When I wrote this post about Nameless and my burnt-out-ness, you guys were very gracious and understanding about the continuing trek that is my struggle to revise that book into something publishable. Which is why today I’m breaking that unwritten rule that writers shouldn’t talk about their projects until they’re complete, because I have good news for you!
I think… I think I figured out how to fix it.
My friend Kat Zhang (whose amazing debut WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is coming out this fall!) has been a soundboard for various Nameless ideas for a few years now. A few months ago when I was complaining about voice and tone in YA, she made a brilliant suggestion that immediately became part of the Nameless cannon: what if the book didn’t start with the MC already being the Poetess?
Always before we’ve met the Poetess when she’s already established in her role. She has already joined the adults and triumphed over one of her biggest personal challenges (the Poetess selections). But what if she was never meant to become the Poetess? What if she was too young, too inexperienced, and unfortunate circumstances prompted by the Rebellion left the government with no choice but choose this teenage girl for a demanding and isolating public role?
The reason I shied away from this idea is my unwillingness to change the first chapter that has gotten so many people’s attention. When you hear about the story you want to see the slaves. You want to go through the selections and see the beautiful boys and pick one to be yours. It’s a harem and a nesting fantasy, and you don’t have to wait through several establishing chapters to get it. It’s right there, first chapter.
And I love all the subtleties of the world building and the pressure on the Poetess, stuff that would be absent if she wasn’t the Poetess when we first meet her. So I was left with this conundrum and facing those horrible, needling rules of slaying your darlings and ripping apart your favorite bits for the sake of the story.
I am an acolyte of this writing religion, and I know the dogma. I just balk at it sometimes.
So then we had my post about being worn out and not knowing how to fix it, and life moved on with my ACORAS rewrites, which are going swimmingly, by the way, but I’ll talk about that further down. Then Saturday night as Chris and I went to bed very late, I told him about my progress with ACORAS and how excited I was, and how in as little as a month I could be sending it to my agent again. Casually he asked me what I would work on next.
I… don’t know?
The sequel to ACORAS, probably. I thought it would be a trilogy but now I think it will just have a sequel. Or I could work on the adult fantasy I’ve been quietly tinkering with, about a female sociopath and the warrior who accidentally becomes her companion. Or maybe return to the Sirens story, with a complete do-over.
Chris drifted off to sleep but I, over-caffeinated, stayed awake with Kat’s suggestion and my resistance to change tumbling about in my mind. I knew even when discouraged that given enough time my subconscious would dredge up a solution, but still I kept worrying away at the idea. How could I make her the Poetess and not-the-Poetess?
And then it hit me. So hard I had to get up out of bed and tiptoe down the dark hallway and turn on only the lamp in my office so I could scribble down the words jumping seamlessly from my mind:
I was not meant to be the Poetess.
Not yet anyway. But when the smoke cleared and the body of the true Poetess lay crumpled on the floor, I was the one who spoke into the receiver, who turned my face to the still-transmitting cameras and told the nation not to fear the Rebellion.
I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. We didn’t need chapters of introduction. We didn’t need to see her working as a lowly scribe and aspiring one day, after decades of study and obedience, to be chosen as the next Poetess. We just needed a summary of how she found herself 17 and in charge of the nation’s mental well-being.
So there you have it. I’m a dork, but the obstruction has been cleared, and though we’re far from out of the woods (I’ve accepted I’ll probably have to dump 10 years worth of the plot of the last 3/4 of the book), I’m at least back on path again. Just thought you might want to know :-)
I also wanted to share a few tidbits of information that I just today recalled about the origin of Nameless. After so long with these characters it’s easy to forget the alarmingly haphazard way they came about. For example:
- Number 23 was originally based off my girlhood crush on Tobias from the Animorphs series.
- The real reason he’s mute? Because when it came time for them to interact 15-year-old me had not a CLUE what Shae would realistically say.
Blind luck, subconscious soup, and an unhealthy Animorphs obsession. These are my writing origins. Let’s move on to more professional news so I can pretend I’m a real writer:
I’m rewriting ACORAS again.
It’s not that the first version was bad. It just wasn’t as amazing and heart-stopping as the new version I began to envision. Beginning with the flashback I mentioned in the weird tenses post and blooming from there, the story slowly grew into a far more nuanced version of the tale I’d first told. Motivations cleared, plot threads thickened, characters enhumanized, and the resulting layers of truth and lies were much closer to the original pitch.
But for a time there everything was growing somewhat out of control, as I filled page after page of notebook paper with ideas and snippets of conversations or thoughts. I had to make a story bible, a document for cut bits so I could refer to them later, a document for bits that hadn’t happened yet, and of course the ever-expandingly detailed Plot Notes bullet list. Computer programmers call what was happening to me ‘feature creep’.
It was very overwhelming. But after a lot of doubt and despair everything settled down, like it usually does, and I started taking those slow steps towards untangling this mess and figuring out what had to go where. As of this weekend my first 110 pages are solid and there’s only about 20k missing to connect the beginning with the last third. 20k for which I have detailed, consecutive notes.
I’m so pleased and relieved I could burst. I wish you guys knew ACORAS like you know Nameless, because you should totally look forward to how this one’s gonna rip your heart out. I even put it on my About Me page: If you come away feeling like I’ve kicked you in the heart, then I consider my mission accomplished. ;-)