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Monday, 21 September 2015

Writing - beginnings change

Recently I was tagged by a FaceBook friend to produce 7 lines from page 7 of my Work In Progress, To Be King.  I managed that, but it set me to thinking, as you do.

The original beginning of the WIP is actually now Chapter 2! The point of this post is to highlight that while writing a novel you do not have to feel that you must stick with the beginning you created. There may not be anything wrong with it, but it is always possible a better alternative may present itself as the story evolves. And of course it’s all subjective anyway. Be flexible.

Here is a snippet from the original beginning.

As you will observe, it is fantasy, set in mythical Floreskand, being the second chronicle after Wings of the Overlord:

CHAPTER 2: Contenders

“To see what is right and not to do it is to want of courage.”
Dialogues of Meshanel
Lord Tanellor draped his once-magnificent scarlet cloak on top of the overseer’s bloodied mutilated body, and then raised himself into an upright position. He glanced to the crest of the steep, striated Oxor Rift. Through a thin miasma of blue dust, the sun flared dazzlingly, casting various shades of mauve and purple for a brief instant, and then it dropped out of sight behind the jagged rock ridge. He ran the back of a hairy hand across his creased brow, tired and sickened by the senseless death that surrounded him. Death in war he could understand, and even condone, but this, this made his blood boil. Negligence killed these men. And, by his insistence that the miners worked longer shifts during the Kcarran carnival, Saurosen had murdered them as surely as if he’d struck them down himself.

            A few marks away, the towering broad-shouldered Aurelan Crossis busied himself counting corpses. Beyond, Bayuan Aco, the sergeant of the palace guard and ten of his men hauled bodies from the gaping maw of the mine. At the entrance shrine, the Daughter of Arqitor prayed intermittently and also offered a pitcher of water to the men.

            “What’s the tally now?” he asked in a weary voice.

            Aurelan did not raise his flinty grey eyes from his grisly task. He jotted figures in his dog-eared tally book. His voice boomed, a deep bass: “Seventy-four.”

            “So many?” he whispered, in despair. “I fear there are more to be recovered yet.”

            Aurelan shut his book. “Sadly, these are not just numbers in a tally book. I know these men. Two of them even have brothers in my palace guard.” He eyed Tanellor. “Lord, we do not have the time to dig out any more.” Aurelan then stepped over the corpses and moved to Lord Tanellor’s side. His hair was short, cropped, and coppery, the lobe was missing from his right ear, the mouth a cruel line in a pitted face. An old scar ran along the left side of his neck, one of many tokens from his fighting days, Tanellor surmised.

And so on…

As a beginning, I think it worked, thrusting the reader into a situation that raised a number of questions. I haven’t shown Tanellor arriving with his men, or the actual explosion. It is colourful, intense with imagery, and reveals tragedy and character. But I felt that here was a missed opportunity; I wanted to study the miners before the tragedy; and I perceived that by doing so there would ultimately prove to be a link to the arcane Underpeople my co-author alluded to frequently… So, the new added beginning starts thus:

Chapter 1: Dust

“Everything in the past died yesterday;
everything in the future was born today.”
- The Tanlin, 204.10

Caged purblind birds sang, their high-pitched tones echoing through the maze of the Oxor cobalt mine tunnels. A mixture of tree trunk and hartwood props groaned as they supported the rocky ceilings.

            “The king can’t deny us our festival,” growled Rujon Sos. His words echoed in this small underground amphitheatre that joined several tunnels. His bare muscular torso gleamed with a sweaty sheen. Though this section only accommodated twelve miners, all of whom now stopped hammering at the rock walls, there were six other dark shadowy entrances to tunnels where more men hacked at the rock and sweated, their implements echoing along the passageways.

            “Like the rest of us, you’re just a miner, a vassal of King Saurosen,” snapped Dasse Wenn, his rat’s nest of a beard dust-covered. His beefy features twisted in distaste, grey eyes full of hate. Sos suspected that Dasse was a weasel – albeit a short brawny weasel – and regularly reported to the king’s minister anything that might earn him a few base coins.

            Saurosen IV had persistently deprived his people of their little pleasures; and now he had banned their annual Carnival. Considering these festivities had taken place without fail annually for 1062 years, commemorating the crowning of Lornwater’s first King, Kcarran, Sos thought the people had taken the edict commendably well, though he doubted if they’d abide by it, merely paying lip-service. He couldn’t comprehend why Dasse was so passive about the king’s contempt for his people.

            “We must withdraw our labour, teach Saurosen a lesson!” Sos’s strident voice echoed through the smalt mine. The tunnel to his left went quiet, save for the chirping of songbirds.

            “The king doesn’t take lessons from minions like us!” Dasse said in a guttural tone.

            Everywhere glimmered with a blue-tinged buttery glow as the candles flickered. Most candles were placed on rock ledges, but a handful of miners wore cloth caps with wax candles fastened to their brims. Each man simply wore a breach-cloth and thick, boiled leather boots, as the temperature deep in the mine was so intense that any clothing would become sopping wet and prove cumbersome and heavy.

