I’m only making plans for Aiella

The best thing for the blues is to do something constructive, so I’m going to have a look at the major surgery needed for my novel Aiella. Briefly, it has been suggested that the first part of the first chapter, dealing with her childhood and the Lamentable Tragedie that drove her into exile, be moved to stand instead as the next-to-last story in the sequence. This means that the book starts with our heroine staggering half-dead down from the mountains, starved and snowblind, and the reader has no more idea of who she is than the farm folk who take her in have. So that part of the story needs re-jigging, so there are no references back to the previous story, only mysterious hints, and also it needs more description of her to be added, by way of introducing her to the reader. (I’m thinking out loud here).

Then, as the stories progress, her Mysterious Past and just what it was that led her to a life of wandering and exile is almost as much of a mystery to the reader as it is to the other characters … there are a couple of crucial scenes involving a wanted poster I need to look at, to determine how much to give away there. I think this is a better effect than having all the backstory explicated at the beginning, and the readers (if any such there be) can let their lurid imaginations speculate on what might have happened.

So far so good. Now, the really hard part is transplanting that backstory, currently sitting proudly at the head of Chapter One,  to the less elevated position of Chapter Thirteen. There is going to have to be some kind of framing for it, to account for its anachronous position, and as it stands it isn’t very suitable for framing. I haven’t worked out how to do this yet. Obviously the trigger for its appearance is Aiella finally confessing all her past misdeeds to Dartea, which is a thing that already happens, but the story is too long and too objectively written (3rd person) to be passed off as Aiella’s recollections. If it were a film I could do a slow dissolve and then a caption, RHEGED: 35 YEARS EARLIER, but writing it in to a novel is a little trickier.

More thought required!


2 thoughts on “I’m only making plans for Aiella

  1. Gah! I feel your frustration. It’s this blighted modern obsession with showing and not telling, and keeping backstory hidden from the reader to be slowly revealed. Plenty of people will argue this as the only correct approach to telling a story –I suspect it’s Lesson 1 in ‘How to Conduct a Creative Writing Class for Dummies’. Unfortunately, this approach is now so established that you probably do have to modify along the lines suggested if you want a potential publisher to read beyond the first paragraph.
    For the record, I don’t claim that it’s a wrong approach, merely a fashionable one. We’re told readers prefer it, but many readers (self included) have no objection when Austen, Tolkien or Tolstoy give us a precise of a character’s early life or past events. Or indeed anything else that counts as ‘telling’.
    I don’t think it has much to do with readers’ preferences at all. The modern reader has simply adapted to the prevailing trend among literary writers (that has trickled down to everyone else) to induce a state of bewilderment from the beginning. No doubt some literary clever clogs had a success with the idea, amazing the critics and cursing every subsequent writer to apply the same formula (as if we can’t be trusted to devise our own approach to story telling).
    As a reader, my response to being deliberately baffled at the beginning of a book is to fling the offending volume aside – for similar reasons to modern critics who object to Agatha Christie withholding evidence from her readers. I resent being manipulated, and I find the fashionably ambiguous story beginning a manipulation.
    Sorry – I am waaaay off track from your starting point and getting all het up, but it rankles.
    One day the literary world will be dazzled by a trail-blazing new school of writers who will tell a dashed story without trying to keep readers in a semi-permanent state of agitation (I can achieve that state by putting simply putting the dashed book down). The fashionable formula will change, and writers will be expected to adjust their draft novels once more to fit the latest fad. Let’s just hope the next trend isn’t a worse one.
    I understand that fashions change in the world of literature, just as they do in fashion, film and soft-furnishings. It’s people representing the trend as ‘good writing’ (and off-trend writing as bad) that I object to.
    So… you probably do need to fling Aiella into a perilous beginning. But don’t let anyone tell you it’s about making your writing better. It’s just a question of fashion.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. No, come on, don’t hold back, tell us how you really feel 🙂

    I don’t disagree with the general thrust of your comment, but in mitigation I ought to say that the idea from my (most excellent) beta reader was something I had considered before, and I had only placed the backstory story at the beginning of the compiled novel for reasons of convenience as much as anything else. I think that in the context of this book, being as it is a collection of connected but discrete stories, not written in chronological order, with no through plot, it works better placed near the end of the sequence: the subsequent stories read better for it, I feel. It’s no good me painting Aiella as the International Woman of Mystery when the reader already Knows All … the characterisation loses most of its force, I reckon. And, also, when we come to the final story in the sequence, when the backstory is of great significance and importance, it is now fresh in the reader’s mind, and not something they have half-forgotten 15 chapters ago.

    The sequel, if I ever get past the first chapter of it, will be a conventional novel with one continuous storyline, so as to avoid all the problems I caused for myself by writing thirteen separate and not entirely consistent stories and then deciding to lump them together in one book .. although the way things are going, it may end up as two books …

    And I don’t give a flying … erm, I don’t care what publishers think. I have no intention of ever submitting it to any. I’m too old to go through all that palaver. I shall publish it myself and if it never sells, so be it. Don’t really care, because that’s not why I’m writing.


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