So, Friday I finished the first draft of my current WIP. YAY. CONFETTI.
This is a manuscript I wrote on spec, so no guarantees about it, but I am hopeful. It’s a non-European secondary world setting, with an incredibly complicated world and metaphysics, but the plot is kind of more straightforward, I think? Not sure really, because I didn’t exactly work out the plot ahead of time. I will see how it looks when I actually read through it again from the beginning, when I start to revise (in a week or so, probably).
I would say offhand, just off the top of my head, that this may the very roughest draft I have ever written! I have a million notes to myself in boldfaced text, scattered liberally through the final quarter of the manuscript. Granted, I normally accumulate notes to myself in a separate file, so this is probably not as different as it feels. But there are lots of moments where I skip a few lines and add [Does he know about this yet?] when a character thinks about something and I’m not sure he actually was told about it earlier.
I wrote the chapters out of order, that’s why I have a lot of continuity notes like that. No, I’ve never done that before. Well, once. But that wasn’t as back-and-forth as this one was. Toward the end, I think I wrote chapter 18, 23, 22, 19, 21 … like that. Yes, this made it hard to keep the flow of events straight in my head. Don’t ask me, I don’t know why I wrote it that way. It seemed easier at the time.
I have two scenes I left out, but now I feel like I will probably re-write the relevant section entirely, so that won’t matter.
I worked out the fundamental metaphysics of the world really, really late. Also the identity and motivation of the main antagonist. Like I figured that out about 120,000 words in. One minor antagonist will probably disappear and the relationships between the others will have to be revised to fit my new understanding of who those people are and what they’re about.
At the last minute, I changed my mind about the “feel” of the relationship between the two protagonists. To be perfectly fair, I should add that Caitlin, my agent, suggested the relationship long ago. I thought she was wrong about what would work best. Now I think she was probably right. Oh my God, I am going to have to go change that relationship and how those people feel about each other all the way through the story.
There are two romances. No doubt I will have to develop those romances a whole lot more, otherwise readers will be like, Do they care about each other at all or what?
Plus I should cut about 100 pages. (I wish I could stop over-writing a manuscript by about 100 pages. Sigh.) The manuscript is 463 pages, 143,000 words. I can tell some things don’t need to be there because those plot elements, introduced early, never actually went anywhere. Some scenes are too slow and nothing really important happens in them (I just wrote them to get to something more interesting. Yes, I knew at the time those scenes were just filler and would probably come out.)
Overall, I pretty much feel like this:
However! The beginning scene is okay. For me, the beginning scenes are always okay. I thought you might like to see a tidbit, so here:
Vích made a small, terrible mistake late one summer evening, while she was trading gossip with Mama Guè in the remedies section of the open market. Everything that came later came from that one mistake, exactly as one raindrop falling at the right moment may turn a man’s step from the left to the right and so lead him to encounter the woman he will love rather than the man who is his enemy, and thus change his entire fate.
The people of Daì told a hundred such stories: about one drop of rain or one note in a bird’s song or one chance-heard word that changed the course of nations. Vích’s whole ambition for almost the entire span of her very long life had been to avoid stepping into any story of that kind. Also, to prevent her brother from ever stumbling into such a tale.
It was harder for Lahn because he didn’t remember their distant childhood as well as Vích did; also because his gift was not as terrible as her curse. For those reasons he was less afraid. Vích had tried to teach her brother to live quietly, scattering no raindrops and disturbing no birds and most of all speaking no incautious words. But restraint was not in her brother’s nature. Even after so many years, her brother liked to play the role of a man as young as he seemed. As a young man will, he liked to play with risk. Infuriating, but Vích understood: her brother toyed with small dangers in order to forget his age and his heritage and the memory of disaster; most of all in order to forget the peril that still stalked them both. She had never been able to rule her brother, and always feared that Lahn might give himself – and worse, her – away through carelessness and the joy he found in dancing along the edge of catastrophe.
But that evening Vích herself made exactly the wrong small mistake, and found no way to take it back.
Mama Guè had been telling Vích about the trouble her cousin’s daughter’s son had gotten into and why, a story that led off in so many interesting and unexpected directions that for just a moment Vích forgot who she was and where she was and that she and her brother were always in danger. She never forgot. But at that moment she did forget. So when Prince Qính and his retinue passed through the remedies section of the market, Vích glanced up and saw them and did not pretend to be overawed.
Prince Qính’s huge gilded palanquin, so big it required two bearers for each corner, cleared the way through the crowded market without any effort from his escort of red-sashed soldiers. The soldiers, in their light armor of horn or bone or bamboo disks stitched into linen, strode ahead of and behind the palanquin without looking to the left or to the right, spears upright over their shoulders and knives at their hips and small crossbows at their backs.
