimpernel and its sequels are not anything like Persuasion. So these books and these character are, likewise, very different. Elliot is a fine and strong human being. Persis, like her inspiration Sir Percy Blakeney, is essentially a superhero. When describing The Scarlet Pimpernel to people who have never heard of him, the words “Bruce Wayne” came up a lot. Bruce Wayne, with less angst. They are both incredibly rich upper class people with secret identities as crime fighters, who help hide said secret identities by pretending to be utterly useless wastrels in their real lives.

And it was fun to write someone so different from shy Elliot. Persis: not shy. Very much a woman of action.

One of the exercises you often see in writing classes involves putting your character in all sorts of hypothetical situations and figuring out their archetype or whatever from what they would do in each situation. In a more general sense, it helps me to know what my characters’ biggest desire, biggest fear, most fundamental weapon, etc., is. And I realized during the writing of Star-Swept, that I’ve written four incredibly different women over the course of my career. Amy’s go-to weapon was her mouth. She tried to talk and argue her way out of any situation. Astrid’s weapon was, well, a weapon. As much as the poor unicorn hunter likes to say she’s a scientist, when push comes to shove, that girl always reaches for her alicorn knife, or her bow, or whatever other sharp object is lying around. Elliot’s weapon is her will. She’s quiet, and soft-spoken, and sometimes doesn’t seem to fight for the things she believes in. But she’s actually incredibly strong, and eventually prevails because she never ever ever gives up.

That was one of the things I learned when I returned to Persuasion after first reading it (and not liking it very much) in my high school Jane Austen binge. When I returned to the book in my early 20s, I was struck by the realization that Anne Elliot was not in fact, the wishy washy doormat that I remembered, but instead a strong, silent individual who had concluded that the petty insults her family regularly dished out at her didn’t matter in the slightest, and that she could even use their weaknesses to her advantage (such as using her sister’s distaste for nursing her injured child to get out of being trapped at a dinner party with her ex-fiance). When I realized the truth of Anne’s strength, Persuasion quickly became a favorite.

A close reading of The Scarlet Pimpernel (and cohorts), yields the same surprises. Though adaptations of the story often focus on the swashbucking elements, Percy rarely lifts a sword. And though he certainly has a way with words, that’s not his weapon of choice either. The Scarlet Pimpernel is a trickster hero, with skills at manipulation, strategy, and disguise beyond the reach of mere mortals.

Which is not to say that there aren’t action sequences in Star-Swept. After all, it’s a spy caper. And there’s plenty of delicious banter, too (hey, remember how Kai and Elliot hardly ever have a conversation? That is not the case with Persis and Justen). But Persis always has something up her sleeve. Because her weapon is strategy.

It’s my smart, sexy, banterific, frockalicious, futuristic, tropical, spy caper and I heart it.

Only took a year and a half. ;-)

Tomorrow, I’m posting the first ever excerpt online at Genreality, so make sure to drop in for that.

Posted in SF, star-swept, writing life

One Response to On the Writing of Manuscript #13

  1. Alexa says:

    I just can’t wait to read it Diana, especially the delicious banter! Now I just have to decide whether to read the first chapter or wait – decisions, decisions!