Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author


Manuscript revision —

Sometimes not my favorite thing.

Sometimes I kind of enjoy it! Depends on the type of revision — huge sweeping alterations, like turning curtains into play clothes in The Sound of Music; or little fiddly detail-changes like re-hemming a pair of pants by 1/4 inch?

I once went through a huge manuscript, making the main character plump and bald. This was veeery tedious. (Do not wonder whether you have forgotten a plump, bald main character in one of my novels. That one is not yet published, though it someday will be.)

In contrast . . . I have started to get almost kinda enthusiastic about making an important revision to one of the main characters in KEEPER. So tonight I think I will go back and revise chapters 2 and 3 yet AGAIN.

Well, I’ll start that tonight. Probably finish it, eh, Thursday maybe. After that it should be less annoying to keep going with this revision because I’ll be able to actually move forward.


Found a neat post on this topic from The INTERN, first posted early this year. Here!

Friday, March 25, 2011
Special Topics in Calamity Novel Repair

INTERN has seen countless first drafts which are littered with redundant scenes—scenes that unwittingly make the same point or convey the same information over and over again without bringing anything new to the story.

… common culprits for redundancy include “getting-to-know-you” scenes, training montages, and scenes showing characters falling in love. Taken individually, any one such scene can serve an important function in your story. But when you show your characters twirling around a skating rink holding hands, then lying in a field of daisies laughing, then snuggling on a couch watching movies, and nothing is changing or moving, then you’ve got yourself some redundant scenes.
How do you recognize when your scene is critical to the story and when it’s redundant?

Ask yourself the following questions:

1. What does this scene actually DO?

(show the characters falling in love/show MC’s deepening dedication to becoming a basketball star/develop conflict between MC and her rival/etc.)

2. Do any other scenes do the same thing?

(yes/no/sort of/yeeeeees, but that scene where they lie in the daisies is just soooo sweet)

Obviously, it can take more than a single scene to fully develop a relationship or conflict. But the key word here is develop. That means in each scene, something important will have shifted. Instead of six “getting to know you” scenes, you’ll have one “getting to know you” scene, one “getting to hate you” scene, and one “getting to find out you’re my long-lost twin” scene.

Once you stop writing redundant scenes, you will be delighted to find that your novel will mysteriously develop a greater sense of tension, conflict, and forward motion. Hurrah! Calamity fixed. Well, the first one, anyway…

Yep, definitely been there. Character-has-revelation / character-has-same-revelation. One of the two has to come out! Character-visits-cousin / character-visits-cousin . . . again, cut one!

This is the sort of thing that makes it SUPER USEFUL to take a break between finishing a novel and sending it off to be read by real live other people. Taking a month or so and then coming back to a book can make redundant scenes leap out at you. I think I’m getting better at spotting the suckers when they leap and twirl and wave flags and scream DELETE ME.

When I’m working to a major deadline . . . eh. That’s where my agent becomes invaluable, because SHE’S the one who points to the flashing neon flag and suggests gently that perhaps only ONE of those scenes is strictly necessary.

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Five days . . .

To revise Ch. 3 in my WIP (KEEPER). Five days. Five. Mostly because I just did not want to work on it and thus spent oodles of time drifting off to do other stuff.


Plus, I thought of something I could do with the secondary protagonist that would . . . probably be a good idea and add coolness to the book. Also, require more revision.

I would like to get this revision finished by the end of September.

It is the 19th.

I have another show next weekend and Archon is the weekend after that and that will take me into October and will I get this revision finished? I’m thinking probably not.

This is turning into one of those crazy Neverending Revisions From Hell. The kind where the end is always in sight and yet never seems to get closer.

Did I already say Aargh?

Question (rhetorical): go back and revise chapters 2 and 3 given the new idea that just struck me? Or move ahead and read chapter 4, which should require essentially zero work, as a reward for getting as far as I have?

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Book sales weirdness

So, the three griffin books put together?

They sold more than twice as well during the past week as they have in any week for the past two months.

This is great! I hope the sales stay up there or rise! But what gives?

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Pick one . . . or two . . . or three

Which one do you like best?

Choices, choices!

If I could pick three, it’d be ISLANDS, the paperback CITY, and HOUSE OF SHADOWS — even though I think the reflection in the eye of the griffin is very clever and I like all of the griffin covers. Maybe I’m biased toward cool colors? People who work in ceramics say blues sell best, and as far as that goes, I’m just another sheep following the herd.

If I had to pick just one . . . honestly, can’t.

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Agent Rachelle Gardner had a post some time ago about how to think of good titles for your books.

