Start to Finish: A Photo Essay (of Sorts) for THE CHRONICLE OF SECRET RIVEN


Chronicle of Secret Riven

In this week’s guest blog, Ronlyn Domingue (The Mercy of Thin Air) shares the brainstorming, planning, and drafting process involved in the creation of her new novel. The Chronicle of Secret Riven (Book 2 in The Keeper of Tales Trilogy, which began with The Mapmaker’s War) was published on May 20 by Atria Books. (Watch for my review in the coming weeks.)

On October 23, 2006, I started to work on my second novel. The exact date is written on the first page of my notebook. Plain white 8 ½ x 11 paper is my preference—I need the open space without the rule of lines—and I like to write in pencil, using colored pencils for emphasis.

If someone were to peruse the notebook, which now exceeds 1,500 pages, she (or he) would find a collection of lightning-strike ideas, dialogue fragments, rough sketches, photocopied images, research notes, and private ramblings. There’s nothing methodical about it, and what appears sometimes mimics madness.

This second book morphed into three, in fact, but I didn’t realize what had happened until four and a half years later. What you see here are pieces for The Chronicle of Secret Riven, the trilogy’s Book 2. It’s the story of an uncanny child named Secret Riven—born to brilliant parents, befriended by a prince, mentored by a wise woman, and pursued by a powerful man—who has no idea that she bears a legacy she must confront.

Notebook p. 55, 11/27/2006

Characters are people who reveal themselves to me over time. I don’t choose their appearances, interests, jobs, personalities, or—in most cases—even their names. A little more than a month into this project, I knew exactly what Secret looked like.

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Hardcover edition, p. 1

On the very first page of the novel, readers can see her, too. (I love that the description of her appears at the end of a notebook page, and its placement is echoed in the final copy.)

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Notebook p. 513, 2/12/2008

Out of nowhere, I’ll “hear” a snippet of dialogue or a phrase which compels me to write it down. Not everything is important, obviously, but this one was. So important that when I went back through the notebook at some point, I colored in the text block so I wouldn’t miss it.

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Hardcover edition, p. 28

The small phrase evolved into a full tagline for Fewmany Incorporated, a conglomerate of business enterprises. On this page, Secret’s father, Bren, takes her to the building where he will soon start a new job. (Fewmany is a person, by the way, a villain I love to hate and hate to love.)

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Notebook p. 374, 11/8/2007

Several months before this note was written, I sketched out a symbol which combined a circle, square, and triangle. I knew then it would have a critical role in the story, but I didn’t know how that would take place. I got a glimpse of it here.

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Hardcover edition, p. 144

What comes as a compressed idea or conversation sometimes gets expanded later. Here, Bren’s interest in the symbol Secret drew first seems curious but will soon turn sinister and involve Fewmany himself.

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Notebook p. 133, 1/10/2007

As the opening line shows here, even when I’m doing something else, I’m still working. Also, what I think I know about the characters or their world turns out to be mistaken or lacking. Only in time did I realize how significant this tiny bit of information was.

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Hardcover edition, p. 301

A few words from above found their way into one of the nine “town sections.” These are brief interludes, intertwined with Secret’s story, which describe the town where she lives and hints at the lives of the people there.

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Notebook p. 385, 12/7/2007

The first mention of an ancient myth cycle appears in The Mapmaker’s War, Book 1 of the trilogy. When the vivid set of stories came to me, I had no clue how they were going to fit in with the whole project. I also didn’t expect how fascinating these mythical characters would come to be. What’s shown on this page for Azul the Orphan was a surprise.

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Hardcover edition, p. 382

A thousand years after The Mapmaker’s War, the actual event, Secret hears these myths, too. Each story is included in Appendix II as the Myths of the Four. Besides Azul, readers get to know Egnis the Red Dragon, Ingot the Gold Dwarf, and Incant the Woman-Wisp.

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