Saturday, February 04, 2012

No Plot Survives

contact with the characters.

That is one of the conclusions I reached from writing two novels. When I started writing Harald, I already had a complete outline, created in the process of telling the story to my daughter while putting her to bed. I had discovered in the past that she remembered my stories better than I did, which could lead to problems, as in "But Daddy, that magical device they got in the story you told me three months ago will get them out of this situation with no trouble at all." So this time, every evening after I finished telling her a chunk of the story, I went to my computer and outlined it.

Spoiler Alert for Harald

Despite which, someone who was only a minor character in the original version turned into a major character in the written version. Anne was originally the King's mistress who Harald used to feed his view of what was going on to the social set around the King, in order to put pressure on him. He did it by telling the story of how a lady of the Order had saved his life at considerable risk to her own in his first battle—and only revealing at the end that the lady was Leonora, now the lady commander of the Order, who the king had treacherously taken prisoner as part of his plan to take control of the Order. 

By the time the book was written, Anne had become the noblewoman the King was courting and a major influence in the plot. 

It may have occurred to some readers that the King was pretty stupid to fall into Harald's trap and end up his prisoner. The reason was not only that Harald was a much better general than the King. What I never explained but tried to hint at was that, at that point, the King did not much care whether he won or lost, lived or died. As he saw it, he was responsible, through treachery, for the death of a woman who had played a large part in defending his kingdom from its enemies for the past twenty years. The woman he was in love with had made it obvious that she thought he had behaved outrageously and was refusing to marry him. He was hoping that somehow, if he could capture Harald without killing him, he could put things back together, but it did not look likely.

Some of which was supposed to be signaled, for sufficiently perceptive readers, by:
The King sent a boy running for his captain. With luck, this time, …

And either way, at least it would be over.
 Which is why, when he is captured, the King's emotional state is nearer relief than despair. He no longer has to make any decisions.

What is supposed to finally signal what was going on between the King and Anne is a scene a little later, after the King has recognized his error and made his peace with Harald and Leonora, fortunately not dead after all. He encounters Anne:
Anne spoke, surprise in her voice: "You are at peace with Harald?"
"With Harald and with the Lady Commander. In their debt. You were right; I was wrong."
She spoke gravely. "Then if your question has not changed, my answer has."
It was some time before they again noticed the two Ladies.
 Later still, in her escape from the Imperial army, Anne demonstrates a very Harald-like level of ingenuity. 

All of which explains why I think of her as my stealth heroine.

Salamander was not outlined in advance, and the changes from my original plan were much more drastic. As originally conceived, there were three major characters, who I thought of as the good good mage (Durilil), the good bad mage (Coelus), and the bad bad mage (Maridon). The good bad mage invented the cascade for good reasons, not seeing its potential for misuse. The bad bad mage encouraged him, with the intention of taking control of it. The good good mage opposed both of them. The final scene, after the bad bad mage had been killed, was supposed to be a confrontation between the good bad mage, with the power of the Cascade, and the good good mage, with the power of the Salamander. The Salamander gave unlimited power but of a narrow sort; the good bad mage did not realize what he was facing and so kept trying to force his way through the magic of the opposing mage, and when he had completely exhausted his very large but not unlimited power the good good mage took over, reduced him back to a youth, eliminated his memory of everything since he had been young, and adopted him as his apprentice.

Which was an interesting idea, if a bit melodramatic, but not even close to how the plot actually turned out. 

Spoiler Alert for Salamander

By the time I was done, the good good mage had been converted to a secondary character and his place as protagonist taken by his daughter, whose existence had been only a possibility when I started. The good bad mage had seen the error of his ways part way through the book and allied with the daughter, the bad bad mage had gotten burned up, and the remaining conflicts were with people of whose existence I had been entirely ignorant when I started.

Somewhere along the way, not one but two very different love stories managed to sneak in. One was between two highly intelligent intellectuals with limited social skills, one of whom manages to not notice that he is in love for a surprisingly long time, and the other between two sophisticated and socially adept aristocrats, fencing with each other all the way to their eventual engagement.


SheetWise said...

Your daughter and you are very lucky to be able to share this. Sometimes the person listening is more important to the quality of the story than the storyteller. Just out of curiosity -- did your father also tell stories to you?

David Friedman said...

I am very lucky in my children.

My father told stories on long drives in the car, not just to me but to the whole family (me, my sister, and my mother). There was one long series about Mr Gazookis and his circus. I no longer remember any of them, but I revived Mr. Gazookis and his circus for my kids at some point and made up new stories.

I don't remember either of my parents telling stories while putting me to bed when I was a child, which is what I did for years with Bill and Rebecca.

In a way I feel sad about the fact that neither the stories my father told us, nor the stories I told my children (aside from Harald, which I told Rebecca as an alternative to the usual pattern of making up three stories and telling them when putting her to bed), have survived. I have a somewhat vague memory of the ones I told, in particular the characters; I don't know if my kids remember them any better than that.

Jonathan said...

I reread Salamander today and was puzzled, because I remembered the beginning of the story as being too slow; and yet today it seemed to move along at a brisk enough pace.

I suppose I shouldn't trust my reactions after reading a book the first time, any more than I would after hearing a piece of music the first time.

Chris Henrich said...

No legislative program survives ...

... contact with the Legislature.

Even somebody as bright as Barack Obama had to learn this the hard way.

Rebecca Friedman said...

We remember somewhat better, or at least I do. For example, I can tell you what the magical artifact they'd gotten three months ago was (a... gem I think... that summoned a friendly ally who could have Gotten Them Out Of There), and I could probably summarize several of the stories. Definitely the series concepts, but those were usually pretty simple. Was the one about Paul Bunyan and the pea soup your invention? I think I probably remember that one well enough to tell...

And yes. I consider myself very lucky in my father. And my family as a whole, really.

PoliteEdward said...

"I am very lucky in my children."

Of the Friedmans, at first I had only heard of Milton, and was impressed. And then I learned about David, and was even more impressed, but not very surprised. And then I learned about Patri, and I was impressed but not surprised at all.

I imagine Friedman genes and Friedman parenting make luck unneeded. Now I just need to hatch a plot to get my children to marry and have offspring with some Friedmans...

David Friedman said...

I am pretty sure that the story of how Paul Bunyan invented frozen food in order that his French Canadian loggers would not have to tramp back to the camp for lunch was not my invention, but something I heard or read somewhere.

Rebecca Friedman said...

No, I meant the one about when the split peas fell in the hot spring, though that one was good too!

David Friedman said...

I think the story of the very large pot of pea soup is also one I got from somewhere.

David Friedman said...

Incidentally, I think the original version of the phrase I used for the title of this post is attributed to Napoleon:

No plan survives contact with the enemy.

SheetWise said...

"No plan survives contact with the enemy."

That one I've heard ...

French Canadian loggers and frozen peas immersed in a hot spring -- that's all new to me ;)

Life is fun.

David Friedman said...

The frozen food story was pea soup, poured into holes in the handles of French-Canadian loggers in the morning, where it froze. By lunch time warm enough to get out, heat, and consume--saving an hour's walk back to camp for lunch, and another hour back to the forest being logged.

What tipped into the hot spring was a wagon load of split peas for making pea soup. Add a ton or so of ham and a barrel of salt...problem solved.

And I haven't even got into how Slim greased his giant pancake griddle.