Monday, August 04, 2008

Whose Story Are You Telling?

It's no secret that progress on The Last Free City has been fitful in recent weeks. After the intricate narrative structure of The Dog of the North, the simple story of the callow and selfish Todarko has seemed progressively more unsatisfying the further it has progressed. It's been hard to put my finger on what's not working: the hero is a mixture of flaws and considerable virtues, even if the latter are heavily occluded; the milieu in which he exists also seems full and absorbing.

I came to the conclusion a few weeks ago that a second viewpoint character was what was needed, and set about writing some scenes from the new character's perspective. These scenes were not in themselves unsuccessful, but at the weekend I realised that rather than reinforcing the main narrative, they were diluting it. The plot was already shaped around Todarko's story, and the new viewpoint scenes I was writing were either redundant or irrelevant. So, on Saturday, out they went; only 8,000 words lost, a small price to pay for realising early on that this approach wasn't going to work.

Instead I set myself to polishing the original Todarko narrative. This included fleshing out his relationship with his fencing-master Rodizel (David, don't tell me you'd write fencingmaster...). I always knew that Rodizel had a potentially interesting backstory which also illuminated the motivations of the story's villain, Dravadan. I wrote the start of a scene in which Rodizel's reminiscences to Todarko turn into a full-blown flashback scene (something I normally avoid). The flashback seemed to me so interesting that I am now considering having an entire narrative strand set in this earlier period (an aspect of The Dog of the North I enjoyed writing was the twin timeline). A narrative strand which shows how the villain became a villain in the first place has to be worth exploring.

The book is now at the stage where I have a good sense of all the main characters. Seeing how the older ones were different--but with the potential to develop--a quarter of a century earlier should allow the two narratives to reinforce each other.

I'll spend some time over the next few weeks thinking this strand through. If it works, I can start writing it up when I come back from holiday at the beginning of September; if it doesn't, I've at least deepened my understanding of several of the major characters.

The point of this blog is only partly to whinge about how difficult the writer's life is (you can take this as read). There's also an unwritten contract that I'll share such insights as I can uncover:
  • writing novels is hard (OK, you noticed I slipped that one in...)
  • first drafts are the time to experiment
  • you need to know whose story you're telling...
  • ...which need not be the same person as the main viewpoint character
  • ...if indeed you have a single main viewpoint character
  • if what you're trying doesn't work, try something else: there's no 'right' way to do it
  • writing novels is hard (indulge me here...)


Alis said...

This all sounds v. promising Tim. I finished TDOTN at 1.25am this morning (yes, I am blaming you for being bleary-eyed over my laptop today!) and I really liked the split-time narrative which I thought you handled with great finesse. More about this on my blog when I've got a (non-bleary) half an hour away from the wip!

Tim Stretton said...

Alis, I'm delighted to have kept you from sleep -- one of my unofficial measures of success as a writer!

Glad you liked the split-time device. Sometimes it's a gimmick but I was pleased with how necessary it was here...

Alis said...

Yes, and I liked the way you just let the reader work out that they were following two different time-lines. In fact, I liked the way you let the reader work a lot of things out for themselves and avoided the need of other alternate-world creators to expain everything.

Tim Stretton said...

I'm a lazy sod...I like to make the reader do some of the work too!