Being the fourteenth in a series charting the writing of a new fantasy detective story.
Sometimes writing is a straight-line process. I wrote Girl in Pieces in just a few sittings, with minimal editing as I went along. Everything just fell together. Flatland is more kind of falling apart. The good news is that, as I pick up the pieces, I find they really were meant to fit together, just not quite the way I’d imagined them. Ultimately productive, but endlessly frustrating.
Equally frustrating is the speed at which I’m writing, namely dead slow. This is mostly down to the day job, which is busy enough right now to fill up my head – not to mention my breathing hours – both in and out of work. So right now the writing has to be squeezed into whatever corners I can find.
Never mind all that, I hear you say. Where’s the story at? Well, despite the above, progressing okay. Yesterday I reworked a scene where the PI returns to his office to recover from a) being unexpectedly seduced and b) being attacked by a giant cockroach (a pretty typical day, in other words). In the first draft, my hero was very much under the supernatural spell of Pheme, the story’s femme fatale. But that made him reactive rather than proactive. Vulnerability’s all very well, but I need my hero to call the shots.
The solution was to have him recognise that he’s been supernaturally seduced, and to do something about it. So he programmes the coffee machine to concoct a special brew containing a magical substance called firewater, which blanks out Pheme’s influence for one hour. This plot device does several things. 1) it restores my hero to something resembling his usual self; 2) it lets me keep Pheme’s spell lurking in the background as a constant reminder that he isn’t his usual self; 3) it introduces a ticking clock, bringing some urgency to the narrative – if our hero doesn’t solve the case within the hour, Pheme’s spell will reduce his brain to sentimental mush and he’ll never think another rational thought again.
That done, I built up Edwin’s character a little by establishing that he’s a member of the Sidhe, a second-generation faery who stayed behind in String City when the rest of the Sidhe abandoned ship, fearing an imminent apocalypse. Just background really, and dangerous to overdo in a short piece like this, but it bears on the story so needs to be there.
Talking of length, I’m already running at 8,500 words and there’s a lot of plot to get through. At this rate, the finished piece could be as long as 15,000 words. A novelette heading for a novella. You might wonder why that matters. Well, it’s harder to find a market for something of this length. 10,000 words is the top limit for a lot of publications. I’m not overly worried at this stage – I’m just trying to tell the story as it wants to be told; it’ll be as long as it needs to be. But I would like folk to read it one day, so commercial viability is an important concern.
Next step in the story is for the PI to start putting his clues together. He’s got enough of them now. A mysterious silver amulet shaped like an acorn, the odd measurements he took in Mimas’s enormous apartment, plus the curiously small size of Edwin’s little abode. Pheme’s behaviour, the ransom note left by the cockroach. And, of course, the flattening of the city.
And it’s time to ramp up the pace. After four or five pages of seduction and deduction, it’s time for a little action!
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