Lessons from Writing My First Novels
I had a minor technical problem in Harald, a character who needed to learn a language implausibly fast. I found a solution. He had grown up in an environment where the high status people (he is the Emperor's grandson) spoke the equivalent of Latin but the common people spoke the local language, so he was moderately familiar with, although probably not fluent in, the latter. He is now a hostage in a still independent part of the cultural area that the Empire conquered part of a few generations back, so the local language is similar to the one around him when he was growing up, so not too hard for him to learn.
At which point I suddenly realized that I had solved two problems in the plot that I did not know were there, and the whole story made more sense. The Emperor has been trying to conquer the remaining unconquered area for the past thirty years and failing, due to the military genius of my protagonist and the political abilities of the king he is allied to. The Emperor is a sensible fellow: Why doesn't he give up on that project and go conquer something else? Answer: As long as Kaerlia remains independent and demonstrates its ability to defend itself, the territories conquered seventy years earlier are at risk; they might decide they could do it too.
Second question: The Emperor has two sons, both of whom apparently want to succeed him, and has been keeping both in play, to some extent playing them off against each other. He's old, competent, and responsible; why doesn't he simplify the situation and eliminate the risk of a civil war when he dies by naming an heir? It is especially a puzzle given that he clearly (and correctly) regards the younger son as the abler, and the younger son also has the loyalty of the Empire's best general.
Answer: The imperial aristocracy is polygynous—the two sons have different mothers. The elder's mother is from the imperial high aristocracy, so he has the support of the old families and a dominant position in the eastern (chief) capital. The younger son's mother is from the old royalty of the conquered area; that's why he grew up in the (new) western province where their language was the local language. So the son has the loyalty of the conquered aristocracy, which I assume has been pushed one level down but is still locally powerful. One way of discouraging revolt is to make it clear to the local elite that one of their people might be the next Emperor. The Emperor wants to hold the loyalty of both factions for as long as possible before committing himself to an heir, preferably the younger.
I have long argued that humans have pattern recognition software so good that it can find patterns that aren't there; one might take this as an example. I found it an interesting one. None of this was planned, but it all fell neatly into place
2. No plot survives contact with the characters.
In Harald, as first plotted and told as bedtime stories to my daughter, there was a minor character named Anne, the young king's mistress. The King's competent father has died, and he has a dangerously unrealistic view of how to do the job. Harald, who is a very good story teller as well as a very talented military commander, uses her to feed his view of the situation to the circle of young adults around the king, in order to put pressure on him to change his policies.
By the time the final draft was written, Anne had morphed into my stealth heroine—the noblewoman the King was courting, who makes it clear to him that she think he is acting very badly and she isn't going to marry him as long as he continues to do so, who helps save the situation at one point by a risky and heroic act (riding out of the king's army to one commanded in part by her father, just before the battle starts, to prevent the latter from being tricked into fighting the former), marries the king after he has reversed his policy, gets captured by the Empire when the castle she is in falls, and escapes by a piece of elegant cleverness of the same order as what my protagonist has been using to beat the empire in his campaigns.
In Salamander, the original plot involved a conflict between a good/bad mage (well intentioned but naive), a bad/bad mage (manipulating the good/bad one), and a good mage—very powerful, generally believed to be long dead. It ended with a confrontation between the good mage and the good/bad mage, won by the former.
By the time the book was written, the good mage had become a secondary character, his daughter had shown up as a student at the college where the other two mages teach, and she and the good/bad mage had become the protagonists. The good/bad mage sees the error of his ways fairly early on (the bad/bad mage having died due to an unexpected glitch in the magical procedure being developed by the good/bad mage) and joins forces with father and daughter. The remaining conflicts are between the three of them and other people who want to use the good/bad mage's invention for their own purposes, good and bad.
And the book had developed a secondary political theme: In what sense ends justify means. The Prince is basically a good guy willing to do bad things, including killing innocent people, for sufficiently important purposes. And prepared to say so.
"If you could get a message to her, asking her to come here and assuring her of safety, would she believe you?"
"Perhaps. Would it be true?"
Another long silence, again ended by the Prince. "No. She sounds an admirable person, and one who might in time prove useful to the Kingdom; I would prefer to do her no harm. But I have obligations to my brother and to the kingdom he rules. If it turns out that the only way of keeping our enemies from learning magery that could be our ruin is to kill a charming young lady, or two, or three, I will do it. "
Mari smiled. "And you say so even though I have no truthteller to tell me if you lie. I am not sure your Highness is fit for politics."
"I do not think you need a truthteller, lady. And under the circumstances, lying to you might be unwise."
(the "circumstances" are that he is a widower, Mari's father is a very high ranking noble, and both suspect that her father plans to marry her to him—a prospect not unattractive to either of them. She's both beautiful and smart. And the best friend of Ellen, the daughter, who is the person they are talking about.)
Do readers find this sort of thing interesting? It's not very close to what I usually post on—but then, part of the idea of this blog is as a place where I can talk about whatever I feel like.
Labels: novel fantasy