Editing Update: Army of the Undead

As the title would suggest, I am working on edits. This is an ongoing (possibly never-ending…) series, so if you missed them and are interested, check out the first two installments here and here.

So, I started writing The Coileáin Chronicles a long time ago. And because I am, at the very least, a semi-plotter, I had plans in place for certain characters. Meaning that, years ago (like, as in a lot of years. As in my 18-year-old niece hadn’t been born yet), back when I was still working on the first book, I had planned for a certain character’s death to occur in Book Three. It was going to be a beautiful death scene chock full of meaning and emotion and whatever else goes into a good death scene. Wailing and keening and all that good stuff. Whatever. The point is, it was going to be fantastic, and I couldn’t wait to write it.

But because I’m me and because I’m the slowest writer on the face of the earth, I didn’t get to write that scene until 2021. No matter, though, because here it was at last—my opportunity to write this scene, this scene I had waited decades to write, the beautiful, emotional, meaningful death scene for a character who had been a pain in my ass more often than not over the years. Oh, I was finally going to kill him (spoiler alert: it was a him) and be rid of him at last.

And then the scene didn’t work.

So I tried another way. And another. And another one after that. And none of them worked. At long last, my brain offered up this possibility: maybe this character wasn’t supposed to die after all.

Which, of course, made me super happy because I love it when stuff like that happens. I mean, sure, I spent all this time carefully working out the details of a multi-book series in an attempt to squeeze every available drop of storytelling juice out of the concept, just for the character in question to burn it all down to the ground like he’s the freaking disaster girl meme. He goes skipping off into the sunset while I’m standing there, looking at the ashy remains of my plans.

Who wouldn’t love that?

I mean, come on. All this character had to do was die. Just take a damn sword in the gut and die. Just fall down on the ground and die, but nooooooo. He couldn’t do that.

But again. Super happy. Just…so super damn happy.

So, I was all, “Fine. Go ahead and live, you jerk. But you had better come up with something for you to do now that you’re walking about all not dead, because I’ll be damned if I’m going to do it for you.”

Which was apparently a mistake.

Because it started an epidemic of characters declaring themselves free of my carefully created plans.

Which, again, just delighted me to no freaking end. Because when one is attempting to write a big battle scene in which a lot of characters are supposed to die, it’s always helpful when none of those characters die.

Just…so, so helpful.

Anyway, that was the first draft, and I eventually found my way to the end of that first draft, shoved the manuscript in the metaphorical drawer, and walked away. Three months later, I took it out, printed out a copy, and started reading.

Now, the biggest reason I do that—take at least three months in between drafts—is to give myself the freshest eyes possible when I start working on that second draft. If I just roll directly from one draft into the next, the things that need fixing the most run a big risk of not being found and not being fixed…which is, you know, kind of the point of creating that second draft. I have stopped seeing what’s actually on the page because my oh-so-helpful brain knows what’s supposed to be on the page and offers me a recap like, “Oh? This old scene? Nothing to see here but a bunch of sad and sarcastic characters being sad and sarcastic. Everything’s fine!” when everything is, in fact, not fine. The time away from the manuscript allows me to forget things—not everything, of course—but it makes a huge difference in me being able to spot those problem areas. After three months, they stick out like very sore thumbs.

But anyway, I started my read-through and started making my notes and went through what I’m certain is a very reasonable number of pens and highlighters (still time to enter my world-famous guessing game giveaway…) on my way to the aforementioned battle scene. Along the way, I was reminded of changes I had made to the original concept of the story. Some worked out well, some fell a little short, some really didn’t stick the landing, and some didn’t even get close to achieving that much.

Typical first draft fare, really. But needless to say, I was getting pretty damn curious to find out into which category the big battle scene would fall, especially with my army of the undead running around being all undead—which, again, was a development with which I was totally cool.

And given how cool I totally was with it, imagine my surprise when I read the scene (well, scenes, really) and I…didn’t hate it?

Which, of course, didn’t bother me in the least.

And that character I had waited years to kill, that character I had berated loudly completely supported when he decided to foment insurrection create his own adventure was, perhaps, the biggest surprise at all.

I read his scene (you know, the one in which he was supposed to die) and when I got to the end, I went, “Huh.”

Which is, in case you didn’t know, MJ Speak for, “I didn’t hate that.”

It’s not, by any means, a perfect scene. There are some issues that will require some finessing to really make it work. But the concept is…interesting? This character who’s been a chronic pain in my ass for years is suddenly…interesting?

He didn’t come up with a complete plan for what the hell he’s supposed to do now that he survived the battle, but he sure as hell planted some intriguing seeds that I now have to do…whatever the hell it is one does with seeds. Germinate them or whatever. (Note: I don’t garden.)

