Beautiful Books [1 & 2]: I Spew About the WIP


In celebration of NaNoWriMo 2014, fabulous bloggers and writers Cait and Sky are hosting a three-month-long linkup called Beautiful Books in which all of us writers can answer questions about our novels like the narcissistic creatures we are (or at least, I am). It's basically a gigantic writerly/bloggy party centering on the stories that have taken over our lives. Although I'm not doing NaNo this year (2015, hopefully?), I am still chipping away at a rather long-suffering WIP that I'd like to talk about, so here I am.

WARNING: Huge post ahead.

Unfortunately (and predictably), the October linkup totally flew over my head, so I didn't get to write up a post. So here are the questions from Linkup #1, which I missed but will play catch-up on:

What came first: characters or plot idea? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Definitely the character. This whole WIP actually started with just one name: Chantilly. Then the plot began slowly filling itself in. I knew that I wanted to write something vaguely steampunk-y (this was just after I finished the Infernal Devices series, which I adored) and set in a Victorian-esque world.

You can tell that this basically started out as a Clockwork Angel clone before I realized what I was doing and took the whole thing an entirely different way.

Anyhow, after that it was basically like adding ingredients to a cake: thievery, romance, corruption, revolution, period drama elements, etc. etc. I just threw in some features in stories that I love and mixed them together until they became something vaguely like a storyline.

(I'm obviously great at plotting.)

As for the age-old plotter/pantser question: For now I'm a bit of both. This is actually only the second serious manuscript I've ever attempted, and I was a bit foolish back in March of 2013 and started writing with no outline whatsoever beyond a few ideas for scenes. This led to a lot of stagnation as I tried desperately to come up with the direction I wanted the story to go in next, although I did have lots of fun making things up as I went. Now, though, I've got a rudimentary outline that I'm trying to stick to, though I don't do outlines within the chapter unless I'm seriously stuck. I suppose I could say I'm trying to convert to plotter mode in order to give the book a better handle on where it's heading.

Do you have a title and/or a “back-cover-blurb”? 

The title is On the Midnight Streets, and my (admittedly shaky) blurb is as follows:

Peralton is a city of walls, and seventeen-year-old Chantilly is caught in the war between them.

From poverty-stricken urchins to wealthy society darlings, no one is safe from the corruption that has woven into the city's heart. Only the Midnight Hatter, a cunning thief with a shadowy identity, dares defy it - but when he abducts Chantilly on her wedding day, no one is sure what a middle-class-girl-turned-socialite can do for an untouchable criminal. 

The answer? Revolution.

From inside the very castle that the Hatter means to bring down.

Forced into a deadly game of espionage and intrigue, Chantilly only wants to lie and cheat
 her way back home. But every day that she spends in the palace is another day spent in the thick of the mounting injustice that grips the government, and another day of knowing that she can light the fire against it.

It turns out that fires, once burning, only get bigger.

What wordcount are you aiming for when your novel is finished?

I was originally going to keep this to around 70-80K, but I've been writing a while and it doesn't look like it's going to happen. But I do want to stay below 100K, as I've heard it's extremely difficult to get a debut novel published at 100K+ words. So I suppose I'm shooting for a solid 90,000 words at this point.

Sum up your novel in 3 sentences.

Literary-minded, iron-hearted girl teams up with raging feminist snark-master thief to bring down an entire government. Turns out it's harder than they realized. Much banter and knife-throwing ensues.

Sum up your characters in one word each.

I've got a rather large cast of characters, but here are most of the important ones:
  • Chantilly Rosewater: fierce
  • Finnegan Lyle: dangerous
  • Sebastian Lyle: charismatic
  • Esmeralda: steadfast
  • Charles Mareil: noble
  • Catherine Cleacker: unpredictable
  • Renton: magnetic
  • Stiefvin: innovative
  • Edgar Monteau: disconcerting
  • Yvette Scarleigh: steely
  • King Alastair: corrupted
  • Queen Saerys: bitter

Which character are you most excited to write? Tell us about them! 

I'd have to say I'm super excited about writing Chantilly and Finn. Chantilly is the heroine, so naturally I have to be passionate about writing her if I'm building an entire book around her - she's determined and loyal in a quiet sort of way, and I'm so pumped to draw out her character development. It's all about Chantilly finding the steel inside herself and helping others find their own strength. Plus, most of the chapters are told from her first-person PoV, and I already love love love being inside her head. Finn is our thief. He is 110% a feminist and is extremely skilled at both fighting and sarcasm. (This includes sarcasm while fighting.) Finn and Chantilly are kindred spirits (though I'm not a huge fan of that phrase, I admit) on so many levels, and their individual characters as well as their character dynamic are going to be so wonderful.

