Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Rewriting the novel – end of day 2 - not The Road

Today, things are beginning to take shape. I'm beginning to see how the new, streamlined beginning of The Black and The White is going to work.

I've decided that the best place to begin is with chapter 5. However, that does not mean that I am simply jettisoning the first 4 chapters, in a bid to out-extreme-edit Nicola Morgan (see previous post for details).

No. Fortunately, I have not allowed myself to be so self-indulgent as to write four irrelevant chapters. But...

The big but is the book's structure. The novel is a quest narrative and, fairly obviously, the main character needs to get off on his quest as soon as may be if the reader's not going to be sitting there tapping a foot and looking at their metaphorical watch. Until today, 'as soon as may be' effectively meant page thirty four, halfway through chapter 4. As of today, it's page one.

OK, now I've said that, readers of HB are likely to fall into two camps:

Camp 1 - Of course it needs to be page one! Not to start with the quester on his quest on page one is like starting Goldilocks and the Three Bears with the marriage of Goldilocks' parents and their subsequent rather uneventful honeymoon in Colwyn Bay.

Camp 2 – You can't just wave him off on page one! How is anybody supposed to know what the quest is all about if he's already setting out on it when we first clap eyes on him? Where is the princess with the demanding line in tests of commitment? Where's the king who doesn't really want anybody to marry his daughter and stage a hostile takeover bid for half the kingdom? Or whatever.

And there, friends, is the dilemma. Yes, if it's a quest narrative, he needs to be on the quest, hanky-wrapped belongings over his shoulder on a stick. (No, my character doesn't have a hanky - a) a handkerchief, as such, would be anachronistic and b) it would be altogether too Dick Whittington.) But there's also the need not to leave the reader totally in the dark as to why he's on the quest at all. (Which, by the way, is what Cormac McCarthy does in The Road. I have to admit, I didn't get more than halfway through TR because it is depressing to a horrible degree but there was never a sniff of an explanation of where they were going or why they were going there. Call me picky, but I'd have liked to know. I'm told, by those who have actually got to the end of TR (son no. 2) that I'd have been none the wiser (just much more depressed) if I'd read to the end. 'They go south' he said, when I asked. 'Why?' I asked. 'Because south is where they're going' he said.

Anyway, rant over. Let's re-focus on the novel I actually can re-write as I like.

OK, I acknowledge that 34 pages before the waving off with the hanky-wrapped etc. is probably being a little too generous with the scene-setting. But a lot of what happens in those pages is going to have to go in somewhere. Some of it – maybe five pages – has already been slid (in substantially modified form) into what were chapters five and six and are now chapters one and two. (Stay with me here.) The reader is getting the information in a significantly more oblique form than previously and, in a novel with a strong mystery element, this can only be a good thing.

So; so far, so good.

You'll have to keep reading if you want to see how I decide to deal with the remaining couple of dozen excised pages and their associated information.

And I may have to rant some more about The Road, because two of the four people who have, so far, read portions of The Black and The White have compared it to that depressing (but yes, I know, very literary) work. But you'll have to wait and see.


Aliya Whiteley said...

It's not bleak and redemptive, is it?

Frances Garrood said...

Could you now start with a rally juicy bit of Quest as a prologue, thus making the reader long to know how the novel got there? (Unlike many people, I'm a great fan of prologues as a taster and as reader-bait.)

I loved The Road, partly because of the atmosphere it evokes, but also because to write so much about so little, and do it so well, is pure genius. But I do see the other point of view. However, if people have compared your novel to The Road, Alis, then be flattered!

Frances Garrood said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alis said...

Hi Aliya - do you mean The Road or TB&TW?

Alis said...

Hi Frances - Yes, that's kind of how it starts now. Trouble is, as I intimated before, it's not just getting on with the quest, it's also getting progatonist No 2 into the picture more quickly. He currently arrives on page 71 and we need him there way before that.
But I like prologues too!