For educators: Onna-bugeisha — Japan's warrior women (Ishi-jo,_wife_of_Oboshi_Yoshio)

Character Mutiny, Pt. II — The Author Strikes Back

Here’s the story of how I crushed a character mutiny and finished a book.

Back when Risuko first came out, I was hard at work on the sequel, Bright Eyes. I was cruising along, with every expectation that I’d have the book ready for publication in 2018.

Then one of my characters mutinied.

I was about to kill her off (spectacularly, I thought) in order to move the plot forward. As I began to write the scene, however, I realized that I hadn’t set up the death or the character well.

In my mind, she sat there, yelling at me, telling me the scene sucked. And the way I had written her character sucked. And because they sucked, the whole book to that point sucked. Massively.

She wasn’t very polite about it.

I realized, to my horror, that she was right.

Killing Off Characters

Now, I’d killed off characters before, and none of them had liked it. I’d told them that I was sorry to do it, and they’d gone along with it because the story needed them to die. I mean, I’m writing books about a young girl in the middle of a civil war being trained to become an assassin. You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

I had to grant, however, that the omelet I was making wasn’t ready for that egg to break just yet.

Bright Eyes ground to a halt. I was stuck.

Juggling Scorpions

As you know, I’m sure, writing is really hard. Writing a novel is like trying to juggle dozens of scorpions. You have to keep track of a huge number of uncooperative parts, keeping them moving together — keeping them all in the air.

And when you lose track and one stings you, the whole enterprise crashes to the ground.

I asked other writers how I should best move forward. Most of them suggested that I put the mutinous girl and her death scene aside, and simply keep writing — that by reaching the end of the book, I’d see what I needed to do with my mutineer.

I tried — I really did. I spent two years straining to finish the manuscript, so that I could go back and clean things up. Hey, I knew I was going to have to rewrite anyway.

But that approach didn’t work for me. Not for this book, at least.

Back to the Beginning

Eventually, I realized that I needed to completely rethink where I was going. And without going back and rethinking/rewriting the whole of what I’d already written, I couldn’t see where the story needed to head. I spent quite a while moving scenes around, deleting, adding, taking notes. (If you’re interested, I use the writing app Scrivener, which makes this kind of thing easy. Well, easier, at least. It’s still juggling scorpions!) I cut a fun secondary character who introduced a lot of confusion and unnecessary action and exposition. I focused the action of the story in on Risuko — even as the Full Moon was overrun by invaders.

After another year up to my elbows in the guts of the book, I was able to see more clearly what I’d been setting up, and followed those threads.

Last November, after many false starts and scorpion-stung fingers, I was finally able to type 終 — The End.

And yeah: I killed off the character who’d refused to die. And I enjoyed doing it. 🙂

Bright Eyes comes out on May 5, 2022

Kunoichi Companion Tales covers


Qualify for drawings and receive news, sneak peeks, and exclusive special offers!  

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.