Friday, 12 February 2010

Who's on First?

Well, this is annoying. I've reached a point in Lindowe Linn where the telling must flow in one of two channels, and there's no way of knowing which without writing both.

They both lead to about the same place. What happens is that the mother and the younger daughter meet after the Incident separates them. They don't have long together, the circumstances are not comfortable, and they have to decide something urgently. I'm pretty sure I know what they and their respective companions decide - that's a function of their characters and the logic of the story.

What I don't know is how the conversation goes, because there is no one true course for it. The reason is a bit odd.

This is a really important talk. They're coming to it with different things. If the mother speaks first, she's going to ask at once after her overwhelming concern - where the Incident has taken her daughter, and how she is doing. One conversation flows from that.

If the daughter speaks first, she's going to ask what her mother and brother are doing about the Incident. This will be a very different conversation, not least because she's going to be actively steering it away from any self-revelation much beyond, "I'm safe and happy." Her mother is not going to react well to the whole truth, and the daughter lacks both the inclination to lie to her and any serious hope of carrying off the attempt.

There are two ways to look at this dilemma.

One is my default case: they're really both things that could have happened, and the only way to find out which is true in the story is to write both, and see which one turns out better.

The second and more unfortunate is that I don't know who speaks first because the conversation comes too much from my plot, and too little from their need. I hope that's not true, but I wonder. In this case I need to think about them (and their companions) a bit more, and then write what comes and trust to where it goes.

That would be harder, and so it is probably truer. Ouch. I knew there was a reason I had to stop and set down what was happening! I wonder whether the "write both versions" approach is ever going to be useful.

If push comes to shove, I guess I may yet find out.


  1. Try the third way: Both speak at the same time, overlapping their needs and getting their selfish concerns off their chest and not realizing what the other is saying until it is too late and the cat's out of the bag and both know too much and not enough. But that may start the whole wagon train off in another wrong direction -- so, in that case, pretend I didn't say anything.

  2. Jamesandbluejay - Ha! I don't think that could work in this case, but it's not at all a bad notion for the more general problem. There are places in Killer-Kate, especially, where exactly that sort of thing might happen.

    Many thanks!


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