Today I’m joining the wonderful Mary Waibel, Kai Strand, and Katie L. Carroll for this month’s #InkRipples challenge, and we’re talking all about revising our stories. Since my debut YA fantasy novella, Keeper of the Dawn IS OUT NOW I thought I would share some of the things I learned during its many hundreds of revisions.
Lesson One: You don’t decide how long the story is
We like to think of writing fiction as playing god, and in some ways it is, but most of the writers I know–especially myself–have a lot less control than we want you to believe. Characters appear in our dreams and haunt us until we finish their stories. Plots show up in our minds seemingly at random. Brainstorming sessions for one book turn into brainstorming sessions for entire series. And when we start writing, our characters frequently choose an entirely different path from the one we had in mind. Our finished product is often quite different from our original outline.
Keeper of the Dawn has seen the most radical changes of any story I’ve ever written (and I have a couple other projects edited almost enough for publication). It started as an offshoot of a parody novel, and it was supposed to be a short, funny story. It stopped being funny pretty quickly, but I was determined to keep it short. Or at least short-ish. Beta readers convinced me to extend the story several times, and eventually I ended up with a book. A short book, but still a book.
As a short-ish story, Keeper of the Dawn made the rounds with every pro and semi-pro short story market I could find. As a book, I submitted it to exactly two publishers before receiving my contract. That was partially a stroke of luck, but it was mostly because I had finally allowed my characters decide when their story ended instead of trying to choose an ending for them.
Lesson Two: Rewriting sucks. EDITING is fun.
What’s the difference, you ask? Rewriting is the act of drastically changing your story/book. It can be starting from scratch, but it doesn’t have to be. Any time you have to rewrite more than one third of the book (or add the equivalent word count), it’s a rewrite. When you’re making mostly superficial changes and only rewriting/adding a couple thousand words, that’s editing. Editing takes much less time. It provides that instant gratification we’re all addicted to, or at least something close to it.
Having a deadline from a publisher for the first time was terrifying, but I whipped through those edits at an incredible pace. They almost felt like a vacation compared to all the other work I’ve been doing recently. It was glorious.
If you’re in the trenches of full rewrites, I’ve got good news: it does get better.
Lesson Three: Writing sweet romance is also fun
Somewhere along the road of many revisions (rather close to the end), Lai, my main character, fell in love with her roommate. I knew immediately that I didn’t want their love to be a major point of conflict. For starters, I’m tired of reading romanticized versions of (usually mildly) abusive relationships. I also know that my LGBTQ+ friends are tired of books that treat their identities like a punishment. They’re even more exhausted by all the LGBTQ+ romances that end in tragedy.
Tara*, the woman Lai eventually falls in love with, is also a sweet woman. From the beginning I knew her friendship with Lai was similar to Willow’s friendship with Buffy: a pillar of strength they can both always rely on. She has a deep reverence for not just human life, but all life on her world. She would never abuse Lai or toy with her heart. Tara has never been that kind of person.
So I wrote them a sweet love story, and I surprised myself by really enjoying it. Most of my other romances involve large amounts of struggle between the two characters, and a couple end in tragedy, so this was completely new to me. Luckily I have an incredible relationship with my hubby, so I had a solid blueprint to work with.
Lesson Four: You should really write these posts while editing the book
When the last round of edits were finally approved and turned into proofs, I was hip-deep in my Big Insane Fantasy Series. Proofs to approve meant returning to Keeper of the Dawn, but it’s not the same as a proper edit. I continued working on my Big Insane Fantasy Series, and then I realized I had to write a bunch of articles about Keeper of the Dawn, both for my blog and for other blogs. This is something I knew would happen eventually, but I hadn’t put that much foresight into it.
My publisher also asked me to write a short piece about my inspirations and influences for the back of the book. I stared at a blank Word document for many hours, trying to remember what my inspiration was at the time. The new stories living in my head had invaded the space Keeper of the Dawn took up. This post has also taken me a little longer than I would care to admit, as I try to remember what order things happened in.
So. Take notes about your process as you go, because someday people are going to ask you to write about it and you really don’t want to respond with a blank stare.
Lesson Five: Some characters only have one story
Technically this isn’t the last thing I learned from editing Keeper of the Dawn, but it really does belong at the end of this list. I had to further develop some details of the world for my first edit with my publisher. Series are the in thing, so I figured I would brainstorm sequel ideas too. Following Lai and Tara sounded like fun, because there aren’t enough books about powerful couples. Maybe I could even write a series spanning decades like Tamora Pierce’s In The Hand of the Goddess…
Nothing came out. I stared at my notebook for hours. If I did have any ideas, they were so dreadful I’ve forgotten them altogether.
On the final pass I brainstormed some short stories I’ll probably write, but none featured Lai or Tara. I might return to them in five, ten, or twenty years, but for now, their story is done. I’ve told all there is to tell, and I can only hope you’ll enjoy it.
*OF COURSE I named Tara after Tara from Buffy. Her name was originally Tessa, but when Lai fell in love with her I couldn’t resist. I forgot to make the change before submitting (I waffled on it for a while), but luckily the Book Smugglers loved the change. Buffy was an incredible show, and Willow and Tara had a beautiful relationship. I’ve done my best to make the relationship between Lai and her Tara just as beautiful.
ABOUT KEEPER OF THE DAWN
Sometimes failure is just the beginning
All Lai has ever wanted is to become a priestess, like her mother and grandmother before her, in service to their beloved goddess. That’s before the unthinkable happens, and Lai fails the trials she has trained for her entire life. She makes the only choice she believes she can: she runs away.
From her isolated desert homeland, Lai rides north to the colder, stranger kingdom of Alanum—a land where magic, and female warriors, are not commonplace.
Here, she hears tales about a mountain city of women guardians and steel forgers, worshiping goddesses who sound very similar to Lai’s own. Determined to learn more about these women, these Keepers of the Dawn, Lai travels onward to find their temple. She is determined to make up for her past failure, and will do whatever it takes to join their sacred order.
Falling in love with another initiate was not part of the plan.
Keeper of the Dawn is a tale of new beginnings, second chances, and the endurance of hope.
Want to read Keeper of the Dawn? Pre-order it from any of the following locations: