ARIAH Update: Yak Riding!

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(picture from here: http://www.rosemarysheel.com/archives/tibetan-yak)

The whole last third (half?) of Ariah is totally different now from the first draft, and for the better, I think. Many darlings were killed, and now one has been added: yaks. Yaks hang around the last section of the book, getting milked, shedding fur, being adorable in that way only yaks can be. And it looked like Ariah will end up riding a yak to the end of the book. Turns out in Tibet, yak riding is not uncommon.

Gender-Neutral Pronouns: Pros and Cons of Their Use in Fantasy

I have a ethnic group in the Aerdhish universe that has little sense of gender. Certainly, they have an understanding of biological sex, but even that is substantially more murky that how we construe sex in modern Western society. Contact with heavily gendered societies has left them with an awareness of gender as a categorical identity, but it’s not something they understand particularly well. It makes sense, then, that their language (Droma) would lack gendered pronouns. Right? Right.

The last section of Ariah takes place in the Droma grasslands. Ariah is on their turf, lives with them at their mercy, and he understands them through their own eyes. It’s important, then, that the gender neutrality of their language (and culture) is made crystal clear in the text. But how, exactly, to do this is giving me pause. Given that this book is written in English, where gender-neutral pronouns are odd, to say the least, technical aspects of this are growing hard for me to navigate:

Pros:

  • Use of gender-neutral pronouns will make the meaninglessness of gender as a social category very clear to the reader.
  • This culture is a ethnic grouping of elves, who have social and biological differences from humans (both humans as represented in the writing and actual real-life humans like you and me). Use of gender-neutral pronouns can serve to highlight the otherness of elves.
  • I, personally, think gender-neutral pronouns are important to get out there.*

Cons:

  • Good writing, to some extent, is invisible. That is, the story should flow without the reader having to struggle to parse the way that story is written. To this point, the use of gender-neutral pronouns is awkward and stilted in English since we don’t use them. It will take the reader some getting used to for them to be able to easily and effortlessly parse the gender-neutral pronouns, which can turn readers off and break up the text.
  • Related to that, consistency is sometimes hard to keep straight with gender-neutral pronouns. I, as the writer, can’t always remember what one form vs. another is, so how can I expect the reader to remember?

For Ariah, I’m going to risk it. For this piece, for me where I am as a writer and worldbuilder, I think the pros outweigh the cons. I have to trust my readers to navigate the thorny issue of pronouns. Readers are smart people; they can handle it. But it is something I bear in mind while writing this section of the book. When I am reading through recent parts I’ve written, the gender-neutral pronouns are jarring. They stick out. Pronouns are a part of speech which are not supposed to stick out.

The hardest part, honestly, has been figuring out which set of gender-neutral pronouns to use. I’ve gone back and forth, adopting one, then abandoning it in favor of another. Right now, I’m using a set I invented. We’ll see how long that lasts.

As for the rest of you out there, I would LOVE LOVE to hear any thoughts you have on this!

*As I state in my bio, I’m genderqueer and prefer the use of singular they to refer to me, so this topic and all the knotty little intricacies of it is something I think a lot about on a day-to-day basis.

Today I Killed a Darling

“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”

― William Faulkner

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

― Stephen KingOn Writing

I am always scared, when I begin rewriting a book, that I will lose my nerve. I get nervous that I am way, way too close to it, and that I won’t be able to see what needs to be dropped – or worse, that I’ll see it, that I’ll know, but that I won’t be able to bring myself to take it to the chopping block. I have rewritten three novels now and each time I feel the clutch of this fear.

The thing with me, though, is that if the rewrites are going well my darlings drop left and right. The key to rewriting is realizing what your book is really about and letting it be about that thing.

There is a section in the first draft of Ariah that I dearly love. It allows a character unfairly judged to show compassion and humanity. It provides my very favorite description of a piece of furniture I’ve ever written. It adds depth to two of the main characters and throws another in a stark, unforgiving light. This section, oddly, forced me to write poetry, some of which I would dare to call good. It has a perfect entrance for a character, and a perfect exit for another. And it no longer belongs in the book.

I realized that as I was writing today. It is still good, but it’s not right for this book. The book has changed, clarified, and the work this section did in the first draft has already been done much more elegantly and simply in this second draft. My darling’s death was painless, and amicable, and the door is open to resurrect it in some different form in some different piece down the line.

And in this book, darlings very much need to be cut down. The first draft of Ariah runs just over 200,000 words. It is bloated. It is episodic and tangential. This section was a turning point in the first draft, but the section itself and the parts setting it up and resolving it ran 40,000 words – or, differently construed, it was a longish novella stuck in the middle of a novel.

I am sad to see it go, but I’m glad it’s gone. The book is better for it. This section-likely-to-be-later-reworked-as-a-novella will probably be better for it, too. It is also comforting to know that while I am most assuredly too close to the writing (who isn’t?) that I trust the rewrites enough to let the vestigial bits and pieces of the first draft fall by the wayside.

NaBloPoMo: Short little pat on the back post today

Since moving to Colorado five months ago, I have written just over 100,000 words. I know this because I have a somewhat elaborate spreadsheet in which I track my writing. What those 100,000 words have managed to do is finish the first draft of Iiva – no small feat – and get about a third of the way into the second draft of Ariah.

Good on me.

NaBloPoMo: ARIAH Rewrites Update

As I’ve mentioned, I’m rewriting a book the first draft of which I dearly love. I am past, now, the disjointed opening sequence, and I had thought – clearly with hubris – that little rewriting would be needed in the rest of the book. But this first draft, which I still dearly love, is just getting razed to the ground. It’s surprising to me, but it feels right to do it, and it’s extremely fun to write it, so I’m going with it.

There’s an interesting thing happening in these rewrites where many of the pieces I wrote that were supposed to be the Big Reveals are now treated quite differently. I think it’s more naturalistic. I think it flows better. Characters have receded into the background, and others have come more sharply into focus. Certainly, there’s been a lot of general streamlining of the story, a better focus which allows for foreshadowing and cleaner development throughout, but I always forget how impressively creative the second draft is. I tend to think of the bulk of the creative heavy lifting gets done in the first draft, but it’s not really true.

I am pretty pleased with how the rewrites are going, but I can’t say I could have predicted how this book would rewrite itself. It has a different structure now, and it has a different tension running through it. It is less wide-eyed, less innocent, and more…grown? I feel like the book itself has matured. I know that really means I have matured – as a person, as a writer, as both – but it honestly feels much more like I’ve visited an old friend, and they’re still the same person, but a better, more grown-up version than who I last visited.

I guess what I’m saying is so far so good on these rewrites. I feel like I’m doing comparatively little of the work, like really it’s rewriting itself and I’m more or less just company. That’s a good sign: when I feel like that, it means things are clicking into place.