I have kind of an anti-knack for titles: I can never think of anything good. Sometimes my editor and I go back and forth for weeks kicking titles back and forth and it’s all very annoying and tedious and unpleasant, especially when you never really like ANY of the suggestions.

Now, what Rachelle Gardner suggested was this:

a) Find 20 titles you love, all from your genre.

b) Make a list of 100 words (nouns, adjectives, and verbs) related to your book — words that evoke the setting or relate to an important character or capture the action.

c) Evaluate these words: Would any make good single-word titles? Any good combinations leap out at you?

d) Develop 20 possible titles which all:
i) have a tone that fits your book,
ii) convey the genre,
iii) don’t seem too generic,
iv) might realistically catch the eye.

e) Wait 24 hours and select 3-5 for a short list.

f) Send these to friends and have everybody pick their favorite.

Okay, now, if this process worked to generate fantastic titles, wouldn’t that be great? Unfortunately, only steps (a) and (b) are actually easy,and those don’t get you all the way to a title of your own.

Twenty great titles that caught my eye? No problem. I selected:

A Fistful of Sky

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Silent Strength of Stones

A Blue So Dark

Darkness Be My Friend

Retribution Falls

All Unquiet Things

Glitter Rose

Black Creek

Shades of Milk and Honey

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Butterfly Swords


Somewhere to Be Flying

The Life of Glass

The Paths of the Dead

The Sky is Everywhere

Past the Size of Dreaming

The Knife of Never Letting Go

Against the Tide of Years

From which you might (correctly) surmise that I like evocative, poetic titles. I suspect this is the hardest kind of title to come up with. My least favorite titles are merely a character’s name, which is too bad, since those would certainly be easier to think of!

Now, does this suggest anything for my current WIP, which for the sake of convenience I’m calling KEEPER, a title I dislike?

Ummm . . . well. If only.

How about THE MOUNTAIN OF MEMORY? I don’t much like that.


No? Okay, then.

How about GODDESS OF SHADOWS? Don’t much care for it, and it seems awfully generic. Is


any better?

THE WALL BETWEEN THE MOUNTAIN AND THE WORLD is obviously too long, right?


But isn’t “Kieba” kind of hard to pronounce, maybe? And also this is pretty close to just using a character’s name as the title, which is still not my favorite thing.


This is just harder than seems reasonable. Phooey.

Easier to quit fussing with the title and finish the darned book.

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Here’s a biting and fairly alarming post.

“Amazon would like to offer a Netflix-like subscription to unlimited ebooks for its Prime members. Business sites are all over the publishing companies to comply–after all, what’s a little monopoly between friends?

But as an author this stinks to high heaven. You know, that place where Borders is chilling on a cloud and crying into its celestial beer.

See, there’s no mention of author benefit–everyone is talking about the publishers and how they need to get with the times. But how, exactly, would we be compensated for this? Since it’s for their Prime members, who as Netflix has seen, would howl over a price hike, it’s possible this will just be lumped in, wrecking ebook sales and contributing further to the idea that the ideal cost for a book is $0.00. Not to mention the number this does on libraries.”

Read the whole thing. Like I said, fairly alarming. Can I have a crystal ball, please, so I actually know what the future of book publishing will hold?

I know, I know, a major run on those particular crystal balls, if they ever come up for sale. On Amazon.

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Steal like an artist —

“And Nine Other Things Nobody Told Me”

This is a fun list of advice for writers.

I laughed! It’s so true! YOU TOTALLY DO STEAL IDEAS. Where else are you supposed to get them?

A handful of my own examples, off the top of my head:

The Empire of Tolounn in THE FLOATING ISLANDS is totally Rome, recast into my world.

The Floating Islands themselves? Based on Greek city states.

The main problem in ISLANDS? Got the idea from the Roman invasion of Syracuse, as seen in Gillian Bradshaw’s THE SAND-RECKONER (a great book!)

I came up with Mienthe in THE LAW OF THE BROKEN EARTH from a minor character from THE SAND-RECKONER. Though the two characters are (obviously) totally distinct, mine has a similar past history as Bradshaw’s. I didn’t even use a trace of the particular conflict that was central to Bradshaw’s minor character, but nevertheless, she was Mienthe’s initial inspiration.

That scene in THE CITY IN THE LAKE where the king doesn’t spurn his older son in favor of his younger? I wrote that because of a scene in CJ Cherryh’s FORTRESS IN THE EYE OF TIME where the king, dying, does continue to reject his older son. It was a brutal scene and, in CITY, when I found my characters in a similar situation, I gave my scene a different ending.

The keiso in the (forthcoming) HOUSE OF SHADOWS? Got the idea from reading MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA and GEISA.

