Category: memory thief

Family Relations: Memory Thief Chapter Nine

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Welcome to another behind-the-scenes look at The Memory Thief. We’re up to chapter nine, and it’s another chapter that actually didn’t change a whole lot between the first draft and the final version. I thought about just skipping over the chapter because of this, but I wanted to talk a bit about why I think the chapter didn’t change.

For those of you who don’t feel like actually getting out the book and rereading the chapter, I’ll remind you: it’s where Benji steals his parents’ memories of the reasons for being mad at each other.

It’s interesting to me: when I started writing the book, I had no intent to explore family relations as a sub plot. It wasn’t like I started out thinking, “Benji is the son of parents who fight a lot.” I didn’t know who Benji was. Instead, I knew I wanted Benji to be at the fair and to go off on his own, where he’d eventually meet Louis. I needed a reason for him to want to go off by himself. The one that I ended up going with was that his parents were fighting, and he wanted to escape it.

I could have gone with many others, however. Maybe his parents were just the type of people who’d let him wander the fair on his own. Perhaps he got separated from his parents in the middle of a crowd. He could have been there with his friends as part of a group. Any one of those reasons would have been perfectly acceptable, but I went with arguing parents. Maybe it’s because it’s something I’d had experience with. I didn’t have a definite reason for doing it.

But because I chose that, it established a few things about Benji. First, he had parents who didn’t get along, and second, he disliked it enough that he wanted to escape it.

Once those items were set, then it only made sense that as soon as he had the ability to steal memories, he’d use it to try and “fix” his parents. There was no avoiding that choice, as an author. It’s a thread I just kept following to see where it ended. In a middle draft, Louis appeared in Benji’s Dad’s Memory Library, come to warn Benji against stealing those memories. But even with that warning, Benji still did it. At that point, I just knew that’s what Benji would do.

Characters define themselves by their actions and thoughts. Early on in a story, when we don’t know them, they’re able to do just about anything, and the audience won’t question it. They’re getting to know the character. But once that character is established, then the options grow more limited. You can force them to act a certain way, of course. As an author, you can write anything. But the audience won’t believe it unless you set it up properly. In the middle of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout could suddenly go all Child’s Play on everyone, killing everyone in the scene. But people wouldn’t buy the change in her character.

This is one of the main reasons I end up ditching so many of my plot outlines about a third into the book. I made the outline before I really knew the character, and I’ll have had them make a big choice that they end up not wanting to make. At that point, I either need to go back and rewrite their character to make it work, or I need to have them change their decision. I typically have them change their decision. I know and like them by that point. Who am I to force them to do something they don’t want to do?

Anyway. I just found it interesting that one seemingly simple choice right at the beginning of a draft could end up having such big implications later on in the novel. The whole book ended up having family relations play a big part. In fact, because I’d started with that as the main conflict, I decided to end with that being the final conflict to get resolved. (More or less.) It helps bring closure to the story.

That’s it for this week. As always, thanks for reading!

Working with Sequels

I’ve finished writing at least a draft of 15 novels, but up until MEMORY THIEF 2, I’d never written a sequel. Why not? Because you can’t sell book 2 if you haven’t sold book 1, so what was the point in devoting time to a book that would be in that situation? That always made sense to me, but now that I’m actually writing a sequel, I’m finding some of it is (go figure) tricky, and I’m examining other sequels to see what they do right and wrong.

The problem is finding the right balance between old and new. People who turn to a sequel want to find more of what they found in the original. This is where things went wrong in the Star Wars prequels. Some of the stuff from the original was there (lightsabers!) but a whole lot of it felt very different. Too different. So people rejected it.

On the other hand, people also don’t want a simple rehash of the original. Ironically, this is where some critics have focused with the Star Wars sequel. It was too much like the first movie. (For the record, I loved it, and I don’t agree with the criticism.)

I watched Guardians of the Galaxy 2 last week, and it was another good example of how hard it is to get a sequel just right. In this case, the original was so fresh. So out there. That recapturing that feeling is likely impossible. It’s the same as the sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean. Depp’s Jack Sparrow can only be 100% fresh once, and since a whole lot of the power of that movie came from that freshness, the sequels can’t help but feel staler in comparison.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Guardians sequel. I thought it was exciting, full of humor and adventure, and that it had a cool story (even if it was a bit more convoluted and contrived than it could have been.) It found some ways to make old things fresh (Groot is now little!), but it still couldn’t be quite the same as the feeling you got when you watched the first.

