Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Tapestry

The successful storyteller has the ability to lift his or her audience out of their world of reality, suspend belief, and plunk them into the writer’s world. Whether that world is on a written page, movie, or TV scene is immaterial. We want the reader or viewer to enter the new world and become a part of it like an invisible companion until the end credits break the trance. This is accomplished with the details.

 Jules Verne has us actually aboard the Nautilus. Sir Arthur Doyle has us walking with Holmes and Watson. Edgar Burroughs has us swinging through the trees alongside Tarzan. J.K. Rowling has us flying with Harry Potter in a Quiddich match. ( How? By describing the scene in such a way to make it 3-Dimensional.

Some time back I discussed building characters and the detail the writer should attend to even if not used. The same goes for the backdrop, the world in which the character moves. A writer of science fiction or fantasy taking place on another world needs to create that world in detail right down to a piece of gum stuck on the walkway. A story taking place in the mountains of New Mexico needs the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of New Mexico which are different from the Colorado Rockies. 

The Order of the Brethren, currently in production, primarily takes place in the Caribbean Sea in the early 1600’s. To recreate that takes a huge amount of research as to geography, history, and cultures. This was a period of upheaval in this area. Natives were being killed out, new people inserted (African slaves), and the European powers jockeyed for position to elbow Spain out of the picture. This is not an historical novel, but it is historically based. 

Going into descriptive details about places might be nice, but too much could risk putting the audience to sleep. For instance, Nevis Island plays an important role in one chapter as the characters bounce from one island to another trying to hold the attack fleet together. It is a small, circular island with a towering central volcanic cone. From a distance Nevis looks like a hat. The sides are gently sloping with rich volcanic soil for agriculture. I could go into an extensive description of its rich, green tapestry of vegetation and colorful flowers, the turquois water washing up on long, white sand beaches, the . . . no, it’s a circular island that looks like a hat. The decision was to dwell more on time which is becoming a factor in the rescue, the relationship of one island to another, how far apart they are, and how long it takes to get there is more important. Travel time between islands is measured in hours, as in five to eight because ship speeds ranged from five to eight knots/hour. (That’s walking to slow jog speed). In countries like Australia and the western United States distances between cities are huge in comparison to Great Britain, Europe, and similar small regions used to short travel distances. The audience won’t have a chance to nap because they will jog right along with no more time to shop than our hero(s).

Besides geography are the people already living on the islands, the last remnants of the native people, some Spaniards, and an influx of Europeans. As this is a story about people, I want to go into some depth about what is known of them—their appearance, social structure, and living conditions. This has not been an easy research. More information is surfacing, but over all, we know little about the Taino and the Carib. By 1700 they will be wiped from the face of the earth, existing today only in pockets of DNA. How did this happen? The Taino were peaceful. The Caribs were cannibalistic. In this story, our hero(s) must interact with and get their cooperation, and in doing so, their stories can be told, not in an indigestible block of information, but spread out over several chapters so not to overwhelm our invisible companions.
It is a tricky tapestry we weave to move the story along with the audience pulled into the story and experiencing life in the times with our hero(s). Unlike the venerable authors of yesteryear who could go into minute detail about geography and science, today’s reader/viewer is too impatient. We authors must be brief and more concise. In some ways, that’s a pity.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

May We Digress?

Oh, yeah, maybe I should do this  . . . or maybe not.

Unless you are a writer slavishly following an outline while wearing blinders, something will come to mind while merrily typing away that could effect or improve the story, either to plot or character(s). Being a seat-of-the-pants writer, I honestly never quite know where some of the story might go. Oh, there is this vague target at the end of the journey, but unlike an arrow that arcs straight for the target, my approach is more of a roller coaster ride.

Case in point, in Order of the Brethren our hero (François a.k.a. the pirate Dolphin) has become reunited with his ship and crew, escaped San Borondón Island, and is happily sailing along when they are becalmed—literally the calm before a storm, but that’s getting ahead of things. It was while assembling this part of the story that it occurred I should expand the events surrounding San Borondón and in doing so, have the opportunity to enrich a support character—Sa’id, a helmsman.

During the first novel in this series (The Urchin Pirate) a ruthless, Spaniard officer captures our hero. It is the slave, Sa’id, who is instrumental in helping the Dolphin to escape and thus effect his own freedom. At the conclusion of the book our hero returns home while Sa’id remains aboard the Raven which continues under command of another important character, Black Maggie. When the Dolphin arrives on San Borondón he finds Sa’id has been faithful to his ship. This is where the thought to embellish this part of the story came to mind because of an incident that I penned of events aboard ship shortly after the recovery. As our hero is organizing the officer staff the men tease Sa’id about having a girlfriend on the island, just something that came out of the blue.

I already had a child who acts as servant/guide on the island. With a slight modification he becomes Sa’id’s love child although neither is not aware of the relationship. This will come into play at the end of the novel and neatly conclude Sa'id's part in the series with out killing him off.

A writer should expect afterthoughts as they put pixels to screen, and not be afraid to retreat and re-write scenes that would add depth and color to the overall plot. This is not editing. That comes once the draft is done. The writer may or may not retain the material, or modify it further, but at least it is there to pass judgment upon.

As for not using an outline, that can happen with any first story, but if it develops into a series that story itself becomes an outline of sorts dictating what follows. The overall series, A Pirate’s Legacy, occurs in two time periods, 2000 and 1600 with intrinsic ties. One of those ties is a hereditary villain, in this case a mafia-type family. The modern era series was the start of the epoch and introduced the villain. His goals are 1) clear the family’s name and re-establish its “honor”, 2) recover the treasures left behind by our pirate hero as reparation for past insults, and 3) terminate the hero’s genealogy. In The Urchin Pirate, there were too many things going on to introduce how this hate began. That happens in The Brethren. 

As the pirate armada assembles and closes in for the confrontation, we learn that Lord Chudleigh, a secondary villain, has an accomplice. He is the one behind the kidnapping of the wife and son of the Dolphin’s cousin/mentor (Hogshead Shaver) and making war on pirates as an attempt to destroy the Dolphin because of something that occurred in The Urchin Pirate. (I just didn’t play it up at the time.)

While our hero merrily sails on, I break from the main action to introduce this villain, following a style introduced in The Urchin Pirate. In that story I could have ignored what happened to the Dolphin’s family during his kidnapping, but his wife and family are important. How is his wife going to cope with a burgeoning plantation? That is explained along with expanding another character, the Arab boy Hassan, a setup for his role in book 4 of the series, The Lions of el Bayadh. It's merely a setup technique. In The Brethren, I break away from the main action at moments there is a lull in the action to focus on the Dolphin’s wife thus setting up the confrontation between the hero and villain, and start of the 400 year animosity.

One method of making a statue is to create it with clay, adding, and subtracting, and carving. When working in a museum prep lab a century back, I watched this fascinating process. The life-size figure of a caveman was spooky real, but the time came to say enough. Once cast in a solid medium little could be altered. Writing is like that. The author is free to make whatever modifications to the shape of the story he or she wants until published. Once that happens, it is time to move on. If part of a series the writer is constrained by the mold of the preceding books.