Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Time and Chance (Neither Sharon K Penman nor Ecclesiastes)

It is perhaps not the sort of admission a writer should make; but more, I suspect, than would like to admit it may find what I'm about to post familiar ...

The WIP began, as many know, as an inspiration early in the research for The Ax and the Vase. I was fairly successful, during my work on Ax, in keeping the WIP on the backburner - not using it to distract myself from frustrations with the first novel - and not letting it steal me away on its own impetus either.

And so, the WIP has been in gestation for something like thirteen or fourteen years now.

It was brought to the front burner a year and a half ago or so, but this summer I have allowed the demands of work and life and other such silliness as that to keep me from dedicated writing.

Now and then, when we're not really working on them, writers do at least pull OUT our work (or pull it up, as on electronic devices). We look at it, we pat it on its evil/cute little plot-bunnied head, we expect it to speak, and often it fails to. For all works of creative writing have a habit of acting on their own, especially individual characters, running off and doing things we had no idea were in them, creating unexpected continuity issues to resolve - they have an even crueller tendency NOT to do this when we sit and look at them, bereft of active ideas or plans.

WIPs, when you pull them out and expect them to develop themselves, will stare you down like sullen teenagers. Mute, un-forthcoming, inert.

And so, it was a surprise to me, today, when the sullen thing spoke to me.

I pulled it up just now. Peered at it a bit. Scrolled to the end, because I don't really know where it needs to end, or why it seems to end so far beyond where it begins.

I would be hard-pressed, in short, to tell an agent honestly "what is the crisis here, what needs resolving?"

As a historical fiction author, I am inordinately attached to the idea that telling the stories of history itself is important, worthy, fascinating. But where the fascination lies, I seem to be very poor at defining. Why tell it? Um. It's cool. See? Where the king goes Catholic, instead of Arian, and the entire future of Christendom - and Western Europe - is decided? Neat, hm?

Ya gotta have an MDQ. History is great, but a story isn't just the litany events leading from point A to point B, where there's a new chapter or we lose interest.

And I had no idea why my WIP was going on into three generations of women I think are each a study in contrasts, and whose lives deserve to be shared. Three is a great storytelling trope, but why was I going into character #1's mom and daughter, when it was #1 who drew me initially? What has it been, all this time, telling me that mom is necessary, that we can't stop without daughter, that #1 should *not* stand alone ... ?

And what is the title of this thing?

Titles are hard. And hard-won. Authors can be extremely attached to a title, emotionally vulnerable to the idea of changing one. They're harder to write than poems, perhaps. Or they ARE poems, perhaps.

So today, scrolling to the end, and then back to the beginning, when I caught sight of that moment when the character has just opened up our action by giving birth to #1, and she realizes she has not born a son ... one phrase caught my eye.

Time for posterity later.

But; there is no later.

And that was when it clicked.

What I am writing about - and THIS, I have known for a long time, is the events that lead us into that period so many historians used to call (and, gallingly, most of the regular populace still call) The Dark Ages.

I'm writing about dissolution.

I'm writing about the end of a dynasty, not only from the point of view of #1, the child who had the wrong genital equipment, but also from the point of view of #2 - a character more vivid than 1's mother and her daughter - the freedwoman who literally births the END of the dynasty; the midwife who, perhaps, has her hands not only on the labours of her noblewomen, but on the pangs of a new era emerging.

That part came just now, just writing that paragraph. Exciting stuff; bear witness, y'all.

So the working title (and I feel it perhaps bears the wrong tone; so this too may pass) has become, Time for Posterity.

And the question is: how does it end?

How does a dynasty end? How does an era end? How does darkness begin? (Do I even believe there was an age of darkness appropriately to be named The Dark Ages - well, no - but it makes a hell of a story, and it's been sucking at me like a vortex for thirteen years, I realize.)

So, yaaaayyyy!

I'm about to become the AUTHOR of the Dark Ages, and I don't even believe in them!

Neato-spedito, as my brother used to say.


Donnaeve said...

That must have been almost electrifying, that moment. I'm waiting on such an epiphany with my current WIP. I have a title I love. A protag I think I'm going to love. Her family is intact, and in my mind, their personalities are forming. It's the antagonist. I'm not sure how he enters the story. I thought I knew - and now I'm not so sure. So I've stopped writing, and I'm back to the outline, and trying to figure it out.

Or maybe I'm doing what you said - patting it's little plot bunnied head. :)

DLM said...

I electrified quietly, but it was exciting, yes. Rather like when I met my best friend's fiance' for the first time and looked at him one single time and thought, "Oh, well, that's all right then." Sometimes, you really know.

The title itself is of less importance than the moment was, the discovery. I even came up with another title (The Last Queens) but like that perhaps even less. It may be more appropriate, at least, than Time for Posterity is. I don't love the sound of either one; but the important thing is, I'm onto something. I'll find out the title, it can't hide from me! And, in the meantime, I have a long weekend to play and work on the WIP.

May your antagonist sneak up on you with their own surprise(s?) soon. BOO!

Donnaeve said...

Hee! I wouldn't care if there was a BOO! factor - at all. Please Mr. Antag, reveal yourself!

Funny, I like the title The Last Queens best. Time for Posterity...IDK. It doesn't hit me the same.

I work in a weird way, Diane. I have to have a title, and for me, it has to be one I love. And then I have to have a name for my protag - and I have to love it. She was "X" for a while in the ms...but, I couldn't put her together in my head b/c...? No name. So, just about two weeks ago, it hit me. Louisa Simpson Creech, and she's called Sonny. It may stink to anyone else's ears, but I already love Sonny.


DLM said...

Titles are difficult for me; the stories come with some subject that fascinates. Interesting about Louisa ... my middle name is Louise, and it's a derivative name from: Clovis. All the Kings Louis in France? Were essentially named for Clovis.

The WIP circles around relations of his I found in early research for AX. My third novel will develop the legend of the beginning of the Major family line. (Bishop Mauger was a real figure, uncle of William the Conqueror who sided poorly and ended up in exile on Jersey, the Channel Island. His common-law wife, Guille, had been either a nun or a novice, and their offspring were said to have been "as numerous as blackberries in the field" ... so the working title for that has always been Blackberries, though that might evoke quite the wrong tone really.)

I prefer The Last Queens myself, but even that doesn't feel exactly right. Perhaps because the novel decidedly does not focus entirely on the royal characters. But Time for Posterity was the phrase that "hit" me, and so I saved the doc again with that as a working title, because if nothing else it will remind me what I am *doing*.

At some point, the title will come, I am sure. It may be something about darkness, as I'm basically writing about the last slinking into the (so-called) "Dark Ages". But, really, right now I don't even want to think about it!

You have GREAT names. I'm lucky, my names are really fed to me. For my freedwoman, I had to name her myself, and that was enjoyable but not actually easy. Finding appropriate Carthegenian names for Late Antiquity for a woman is a remarkably scarce vein to try to tap. For one of the slaves, I chose the Greek name Glykeria; slaves in the period were often given Greek names regardless of their actual extraction. Everybody else, though, comes out of the sources. It was the same with AX, I only had to choose two names there I think.

Still absolutely cannot wait to meet Mizz Dixie Dupree. Whose name is just a favorite of mine. (Am I mean, that I'm crossing my fingers my friend at work won't win that Goodreads contest for a copy, so I can buy it for her?)