Word-count on The Last Free City stands at 73,000 words. In structural terms, I reckon I'm probably at the end of the fourth act: the scene is set for the climactic convulsions to come. Some of the characters we've come so far with will be dead at the end of the fifth act (even if I'm not sure which, in every case); for the ones who survive, life will never be the same again.
What is down on the page is not bad by first draft standards. There are some good scenes and I'm pleased with the development of the protagonist's character. The "Action Stats" are picking up too:
The Last Free City
Action/Drama: 40% Intrigue: 17% Reflection: 19% Romance: 20%
compared with the last stocktake:
The Last Free City
Action/Drama: 30% Intrigue: 28% Reflection: 19% Romance: 23%
Nonetheless, it's time to take a step back. I've produced 73,000 words in 52 days (and that includes a week's holiday). At the start of the fifth act, though, I need to spend some time working out exactly how things are going to end up. Final set-pieces are about plot more than character (with character already established, it's now about letting them play out): they need a clockwork mechanism if they are to work satisfactorily. Blundering through the first 80% of the novel, finding the story as I go, has been quite effective, but it won't work for the final act. Now I need to plan what happens, and how it happens, before I set to work writing it.
This approach has several benefits: I stop beating myself up about the jerky nature of my progress; I get to watch the rest of Euro 2008 with a clear conscience; and—most importantly—the draft will be better as a result.
So, how do things stand at the moment? I can already see things which need to be fixed in revision. There is too much dialogue, which is fun, but narratively it’s junk-food. The second draft will need more roughage, more of the descriptive prose holding everything together.
I also need another viewpoint character. The story of Todarko, our shallow, self-obsessed protagonist who just happens to have an unusual facility with words (before you ask, this isn’t autobiographical… he’s a wow with the chicks too, at which point all comparisons with the author must cease) can’t quite carry the whole narrative. He’s too unsympathetic at the start—and I need him to be that way—and there are points in the story where not enough happens to him. By giving a larger role, and occasional viewpoints, to the one character carried over from The Dog of the North, I freshen the reader’s experience, create a continuity between the novels, and convey information in a less obtrusive way. This second narrative will not be a huge proportion of the novel—maybe 20%—but it’s a much better way in to the political intrigue which underpins the story’s structure.
There are many other smaller areas which need attention. Too many of the minor characters are just ciphers at the moment; one of the major ones scarcely appears at all, and the local colour is somewhat muted. Most importantly, the main female character is too passive: I haven’t given her enough to do.
None of this is any way disheartening. I have 73,000 words of coherent story backed up in a million places; I can see what’s wrong with it; and I know, in most cases, how to fix it. Sometimes it’s important to know when to stop, and a few days mulling over how to get to the end is just what’s needed at the moment.
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Imagine the excitement of jostling so close to the master, Jack Vance! I don’t know who Elizabeth Haydon is, but it’s probably as well that she’s there to stop me invading Vance’s space. (Incidentally, The Vance Reader contains Emphyrio, one of Vance’s best novels – this is a recommended purchase!)
Rising Shadow also lists publications further ahead including—bizarrely—The Last Free City for 2009. Somebody obviously scrutinises the internet very closely… Even setting aside the trivial considerations of finishing the book and having it accepted for publication, I don’t think we’ll be seeing it on the shelves in 2009, but I appreciate the sentiment…
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And just in case anyone’s forgotten: The Dog of the North is published three weeks tomorrow. Gulp!