I had a similar reaction to a couple of the other characters who joined the army of the undead. I’m not sure what they’ll be doing in the next book, but I’m damn curious to find out.

Which just goes to show how it can pay to be flexible. Even hard-core plotters with their hard-core plans can (if they’re open to it…) end up somewhere unexpected…and in my experience, the story is better for it.

Even if, in the moment, it leaves me all

So, so happy.

That’s gonna do it for me today, folks. As always, thanks for stopping by. It’s always appreciated.

Stay safe and well, all.

28 Commentsto Editing Update: Army of the Undead

  1. Jemi Fraser says:

    My characters are very demanding as well. Not that I’ve attempted to kill any of them off, but their vision doesn’t always line up with mine! In the end, they’re mostly right.
    Hope your nemesis character pulls it all off!
    And I knew the “Huh” meant you didn’t hate it!!! 🙂

    • M.J. Fifield says:

      They are mostly right, which is why they get (however begrudgingly…) the benefit of the doubt. 🙂

      I hope he pulls it off, too. Otherwise, I will drop a piano onto his head and be done with him.

  2. Am I sensing sarcasm? You can’t do this to me, MJ. I take things literally and shit like that goes over my head. Hell, for the longest time I was utterly confused as to why the Emporer in Return of the Jedi was afraid of the Death Star being operational. I did not understand he was being sarcastic. ^^;;

  3. As long as you’re happy he didn’t die. Save that great death scene for someone else.

  4. Yay for not hating it, but it does make me worried for myself! XD I have a character set to die in book 3, but if I don’t kill him, that’ll affect all the books that follow (2 big books and a series of novellas), and I’m pretty sure they won’t work if he doesn’t die. (But then again, much like the TV show Supernatural, people don’t tend to stay dead with me.)

    Hope all the editing continues to go with the “I don’t hate it” vibe!

    • M.J. Fifield says:

      I would LOVE to maintain the ‘I don’t hate it’ vibe, but I’m not sure that will happen. I’ll settle for the occasional glimpse of it, though.

      Best of luck in pulling off your own Book 3 character death…may your characters be more cooperative!

  5. I love it when the characters take over 🙂

  6. As long as the story is now better, go with the non-death.

  7. Kate says:

    love it when characters decide they don’t want to do what you want them to. Glad it seems to have worked out anyway. And good luck with the rest of the editing.

  8. J E Oneil says:

    Well, it’s not surprising that plans would change over literal decades! Try not to think how long it’s been.

  9. Chrys Fey says:

    I remember our conversations about the jerk of a character deciding not to die. lol I am delighted that the scene came out better than you thought and that you don’t hate it. (I’m secretly cheering on your character.)

  10. Liz A. says:

    Sometimes you just have to let the characters do what they will. I’m glad things seem to be working out. As a plotter myself, I know sometimes what happens on the page isn’t what was planned, but it tends to take things in a better direction.

    Perhaps you can write that death scene in the next book 😉

    • M.J. Fifield says:

      This is definitely not the first (nor the last) time I’ve had to let the characters take over. More often than not, it does work out and the story is better for it. Maybe one day, I won’t be quite so irritated when it happens. 🙂

  11. Those revelations come just when we need them–most of the time–or after we’ve walked away for a length of time. Glad you’ve found a route to take, and I’m sure that character is grateful to still be alive.

    • M.J. Fifield says:

      I find time away from a manuscript is absolutely vital. I know not every author likes to work that way (and to each their own), but I won’t go without it.

      Depending on what happens in the next book, that character may soon regret his decision. (insert evil laugh here…)

  12. Oh those naughty characters who don’t do as you wanted. Actually, all my characters are naughty. They never listen! I’m happy to hear you don’t hate what happened. I’m in the middle of edits too. I’m pleased that I didn’t have to cut all the witty dialogue like I thought I might. If it helps the plot, it stays. Stay, my pretties, stay.

    • M.J. Fifield says:

      I hate when I have to cut witty dialogue. I feel like I’ve done that a lot in this edit so far.

  13. Steve Cromwell says:

    I need this on a T-shirt:

    Nothing to see here
    but a bunch of sad
    and sarcastic characters
    being sad and sarcastic.

    Everything’s fine!

    And as for all those characters who are mysteriously still alive, how about they join together and form a band? They could call themselves The Grateful Undead.

  14. Ah! It’s pretty fascinating don’t you think, when the characters take over your initial narrative path for them? It’s almost as if they come to life and tell you in which direction they want to go.

    • M.J. Fifield says:

      It is fascinating. My significant other just doesn’t understand how I’m the writer of the story, but the characters keep taking over.

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