After anticipating putting the pen down on the manuscript several times earlier this year, a few brainstorms ensued during edits. Rewrites happened. Finally the Pen Down moment arrived in the wee hours of last weekend, and the book is done.
The rewrites were small, but they were all significant. For instance, the opening scene jumps into the action, thrusting the main character Vespa into the middle of a terrorist attack. During proofing I saw an opportunity to ramp up the stakes by adjusting her brother’s location. This allowed me to hit readers straight away with the possibility that he had been killed, as opposed to just wondering what had happened to him. The stakes are high from literally the opening moments. Another element I worked to strengthen was the scenes with the alien villains. Once I wrote the concluding chapters I recognized how a few short scenes earlier on could make them more terrifying. The aliens mostly appear in groups in the battle sequences, but every time an individual alien is highlighted I wanted to make sure the motivations qualify as the twisted logic of extremists. My baddies have reasoned themselves into evil, destructive actions.
The closing battle sequence got quite a bit of love. It’s fast paced and draws together all the threads in the story into the span of three closing chapters. While the Episode VII news and Disney purchase of Star Wars have served as a distraction at times, they also motivated me in other ways. In particular, Michael Arndt’s analysis of the ending of A New Hope is something I probably would never have seen if it weren’t for his selection to write Episode VII. His insights inspired me to push the plot so that the emotional denouement for all the main characters and the objective victory occur in a very short timeframe in the story. After all that impact, it was a challenge to use only one closing chapter to give the reader closure on the few remaining elements along with a final happy sigh of relief, and hopefully I’ve accomplished that.
Writing a story with the size and scope of WYNDE has been daunting. In the fanfic days I was used to ripping my hair out over a chapter, then sharing it with my readers, who weren’t paying for the pleasure of reading but who I very much wanted to entertain. If I’d tell myself a chapter stunk (despite reassurance from the beta), I often posted it and ended up with positive feedback that restored my confidence. Writing a novel, though, occurs in a vacuum of feedback. There’s no short-term shoring up the confidence with a manuscript. A few times people asked to see it, with nary a response in return. Those situations can end up almost crippling, leaving the writer wondering if they hated it so much they couldn’t bear to write back. Luckily I have some angels, betas, and new readers taking time to comment at old fanfics, who picked me back up, dusted off the dirt, and got me back in the game.
Another hurdle was the word count. When I originally set out to write WYNDE, I intended to stick to 125,000 words. Had I done that, I would’ve been finished more than a year ago. Creating an epic backdrop with complicated characters isn’t really compatible with that restrictive of a word count. Besides, for my own pleasure reading I prefer a novel with a little heft, one that can smash a bug with ease. When I stopped worrying about trying to minimize words, that’s when the story took flight.
WYNDE has ace pilots, flying horses, back-talking AI, witty wizard warriors, mer-aliens, dashing young heroes, and a pair of bold heroines who are discovering who they are while trying to save the world. In my storytelling philosophy, you can’t expect people to enjoy a book just because the world in which it takes place is really interesting. The story has to be about the characters. So it’s been a joy to get the initial feedback from my test readers, who have braved the manuscript in sections. As a writer, you know you’ve done your job when the feedback goes like this: “Monson is a [expletive]!” The character had become real enough that he warranted some real emotion. The reaction to my heroine Vespa has been fun to observe, too. There seems to be a consistent desire to grab her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her, even though she’s liked. As one reader noted, “She does stupid stuff, exactly like I used to at that age.” Fortunately, while Vespa may make her share of maddening decisions, the characters around her have garnered genuine praise and true fans. Particularly her parents, Daemyn, who my dad dubbed “the badass,” and Utara, who has a few fangirls and fanboys already.
Other fun points of note from the beta readers: One almost missed her train station while reading Part Four. At least three have stayed up way too late at night because they couldn’t put it down. My father phoned me at 10:00 p.m. to ask when he could get the next section, and has asked me that same question with regularity since then. Admittedly fathers don’t really count as impartial judges of quality, but my one beta reader who doesn’t read scifi or fantasy literally blows my mind with her enthusiastic response each time she finishes a section. I am constantly amazed at the little things my betas pick up on – hints, clues, characterization moments, which are my writer’s fix.
