Monday, December 9, 2013

Diagnosing the Problem

Behind the Story of Critical Contingencies (Part 5)

Warning: this post contains spoilers for Critical Contingencies (formerly Certain Hypothetical) though hopefully not for future books in the series, and I recommend reading the book first.

Also be warned that this shows the ‘sausage-making’ aspect of writing the novel, which some of you may not want to know about.

I believed I had a good core cast of characters for my story – but when I started to write, my choices for the main points-of-view didn’t work well together.  What exactly was the problem?  I had to figure that out before I could find the solution.

Multiple characters with different parts of the overall narrative can complement each other and make a story stronger.  However, in this case I had two sets of characters whose perspectives interfered with each other.

Verity and Anthony’s storylines worked well together as each effectively executed their part of Miles’ plan – theirs was a fairly straightforward demonstration of considerable competence.

David and Kat’s stories also complemented each other nicely, as two very different people found themselves suddenly facing new challenges – and dealing with their changing circumstances in contrasting fashion.  Their tale was one of mystery and suspense as they tried to comprehend what was going on around them and figure out how to respond to the escalating problems they encountered.

The problem was this – I had two fundamentally different stories that detracted from each other.  The mystery for David and Kat didn’t have much punch when Verity and Anthony’s stories showed the reader what was going on behind the curtain.  And Verity and Anthony’s handling of their tasks seemed boring when David and Kat had stronger personal motivations and bigger changes in their lives to deal with.

So I needed to decide which pair of characters was the engine that would drive the narrative, and that came down to what kind of story I wanted to tell.  It wasn’t a difficult choice.  If you’ve read my ‘Writing on SPEC’ posts, then you know I find stories most compelling when characters are out of their depth or facing new and unfamiliar challenges.

That worked for Verity to an extent, but it worked much better for David and Kat.

So where I’d originally planned to focus on Verity and Anthony and only belatedly added David and Kat as minor POV characters, now I had to change focus.  Verity and Anthony stepped back into the background and became a little more mysterious.  It would no longer be clear exactly what Tony knew, and hopefully there would be some uncertainty about what Verity was up to.

David and Kat became the main characters – suddenly plunged into the larger story without understanding the bigger picture.  Their lives literally changed overnight, and with no warning.  They would both face big decisions that would define who they were and who they’d become.

It’s when I realized this was David and Kat’s story – that it had to be their tale – that’s when everything began to click and the pieces started falling into place.  And it meant I had to build the basic structure for the book all over again.
Next week:  Part 6 – Rebuilding the Engine

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