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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Creeping forward

The marvelous mountain weekend of concentrated, internet-free work helped me make a couple of breakthroughs on the WIP (work-in-progress, just in case you missed that.) I had been struggling with two problems.

  1. The first chapter was much too long and did not give me any strong guidance into WCN - ie. What Comes Next.

  2. My narrator has been speaking of an investigation into "unholy magic" used in a royal assassination attempt, and I had no idea what that particular piece of unholy magic was!

These kind of problems need concentrated thinking. You've got to commit to a course that might take you on a wild goose chase. The better the thinking, the less likely the wild goose chase. I don't like wild goose chases. So how did I solve the problems?

Confustication number 1 came up because I had two of my agentes confide attempting to recruit a sorcerer for a dangerous mission. They need to test the sorcerer's qualifications, as well as whether or not he had "honor that could be claimed or bought."

In my first stab at this three-way encounter, I have the (very crusty) sorcerer respond to an argument about the nature of magic with a demonstration. All of this flowed very nicely to about 28 pages!! My manuscript chapters run an average of 12 to 15 pages. Occasionally, at critical points, they'll go to 18. So this was way long especially for an early chapter.

The solution came as I considered the character of my crusty sorcerer. Why on earth would he, a man who distrusts just about everyone in the world, especially aristocrats and other sorcerers, expose his unorthodox beliefs to strangers? [Oooh, says Carol, here is potential for problems; the Camarilla - think of it as the union for the world's most powerful mages - does not take kindly to sorcerers who preach "heresies"; those who claim to prove that their own power is sham; this guy rattled their cages once and they passed him off as...well, you'll find out. Source of conflict, ie. source of tension.]. Anyway, what this question pointed out was the need to give Dante a strong motive to show what he can do. And it means that our narrator - and the true leader of this little group - must figure out what that motivation is, as well, and tap into it - which he does. [Because I already knew the one thing in the world Mage Dante cares about - the magic itself. Intellectual curiosity! ]

This makes Portier smarter, which is a good thing for a point-of-view character. Puzzles...oooh...there's a mystery waiting...and Portier lays out something just tempting enough that he believes the sorcerer will bite and come to him. Which necessitates a scene break! Woo-hoo! So the solution to my overlong chapter incorporated better worldbuilding, better character definition, and better plot pacing. Because now, of course, Portier must wait and see if the fish will bite.

Confustication #2 seemed harder because it involved settling on a key piece of evidence, an object used in an assassination attempt that told our hero that
  • magic was used

  • it was of an unsanctioned and unsavory kind

  • actually it really scared him

  • it posed a danger beyond just a failed murder attempt

  • he had neither the magical talent nor the resources to figure out how it was done (thus needing to hire this strange sorcerer)

At some point I have to sit down and sketch the chain of evidence that will lead our heroes to the Crux of the Matter - the really serious stuff going on. But I'm not ready to do that yet. I feel as if I need to know more about the world and about these characters [This book is looking to have another large cast - but we'll have multiple protagonists, in case you haven't noticed, so it's going to be quite different from the Lighthouse books.] Once I quit tearing my hair and approach the problem rationally (and remember, I had no internet escape on this weekend) I pull out my book proposal in which I named several "anomalies" that my investigators will discover along the way. By the Ten Gates - there it is, sitting in a list, buried in a synopsis! I have already thought of an instrument...and I plop it down in a locked room, and there it will stay along with the...ooooh...very ordinary-seeming attempted murder weapon...and a tale... Yes, this works very nicely.

So I already had the solution in hand and in the days since the writing weekend, little ideas about these two bits of hardware sitting in the locked room...and the man who carried them...have continued to escalate. This is what I mean about getting things down on paper. You get to the point where you MUST answer certain questions, and the writing reveals the answers.

Goals, motivations, conflicts are the key to plotting - along with all that thinking stuff.

Did any of this make sense? I hope!


Lady Kailen said...

Whew, you weren't kidding when you talked about "all the thinking stuff", were you?! And the hints you keep dropping where you almost reveal something and then let it trail off...it drives me mad! In a good way, of course ;-)
I find this insight into writing a novel really fascinating; it makes me exercise my own brain and examine the world and people around me in more detail. Keep up the good work!

carolwriter said...

I don't know what other authors do. This is the only way I know to make it hang together. And it IS fun.