Saturday, June 19, 2010

The many evolutions of Magic Under Glass: Nimira

People are often surprised just how much revision can go into a book. It's not just tweaking things, it's often rewriting the entire book more than once. Even editorial changes can be HUGE. I'm revising Between the Sea and Sky right now and probably writing more than half "from scratch"...but it feels way way easier to me than writing a first draft. I know the characters by now, and things feel a lot clearer than they did in the beginning. I wholeheartedly agree with my editor's suggestions, huge as they might sound at first.

Magic Under Glass went through two COMPLETE rewrites before my agent signed it. She had minor tweaks, and when it sold, my editor had less minor edits, but after rewriting the book twice...well, they didn't sound bad at all.

I thought I'd do a few posts talking about the changes the book went through, particularly the characters. One of the biggest problem areas for this particular book for me was the characters. Many of the rejections I received pointed out that they were not that strong, didn't have clear growth arcs, and acted more childish than the plot warranted. Yeah, they needed work. I'll cover all the main characters in a series of posts this week.


Originally Nimira was a peasant girl whose father sold her to a dance troupe for money. The dance troupe didn't do very well, so the dance troupe leader sold her to work in the house of a wealthy woman named Mrs. Swanney. From there, she ended up at Hollin's and earned freedom and love, blah blah. In the original version, there was a lot more of her dancing and a lot more remembering home. Although some people have supposed that Nimira's home country is based on India, in the earliest version I think China is clearly the largest influence. Nimira was always practical and had a sense of humor:

“This will be your room,” the maid said, pushing the door open. It creaked on its hinges as if protesting our intrusion. Through the light of one window, I saw a small, sagging bed in the midst of dusty boxes, two straw brooms, and a smattering of cobwebs.
“Wow, my own room.” I said the words with sincerity, but I thought them sarcastically.

Still, while the story progressed, her character never really did. Her only problem was getting out of her bad external situation, but it never went any deeper. By the second version, I was more focused on the idea that Nimira's life had hardened her to some degree, making her too focused on practical survival rather than her heart. (Note, in these first two versions, Erris was not the love interest. More on that later!):

. “Nim, I think falling in love would be good for you. You’re not very romantic, you know—in fact, you’re downright stolid. Always trying to work hard and be practical.”
“I am practical. I’ve always been practical.” I didn’t see what was wrong with that. “Anyway, I have to be. At home, I had to care for my younger sister and brother, and then I was the oldest girl in the dance troupe—“
Erris slapped his hands together, startling me. “Yes, that’s it! You’re the oldest. You’re always so very much the oldest. You act as if you have a terrific weight on your shoulders.”
“But I do. I’m a slave. I have to work hard, or I’ll be sent to a…a brothel.”
“But why don’t you run away? You could join an acting troupe or a circus.”
Suddenly I felt very angry with him. It was easy for him to say, being a ghost without particular responsibilities. “That stuff is for stories, Erris. I’m sorry. We’ll have to talk later. Ronna is probably looking for me.”

It was better, but I still didn't really like Nimira as much as I should. I liked her best when she was funny and proud, but it felt a little out of place with her background of living on a farm and taking care of younger siblings. In the version that sold, Nimira was a dancer at the royal court and an only child, with a lot more pride that had kept her from connecting with people in the past, and makes her fall hard and fast for Erris. She is no longer a slave, but a girl who made her own choice to come to Lorinar. In the final version, I finally really understood her.

Next up: How Erris went from melodramatic ghost to fairy prince!


  1. I've been through a lot of revising (A LOT) recently, so it's always nice to hear that I'm not the only one... It can be so tough to completely rewrite, but it's fun to look back and see how much better those revisions make the book!

  2. Very interesting, I'm always interested in how things develop, so thanks for sharing!

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Jackie! It's so interesting, and a little bit scary. LOL. :)

  4. Kirsten: was actually sort of terrifying to look at the original version again... Some parts were better than I remember, but a lot of it seemed awful and bizarre to me now... @_@

    Amanda: Glad you enjoyed it!

    Larissa: Well, yeah. It is a little scary... But when it's over the book is so much better! I've come to really enjoy revisions, even huge ones, but it took time to get there...

  5. I'm knee deep in revising with my agent right now, so this post is very helpful. It's good to hear how you tackled the process. I'm sure the results were worth all the work!

  6. Wow. Is it strange that my characters go through many revisions (i.e. drastic changes involving background and past) before I've even finished a first draft? It kinda scares me that they could potentially go through even MORE revisions if an agent isn't happy with them or "their growth." (I feel that characters are my strongest point, though, since I'm one to love a story for its characters and not necessarily its plot.)

    Anyway, I'm still a ways off from having to worry about agent or editor revisions, but this definitely gave me an idea of how things could go for me when/if I ever finish a book and send out queries. :) (Also -- looking forward VERY MUCH to the post on Erris's growth through revisions!)

  7. Jmartinlibrary: Glad it was helpful!

    JSavant: If characters are your strong point, it's quite possible that would not be the thing you'd focus on in revisions. Every book is different. My next book is going through far less revisions than MUG, but I have another book that is as yet unsold that has been rewritten something like 7 times, with many smaller revisions in between. So some need a lot and some need a little. (They're much more likely to need a lot when you're just starting, though...)

    And, while it's true, you might change because an agent isn't happy, I always also realized the agent was right. So, while sometimes the work isn't fun (and sometimes it's actually very satisfying) I was always behind the changes I made myself, whether an agent asked for them or not. (The third rewrite, for example, was all my idea and not because of anything an agent said.)