Friday, August 14, 2009

Anatomy of an Outline, Part V

You're now at the stage of being deep into your research. You should be feeling ever more enthralled about the period you've chosen, with characters becoming more solid in your head, and little details filed away for future use ("Sire, the rain at Marly is never wet", says one toady when Louis XIV apologises for making him go out in the rain). If that deepening excitement is not happening, it may be time to reconsider whether you've chosen the right period.

This might also be the time when you want to discuss your ideas with someone else, although this part is strictly optional. I mention it only because I had lunch with Will, my editor (or perhaps more accurately, former editor) at Macmillan earlier in the week--something that I found invaluable. If Will had felt the project had no commercial potential, better to know at an early stage; fortunately, however, he was as enthusiastic as I was about the idea. The need to articulate the idea to someone else is also a helpful discipline, and gave me a better idea of what the story is likely to be about. Because Will knows and likes my work, we were able to draw out together which aspects of the scenario are likely to be a good fit with my writing and fictional interests. I came away from the meeting not only with my excitement intact, but also with a much clearer idea of the themes and shape of the story. Will also suggested ideas for a framing story and a narrative device which I wouldn't necessarily have evolved myself.

We also discussed titles, and it was only after this conversation that I realised that what I had thought was my second-favourite was in fact my favourite: The Inheritance Powders, this being a term used at the time for poisons used to hasten the death of an inconvenient person.

* * *

Meanwhile, I'm making excellent progress with Love and Louis XIV. Antonia Fraser predictably portrays the female characters in a more sympathetic--and generally more credible--light than Vincent Cronin. She's even making me reappraise my initial dislike of Madame de Maintenon. (Having two contradictory views of her in my head is an encouraging development--the result on the page is much more likely to be rounded and interesting to the reader). Fraser is much more interested in the relationships between the main players than she is in the wider political dimensions--which is why you need to read widely around the subject. No one source will give you everything you need.

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