Category Archives: Summerverse

Noveling: The Four Seasons Quartet

Or I think it’s a quartet. It might be a trilogy. I am reasonably certain it will not turn into a quintet.

It consists, at present, of two books, tentatively titled Summer and Autumn. The latter I wrote during National Novel Writing Month ’09 and have barely touched since. Naturally it’s a mess.

The former I took a solemn oath to have edited and straightened out by the time I finished university – which gives me, as of the time of writing, er, negative-eight days. I may have forgotten about my oath. I’ve extended it till September – but I’m honestly not sure I’ll make it.

I also have vague plans for Winter and vaguer plans for Spring. They’ll get written. Some day.

Summer

Summer started with a couple of disparate elements: reading Conrad’s Fate by Diana Wynne Jones and falling in love with the setting; a watercolour pencil drawing of a house with red, white and green stained glass windows; and (unusually for me) a dream.

The dream, as best as I can piece it together, went something like this: it was set in a Victorian-esque world populated by wizards. The wizards were having a contest in an arena to decide who was the best. A young man who was not a wizard somehow blagged his way in and did an act with either talking horses or talking dogs who could turn into cloth. (Which, according to dream logic, was better than what all the actual wizards had come up with.)

The only other part I remember was a climactic scene in which a little blonde girl had to choose between the young not-wizard and her family. Somewhere in the mix was a sinister lady dressed in black. I woke up with an intense feeling that it would make a good story.

One frantic November later, I had a disjointed but relatively solid novel draft on my hands.

The facts are these: Lord Glasswater is a Wizard (with a capital W) who specialises in the art of ‘magical animation’ – making inanimate objects animate (magitech robots, essentially). As the story begins, his household is about to play host to the Festival, the officially unofficial most prestigious contest of Wizardry. Because his specialty is somewhat looked down on by other Wizards, Lord Glasswater has never won. He attempts, in a mad gamble, to learn weather magic (his father’s specialty) in the year leading up to the Festival – only to realise, when it’s too late to change his mind, that no matter how much research he does, he just can’t make his spell work.

Enter Olsson, Lord Glasswater’s footman, who unbeknownst to anyone – up to and include himself – might just be the most powerful wizard (with a little w) in the country, or even the world. After accidentally stumbling on his abilities, Lord Glasswater coaches him to perform weather magic, wins the festival by cheating – and completely without meaning to sets Olsson on the path to unlocking his full potentially.

Unfortunately for Lord Glasswater, one other Wizard is savvy enough to work out that he cheated. Fortunately, it’s the Wizard Wheright, the country’s only Lady Wizard, generally agreed to be scheming and untrustworthy. She wants to prove Lord Glasswater’s guilt – and for whatever reason she wants to get her hands on Olsson.

Meanwhile, Lord Glasswater’s only child, Caitrin, is just beginning to learn lady’s magic from her mother and is beginning to realise she’s not satisfied. Caitrin has some natural talents of her own and they are not for mixing magic with sewing.

Hijinks ensue.

There’s lots of Wizards. Lots of lonnng descriptions of fancy spellwork. Lots of fancy parties. Lots of Olsson being socially awkward and Caitrin being miserable and Lady Glasswater being fabulous.

At present much of it is still using the structure I adopted during NaNoWriMo – which is an issue because it means there’s a number of scenes which are only there because I needed to fill out my words-per-day quota. And I’m struggling to properly integrate Caitrin’s subplot. But it’s coming along.

Autumn

I started writing Autumn the same November I wrote most of Summer – not so much because I wanted to write a sequel as because November wasn’t over yet and I had some vague ideas knocking around as to what should happen to Olsson next.

I used it for the following NaNoWriMo and it is how I came to write eighty thousand words in thirty days. It’s about as much of a rambling, convoluted mess as you might expected. It’s not just that I was writing very fast – when I started out, I did not know how it was going to end. When I finished, I still did not know how it was going to end. I now know how it should end, but I’ve not written the ending yet.

The facts are these: Olsson is now training with the Wizard Wheright. She might want to teach him magic, or she might just want to use him to expose Lord Glasswater as a cheat – or she might just want the glory of ‘discovering’ him, he’s really not sure. He’s also been having vivid dreams about standing stones that might be magical out-of-body experiences.

After their first time out in public together, at a Midwinter party, proves disastrous, Olsson decides to strike out on his own to see if he can find the standing stone he’s been dreaming about. Hijinks and side-quests ensue. When he finally finds the standing stone and comes to understand what his dreams mean, he finds the truth so uncomfortable he makes every effort to hide himself.