So how does all of this connect to MEMORY THIEF 2? I’ve been going through the same process. Trying to decide for myself what the right balance between old and new should be for the book. I started by going pretty far into “new” territory, but as I’ve been revising, I’m reeling quite a bit of that in, weaving the new to the old, so that it’s shown to be all part of the same cloth, if that makes sense.

Of course, in the end, you might be like George Lucas: making a sequel the way you want to, only to discover that what you liked in the original was totally different from what everyone else liked. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen in my case . . .

The Whispers: Memory Thief Chapter Eight

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Welcome to another chapter annotation, a chance for me to tell readers a bit about the writing process that went into THE MEMORY THIEF. As always, this will have plenty of spoilers, so don’t read it if you haven’t already read the book.

Now we’re finally to the point where it’s all new territory. Chapter Eight was written entirely fresh for later drafts. In fact, it didn’t appear until the fifth draft, after my editor got back to me with her first round of revision notes. (Yes. That means I’d done four drafts of the book before I even sent it to an editor.) In the letter, she noted:

The idea of each person’s mind looking like a different library that reflects that person’s personality is fun and provides for interesting set pieces. One important addition of world building would be increasing the stakes of memory thieving by incorporating a kind of ticking clock that only allows a person to be in someone’s mind for a short amount of time before they are stuck there and go brain dead (or some other potential problem). This would increase the intensity and urgency for every memory-thieving scene that we have with Benji.

Up until this point, the Whispers didn’t even exist. Jordan (my editor) rightly noted that it really had a detriment on the tension of Benji could just dart into a Memory Library whenever he felt like it and be safe. It was a like a giant “Pause” button just hanging over everything, waiting to be used. It also meant that he could really dink around whenever he was in a Library. Take his time. No pressure at all.

Of course, it was up to me to figure out what sort of form that “ticking clock” could take. At first I considered making it just that: a literal limited amount of time a Memory Thief could be in any one Library at a time. Jordan’s suggestion of imminent brain death was definitely appealing as well. But I rejected those ideas for one main reason: I wanted the book to be creepier. During each revision, I did my best to “up the creep” factor and bring the novel more in line with my original concept of Disney Horror. I discovered I don’t naturally do this. I have to really focus on writing scary scenes, and even when I believe I’ve done a good job, when I go back to read it through, it was never scary enough.

A ticking clock might scare someone with a phobia, but at that point, there was nothing visceral about the book. All the conflict was pretty much cerebral. I wanted something people could think about. Actually see. Actually run away from.

The Whispers is what I ended up with.

I’m a Robert Jordan fan, and I’ve read Wheel of Time multiple times through. In that series, there’s a thing called the Black Wind, a terrifying something that first manifests itself as incoherent whispering. I always thought that was high on the creepy scale, and perhaps that’s some of what I drew on for the Whispers. But where Jordan takes them in a different direction, I fused that idea with the shadow demon things we now see in the first book.

I was very pleased with how they turned out. I didn’t know much more about them than the basic idea when I started writing this chapter, and I discovered a whole lot “in scene.” It’s my favorite way of brainstorming.

The Whispers are playing a big role in the sequel at the moment. So many readers had questions about them. They ended up being one of the things that caught people’s interest the most. I’d definitely say they were one of the best late additions to the book, and they’ve given me a whole area to play with as I further explore the world of The Memory Thief. What are the Whispers? Where do they come from? Those are questions that were on my mind as I approached the sequel.

Anyway. That’s all I have time for this week. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more . . .

All About Louis: Memory Thief Chapter Six and Seven

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Welcome to another chapter annotation for THE MEMORY THIEF. Up this week? A bit of discussion on Louis as a character, along with some info on how he changed over the course of the book. As always, this is intended for people who have finished the novel, so I’ll be talking about the ending and everything in between. Don’t read if you don’t want spoilers.

In the original draft of THE MEMORY THIEF, Louis is a kind old man who dies at the end of chapter six, as he does now. But the big difference is that he stays dead. There was no “remnant” of him left to instruct Benji. He gives his ability and knowledge of how to be a Memory Thief to Benji all at once, and he’s gone. Benji just has all the information at his mental fingertips right off the bat.

This was problematic, because it made it so Benji had to sort of think through things that he technically already knew. It was very clunky, and made for big chunks of exposition that didn’t work at all. To fix this, I made Louis show up as he does now in Chapter Seven in his afterimage form. (My ode to Obi Wan.)

