Thursday, June 01, 2006


I'm not really sure how long I've been writing The Ballad of Sir Benfro. I could go back to the original file for the first book (which became book two) and see what the date was when the file was created, but that's pretty meaningless. I wrote a 125k SF novel between Benfro books two and one, so that's a consideration too.

What I do know is that I'm two books into a projected four book series (still not sure about whether it's going to overflow into a fifth), I'm maybe a quarter of the way through book three. I've been living with these characters a long time.

And last night I discovered that one of the chief baddies is the illegitimate daughter of the other chief baddy.

How could I not have known this before? All the signs are there, in books one and two. She looks different from her two sisters, has a temperament far closer to her natural father, is violently paranoid about her position and so ruthlessly puts down any challenge to her authority. It all makes perfect sense when it's spelled out for you.

But I didn't see it until last night.

Some people do complicated biographies for their characters, work out all their little idiosyncrasies and the reasons for them right at the start. I tend to work with a broader brush, identifying key characteristics and (usually) relationships, then getting to know the person through telling their story. This is quite possibly laziness on my part. Deep planning has never been my strong suit - I prefer to dive right in from the initial idea and white-knuckle it to the end. Then go back and add the finesse.

Mr Stuart has some interesting reflections about how the back of the brain works away quietly, making you write things that will be important later on, even though you don't know it at the time. With more experience he has found that the process becomes more conscious, the deeper structure of the story more obvious to him earlier on. I guess this is true of any skill - the more you practice the easier it becomes to control it. Looking back at some of my earliest writing, it seems much less complex and layered, the progression of the story more obviously linear. Older and perhaps wiser, I can build more interesting plots and created more complicated characters who interact with each other and their world more realistically. But still the backbrain delivers the occasional bombshell.

The ramifications of this character's illegitimacy are enormous, so it's not surprising that it was a very well kept secret. It's possible that even she doesn't know.

Even I only found out by accident.


Blogger Trace said...

It's really cool the way that happens, isn't it? I'm trying to learn to trust myself more when writing because that kind of shit happens to me a lot.

June 01, 2006 2:41 pm  

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