Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Telling It Twice - Misplaced Hero, Misplaced Baroness

A few weeks ago, in the comments on Dean Wesley Smith's blog (I don't remember which post), someone was bemoaning the fact that she couldn't make up her mind between two possible endings for her novel.  Dean answered as Dean always does: So write -- and publish -- them both!

And there are times when this is the obvious and easy answer.  But I want to talk about how this can be a good answer even when it doesn't seem like a good idea.  Because the hard solution is always the more interesting one.  Even if you are sure you can't write it twice, it's worth thinking about seriously, if only to get your head outside the box.

So today and tomorrow, I'm going to talk about two story situations of mine where "write it twice" is an option for solving a sticky problem. (And Friday, I'll talk about how Alfred Hitchcock remade several of his movies.)

Today we're going to talk about a critical problem for The Case of the Misplaced Baroness, the story for next summer's serial.

The Problem

The Case of the Misplaced Baroness is a sequel to summer's serial, The Case of The Misplaced Hero.

Misplaced Hero isn't really the first story of the series. It's actually outside of the series: a kind of side story that gives a little background on some squirrely secondary characters who may well be a mystery to the main characters.

Or at least, that's what it was supposed to be.

And it would have worked fine if I had left it as a side story -- just setting up the world.  But when I wrote that last "credit cookie" episode, a little imp inside me went ahead and connected this story firmly to the main story.

Without giving spoilers: The story ends with Rozinshura asking for the whole story about how the baroness came to be missing.  It isn't a promise that he's going to investigate and find out; it's a promise that we're actually going to flash back and expeirence that story.  And seeing as the same episode reveals a mystery that is unsolved at the time he asks -- clearly that story will not be resolved just in the flash back.

So this second story is going to start before the first story, and it will end after it. And there is a chunk of story which will overlap in the middle.

Do you see the problem?

I will have new readers who don't know what happened in the first story, and old readers who don't need to be told again. And the flow of the story is going to need at least some of it in there.

First Solution

I was going to write Baroness as a flashback, complete in itself.  I'd just have to come up with a subplot which can be resolved before we even get to the events of Hero.  Then the mysteries raised by these first two stories can be addressed by the third story.

The problem with that is two-fold.  One is that the ending episode of Hero really does promise that we'll move on, that we'll actually address the mysteries raised by the ending.  The second is more important: I don't have a good idea right now for anything but the plot I set up.  If I end up having such an idea, then I can probably satisfy the reader okay anyway.  It's like Scheherazade and her stories inside of other stories -- you can delay the answer to a question if you've got interesting other answers to give first.

But you've not only got to have those other interesting answers, you have to be interested in them yourself. And I'd like to get on with the story.

Second Solution

Maybe I should try to skip over as much of the overlapping section as possible. Write truncated summaries where possible.  Come up with ways to get around the holes.  Heck, should I skip it altogether and just add a note referring new readers to the first book, and ask them to go back and read it?  Gah!

The problems with that?  It's a short episode serial; boring exposition parts just don't work.  They could slow the thing down by weeks.  And it's a serial.  It's not supposed to take time out for things!  It's supposed to move from one episode to another.  So seriously, pausing to read another serial is just not .... good.

My best hope here would be to magically come up with gyrations in the story to simply avoid that part -- to write my way around it -- but that's not the story I have in mind.  As with the first solution -- if something like that comes to me, I'll do it, but I'm not going to warp the story to suit it.

The Third Solution

There's another technique -- a perfectly good, well established, well aged technique which is as old as storytelling itself -- which could work here.  And that is, just go ahead and write the same story again from another point of view, using the new pov to fill in information and make jokes and give a different perspective.

There are a lot of different versions of this technique.  For instance, mysteries use a version of this all the time: the detective talks to all the witnesses and gets the same story over and over again, each time illuminating a different aspect of the case.  There are some stories, like Agatha Christie's The Five Little Pigs, which use the technique more intensively -- including first person narratives along with the investigation.

And there was a great series of modern suspense/mysteries written by Phillip Craig and William Tapply, were they wrote a series of books together.  The series (which begins with First Light -- unfortunately it's a Simon and Schuster book, and the ebook is incredibly expensive), involves both of their detectives.  Each writes from his own character's point of view, in alternating chapters.  Some of the chapters overlap the same time frame.

And in the movies we see this all the time -- whether it's the classic Roshomon, where the whole plot is based on showing us the same exact story from several different points of view, or smaller uses, like the quick flashbacks you might see in a heist or con film, which reveal what the crooks really did to get away with their crime, after the fact.

I don't know to what extent I am going to use it in The Case of the Misplaced Baroness, but I do think that this is the solution with the most creative and entertaining possibilies. It gives me the most options for fun.  It allows me to weave this story in or out of the other story as far as I like.

There is only one problem, and I don't see it as a big one: it may well leave the new reader seriously puzzled about what's really going on with Alex and Thorny.  Because this is told from the point of view of people who are unlikely to ever know what's going on, it could be annoying and dissatisfying to the reader.  However....

That could also be an opportunity. I want Alex and Thorny to be a bit of a mystery.  So maybe I need to think about how to play that up better.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about a story with a more serious double-identity problem.  It's a story which has elements which are so unique that there is no way that anyone could read them as just two takes on the same concept -- these are the exact same characters, exact same situation, with mutually exclusive tone, character development and endings.  Good characters are evil, evil characters are good.

That story is far down my priority list, but one of the options I have for writing it is to write both.... as a single book.  The dark side and the light side.

See you in the funny papers.

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