My current 40K novel, The Fist of Demetrius, is starting to shape up. I am about 25000 words in. An ominous cloud of intrigue looms over Macharius as he reaches the absolute zenith of his power at the height of the Crusade. The Dark Eldar are moving across the event horizon. Multiple conflicts loom, with the xenos, with ambitious generals and corrupt Imperial politicians. Macharius ,although he does not know it, is about to experience the pivotal event of his life, a confrontation with something that will turn him from the golden reflection of Alexander the Great into the dark, ruthless fanatic we know from the background texts.
Slowly, a bit at a time, a book is coming into being. It’s fun to watch and at the same time frustrating, because writing always happens slower than you want it to. I have all these exciting scenes in my mind. I want them written down. NOW! I want the story rolling along. I want to see how it all works out. And yet it is arriving in the only way stories do, one phrase at a time, over a period of minutes and hours and days and months.
I keep going back and rewriting earlier sections in the light of what has been revealed by later events, working in foreshadowing and even just bits of knowledge I did not have then. All sorts of strange connections emerge. One of Macharius’s adversaries, an enormously powerful Imperial bureacrat was once his tutor.That just came out in conversation so now I have to go back and figure out what that means.
I could just take out the bit of dialogue, of course, but it’s interesting, and it has the appeal of a puzzle, and I have to trust that the character said this for a reason, even if only my subconsciousness knows why at the moment. In part I know it’s a reference to Alexander who was taught by some of the brightest and best of his time, but how in the name of the Emperor did a famous philosopher become a corrupt Imperial administrator? Still, it makes him a very distinctive character. It makes him different and more real. It gives the villain and the hero a personal connection which is always useful.
So far it’s been a book where my subconsciousness has been running ahead of my plotting, or rather interacting with it. A Rogue Trader walked on stage in one of the earlier chapters and I wondered why the hell I was putting so much effort into describing a character who did not even appear in my outline. I stuck with it though and today I realised that the Rogue Trader might not have been there in the plot synopsis, but a powerful ship was, one that was needed to carry Macharius on a secret mission and, hey, a Rogue Trader could provide that. Even better, the mission took Macharius to a lost world on the fringes of the Crusade and who better to provide guidance than one of these Imperially sanctioned merchant adventurers?
Do these sort of connections always work out? Of course not.
Sometimes they are simply dead ends and mean nothing. Sometimes they just end up lying there on the page, an extra bit of detail that does not contribute anything to the ongoing storyline but makes a character or a place or a situation more real. Orwell once said that it was the unnecessary detail that characterised the work, specifically the descriptions, of Dickens. As with so much Mr Blair wrote, I find myself agreeing and disagreeing at once. I usually try and remove anything that does not advance the story, inform the reader or develop character. It’s the thing writers are always told to do, and in general it is good advise but there are times when sometimes the strangeness of the unneeded detail provides an echo of the very real strangeness of life and that seems to me to be a good time to leave it in. And sometimes that seemingly unnecessary detail actually does provide some insight into the character or the world and at that point it ceases to be unnecessary and becomes just a detail.
And now I am going back to worrying about how Macharius’s tutor became his enemy. I might have worked this out by the time Black Library Live rolls around on Saturday. Maybe I will see you there.
Also I would just like to remind you that Blood of Aenarion is on the long list for the David Gemmell Legend Award this year. You can vote here.
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