How is a book baby born? Well, when a mommy book and a daddy book love each other very much … okay. I’ll stop.
But in the case of The Songbird’s Refrain, I think it must have been conceived around May of 2015. That’s what I started writing the fanfic that would eventually become an original novel idea.
Looking back, it’s easy to read through the fanfic I posted and see only the mistakes. The plot is really weak in certain sections, especially around the climax. The characters come across as very wooden, and you don’t really get a good sense of the main character’s personality in particular.
But it’s also a fanfic that I’m proud of, because it’s the first thing I can remember being genuinely determined to finish. It was the first thing I wrote that was relatively novel shaped.
Now, this was an AU fanfic was based off of a song, so most of the plot was original to me. But when I decided to rework it, it wasn’t just a matter of swapping some names (as I've, erm, seen done). A lot of things needed to be scrapped. For one thing, the setting was not original to me, so I had to change it. (It was a circus, and you can still see shades of it in the current version if you squint — Madame Selene being the most prominent example.) The main character originally grew flowers, not feathers, and she wasn’t the only one kept in a cage. I deleted the other captives because they didn’t really do anything for the story.
Then there were the things that were original to me that just needed changing. I deleted some more “original” characters that I felt didn’t add anything to the story. In addition, I also found that the fanfic had two characters that acted functionally the same as the antagonist’s “right hand man,” and there were three characters who were basically there to offer cryptic clues. I combined those into Bridget and Madame Selene, respectively.
So then I started writing the first draft. For awhile, it followed more or less the same plot beats as the fanfic, with a bit more fleshing out on certain elements. But then, around 2/3 of the way though, something happened.
I don’t want to spoil, obviously. But there was a point in the fanfic where something happened to the protagonist. It was completely out of her control, a pretty big narrative coincidence, and all in all just there for shock value (except not really all that shocking).
In Songbird, it went different.
Because Elizabeth didn’t wait for this thing to happen, like the main character of the fanfic did. Instead, she took action. And her action led to more or less the same plot beat as the fanfic, but now it had a different kind of narrative resonance, because it was Elizabeth’s choices and actions. She wasn’t just a victim of the plot anymore—she was the player.
I wish I could tell you that I had a eureka moment while writing. That I realized how heavily themes of choice and consent played into the story. That would be a lie. I just thought, “Oh, this is a cool thing that’s happening!”
By the time I had finished draft 1, I did realize some pretty big narrative flaws. Enough, in fact, that I was able to take a whole other pass without any feedback from readers. Here are just some of the things that got changed from draft 1 to draft 2:
I realized a character’s death didn’t really accomplish anything, and that in fact said character worked better alive, so I reworked it.
The main setting was, originally, just a black room with absolutely nothing in it. I spruced it up a little for the sake of making things a bit more entertaining.
I deleted a bunch of scenes that either didn’t do anything or repeated the same thing.
I fleshed out the Mistress as an antagonist, adding a scene that would eventually become my second favorite and really give the readers a feel for how and why she operates.
By this point, I had enough of a handle on Elizabeth’s voice to really let it sink into her narration.
After this came my first round of readers. They really helped me identify some of the weakest parts of the story. Again, I don’t remember everything that got changed, but here are just some of the things I know I fixed, based on their feedback:
Got rid of a few unnecessary time-skips that did nothing but bog the plot down.
Changed the POV of the dream sequences to make them flow a little bit better.
Fleshed out the love interest as a character, making sure that you got a feel for her personality and why Elizabeth fell for her in the first place.
This was also around the point that I started realizing the main theme of consent and choice (to be honest, I don’t remember if a reader pointed it out to me or if I figured it out on my own). So that become more prevalent as well.
Then, it was time to enlist the help of MORE readers! I was pretty confident that I didn’t need any major edits by this point . . . aaaaaaand I was wrong. Here are just some of the things I changed.
Re-arranged some scenes so that there wasn’t a stagnant section of dead air for like six chapters. (Yes, I still had this. Pacing is not nor will it ever be my strong suit.)
Made one character’s motivations and allegiance less obvious.
Made one character’s motivations and allegiance more obvious.
Things that I can’t even begin to describe in a non-spoiler-y fashion.
At this point, I was confident enough in the draft to print it out and line-edit it. I identified weak sentence structure, certainly, but also areas where character motivations or quirks could have been clearer.
Then, I sent it off to one more round of readers. And when they could only find a few, easily fixable weak spots here and there, I felt comfortable in sending it off to a professional editor.
Which brings us to today! My editor has just started work on The Songbird’s Refrain, and I’m looking forward to his feedback. Once that’s done . . . That’s it. I format the book, make it pretty, and throw it out into the world.
I’m so, so proud of the progress I’ve made on this story. And I hope that you like it as much as I do.