            “You miss the point, Dasse,” snapped Sos. “Hear that silence? Most of our shift has downed tools already.”

            “The overseer and his men won’t stand for it. He’ll send for Lord Tanellor, who will bring troops, and they will force those fools back into the mine. We should have no part in that!” Dasse coughed on fetid air that was tainted a faint blue. “The vent shafts are next to useless!” His thin lips curled back in a sneer, revealing buck teeth. “I don’t fancy my head on a spike, Rujon Sos.”

            “That’s often the fate of Saurosen’s spies!” Sos riposted, rubbing a hand over the stubble on his square jaw.

            The others audibly gasped.

            “You’ll regret those words, Rujon Sos!

            “I have witnesses, Dasse. If you’re threatening me…”

            Dasse laughed, arms gesturing. “I’d rather work down here than die. Saurosen can have all the smaltglass goblets he wants, so long as I have a full pewter one in the Pick and Shovel when our shift’s done!”

            “That’s defeatist talk.” Sos ground his teeth together, turned and, gripping his hammer and chisel, scanned the ten other miners. “What say you all?”

            Only murmurs reached him, the whites of the fearful eyes of his fellow miners gleaming. He knew the majority agreed with him; but they also knew that Dasse wasn’t to be trusted.

            He jabbed his chisel at the nearest wooden prop. “Look, at this cankered wood, it’s not fit. We’re working in a death-trap. Lord Tanellor’s begged and pleaded for new material, but Saurosen won’t countenance it!”

            “He’s always been mean with his money, that one,” said a miner on Sos’s right.

            “Aye, and with his favours, as well,” said another.

            “What favours?” another demanded, derisively.

            Sos nodded, and persisted. “Despots like Saurosen can’t be allowed–”

            Allowed?” Abruptly, he was barged by Dasse, shoved to the rock-strewn floor. He felt a stinging sensation across his cheek and brow and stared up into the hate-filled visage of Dasse. His hand came away covered in blood. Dasse brandished his chisel, sitting astride him.

            Sos twisted and heaved before Dasse could deliver another blow, thrusting Dasse off him. Most of the others shouted encouragement to Sos, though not all, he noticed.

            He scrambled to his feet, gripping his hammer; his chisel was discarded somewhere.

Now he felt his back starting to sting: his left shoulder-blade, which broke his fall.

            The pair circled one another. The first heavy impact had loosened Dasse’s long jet-black hair and it now trailed over his massive shoulders.

            “Sweet Arqitor, stop!” called one man.

            “Stop it before someone gets hurt!” another shouted, but neither Sos nor Dasse listened.

            Suddenly, Dasse rushed him, shrieking unintelligibly, wielding his chisel.

            Sos side-stepped smartly, and then slammed his hammer into the side of Dasse’s shoulder as he passed, and swiftly leaped onto the man’s back as he tumbled against a pit-prop.

            The wooden post groaned and the rock above crumbled, small pebbles skittering to the ground.

            “Stop it, both of you!” a man shrieked. “You’ll bring the whole mine down on us! Daughters of Arqitor preserve us!”

            Snatching, grasping, clawing, the pair rolled, hands slipping on sweaty skin, slicing with hammer and chisel, crying out in shrill tones as the tools sank into flesh. Then, within seconds, they both rolled against a small open conduit that collapsed at their pressure and it created a wide entrance that sloped down into blackness.

And so on…

One of a variety of hooks a writer can employ for the reader is conflict. In this case I created conflict between Sos and Dasse, which will worsen until they become trapped after the explosion. The scene also contains action, to move the story faster. I touched upon affairs pertaining to Lornwater, its citizens and their ruler, King Saurosen IV. Here, too, a little further in, I could introduce Tanellor and hint at other happenings and intrigues. All before Tanellor walks among the dead (now Chapter 2).

Significantly, these events begin on the same day as the beginning of Wings of the Overlord. It is a parallel separate storyline (as Wings is a self-contained tale that has links and threads to be developed later, some in To Be King, others in subsequent books).

Writers spend a lot of time on the beginning of their novels. It makes sense, to draw in the reader. Beginnings are fretted over more than any other part of a novel – more than the ending, even; because that beginning has been there to tinker with for the duration of the book.

My advice is: ‘…beginnings and endings are very important. But don’t fret over them too much – at least until the book is written. Then you can decide how you want to shape the beginning and ending.’ – Write a Western in 30 Days (p142).
As you can see here, an original beginning was eventually replaced (but not discarded). Now that I have the shape of the book planned and I’m 68,000 words into it, it is unlikely that I will alter it again; but it’s always a possibility.

Wings of the Overlord – by Morton Faulkner, hardback (paperback due in December)

Amazon COM here

Amazon UK here

Write a Western in 30 Days – by Nik Morton, paperback and e-book

Amazon COM here

Amazon UK here

Some other posts on writing beginnings:

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