Southern Discomfort: Beginning at the beginning (#SFWApro)

1book0(“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end.”—the king’s advice when the White Rabbit testifies. Art by John Tenniel)

So the work of replotting the next draft of Southern Discomfort is under way. Or at least highlighting the issues that need addressing and the ideas I want to add. The actual plotting is a ways off. And I’m still not sure how I get from  “Gwalchmai has no reason to use the hand of glory in the diner” to the plot beats where he actually does have a reason. But for the moment, lets look at the beginning and the challenges of replotting that.

The current draft opens with Gwalchmai planting bombs to wipe out Aubric and Olwen McAlister. Then we have a scene of Olwen elsewhere (called away for an emergency), then the bombing. Then Gwalchmai’s discovery one of his targets is alive. Among the points raised:

•Gwalchmai runs into some teenagers in the woods between the mansion and town. There’s no reason for them to be there. Fixable enough (probably there’s a swimming hole in the area).

•Why couldn’t Gwalchmai sense Olwen wasn’t there? It’s true, I do show he has some sensitivity to their magic, but I thought it was clear he had no elf-dar, so to speak. Apparently not, but again, fixable.

•Rhonda, a black woman in the scene with Olwen, never really fits in the plot. Definitely fixable: I’ve not only figured out how to integrate her more, but I’ll be able to reduce the net number of characters and settings by focusing more stuff on her.

•Opening with a bombing makes it look like there will be more action in the next few chapters than there is. Fixable.

Then we come to Gwalchmai himself. Among the reactions from the beta readers:

•We should see more of him in the story.

•We should see less, or not see him in the opening at all. Putting him up front eliminates the mystery of who killed Aubric.

•His motives and backstory aren’t clear.

•He looks like the hero. That last one floored me because a)he’s killing the McAlisters by planting bombs which isn’t usually the hero’s path. b)he mentions killing cats, and killing animals is a Bad Sign. c)I thought it was clear he would have killed the teens if they’d been a threat to his mission. So either I was very, very unclear about all that or just that Gwalchmai gets such a big scene was taken as a sign he’s the protagonist.

Clarity, I think I can achieve. The question of whether to keep him in the opening … I’ll certainly give some thought to removing him, but I’m leaning against. I wrote him in primarily so that everyone would see there’s a murder about to happen. That way when Aubric, Richard and Hal die, hopefully nobody thinks “But I assumed they were the protagonists! They were interesting, you had me hooked—then you killed them!” (remember how I put down Black Wolves for that reason?).

I have considered starting with Maria coming to town (I know there’s a school of thought that not introducing your protagonist at once is A Big Mistake), but that just doesn’t work. The opening chapters establish the secret of Pharisee, and the level of magic we can expect. Without that, it looks like a mundane mystery — the kind of just-enough-magic-to-be-fantasy story I’d probably not finish. And the exposition later would be much too cumbersome. So I think Maria will have to wait.

As for Gwalchmai, I suspect I’ll keep him. But I’ll definitely have to clarify things.

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Filed under Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Writing

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