This helped in many ways, because it gave Louis a bigger role, and allowed him to have more one on one time with Benji. It also let Benji get a crash course on how to use his abilities in a way that makes sense and is interesting. As a matter of fact, I ended up having  Louis play an even bigger role after that first draft. He would pop up now and then at sporadic times to comment on what Benji was doing and to give him advice and input. He ultimately helped Benji through the depression trap Genevieve sets for him late in the book, and disappears there.

On the one hand, that was great. Benji had a great relationship with the old man, and when Louis finally disappears, it made a big impact on him. But it presented other problems. The biggest was that Benji had help throughout the novel. He had an expert on hand to conveniently show up and offer solutions to whatever pickle Benji found himself in. This ultimately proved to be too much. It didn’t feel like Benji was solving any of his problems, which cheapened the feel of his victories.

In the end, Louis stuck around for a chapter, and then disappeared. Worse yet, we discover later in the book that Louis had been a real jerk years before. (Something which presents bigger implications. How much do Memory Thieves get warped by their ability? Is it inevitable? It corrupted Louis. It corrupted Genevieve. What will happen to Benji?)

So Louis ended up having quite the range of experiences over different drafts of the book. I think we ended up in a good spot, but I do miss some of the interactions he and Benji had way back when.

As a side note: I wonder how many readers noticed that Benji’s name connects to Louis. I’m doubting very many, since a lot of readers appear to be pronouncing Louis’s name the French way, like King Louis. I always thought of it being pronounced like Lewis. And back in Chapter One, Benji’s mom yells at him and Kelly. “Benjamin Clive and Kelly Joy Lewis” (Truly geeky people will get the reference there. His parents named the twins’ middle names after CS (Clive Staples) Lewis and his wife Joy.) But anyway. Benji’s last name is the same as Louis’s first name. Make of that what you will.

Revising on a Fast Turnaround

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If you’ve been following me on social media, you’ll know that I finished the first draft of MEMORY THIEF 2 last Saturday. It clocked in at around 66,000 words, and I’m pretty happy with it, as far as first drafts go. It does the main thing I want my first drafts to do, which is get the basic events of the book down on paper, so that I can take a look at what’s happening and see where I need to revise things into shape.

I’m really big on revision. My first drafts need a lot of work to bring them up to shape, mainly because I typically make most of them up as I go along. It isn’t until the whole draft is finished that I really understand what the book is about. I get that isn’t necessarily the most efficient way to write a book, but it’s what works best for me.

My usual approach is to set the first draft aside for a half year or so after I finish it. Go off and write a different book, or else revise a book I’d written earlier. The thought behind this is that I’ll have forgotten enough of the book to be able to read it with “fresh eyes,” seeing it as if I hadn’t written it. I’m always worried I’ll go easy on a book I wrote, not being able to see the imperfections that will leap off the page to others.

With the MEMORY THIEF sequel, I don’t have this luxury.

The final draft is due in August. If I took 6 months off, I wouldn’t be coming back to the book until October, two months late. So I can’t very well sit back and do nothing. And as I thought about the problem, I realized some of this might just be that it’s time for me to handle my revisions differently. When I’ve revised MEMORY THIEF and VODNIK, there were times when I had to just plow through a revision, and forget all about needing fresh eyes.

So two days ago (just four days after having finished the first draft) I printed out the book and am rereading it from the beginning.

Right off, I’m seeing some good things from this approach. I remember what happens at the end of the book, for one thing, so I can spot places where I need to set things up better than I thought I had. I certainly feel like I’ve been able to write plenty of comments down for ways to improve the book. And somehow, I forgot enough about the beginning that I’m still feeling like I’m encountering it fairly fresh.

Some of this might changes as I get further into the book. Will I still be able to be objective when it’s with material I just barely wrote a month ago? We shall see. But I’m always open to switching things up with my writing. Maybe I’ll discover I’ve been sitting on books too long, or unnecessarily. Certainly having an editor already on board to look at it and give me feedback makes a huge difference.

I should also note that with this draft, I had a pretty strong outline that had already gotten feedback from my agents and editor, which is different than how I’ve worked in the past. I still anticipate making changes in the revision, but the skeleton should be fairly strong and constant. That will no doubt make a big difference.

I’m not sharing much in the way of details of the sequel just yet, mainly because I want to make sure my editor is happy with the book in general before I say too much about it. I don’t want readers to be getting excited for something, only to have it totally get switched on them before it gets published. So stay tuned for more information . . .

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