Monday, September 15, 2008

Also Writes Novels...

Visitors to ::Acquired Taste could be forgiven for thinking that very little fiction writing ever takes place here. With
The Dog of the North now making its own way in the world, I should be a hive of industry ("hive" in the busy bee sense, rather than the skin complaint, we hope) on its successor.

That successor,
The Last Free City has had rather a chequered history, never evolving with fluency of its predecessors. The main story, that of Todarko, poet, womaniser and dilettante, is peopled with strong characters and a dramatic situation, albeit one that's not protracted enough to make an entire novel. His incomplete story stands at around 65,000 words, after taking out an abortive plot loop (some of which may be recyclable). I had also experimented with a viewpoint story from one of the survivors of The Dog of the North. This trial was not successful, and remains in abeyance. I may yet resurrect it, depending on how my third viewpoint unfolds. This ithird strand s the tale of the early years of Dravadan, the villain of Todarko's story.

We all enjoy explorations of villainy, more particularly in fiction than through personal experience. Recounting the formative years of a dark character is potentially an engaging device, although it runs the risk of producing a Rubber Ducky (thanks to David Isaak for introducing me to this term): that explaining too much about the villain's childhood oversimplifies the character and drains the situation of all interest. Hannibal Lecter is the obvious example, but Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars series is perhaps the apotheosis: three films (and not very good ones) to explain why Darth Vader can't breathe without sounding like he's in an advert for Snorex.

There is another, more serious problem with Anakin Skywalker: not only is he given a pretty crude Rubber Ducky, he's also A Good Guy Really. This is the worst character arc of the lot: Angelic Kid suffers a Moment of Trauma after which he becomes The Embodiment of Evil before turning things around with a Redemptive Death. Does this sound remotely plausible to you? Me neither. (Readers of The Dog of the North may think that I skirt dangerously close to this with Beauceron's character. My defence would involve spoilers, so I must be acquitted on a technicality).

To write a convincing "villain's childhood", it seems to me essential that the seeds of the warped adult are already there: they should not be implanted by an external event--although such an event may trigger the manifestation of this aspect of their character. In that sense the writer should not explain the character, merely document it.

In writing Dravadan, therefore, a character the reader can only view with disgust and--I hope--fear in Todarko's story, I have been careful to avoid either explaining his pathology, or to give him generous motivations perverted by the cruelty of the world. Instead, he's a sod from the outset. This approach, too, has its risks: principally, the difficulty of engaging the reader's sympathy. I have to hope that creating a dynamic character who displays ambition and initiative will retain the reader's interest even when his actions are reprehensible. In a technical sense there are strong similarities with Beauceron, although with Dravadan I have not smoothed off the rough edges. I calculate, as well, that I can get away with one unsympathetic viewpoint when there is at least one other viewpoint in the book. The only judge, of course, will be the reader.

Dravadan's narrative now stands at 15,000 words. There are still several major episodes of his early life to detail, so while his story will not exceed Todarko's (and nor should it), there will be enough to allow the character some depth. For now, we have forward motion, so I will allow Dravadan his head a while longer.

* * *
My re-reading of Jack Vance's Lyonesse trilogy continues, and I am now on the final volume, Madouc. Regular visitors will surely allow me the indulgence of another quotation, so beautifully does it encapsulate one aspect of Vance's art. Madouc, the princess who is really a fairy changeling, is taunted by her companions for her lack of pedigree:

Madouc had no sure understanding as to what might be a ‘pedigree’. She had heard the word used once or twice before, but its exact significance had never been made clear. A few days past she had gone to the stables to groom her pony Tyfer; nearby a pair of gentleman were discussing a horse and its ‘fine pedigree’. The horse, a black stallion, had been notably well-hung; but this would not seem to be the determining factor, and certainly not so far as Madouc was concerned. Devonet and the other maidens could not reasonably expect her to flaunt an article of this sort.


David Isaak said...

Actually, I found Beauceron to be quite likeable. He's admittedly a little ruthless, but he's also quite considerate of others--as long as it doesn't interfere with his overarching goal. I think he falls nicely into the long tradition of outlaws, and outlaws by their very nature have to have a complicated and ambiguous backstory.

Since you've been off in Turkey, by the way, I didn't get a chance to tell you how much I enjoyed The Dog of the North. You've created a marvelous and believable world, and it's one that I--jaded as I am--would return to happily again and again. Congrats on a brilliant book, and may there be many more.

Tim Stretton said...

Thanks for your kinds words, David. The opinions of other good fine authors are particularly valuable, especially when favourable. (Thanks also to Pamela L. Blake for the Amazon review--a person not unknown to you, I think...).

As to Beauceron, when planning the book I intended him to be less likeable. He developed in an unanticipated way which I was happy to indulge.