I have much admiration for the beta readers for their thoughts and encouragement, and also the funny ways they go about pointing out the goofs and quirks. One comment noted the unusual amount of guts appearing in the manuscript – not the blood and guts kind, more like the instincts and dreads kind. It generated some head-smacking when I embarked on the next round of edits, and hopefully through the process we have eliminated those types of ticks in the prose. As for the “we,” I really can’t thank enough my personal editor BJ, who you might recognize as the blog’s editor Lex. Not too many writers are lucky enough to have an editor with his credentials or talent. Not only has he taken good prose and made it pretty darn nice, but he manages the VespaPedia, where we keep the pertinent story facts catalogued. He’s also a really good writer in his own regard, and when I got back the edits for the final fight sequence my jaw dropped. He turned a good scene into one that plays out like a movie. It was fast paced, impactful, and stunning after he applied the red pen of death to it.
What’s next for WYNDE? Parts One through Four have been through four revisions. The last section, Part Five, is being read by the betas. Their assignment is: tell me if I delivered on the story. I can’t emphasize how important it is to take a break from the manuscript and come back with fresh eyes – multiple times. This is exactly how I design engineering jobs that require my professional seal, and I take my writing just as seriously. Why the need to step back? Reading the first draft, the writer is still in “what I think I said” mode. This is true in blogging, too. If I’m making an important blog post, I never write it the day of the post, or even the day before. Distance gives perspective, especially where plot holes and motivations might not really line up with what the story is trying to accomplish.
I’m now pursuing publishing options. The emails asking for a read date have been getting more frequent, so I’ll be sure to keep everyone updated. In the quiet moments, I’m sketching out Book Two, but I don’t force it. For that I have to give credit to James Luceno, who talked to me a bit about his writing process at Celebration VI last year. You see a lot of writers insisting you need to keep up the daily word count, or outline in detail. Anyone who’s familiar with my stories will know that I tend to weave many elements together into a complex web. I’ve often been asked how I do that; is there some monster outline to keep everything straight? The truth is stories exist in my head, and the intricate threads are something I can see but don’t always appear clearly straight away. When Luceno explained his process of working things out in his head prior to writing, I finally felt like the style I’ve developed over the last decade isn’t necessarily wrong. One of the best things about writing is that you learn that there are so many great people doing the same thing who are willing to help.
In the meantime we’ve got some big conventions upcoming to report on at the blog, and probably exciting Episode VII news by the time the summer is over. BJ just recently signed a contract for one of his Heroine’s Journey posts to be included in a college textbook, and we’re going to finish a few more that have been in the pipeline for a while, including one on Korra. Blogging has without a doubt made me a stronger writer, because I am forced to verbalize and think about what is and isn’t working for me or the broader fandom as I observe it. Expect a new teaser trailer for WYNDE now that it’s done, including some quick images of the final fight sequence and the fleet battle. I’ll also share a breakdown of the handful of scenes from the original trailer that didn’t make the final book and talk about why I believe writing teaser trailers are one of the best ways to help mold your story. Finally, I have plenty to say about world-building, character creation, characters and agency – particularly as that relates to female characters – diversity, violence and death in stories, and also my personal rules for designing superheroes that stay real.
Thanks to everyone, especially my friends in the Lomin Ale Cantina and the betas, for your support!
“Every good pilot knows there are advantages to doing the unexpected.”
~ Badger Keane to Vespa Wynde
Tricia Barr took her understanding of brand management and marketing, mixed it with a love of genre storytelling, and added a dash of social media flare to create FANgirl Blog, where she discusses Star Wars, fandom, and strong female characters. She also writes about Star Wars for Random House’s science fiction and fantasy blog Suvudu.com and Star Wars Insider magazine and is a contributor for Her Universe’s Year of the Fangirl. She has recently joined Beyond the Screens podcast as a regular contributor.
In her spare time, Tricia puts the finishing touches on her first novel, Wynde. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.