Meanwhile, the Wizard Wheright finally manages to get the Wizards’ Council to listen to her accusations – a week or so too late. Olsson is long gone – they’ll just have to try and hunt him down.

And the Glasswater household is slowly crumbling apart under the weight of Lord Glasswater’s sin.

Autumn was a blast to write but not that well suited to NaNoWriMo. The unity of it is more thematic than narrative, so rushing it made for a disjointed experience. But writing it was one of the best experiences of my life, so I can deal.

The third book, when I write it, will be the ‘bring all major characters together’ kind of third act, and see Olsson being forced out of hiding and attempting to use his powers for good. I have, in my head, a kind of ‘book trailer’. There’s colourful flags involved somewhere.

Summer is a much more straightforward project than the Ever-Present Trilogy. I’m hoping it’s also more publishable, being, as it is, a more conventional fantasy trilogy. But I need to do that editing first…

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The Magic of Editing

In the last couple of days, I dusted off what is apparently the fourth draft of Summer, what I tend to refer to as ‘my other novel’ and started editing again. This is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while, since of the two series I’m working on Summer, its sequel, and its hypothetical threequel is quite definitely the more publishable, so getting an actually decent draft together in the near-ish future would be a good idea. So far it’s mostly reminded me of how much I love editing.

I should qualify that statement. I hate editing things I’ve just written, which is awkward and sometimes near-painful. I loathe cutting things down to get them under a wordcount. But editing something written upwards of three years ago, which needs to be longer rather than shorter (Summer currently stands at 80k, which is a little short for a novel)? It’s excellent.

You get all the fun of writing and wordsmithing and playing with characterisation without having to worry about what’s going to happen next because hey, you already worked that part out! Above all, you get the satisfaction of making something better and deeper and more interesting. I remember one moment during my last round of edits to Summer where I took a few lines where one minor character enters a room as another is leaving, expanded that oh-so-brief interaction, and made it a bit flirty.

On top of that, properly reading and contemplating the story this way is good not just for the details but for the over-arching themes. Now that Summer‘s in my head most of the time, things have gotten pretty interesting. Here’s some pretty big news that won’t make sense to anyone but me: I finally figured that thing out! You know, that thing. The plot thing at the end of the second book that’s been confounding me for going on two years now. I figured it out. Turns out the key was replacing castles with standing stones. Seems pretty obvious now I think about it.

Much of Summer needs to be largely re-written. It’s not completely a problem with the writing style. This brings me to the first big issue I’ve been trying to combat: one of the three main characters is terrible. Just terrible. She’s incredibly bland, and somehow it took me until midway through the second book to realise just how pointless she is.  Unfortunately, a bit more than a third of the book is told from her point of view, and that all now needs to be re-written, because it’s bland as hell – and now that I’ve given her a personality, everything from her point of view has to be re-written to be more consistent.

Then there’s this problem: characters are constantly doing things because the plot says so. Formally-bland-character, Caitrín, is the worst for this. Because she had no personality, she had no real motivation, so when she had to do something important plot relevant (which was rare) it was next to impossible to give her a reason to do it. So she would just do it. In the first draft she’s constantly wandering in and our of rooms and attics and stables for absolutely no reason at all. Somehow I didn’t even notice this until just now. I’ve spent a lot of time tweaking the plot to give her actual reasons to do things.

Thankfully that’s the main issue with Summer. The rest of the editing mostly involves polishing the style and working out the kinks of the worldbuilding. I’m also throwing around ideas for a better title – something to do with masks, maybe? – or more accurately, a title that doesn’t force the series to be a quartet. All in all, very productive.

It’s strange, because a year or so ago I bought a book called Writing Magic. It’s a writing advice book for children by Gail Carson Levine (author of Ella Enchanted), which I am way out of the age range for, but it was cheap on Amazon and I liked her books enough when I was younger that I was honestly interested to see what she had to say about writing. Here’s what she has to say on the subject of editing:

Revising is my favourite part of writing. When I’m working on a first draft, I feel like a prisoner. I’m in an iron cell with no windows and no doors. Nothing is happening, and I’m trapped. I notice a bit of moisture condensing on the walls, four or five beads of water. Each bead is an idea. I scrape them off and write feverishly until I use them up. Then I wait for more moisture.

But when I finished my first draft, the walls come down. A fragrant breeze wafts by. No more waiting for condensation. Now all I have to do is make the book better, which can take a long time.

At the time, I thought I disagreed completely with Gail Carson Levine on this one, but I think the fact that I quite enjoy first drafts fooled me into thinking I must therefore not enjoy editing. As it turns out, I do, very much so. So now, to quote from Gail Carson Levine again, I must go and face ‘the revision beast’.

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Filed under Editing, Summerverse, writing