What about your villain? Who is he, what is his goal?

My villain's a rather creepy king named Alastair. He believes it's his right to have absolute power, and he asserts this supposed "right" in any number of messed-up ways. This belief also manifests itself in an all-consuming paranoia. It doesn't help that he has a host of illegitimate children and a network of spies and a tendency to execute anyone who annoys him. His goal is basically to bash the revolution. His grandfather secured the throne in a dramatic and violent coup, and now Alastair is terrified that he'll lose power the same way.

What is your protagonist’s goal? And what stands in the way?

Chantilly's initial goal is to get back home to her family, because right now her marriage would be their best chance at complete social and financial security, and getting kidnapped kind of threw a wrench in that whole plan. Keeping her family safe and happy is a recurring need of hers, and it drives a lot of her actions. Obviously, the fact that Finn and his revolution wants her to spy for them stands in the way of that.

But then, slowly, Chantilly begins to think that maybe the rebels are on to something. She starts to see the moral depravity and inequality that plagues every aspect of the government. And this causes her to actually care about the revolution and switch her goal over to seeing it through. Consequently, her biggest roadblock becomes the government itself, with King Alastair at its head.

What inciting incident begins your protagonist’s journey?

The inciting incident is set in Chantilly's family's boardinghouse room in the Middle City, the middle-class area of Peralton. Chantilly receives a letter stamped with the king's seal stating that her family has inherited an entire estate in the Upper City (the wealthy area of Peralton). This propels her into the world of Peralton's richest socialites and results in the wedding that she gets kidnapped in.

Where is your novel set?

This book is set in the city of Peralton, the capital of the peninsula country the Mendlands. This is a fictional kingdom essentially based on Victorian England, with some changes in culture, tradition, etc. (This is because I totally could have turned this into an alternate history book but I have a fear of the research that would take, so instead I'm making things up as I go.)

What are three big scenes in your novel that change the game completely?

Other than the inciting incident, which is completely obvious, we've got three scenes I'm really going to love writing/are really important. But beware of spoilers!
  1. When the Midnight Hatter crashes Chantilly's wedding. Basically, the Hatter throws things (a knife, a hat, and a cake, to be exact), Chantilly is stuffed into a sack, lots of things get broken (maybe a chandelier?), and everyone panics.
  2. Chantilly decides to masquerade as a potential heir to the throne, based on an obscure but powerfully supported legend about the first rulers of the Mendlands. This is HUGE for her. She's taking a role in the very dangerous but very coveted political spotlight, and she's willing to threaten her identity and her very life to do so. This goes against every single instinct she's ever had, and that development on her part is extremely important.
  3. Chantilly gets wounded pretty badly by a poisoned blade. She's basically about two centimeters away from dying (though not literally). It gets... emotional.

What is the most dynamic relationship your character has? Who else do they come in contact with or become close to during the story?

As you've probably gathered, the Finn/Chantilly relationship is the most important one in the story. It's founded on respect and admiration and silent but unbreakable bonds. There's lots of snark and awkwardness. But Chantilly comes into contact with a lot of other characters, too, and they all change her in different ways. Yvette shows her the importance of respecting other girls rather than putting them down. Chantilly and Esmeralda have a super positive, super supportive female friendship. Charles inspires Chantilly to have clear ideals and stick to them. And so on and so forth.

How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?

Chantilly definitely starts learning to work with her introversion. It's still a part of her - magically "curing" her shyness just doesn't seem true to her character - but she starts to realize that she has power. She can make a difference. There are different kinds of courage and she has some of them. It's difficult to learn that - she loses a lot and it totally sucks - but she begins to see that it just might be worthwhile.

Do you have an ending in mind, or do you plan to see what happens?

I do have an ending in mind. It's going to be a bit of a cliffhanger, though, which is risky. I may experiment with this, since I know that when you're writing the first book of what you intend to be a series, you should let the first book stand alone in case a publisher doesn't pick up the rest of the series. So I guess it's a bit of both.

What are your hopes and dreams for your book? What impressions are you hoping this novel will leave on your readers and yourself?

Like most writers, I do dream of getting my book published. I just want to have that wow-this-book-is-a-thing moment and be able to share it with readers on that scale. But I'm also hoping - and this is undoubtedly presumptuous of me - that it will be a valuable contribution to the YA literary, that it will matter to someone. I hope it inspires someone. I hope that I and other people can learn from this story, because it's such a big part of the inside of me that I really want to get out into the world.