Prince Qính had the curtains of his palanquin looped back so that he might see the streets of the city and the clutter of the market; probably also so that he could enjoy the way common people pressed out of his way and bowed as he passed. He was that sort: conceited and feckless, carelessly generous and then carelessly cruel. Such princes frequently afflicted the common folk. Sent away from the king’s city of Nuè Gatah to learn governorship in the lesser cities of Daì, the sons of queens and royal concubines seemed more often to learn license and self-indulgence until their father called them home to school them for some more important post. Sometimes they could learn better once given true responsibility; more often, they did not seem to.
None of that was unusual or unexpected; Vích and her brother had seen such young princes come and go a hundred times, here in Duón Vu and elsewhere. Vích no more regarded such a prince than she regarded one mosquito amid the swarms or one raindrop in a downpour. But she should have remembered to pretend.
This evening another young man shared the prince’s palanquin. Judging by the prince’s flushed face and ready laughter, he had spent the afternoon drinking palm wine and was not now entirely sober. Judging from the way he looked eagerly toward one girl and another, he thought a night of debauchery would perfectly finish his evening. But the prince’s companion was a different sort. He caught and held Vích’s eye, and she did not remember to look away.
This was a young man, but not so young as the prince. If he had indulged in palm wine, the indulgence did not show. He looked like the sort of young man who would enjoy watching others get drunk so that he could despise them for it. He possessed a wide chest and heavy shoulders and thick neck – not the sort of physique Vích admired, but not unhandsome for the type, except for the unpleasant set of his mouth and the obvious disdain with which he regarded everything he saw. Including Vích.
He should have seen nothing but a pretty girl, no different from a thousand other pretty girls. But he saw something beyond the mask Vích showed the world. She saw this in his eyes, in his face, in the way his lips parted as he leaned forward. He couldn’t have realized who she was, what she was. But he saw something. He glimpsed – perhaps – the dark shadow of her kuay soul.
Surely the bull-shouldered young man did not understand what he saw. A young man like that could not possibly see the long years hidden behind Vích’s young face; he could not possibly name her immutable quù soul or her terrible kuay soul. But he saw something. A murmured word from that one to Prince Qính, a word and a languid gesture from the prince to his soldiers, and the red-sashed soldiers stopped looking straight ahead and looked at Vích.
She might have darted away into the narrow alleys of the market, hiding herself among the crowds there. But her kuay soul rose up, awakened by her sudden awareness of danger, by her anger with herself and with useless young princes and their unpleasant companions. It leaned hard against her quù soul and her will. It was eager to be let out, eager to be born into living nightmare, and since Vích possessed no human kuay soul, only this one born of the nightmare beast, she was hard put to prevent its rising. For the first crucial seconds Vích fought to prevent that calamity. For those seconds, she could not move; she could not even see, and so she lost the chance to run away.
A soldier’s hard grip on her wrist nearly startled her into letting the darkness free.
He was a young man; a most ordinary young man: a little proud and thoughtless, but not wicked; at once sorry for Vích and envious of the prince’s ability to command pretty girls. Vích could practically list every thought that passed through his mind, for she had known a thousand young men just like him. She could have torn him apart in half a heartbeat.
But if she let the nightmare out into the evening, it would bring death not only for this young soldier but also for Mama Guè and her sons, for Prince Qính and his companion, for the soldiers and for everyone in the market and beyond. It would be utter catastrophe, soon enough for Vích and her brother as well as for the people of Duón Vu. She made the sharp, hard effort required to subdue the nightmare; but even after her kuay soul reluctantly slouched back behind her quù soul, the soldier still had hold of her wrist. She glared at him, unable to restrain her anger even though she knew giving way to it was dangerous.
Then the soldier’s captain caught his shoulder and pulled him away. “Step back,” the captain commanded the young man. “Do not lay a hand to her. Didn’t you hear Lord Nehùn tell our prince that this woman is cursed? She is a tióc thu: a jealous ghost clings to her. Step back or it may go to you instead.”
There you go: the merest sliver of the beginning. Not enough to judge the character or the world, probably, but perhaps enough to give you a sense of the flavor of the story. Vích is in a pretty interesting situation: she has absolutely no reason to fear any of the normal dangers an ordinary woman (or anyone) might fear, except that her terrifying kuay soul is not under her control.
I’ll tell you something no one in the story knows yet: she is not actually a tióc thu. She is something a lot more unusual and much, much worse.