Friday, August 27, 2010

Work in Progress

I have made the occasional tantalising (perhaps...) remark about The Fall of the Fireduke, my current work in progress.  This is not the book that a writer concerned with career advancement would write; it's set in Mondia, which has so far proved commercially unfortunate.  It takes place at a different time, using different characters, to the previous Mondia novels, so it could be seen as a standalone.  However we view it, it's the novel I need to write at the moment, before perhaps trying something different.

I'm now about 20,000 words in: generally about the point I start to think this is not going according to plan (even where I don't have a plan).  I'm writing this one to a slightly different method.  I envisage at least two, perhaps three, narrative strands, but I'm writing one from start to finish, rather than interweaving as I go.

In some ways this approach is easier because I'm not confused by switches in voice and point of view.  On the other hand, it leaves the story feeling very unbalanced.  This main story is about Floreyn, a young man who falls into the clutches of his family's enemy Duke Varrel.  Floreyn finds his captivity less irksome than he had imagined, largely through the charms of Varrel's neice Tanneke (OK, I know you've heard this one before).  There is a clear narrative structure here, but in writing up, there are an awful lot of Floreyn-and-Tanneke scenes in close proximity.  If this was the whole story, I think the reader would be bored.

I know as I write, though, that if I have two Floreyn-and-Tanneke scenes together, I can break that up with one of the other POV's.  Elsewhere, Tanneke's sister Adelisa is trying to ensure that her drunken husband Sir Eglamour does not endanger their son with his inept scheming; and Duke Varrel's household has been infiltrated by a would-be assassin.  There's enough there for variety, and no need for like scenes to sit too close together.

I've never written a novel this way before.  The two narratives in The Dog of the North  were written together for most of the novel before I cracked on and finished off Beauceron's about three-quarters of the way through.  In The Last Free City, I wrote Todarko and Oricien's narratives together throughout, before interleaving Malvazan's last.  But for The Fall of the Fireduke, I have to take a leap of faith that two narratives I've only sketchily conceived will complement and strengthen the one in progress.  And if they don't the novel fails.  That's scary.

At this stage, I am not sure if the third narrative strand, Varrel's assassin, has enough legs to work.  Gaspar, our would-be assassin, is fun to write and has the most fully-realised voice in the book.  On the other hand, unless I want to write fantasy's The Day of the Jackal*, there is limited fictional mileage in having Gaspar follow Varrel all over the place, trying and narrowly failing to kill him at every turn.

Nonetheless, The Fall of the Fireduke is moving forward.  Stretton's Law--you see it formulated here first--is that all first drafts are crap at 20,000 words.  I'm intrigued enough to write on, the only way to answer the questions:

~ will Floreyn overcome familial rivalry to get the girl?
~ will Gaspar manage to kill the Fireduke?
~ and will he find out who is paying him to do so?
~ will Varrel succeed in his treasonous scheme to usurp the crown ?
~ will Adelisa rise above her unhappy marriage to secure her son's inheritance?

Actually I know the answers but I think it's going to be fun getting there... (feel free to guess the answers - there are no "maybes", they are all Yes/No.  A prize to the first person to get all five right!).

* now there's an idea...


C. N. Nevets said...

I must say you've got me pondering the fantasy genre's Day of the Jackal. Hmmm....

I'm trying to think about how I would experience writing two narrative lines without interweaving them, and it seems like I would almost feel as if I were writing two separate books. Have you found a good way to keep them feeling united as part of one work, or are you actually interested in the two-works-in-one kind of experience?

Tim Stretton said...

Nevets, I'll hold fire on that until you've finished The Dog of the North. You'll see how I've tackled it there; whatever faults the book may have, I don't think the structure is one of them.

I'm quite tempted by The Day of the Jackal idea myself now! (Although one of the many things that made it fantastic book was that, although you knew de Gaulle wasn't assassinated, you we're still gripped throughout - hard to replicate in your own made-up world).

Frances Garrood said...

The POV thing is interesting, isn't it, and not something I paid much attention to before I started writing novels. I have just been reading a book (chapters from varying ponts of view) where the character speaking repeats a conversation, and then says she missed most of it. But she is relating it, so she must have heard it, mustn't she? It's these inconsistencies that jar. My (nearly ex) WIP is written from 3 POVs, but each is labelled, to avoid confusion. I love the first person, because then I know exactly where I am. And we live life in the first person, don't we?

Very good luck with yours, Tim.