And here are this month's questions! Hopefully last month's background helped out a bit.

Be honest: how is your writing going?

It's frustrating, honestly. I've been in an extended writing slump for over a year - none of my writing sessions are very productive, and I hardly have time to write, though I'm not sure whether that's because I'm simply not working hard enough to make time or because I actually don't have time. But I'm hoping to get back into the swing of writing and finally finish this first draft (since I've been working on it since March 2013, haha *cries forever*). 

What’s your first sentence/paragraph?

The envelope in my hand has corners sharp enough to cut me, and for a long moment, I trick myself into thinking it will if I hold it for too long. The clock on our wall ticks one, two, twenty-two times, calmly enough that I can let it time my inhales. My eyes wouldn’t deceive me - the messenger who passed it to me through a chink in our doorframe was dressed in livery finer than anyone in these parts has seen in decades. But stranger still was his expression, so guardedly incredulous that the memory of it makes me afraid of the letter he’s brought me.
Do you have a book cover, and/or pictures that reflect your book?

The first book cover I ever made for this looks like this:

I do have a current(ish) book cover, though it's very old:

As for pictures reflecting the book, I have a Pinterest board for the novel that should meet the needs of this question quite nicely:

Do you have pictures of each of your characters? If not, describe them for us! (Be as descriptive as you can.)

I do have a few pictures, thanks to the marvel that is Pinterest. But I don't have pictures for everyone yet. A few notable people will be missing.

HEROINE Chantilly Rosewater, seventeen-year-old girl full of nonsense.

ROYALTY - Left to Right: Rosalind, legendary first queen of the Mendlands (Adelaide Kane) | Clarabel, the other legendary first queen of the Mendlands | Saerys, current queen of the Mendlands and unwilling wife of Alastair

NOT PICTURED: Alastair, main villain and total creep and current king of the Mendlands

THIEVES - Clockwise: Finnegan Lyle / Midnight Hatter, thief lord of Peralton | Sebastian Lyle, Finn's rapscallion uncle with a heart of gold (Johnny Depp) | Esmeralda, basically Finn's surrogate older sister | Loraina Blackcliff, brilliant scientist who joins up later on (Helena Bonham Carter) | Stiefvin, Finn's nerdy inventor friend (James McAvoy) | Rowen, leader of the rival thief ring

NOT PICTURED: Renton, smuggler / Finn's best friend / Stiefvin's boyfriend but shhh he doesn't know it yet

UPPER CITY - Clockwise: Diane Rosewater (younger version), Chantilly's steel-willed mother | Chamomile Rosewater, Chantilly's fiery fifteen-year-old sister | Velvet Rosewater, Chantilly's crazy-nice thirteen-year-old sister | Edgar Monteau, secondary villain / earl with a clouded past | Yvette Scarleigh, earl's daughter and probably the most socially shrewd person in the kingdom | Colin Cleacker, Catherine Cleacker's thirteen-year-old brother | Catherine Cleacker, misunderstood baronet's daughter with multiple personality disorder

NOT PICTURED: Charles Mareil, Chantilly's fiancĂ© / ad hoc policeman | his entire family (Richard, Eleanor, Edward, Talia) | Lavender & Lavinia, two sisters | Yvette's family (Octavia & Yvette's father) | Rienne, thirteen-year-old maid in the Rosewaters' home | Lottie Merton, Chantilly's maid and good friend | Thea Recantine, palace librarian and author of Chantilly's favorite book | etc.

ALSO NOT PICTURED: Robert, Chantilly's poor-excuse-for-a-human-being father

What scene are you most excited to write?

I kind of discussed this in last month's questions, but there are other scenes that I'm pumped for as well. I'm probably going to sneak in an almost-kiss somewhere. It'll be fun and horribly angsty.

Basically I'm excited to write every scene until I actually get to that scene and suddenly I'm the slowest, most reluctant writer in the world. It's a bit of an issue.

Share a snippet or a scene that you really enjoyed writing.

Here's a screencap, then. Click for a full-size image (and actually readable font).

Now that you're writing, have any of the plot details, or the process itself, turned out different from what you planned or imagined?

I did imagine that since it was a first draft I'd be able to let go and write a little more easily.

I was a naive child.

Is there a character or aspect of your plot that's difficult to write?


*ahem* Probably Chantilly's insecurities and gray areas, the stuff she doesn't like to think about. Those are very difficult to balance with one another.

What’s your favorite aspect of this novel so far? Favorite character?

