Why Does Improving a Story So Often Involve Grievious Bodily Harm to the Characters?

Hospital Ward

That’s a question that Rosemary would herself have asked, but I’m confronted with this as I finish the rewrite to The Dream King’s Daughter.

The story has been going well, but I’ve had difficulty ending it. The climax is in place, but the denouement felt a little stilted, boring and forced. And before people say “why not just cut the denouement”, trust me, there needs to be something at the very end to tie things together. It’s a risk, though, as there’s Aurora’s final conversation with the Dream King, her final conversation with Matron, her final conversation with her mother, and her final conversation with Polk.

Erin, as often happens, zeroed into the root of the problem, suggesting that, after Polk’s sacrifice in the climax, and despite my attempts to show the results of that sacrifice in the denouement, there is little sense of what the sacrifice actually cost him. He’s still up and around and talking. And as a result, there is a lot of tension lost. However, if the sacrifice costs him physically, such that, perhaps, he gets put into a coma… That adds a lot of tension.

I have to tell you, it was a hard thing to do, putting Polk into a coma, but the idea excited me, so I knew that Erin was right. The ending was completely rewritten, changing order, changing setting, ramping up tension, and while it still needs work, I think it’s much better than it used to be. Polk and Aurora don’t get to drive off into the sunset, but it’s still an interesting scene and a lot of potential for the future.

And I’m reminded that this is almost the same advice Cameron gave me when I ran into plot difficulties with The Night Girl. The situation I’d placed Perpetua in was too stable. How could I shake things up? Cameron’s answer was simple: kill Fergus. Kill him now! I resisted, and his advice almost became a chant. “Kill Fergus! Kill! Kill! Kill!”

Rosemary would be appalled.

But it was what the story needed. And in the end, I compromised. Characters under threat is like adrenaline for plot. An awful lot like adrenaline, in fact. So I had to overcome my matronly instincts, and shake up the comfortable little worlds I’d built for my characters. It’s strange, isn’t it, how authors could feel so protective of the characters they create? The characters are like children in many ways; you hate to be ruthless. But sometimes only the ruthless authors get published.

Conversations at Home

Slamming the door on a salesman, I’m heading up the stairs as Erin calls down.

“Who was it?” asks Erin.

“Telemarketer,” I reply, not really thinking.

“They’re going door-to-door, now?”

blog comments powered by Disqus