Hey, guys! Blackbird here. It’s been a little while since I addressed some behind the scenes stuff, but our editing sessions for the past couple of chapters, coincidentally, had sort of a connecting theme for me. And I think this is the best place to address it. So, let’s do that, shall we?
Since I will be addressing chapters 2.11 and 2.12 during this post, as well the Plotstains Perspective posts referring to those chapters, it would be in your best interest to read those beforehand for a better understanding of the specific situations I’m about to discuss, though, I suppose the broader themes of this post could be useful even without that information.
So, what’s the theme I’m talking about? What was my take away from our past two editing sessions? Perception.
In 2.11 we had a situation in which I lacked the awareness of how my words could have been perceived by readers until Plotstains brought it up to me. Now, don’t get me wrong, Maddie makes a rather dark comment about people trying to get her drunk and take advantage of her, implying Lena had been the one person to successfully do so (although, it is worth mentioning the ‘advantage’ Lena intended to take had to do with hindering Maddie’s ability to concentrate on chess, rather than… Whatever her former company intended to do). That part was absolutely intentional. What I didn’t realize was that in the context of the situation; Maddie had been partying with the Wolves the night before, this could be misconstrued as Maddie saying her company the previous night had attempted to do this, when what I was trying to have her imply is that this was a common aspect of her former life in Newhaven; something she had to constantly be on the lookout for, whereas in the Wolfpack while she was tricked into getting drunk, the worst to come out of it was being dragged to training with a hangover. The comment was, as intended, not only supposed to shine a light on certain aspects of Newhaven society (where Maddie was previously from), but also on Maddie’s own view of things like these as just ‘part of it’.
Plotstains has said in the past that his job as editor is to advocate for the reader, and that isn’t the case because I don’t care about your experience with Shadows Rise, but more so because as the writer, my perspective lies primarily with the characters. I know what they know (and more) and I see things from their perspective to a point where my understanding of what the reader sees, or might take away from a simple line such as this, is severely skewed. And in this case the repercussions could have been pretty serious. Not only because it might have put people off, but also because it would do a major injustice to the story I’m trying to tell.
The situation in 2.12 was a little different. Now, before I get into this fully, I would urge you to read the chapter if you haven’t. Even if you don’t care about spoilers, reading what I’m about to say regarding this scene might influence how you look at it, and that’s okay if you’ve already read it, but I’d like people to draw their own conclusions of some things before I tell them what my actual intentions are, or give them any extra insight into these characters. Choice is yours, as always, but keep that in mind.
First things first: As Plotstains mentioned, the bridge leading up to the cemetery was supposed to be wood. And that was a choice I made because a lot of Dani’s part in this chapter is reflecting on how growing up has changed her perspective. The way things look and feel to her now compared to when she was a child. And if you’ve ever run across a wooden bridge; like one of the bridges in my favorite park, you’ll know that a child’s footsteps will sound distinctly different than an adult’s. A stone bridge… Not so much, because stone isn’t as affected by how heavy your steps are. It has no give regardless of the weight that’s on it. And I wanted to add the sound of her steps running across the wooden bridge to that atmosphere I was building up, but… Because I didn’t want any bridge experts out there to lose immersion over this, I made a concession. If you’re reading this and you think my idea was cooler, feel free to comment on Plotstains’ post and let him know. 😛
With that out of the way, the actual serious discussion with the cemetery scene was Dani’s, well, not dialogue; she’s alone, but her conversation with her father’s grave. Plotstains’ initial suggested change was to have the conversation open with the more trivial part of the dialogue, before she goes into talking about her fears and concerns about the Wolf Hunters and possibly becoming the next Alpha. This was a change I didn’t want to compromise on because, again, my perspective lies with the characters and for Dani, these were things she would only be able to voice; even to ‘herself’, on an impulse. These were things she’s been holding on to for at least a year now. Things that needed to get in the way of the trivial ‘catching up’ she goes there to do every year in order to actually come out. But, in a scene as crucial as this, if Plotstains is suggesting something that isn’t my vision, I can’t just say “I’m not changing it, my word is final” and leave it at that. I mean, normally, working with beta readers and editors; sure, that is a thing you can do. And with smaller things, that is something that I will do myself on occasion, but here… His suggestion indicates that my vision isn’t getting across. And before saying no to these changes I don’t want to make, what I really need is to ask why the suggestions were made in the first place and, more importantly, how the scene came across to him.
Plotstains told me that the way I had constructed that scene gave the impression that Dani was blurting out all of this heavy important stuff and then immediately flipping a switch and brushing it off to talk about essentially trivial things. Which made the scene a lot less impactful. That was absolutely not the kind of tonal shift I wanted. So, the next step would be to try to explain how I wanted the scene to come across and my intention behind it.
This is where things became difficult for me in this case because… I have first hand experience with a lot of the conflicting emotions involved with having someone so significant in your life be essentially a blank space. Dani’s father died before she was born, she never met him and everything she knows about him are second hand accounts, from her mother, her stepfather, the Wolfpack as a community. Even though she goes to visit him every year on her birthday, what she imagines he would have thought, or would have told her had he been able, comes from other people and not any actual first-hand knowledge of who he was. And while she understands this, and knows she’s only ever been talking to herself, a part of her still wants to cling to the idea that she can somehow get to know him this way.
I did meet my dad, but I was really young when he died. I have barely any memories of him and a lot of what I ‘know’ about him comes from my mom and my siblings. So, while I never visited his grave or anything, I grew up with that feeling too. Trying to portray that, even though I know how it feels, has been the most difficult part of writing this character for me, the main reason I stalled so much writing this part of the chapter, and why I had such trouble editing it later. It was also a feeling that I had trouble describing to my editor while discussing this scene, especially with how perpetually tired I’ve been.
My experiences also made it difficult for me to look at things as objectively as I’d like. I was frustrated at some point while we were discussing it because I legitimately wanted to say “dude, I know I’m right about this. I know what it’s like”, but I didn’t because it shouldn’t matter. If I have to say what the character is going through, and the writing doesn’t portray that on its own, I’m the one who’s coming up short. It’s not ‘no one gets my vision’ or ‘you don’t know what it’s like’. I’m the one failing to express my vision in a way others can grasp regardless of whether they know what it’s like or not. That’s my shortcoming not theirs.
Being objective about this is one notion I still need to occasionally beat myself over the head with. You can be upset if a scene doesn’t work the way you thought it did, and you absolutely can stand by your vision of what you want a scene to be; just following Plotstains’ initial suggestion wouldn’t have achieved what I wanted either, for instance. What you shouldn’t do is plant your feet so firmly on the ground that you refuse to accept that what you’re seeing isn’t what other people see and you can’t expect or demand that perspective from them. It’s on you to convey things properly. To impart on them the ability to understand.
In the aftermath of our discussions, Plotstains suggested I added a paragraph in between both parts of her dialogue. In it, I tried to the best of my ability at the time to get that feeling across and show how Dani’s perspective of even these visits is starting to shift. So that when she comes around to talking about the smaller things, and eventually just falls silent at the end of the scene, it feels more like her allowing herself to cling to a more innocent outlook. At least, I hope that’s what I did. If you read that scene, let me know how successful I was in the comments. I’d appreciate that.
Also, there’s another small detail I added to that scene that hints something important about Dani’s character. I’m not gonna get into it now, but I’d like to know what you guys think it might be. After Arc 2 closes I might do a retrospective on it before starting Arc 3 and if I do… I’ll actually get into it then.
See you guys on the 16th. Stay safe out there!