Monday, October 13, 2008

Taking Stock

Over the past few days I have been taking stock of progress on The Last Free City. Yes, "taking stock" is another one of those euphemisms for not doing very much... Things have been rather busy at work: while we're not yet in David Isaak territory, the collapse of the Icelandic banking system has had a knock-on effect for my own employers.

What I have been doing is creating a "master file" of the work I've done to date. This doesn't require quite the same emotional expenditure as actual writing (the task which must be displaced and avoided at all costs). I've taken the main narrative and stitched in the secondary one, and then insinuated the embryonic third storyline. Not everything is in quite the right place, but I have 120,000 words of first draft, of which maybe 100,000 is good enough to survive.

One thing which is apparent, though, is that my much-loved opening scene will have to go. It's a duel (you don't say...) which tells us in stark detail about the villain's character. You know from the outset that this is a cruel, violent man that you don't want to get on the wrong side of. And that's the problem. The second narrative strand of the book takes him from adolescence to the dawn of his warped career as arriviste and murderer (and in the value system of the book, being an arriviste is considerably the greater sin). For that strand to work, I can't afford the reader to see on page one that there is no hope for him. I need the reader to hope against hope that his good points will be enough to see him redeemed from his ruthlessness and ambition. And the only way that can work is to sacrifice my marvellous set-piece opening: so it goes.

How does the overall narrative hang together at the moment, then?

Strand 1 (the "main story") - 75,000 words.
The extended denouement is still to come

Strand 2 (the villain's backstory) - 40,000 words.
Essentially complete. Covers five years a generation before Strands 1 and 3.

Strand 3 (the outsider ) - 5,000 words.
Needs to be extended and integrated with Strand 1. This is the main piece of work still do. Until it's finished I can't move on and complete Strand 1.

the first draft therefore only has two major tasks outstanding: working up Strand 3 to become a story in its own right; and then letting Strand 1 run to its conclusion. The two together could add another 50-60,000 words so, ironically given my concerns that the book isn't big enough, I could have a first draft over 150,000 words. And my second drafts are usually longer.

Good job fantasy readers expect a long book...

3 comments:

David Isaak said...

But can't your set-piece perhaps be dropped in later, when we need to see exactly what he has become--maybe at some place where it would be revelatory?

I ask because it sounds as if it's worth preserving if possible.

Tim Stretton said...

It's a shame to lose a strong and dramatic scene. Second-draft time may find a new home for it...

Neil said...

Sounds like a climax scene to me, or you could save it as a scene to go online, special addition to the site only people have bought the book and read to the end, entered the code at the end of it into your website will be able to read.