Operation ASNaC is progressing! Yesterday was my last day of lessons ever, prompting the realisation that I’ll never again be set a piece of homework, and this morning I took my first written exam, although I had a speaking exam a couple of weeks back. I don’t have another until the sixth of June, when I’ll be sitting English Literature, so I’ve got a little bit of time to revise thoroughly and make good headway into working for the four that I’ve got grouped between the 18th and 20th of June.
I’m giving myself the rest of today off from working in celebration of finishing school and as a reward for getting through my exam this morning, and this means blogging. Oh, and editing the two vlogs that I filmed during the Easter holidays, since I didn’t have time to finish and upload them before now. Plus I get to do a bit of writing, which is always fun, but the bit you should be pleased about is the fact that I’m blogging.
And posting more stupid pictures of myself. That too. It’s a good one, though, isn’t it?
Down to business. You know I mentioned that I was planning a novel about assassins? Well, it turns out it’s going to be a trilogy.
You see, I decided to approach this novel differently, and actually plan it all out in detail before I started. I wrote a plot outline, although it was pretty rough and I hadn’t really sat down and thought through all the little details, and I sent it to Cathryn — a beta reader / critique partner of mine since my Protagonize days. She’s been involved in the Death and Fairies series for a long time now, but I asked her if she’d mind branching out and critiquing my plot outline.
I’ve never asked somebody to critique a plot before, but I figured that if someone pointed out plot holes and flaws at this stage, it would be a lot easier to fix them than when I’m wielding an entire novel like a large, shoddily-made axe. The way I saw it, if I got it all sorted then all I’d have to do would be to write the thing. Which is the easy part.
I expected questions and ideas from Cathryn. Instead, the first thing she pointed out was: this is two books.
She looked at my outline and she saw two separate plots. Two climaxes, two different problems to solve, with two antagonists and two things at risk. She told me I was writing at least a duology, and pointed out where I should split it.
“You’ve mentioned ‘several years’ passing,” she added. “That’s a clear sign that they’re not the same book.”
Right. That made perfect sense. Except for the fact that I’d originally conceived this novel as kind of a precursor to a book I tried to write a couple of years ago, failing because I never figured out who the murderer was. If this was now two books, would it still be leading up to that point? Or would that have to be abandoned, the story ending here?
I replied to Cathryn with a few comments and clarifications of ideas, trying a few solutions to some other problems she’d picked up on, and then went back to revising for my French exam. While I was working on Memrise, learning vocabulary at a frankly unhealthy rate (I had 500 words to learn and two days in which to do it), I suddenly had a brainwave:
It was a trilogy. Not only that, but something left unresolved from book two solved the question of who the murderer had been in book three, the very thing I couldn’t figure out when I was writing it two years ago. Cathryn had prodded at one of the characters I’d created, and suddenly I realised something.
I’d been writing this plot thinking I only just created this character, but actually they’d been a nameless, somewhat faceless character in the original novel. Just in the background, you know, looking suspicious in the way that minor characters do before they come into play. At the time I wondered if they were the murderer, but hadn’t been able to resolve all the clues because I didn’t really know what I was doing and I hadn’t figured out genre properly.
In other words, this character was in my head all along and I just didn’t realise.
What had happened, as it so often does, was that I started the novel in the wrong place. I was two or three years too young; my character was seven years too old. I started writing it at the wrong point in my life, when my character was at the wrong point in hers. No wonder I couldn’t resolve the plot holes. No wonder I was unable to figure out who all these characters actually were.
As writers we’re time travellers. If you manage to time it just right, you enter your characters’ lives at the point where you can influence them, shape them, direct them. The story works, they end up where you want them to, and it’s all fine. But if you get it wrong, they’re either too young to be ready for the demands of the plot, or too old so that they’re already shaped and you can’t help them. And that’s when you get stuck.
“Who turned my character from a remorseless killer into a shy young woman?” I don’t know, because I wasn’t there. “Who persuaded this freedom fighter to become peaceful?” I don’t know, I missed it. “Why does this character hold a grudge against their brother?” Well, if I’d turned up ten years ago, I might have found out.
I started writing Isabel’s story twice. Once in Maths lessons when even my teacher gave up on making me do equations, and once during NaNoWriMo 2012. Both times I gave up, because I didn’t know enough about her. Now, I think, I finally do. I just need to start when she’s sixteen, and not when she’s twenty-three. That’s what we’re working towards, not where we’re starting.
With the Death and Fairies series I was even more off the mark, by 380 years. That’s fairies for you — it’s always more complicated when your characters are immortal. It was only when I wrote a prequel that I realised the original ‘trilogy’ had been the wrong place to start because none of the characters were interesting enough.
So, it looks like I’m now planning a trilogy about assassins, not just a novel. My plan is, once I’ve finished my current WIP, to sit down and properly outline all three books, and then I’ll ask Cathryn to look over them. She’s clearly very good at it.
Oh, and then I need to polish that one novel about knights, and query it, but that’s a project for August/September kind of time.
So. Exciting things ahead. It’s amazing what happens when you actually bother to figure out a plot…