Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Crumpling of Revision Notes

A clowder of cats … a covey of quail … a crumpling of revision notes …
             For the past several weeks, I’ve had tremendous fun wadding up my notes for WATERSPELL, my fantasy trilogy, and lobbing them across the room to the wastebasket. Every note I throw away brings me one step closer to finishing a work that has consumed me for more years than I care to admit.
            WATERSPELL is long, complex, somewhat unconventional, and possibly controversial. (We’ll see how controversial, when it debuts as a set of e-books later in 2011.) Keeping up with the myriad details of a whole ’nother world and culture has meant keeping extensive notes.

What I've Had to Remember

           Some notes have been strictly for continuity. What were the characters wearing at the end of Book 2? Since I never gave them a chance to go home and change, they’re wearing those same tattered clothes when the story picks up in Book 3.
            Some of my notes are reminders of the characters’ idiosyncratic speech patterns. They all have their pet phrases: the imperative “Tell me!” and the blaspheming “Drisha’s teeth!” (Verek); the relieved “Sweet mercy!” and the angry “Beggar it all” (Carin); the amiable “Don’t you know” (Welwyn); and the annoyed “Wheesht!” (Meg). I know these people so well by now (after 360,000 words, over three books) I hear them talking in my sleep. Even so, it’s been handy to keep a list of their favorite phrases, particularly so I can vary the swearing with an occasional “By the blood of Abraxas!” from Verek and “Perishing oaths!” from Welwyn.
            Some of my notes have been detailed accounts of the history of Ladrehdin (pronounced LAD-ruh-din), the world where most of WATERSPELL is set. That history, only hinted at in Books 1 and 2, is central to Book 3. Though “the sins of the fathers” certainly play their part in the first two books, the roots of Ladrehdin’s present-day distress reach much farther back in time, to the age of the ancients—when a greedy wizard first opened the void between the worlds and set in motion the events that ensnare Carin and Verek. I had to learn all the history. And now that I have it firmly in mind (having completed my Second Round of Deep Revisions to Book 3), I must once again go back through Books 1 and 2 to make sure all are consistent. World-building requires unassailable attention to detail! If I overlook any element, some sharp-eyed reader will be sure to let me know about it.

What I've Filed Away, "Just in Case"

            Certain notes have escaped a crumpling. In my WATERSPELL files (which fill dozens of hanging-file folders, suspended in a two-foot-long storage box, and which constitute only the latest set of my notes—other boxes are tucked away now, filled at first-draft stage and currently inactive) … er, what was I saying?
            Oh, yes. In my active WATERSPELL files, I have squirreled away the research that could come in handy, later. These include descriptions of such things as:
  • Types of coughs (barking, wheezing, gasping)
  • Effects of adrenaline (panting, trembling, rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, dilated pupils)
  • Evocative sounds from nature (a babbling brook, the roar of a waterfall, the buzz of a cicada … the crunch of boots on autumn leaves, loose gravel, or hard-packed snow)
  • Parts of a horse harness (collar, breeching, traces, reins)
My To-Dos 

            What with all the notes I’ve filed away, and those I’ve crumpled and sailed into the trash can, I’m seeing parts of my desk that haven’t come to light in years. The only notes facing me now are a few Post-Its that I’ve stuck to a board near my computer. These are final refinements, minor things such as:
  • Find-and-replace “Argerich” with Brogar. One reader pointed out that I have a whole bunch of proper nouns starting with the letter A. Most of them are too firmly fixed in the reality of Ladrehdin to undergo a change at this late date. My readers will just have to keep their concentration, and realize that Archamon is a person, Angwid is a place, while Amangêda is … well, we don’t actually know WHAT Amangêda is, do we? At the minor end of this range of names, the Horse Formerly Known As Argerich can easily take a new identity. I’ve renamed Verek’s mount “Brogar,” for the Ring of Brodgar, or Brogar, in Scotland. However, considering the number of major H elements in the Harry Potter books—Harry, Hermione, Hagrid, Horcruxes, and Hallows—I'm leaving my M names alone, and trusting my readers to not confuse Myra with Merriam or Megella (Meg-Ella).
  • Omit the hairpin from Book 2. This is a continuity issue. That accessory never crops up again. But if Carin is wearing it when she leaves Ladrehdin at the end of Book 2, then it must be accounted for in Book 3. Even little things like hairpins—or scraps of paper—can cause trouble if they are left in places where they don’t belong. Since the Book 2 hairpin has no role to play in Book 3, the easiest fix is simply to remove it from Carin’s beautiful auburn hair before she makes the jump.
The Editing of a Trilogy

            Did I mention? World-building requires impeccable attention to detail. Every reader and writer of fantasy knows how essential this is. Fantasy fans know that some seemingly minor item, mentioned in passing as the story unfolds, may come to play a major role later on.
            Which is why editors should take care with their strikeouts. A little thing that seems superfluous, at first glance, may prove to be the pivot upon which the plot turns. I firmly believe that anyone who undertakes to edit a thoroughly-thought-out fantasy trilogy, such as WATERSPELL, should sit down and read the entire 360,000 words before daring to make a single mark on Page One of Book One.

            How strange it feels, to be so close to THE END after all these years. I’m not sure I’ve completely grasped how few are the items on my Revisions To-Do list.
            At this point, my reality as a writer of a complete trilogy is less clear to me than my status as the chronicler of Ladrehdin’s history. I learned it, and I wrote it down. I followed along, notepad in hand, to record the events as Carin, Verek, and their fellow citizens of Ladrehdin wrote new pages in the ancient Book of Archamon.

© 2011 by Deborah J. Lightfoot

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