Good News about NAMELESS and ACORAS

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.

Umm.

Uh…

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.

Or Nameless.

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:

ACORAS Update

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. ;-)

<3, Savannah

16 thoughts on “Good News about NAMELESS and ACORAS

  1. Corona says:

    Tearing out the innards of a story you created so early must be difficult. Still, I applaud your dare!

    I’m also terribly curious to all those new ideas you have in your head :) This ‘forbidden’ post has only made me want to know more, MORE! ;)

  2. Symphony says:

    excited to read your new books when they’re PUBLISHED!!!
    i just remembered that i read nameless and..do what you have to do! i`’ll be supporting you <3

  3. Yay! I love how a few sentences can effect so much depth at the beginning of Nameless like that! And the ACORAS rewrites sound incredible, too–I love that moment when you just know something is not only better but really how it was meant to be–sounds like you hit that place! I’ve been re-examining a project and had a delicious but almost scary idea on how to rework it–so I love reading “and it worked!” stories of re-imaginings and rewrites right now! (Sorry for all the !!!)

    • ‘Delicious but scary’ – I know exactly what you mean! Sometimes you have these ideas that are amazing but overwhelming, and then you spend a lot of time thinking about the phrase ‘to kill your darlings’.

  4. So glad to hear that your writing has been going well, even if you have had to tear out the innards of your story! I eagerly await more updates on how you’re progressing. ^_^

  5. Hi Savannah! :) I’ve been a lurker for so long that I figured that I should stop creeping around :P Your blog has really served as inspiration & motivation for me to stop being lazy and force myself to confront the issues of my own stories, and I thank you for that :)

    I find it kind of funny (but also very comforting) to know that you went through such a process with figuring out where to begin NAMELESS. I went/am going through the same problem with my own story as well, because just like the Poetess, my MC starts the story pretty much cemented into her position. It’s not one that she was meant for, but it is still one that she is perfectly capable of fitting into. I felt this sort of internal pressure to write pages and pages of how she “got there”, but I knew that I didn’t want to bog down the story that way. I love the sparse, elegant way that you’ve gone about and done it. Good luck as you continue with your rewrites! :)

    • You’re welcome to lurk if you like :-) But of course I obviously appreciate being able to talk to you!

      You have all of my sympathy with what you’re struggling with. I’ve wondered for about a year now if I needed to go back and write all those ‘before’ chapters. I was kind of hoping I could do that as a promotional sort of release, but summarizing allows everything to wrap up so nicely…

      I do struggle with over-explaining. We get told so often to show and not tell that I think we forget when it’s a GOOD thing to tell! Especially in my sleeping beauty story, I have written so many little daily minutiae stuff, and my CPs are like, I get it, but it’s boring. Summarize.

      Of course, if you need to write the ‘how she got there’ story to figure out the emotional thread or high points, that’s also acceptable. Several versions of Nameless ago part of the book was told from the perspective of Number 23. All of it’s been cut now (stab to the heart!) but it gave me invaluable insight into his character that I might not have gotten otherwise.

      So maybe your internal pressure is trying to tell you something. Not that you have to write it to be included in the novel itself, necessarily, but that it’s a story you do need to tell, even if only to yourself.

      Best of luck! <3

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