Here we go again. After intensive revision on The Spirit Lens, some family fun and summer timeouts, writing the Song of the Beast story, and spending almost ten days doing nothing but reviewing Spirit Lens copyedits, the new book has sat sorely neglected over the last few months. Scarily neglected, in fact. "It is certain...disturbances...inside the city cause the gate closings." Duplais did not shift his roving gaze from the crowd, examining the multi-hued sea of faces as if the king himself might arrive to explain further. "Officious fools believe they can stay the wind by locking the gates."
As always when I've been away, I take the first couple of days to read through what's there. I can't really fault it, except that it's wordy and perhaps a bit repetitive in some areas. (And who is surprised about that?) The first three chapters feel pretty solid. But something nags about the five following.
There are lots of interesting tidbits. Our heroine - yes the narrator of The Soul Mirror is a young woman, whose family has been torn apart by the events of The Spirit Lens. Anne is smart, well educated, and braver than she thinks. She considers herself plain and very dull compared to the rest of her family. She has a terrible habit of thinking of what she really wants to say hours or days after the opportunity to say it. All of which results in a person who is very reserved. And she has nasty case of hayfever. Bummer.
But after being away from the story for a while (yes, this is a really good thing, even though that February deadline is much larger than it appears in the mirror) I could see two things:
First, there wasn't enough spooky music playing. Spooky music is not just for murder mysteries like this one, where bad guys are playing around with spectres and ghosts. Spooky music is what a reader hears when something bad is going to happen. It's what tells the reader that things are not going to always seem as peaceful as they are now. It is tension, of course. Tension signals potential conflict, one of those words writers sling around like reams of paper.
A story is populated by [we hope!] interesting people. These people want certain immediate things, whether it is a shelter for the winter [like Valen, in Flesh and Spirit] or to survive the rest of his horrid life without thinking about the past [like Seyonne in Transformation]. If the characters are realistic, they have longer term wants, too, as we all do, but sometimes they can't articulate what those are at the beginning of a story. But tension is the growing certainty on the reader's part that these poor people are not going to get what they want - at least not for very long. Tension draws readers into a story and keeps them reading.
In the case of The Soul Mirror, we're starting off four years after the end of The Spirit Lens. Though the overarching mystery posed in that story was solved, some strange things were happening in the world by the end. Anne is forced out of a self-imposed blindness and into the wider world, a place far out of her comfort zone. Trouble happens along the way (chapter 3) but then, godlike, I lifted her up and set her in the new place without allowing her to get a sense of the effects of the badness of the first book. No effects implies no unsettling certainty that she's found herself in the middle of things worse than she can imagine. No tension. No story.
The second problem, as one of my critique partners so eloquently confirmed: "Geez, Carol. This is all good stuff. She meets some interesting people. I can see clearly where she is. But...nothing happens!"
Well, yeah, OK. Once she gets through the traumas of the first three chapters and is dropped into this new place, Anne meets a lot of people, some nice, some not. She takes stock of her surroundings, hears some gossip, gets set up to look into some Very Bad Things that triggered the opening of this story. But in chapter 4 and 5, nothing of note really happens. You can get away with this for a chapter - maybe, but not two, and certainly not three or four. (Yes, by Chapter 8 things were popping.) But you need action to keep the story moving forward. We can't let Anne just observe and prepare. Being a retiring sort, she needs to be challenged with events.
Now this wasn't all bad news. Everything I had written was necessary. Most of it, I'll use (except for the usual reduction of wordiness and repetitions). Writing it got me into Anne's head and her world and the situation and her feelings about what had happened to her family.
So my work is set out for me. I need to consider the ramifications of the "strangeness" at the end of The Spirit Lens and thread them into the background as Anne arrives at the center of the new mystery. And once I've wired these chapters for "tension," I'll know what events need to happen.
I start back with the beginning of chapter 4, where instead of jumping ahead to find Anne in her situation, Anne and her escort are just approaching the gates of Merona:
"Will they truly shut the gates with all these people outside?" I asked. My crawling skin and buzzing skull worsened with every centimetre closer to the city. "We’re not at war — not with anyone close enough to threaten Merona." Not that I’d heard, at least.
Do you hear a bit of spooky music here? Let me see if I can go find it.
I'll keep you posted.
"It is certain...disturbances...inside the city cause the gate closings." Duplais did not shift his roving gaze from the crowd, examining the multi-hued sea of faces as if the king himself might arrive to explain further. "Officious fools believe they can stay the wind by locking the gates."