Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Characters: Long-Suffering Justa

This is the artist's rendition of Doña Lambra.
Justa looks a lot like her, but she never gets to throw a fit. 
Justa is one of the characters I added to the mix from the original epic story I based Seven Noble Knights on. In the old draft of the story that no one will ever see, Justa was conceived as a snarky maid for Doña Lambra, a narrator and a commentator on the story.

When I started over, I decided Doña Lambra was negative enough. She didn't need a snarky sidekick. So Justa became a sweet girl who longs for a normal life, but her ties to Lambra won't permit the freedom to pursue it. She took on more of the characteristics associated with her name, which has to do with fairness or justice, and then it turned out that she needed a snarky foil. That sassy role is filled by Gotina, a minor character.

Partly because my critique group really liked her character, and partly because it fit brilliantly into the plot, Justa turned into a major character with a fairly complex arc. If I get to write a sequel to Seven Noble Knights, it will focus largely on Justa, the decisions she makes before and after Seven Noble Knights comes to a close, and their ramifications.

She was born into a family of the minor nobility the same year as Lambra, and she looks enough like her that they could be sisters. In Part II of Seven Noble Knights, our hero Mudarra is afraid she might be Doña Lambra when he first meets Justa. She comes into Lambra's household as a foster child when her parents are killed in a border raid, and lives as if she were Lambra's sister until Lambra's parents are killed. From that moment on, Lambra treats Justa as her personal servant, and Justa takes it because she has nowhere else to go. The ties created when Lambra's family took her in are not easily broken, but everyone has their breaking point. When Justa finds hers, the story comes to an end.

It's a pretty important role for someone who started out as a snarky maid.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Snip, Snip

I was seriously considering entering Seven Noble Knights in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. When I first heard about the award, I regretted not having a novel to submit. Last year, Seven Noble Knights was too freshly finished. No way was it ready for submission of any kind, much less a brutal contest.

The thing was, the Amazon contest caps the allowable word count at 125,000. What kind of random number is that? Seven Noble Knights, after the significant cuts I made over the last several months, sat at 129,000.

Maybe 4000 words isn't so much in an epic novel, I thought, and started by looking for the silly things writers do. First plan for excision: most adverbs. If you modify a verb, it's often just the wrong verb to begin with! So I dove in.

It took four days of gruesome, shrieking effort.

But now at least half the adverbs I had are gone. It had to have strengthened the writing. It also got rid of one thousand words.

Three thousand words short.

So I looked at the official rules again, just to make sure, and yes, they're firm on 125,000.

What other silly rules were there? The dealbreaker for me was that if you win the prize, you can't negotiate the contract. You just have to sign over whatever rights they want for themselves. Pretty suspicious. If, on the other hand, you don't win, they may offer you a contract and you can negotiate. It just felt weird to enter a contest in which I would hope I didn't win. So after all this time thinking of the Amazon award as a possible goal or learning experience, I won't be doing it.

I'm glad those thousand words have been removed. It gave me a chance to finesse some sentences and to revisit the entire novel, seeing more clearly what its strengths are.

The picture celebrates that cutting as well as my first civilized haircut. When I first got to North Carolina, I got a haircut, and was unhappy with my hair ever after. So I was determined to have a New England haircut that solved some of the problems or at least got rid of some layers, as soon as possible. It looks similar to my profile photo again, so I think I've found the haircut I belong to as well as the place. Now I just need to find the right home for Seven Noble Knights!