Chantilly, now and probably forever.

Have you drawn off of any life experiences or people you know to create your novel and your characters?

Actually, no, not really. Unless reading the Infernal Devices and watching Les Mis count. *cringe-laughs*

Do you have a playlist or certain song for your novel and/or characters?

Ha. HA. What do you mean, do I have a playlist? I have multiple playlists. But I'll cherry-pick some songs out because I'd like to keep everyone sane here.

Since OtMS is hugely inspired by Les Mis (I've only seen the film but STILL) and the whole revolution thing just... *collapses*, I'd say the OtMS theme song is "Do You Hear the People Sing?". I feel like Finn's theme song is the Vitamin String Quartet cover of "Smooth Criminal". Chantilly totally fits with "King and Lionheart" by Of Monsters and Men (if Finn is the king and she's the lionheart). 

Let’s have some fun for a moment: imagine you are somehow transported into your book’s world. Which character are you most likely to be found hanging out with?

Honestly, Chantilly is in many ways a lot like me, so we'd probably be best friends. We're quiet with strangers but animated with people we know well. We're both introverted and bookish, and we both love feminism and history. We would have so much fun nerding out together.

How do you keep yourself motivated to finish your daily wordcount? (Pinterest? Internet breaks? Chocolate?)

I like looking at finished pages. (I write in longhand and then type, so it's cool to see a sheet of notebook paper fill up with blue ink.) That's really my main immediate motivator.

What your favorite writing quote or piece of writing advice?

I used to think that my ideal job was to write. To make up stories. To lie for a living. Now that I’m in it, though, now that I’m comfortable in my novelist skin, it doesn’t feel that way at all. I observe for a living. I steal for a living. I stylize for a living. I find things in the real world, I take them for my own, and then I hammer them into a story-shaped thing. Writer? I am a thief and an artist.
That's from Maggie Stiefvater, one of my favorite authors of all time. It's so accurate it hurts.

How does this book make you feel so far? Are you laughing? Crying? Frustrated?

So that's it from me! What do you think of my WIP? Did you write your own Beautiful Books post? Please do sound off in the comments!

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  1. The writing quote is superb, and the rest of it is superber. :D I really like the pictures you use and the writing you shared. And, just saying, Les Mis is awesome, and I highly recommend seeking out a better version than the movie, since it fails to give it all the justice it deserves. Good luck writing!

    1. Ahh! Thank you so much! I had a lot of fun putting this post together, haha. And yes on Les Mis! I fully plan on looking for a better version someday, as I've heard the movie has definite shortcomings. Thank you for your comment!

  2. LOL that Olaf scene gets me every time. XD XD anyway, OHMYGOODNESS!!! I LOOOOOOOOVE THE SOUND OF YOUR BOOK AND YOUR CHARACTERS, EVERYTHING SOUNDS SO AWESOME AND EPIC *deep breathing* I'm ok. and lol, I know what it's like to have a draft sit around unfinished for, dare I say, years. XD hehe good luck with continuing it! :)

    1. Eeeek! Thank you so much! I was a little afraid that my WIP might not appeal to anyone except me :3 and thank you also for the encouragement! I definitely needed it.

  3. oh my goodness your novel sounds amazing :D and I cannot believe you've been working on it for so long, me, I always get bored of a project after two months and have to move on. major respect to the determination and patience!

    1. Oh, I guess I never thought of it that way :) but thank you so much, Rona! Sometimes kind words like yours are pretty much the only things keeping me from giving up ;)

  4. Okay, so I don't know why it took me so long to see this, because ALL THE FEELS. Seriously. You just got me 500% more excited to read the next two half-chapters (which I'm so happy are up!) And also, I see you redesigned your blog layout. I really love it -- has that Tumblr-y feel, but with more Starflower. *winks*

  5. My comment is kind of belated, but I was scrolling through your posts and saw this OtMS spewing and CHRISTINA. This novel needs to be published. Like, now. I haven't got a chance to read everything that's already up on Figment, but I totally need to. It sounds so complex and daring and amazing, and ugh. I'm so excited!

  6. So, I'm rather late, but I read some of this when you first posted it and now I came back to read the whole thing and WOW does this book sound awesome! I agree with AnQi; I really hope this book gets published, because I would buy it. And read it. And probably love it. :) Your characters and your plot and the little snippets you shared all sound amazing--your writing is fantastic, and I can tell just reading this post that this is a project you've poured a lot of time and effort and love into. Basically, this is awesome, and if you ever need a beta reader let me know! :)


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