You get ideas from everywhere! As they pass through your head and hands and onto your keyboard, you make them your own. That’s kind of what writing is!

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And Cake! / Blog

Firecracker Apple Cake

Okay, as promised! This cake is for those who like desserts that bite back, but I promise you it is FABULOUS.

The recipe is from Bon Appetit, the Dec. 2007 issue, and Bon Appetit notes that they got it from the Firefly Grill in Nashville. The actual recipe also includes spiced pecans to scatter on the top of the cake, which I have never made.


1 1/2 C all-purpose flour
2 tsp cinnamon (I use 1 tsp because cinnamon is not my favorite)
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ginger (I use a heaping 1/2 tsp because ginger IS my favorite
1/4 tsp cayenne
3/4 C veg. oil (I think this seems like a lot and I subtracted 2 Tbsp last time I made the cake and will try using just 1/2 C next time.
3/4 C packed brown sugar
1/4 C sour cream (I used Greek yogurt)
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 3/4 C cubed apple (the recipe specifies 1/3″ cubes, I just zip the apples in a food processor and call it good. This is about 1 large or 2 small apples).


2/3 C packed brown sugar
6 Tbsp light cream
5 Tbsp unsalted butter
4 large egg yolks
1/2 generous tsp cayenne

Make the glaze:

Put all ingredients in a small saucepan and stir constantly over medium heat four about four minutes, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. If you make this ahead, you will need to warm it to pourable consistency before you use it.

Make the cake:

Grease and four a Bundt pan. Combine all the dry ingredients and set aside. Whisk together the oil, brown sugar, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and fold together to blend. Fold in apple. Pour into prepared pan. Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes, until a toothpick near the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes and turn out onto plate. Glaze warm cake with half the warm glaze. Pass the rest of the glaze with the cake as you serve it.

The recipe suggests vanilla ice cream, but I never use it because I love the glaze and don’t think the cake needs anything else. In fact, I can eat the glaze out of a jar with a spoon. Mmmmm.

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Here’s an interesting test —

From the INTERN.

Okay, from the INTERN’s archives, which I’m reading partly because there’s some cool stuff in there but mostly because the INTERN is currently not posting new content.

So today I found this:

“Lately, INTERN has been conducting a similar test on manuscripts and library books. Here’s how it works:

-Open novel to a random page
-Read a couple paragraphs, or at most, a couple pages
-Can you tell what the conflict is, or what the character is yearning for? Can you explain, in just a few words, what these paragraphs are doing and why?

It can be as concrete as “she is trying to catch the rattlesnake” or as abstract as “he is struggling to understand his son’s anger”.

Some examples from INTERN’s handy pile ‘o’ library books:

In a random paragraph from “Small Island” by Andrea Levy: “character is having moral qualms over what to do with an expensive brooch she finds on the ground.”

In a random paragraph from “East of Eden” by Steinbeck: “character is deciding to punish two boys, even while having doubts about their guilt.”

In a random paragraph from “Lullabies for Little Criminals” by Heather O’Neill: “character realizes that she’s been so wrapped up in her own struggles that she hasn’t noticed her father’s life falling apart.”

In a random paragraph from “The End of the Affair” by Graham Greene: “character is frustrated at his own inability to confront a friend.”

These are not carefully selected examples. These little conflict summaries are literally pulled from single paragraphs on randomly opened pages. Stab these books with a toothpick all you want—that sucker is gonna come out clean. At seemingly every moment in these books (except maybe in passages describing the scenery), there is some kind of tension or revelation going on.

If you stab your own manuscript with that toothpick and need to read an entire chapter before being able to identify some kind of internal or external conflict, you might have a problem. If you can’t identify what’s going in any particular spot in less than twenty words, chances are the conflict or tension is too vague (or there isn’t any). [Note: obviously, all books are different, and a surrealistic alinear epic space opera needs a different barometer than a linear coming-of-age novel. But still.]

Lack ‘o’ identifiable conflict (especially in the first few chapters) is a major problem with first drafts. If you can’t identify any conflict until Chapter 3, the book either needs to start at Chapter 3 or the first two chapters need to pony up. “

I pulled out a big piece of this post because the link is going to take you to all of 2009’s archived posts and you’ll have to scroll down pretty far to find this entry.

But how about that? Doesn’t that sound kind of fun to try? Plus don’t you think it would help teach you how to learn to summarize conflict in one sentence? [Which is helpful for writing queries and pitches, see.]

I just write ’em by feel, you know, but maybe I’ll try this out on my WIP just to see. Hopefully I can then nod smugly and say, “See? I knew I was doing a good job.” And if not, heck, maybe it’s time to revise a little more analytically than usual.

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