Public plot-noodling

by , under editing, writing

In the mid-twenty-noughts I wrote what I thought was a complete novel, tentatively called A Voice from the North, my second after Terms of Service. It has Raneth Velain in it, who I love with a fierce love, grown up into a strong wry middle-aged Guild runner. I couldn’t finish it– well, it got finished at some point, even with a reasonably good ending, but every time I tried to edit it I couldn’t get further than a spot of trimming and a bit of polish. Its greatest problem is that it lacks motivation. People do things for no solid reason of their own. For Jilan, the protagonist, this may be inherent to his character, but nobody else has motivation either, not even Raneth. This is annoying, because the thing contains lots of good writing, an exciting fight scene, King Athal at 13 in the first year of his reign, and the unkillable darling “take you off my hands in a westerly direction”. It would be a shame to abandon it.

I wrote other things (that I can’t finish either for other reasons), and a lot of real life happened, some of which kept me from writing altogether. Then I discovered that the approximately four chapters (the first is split up in bits amusingly numbered 00, 01, 01a, 01.1 and 01.zooi ‘rubbish’) I had lying around about Raneth at the beginning of her runner career might fit at the beginning of A Voice from the North to give Raneth backstory and, from that, motivation.

I mulled that over while on holiday. I’d planned to start writing on the train, but all I did then was fuse 00 and the various 01s into a more or less coherent whole and think about how it would change the bulk of the existing book if the reader knew more about Raneth. I’m more or less convinced that it will probably stay in two parts, the first with Raneth as protagonist and the second with Jilan as protagonist and Raneth as main supporting character, but that’s just about all I know now.

In the chapters with less confusing numbers than 01.something, Raneth heads an expedition to Velihas, far too early in spring to get across the mountains (spring is late that year, and nobody on this side of the mountains knows enough about the conditions) so they get snowed in and are rescued by a coming-of-age camp full of boys. I don’t have the slightest idea what happens after that, but it should be life-changing for Raneth, or tie into Jilan’s story, or have repercussions all the way to Rizenay, or all of those.

One thing I tried was to make Raneth’s young and inexperienced friend, Caille Rhydin, into her lover, approximately the same age she is, 10-15 years older than the original version. And while I was at it, give Caille a somewhat less boring ancestry than “younger daughter from noble family”, with a sailor father from the South. Raneth needed to lose Caille, because when she travelled to Rizenay in her fifties she was definitely single, and I didn’t want to kill her because that felt like a cop-out. The Twitterverse made some excellent suggestions: Caille should have something she cared about more than about Raneth or the relationship. I came up with Caille’s mind working so differently from most Valdyan minds (it could show up as some form of neurodivergence and/or be part of her foreign father’s legacy) that she’d want to stay in Velihas because there she could understand and be understood by people at last. That would be hard on both Caille and Raneth, especially as it would make it painfully clear that Raneth had never properly understood Caille either, and it would necessarily end their relationship, but without anyone having to die.

But when I tried to write that, the characters didn’t cooperate. Caille refused to be older than her late teens with Raneth in her early thirties, and once they were over the mountains Caille just didn’t seem to be there any more, though that was where I needed her for the plot twist. Grrr. I tried to turn another character who was carried in unconscious into Caille, but that didn’t work either because if it had been Caille, even in a role as friend and protégée rather than lover, Raneth would have rushed to her side as soon as she could stand up instead of having to be fetched by the doctor/priestess.

So now I’m stuck four hundred words into chapter 05, which began so promisingly this morning that I was too much in the flow to remember to leave for the swimming pool. As I said, grrr. And people still don’t have a motivation.

Comments invited. If all you have to say is “huh?” please be as specific as you can and I’ll try to enlighten you and myself in one go.