Development Diary #15: Alpha Reading for Project ROM

I’ve spent most of my creative life working in music. Music is naturally collaborative. Most of the music you hear is a product of collective creativity in almost every step of the process. But authors are more solitary, isolating themselves as they create their next masterworks. Then, near the end of the process, an editor or team of editors step in to cleanup any overlooked mistakes.

A little more than a year ago, I entered a collaborative relationship with A. H. Serrano. We both share similar goals in our storytelling, and we wanted to join forces to grow faster together. We created Emergent Realms, a story lab and micropress whose mission is to elevate the standard of storytelling in Fantasy, SciFi, and Horror. While we’re not the first to collaborate by any stretch, we are attempting an unconventional model of creativity in storytelling.

While I’ve been in a writing critique group before, the alpha reading done at Emergent Realms is much more intimate. We not only read and comment on the draft, we also spend a lot of time talking through any roadblocks or problems with the worldbuilding, characters, and plot. Because critique groups have limited time together and there are often more than two partners, the model doesn’t allow for such extensive story work. An author still carries much of that weight themselves.

Because we joined forces in the mists of our own creations, it makes sense to not move further into each other’s projects than alpha testing. Later, as we start brand new projects from scratch, we’ll have the room to work even closer together.

Our first major project is the first novel in a trilogy. I’ll refer to it as ROM. Serrano has the lead in the story and is responsible for drafting, revision, and editing. My part is to journey with her, lending my ideas, support, and help where I can afford it. Reciprocally, she is doing the same for me. In addition, our editor, Kate, is also working alongside us. This three-way relationship is helping us create much better stories than we have alone.

ROM’s journey isn’t unlike many novels. It started as a high school passion project and has had many iterative updates as Serrano’s story world grew, and her characters developed. As Serrano worked on her Bachelor and Master degrees in English and Creative Writing, her story grew and developed.

Serrano and I first met at a NaNoWriMo meetup. I enjoyed her passion for her stories and loved the aesthetic of her prose and worldbuilding. While we both built secondary worlds for our stories to take place, the colors of our stories were different. Since, she has drafted her first trilogy in the world of Eszailha. Afterward, she entered her first revision cycle for the first novel in the trilogy, project ROM. 

I read the first version of the story and gave her as many notes as I could. She took them in and decided that she would rather rewrite the entire story from scratch than try to bend the current version to adapt to her new vision.

Serrano’s rewrite floored me. She somehow took a story that was already competent and punched it up several notches. The dialogue blossomed. The narrative tightened and became more beautiful. The arcs of her characters deepened. But she wasn’t done yet.

As I read and gave additional notes to her current story, she made a few more key changes before taking the story to Kate. She and Kate have worked in furious detail, dissecting the worldbuilding to find what’s missing, unpacking each character to make sure their motives and arcs resonate, and, again, tightening the narrative so that the plot has the narrative momentum needed.

We’ve entered stage two of editing for the story, and we hope to have it wrapped in early autumn.

For many reasons, I’m happy we focused on her story first. Practically, it made more sense. She’s ahead of me in her journey and it takes less fuel to move her down the publishing pipeline. And we have little fuel here as we are a newborn startup story lab. 

Selfishly, I’m happy because she cleared a path, taking a hatchet to the overgrown thicket of the road less traveled by. The path of Emergent Realms has few predecessors and the pitfalls are many. 

I’m excited to see how Emergent Realms grows and develops collective creativity in the realm of storytelling for novels. We’re confident we’re creating a lab with a culture that can thrive.