In my last revision post
, I discussed various ways of adding multiple complete or partial tales together, to compose a single work. Along these lines, I sketched out the peculiar real structure of Three Katherines of Allingdale
: a short subverted fairy-tale, The Deed of Katy Elflocks
, whose themes are redeveloped and resolved in a long enchanted low fantasy, Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland
. The latter takes place in the twilight of its four great characters: Katy Elflocks, Kit Fox, Prince Lucas the Proud, and Golden Kate Alland. Specifically, Kate
takes place almost exactly thirty years after the events of Katy
- at least, in the reference frame shared by Kate and Luke and the Wide World, which is the one that rules the overall story.
Yes, that is an enormous gap. Moreover, it's not just a gap of time. At the end of Katy
, we had what looked like happy endings all round. The start of Kate
is one of the blackest wildest passages I've written: nobody knows what became of Katy (small surprise there), and all the other chief characters have lost practically everything, including in common opinion their lives. This is not a normal story transition. I could call it a deliberate inversion, pivoting on the legend of Katy, but that would be a dirty great lie. The truth is, there is a huge hole in the middle years, because the story of them simply blew up on me. This is not remotely the tale I set out to write.
When I decided to extend Katy Elflocks
to novel length, the characters and situations it had left me with practically did the job for me. The Grand Arc sprang up fully-formed inside a bare couple of weeks. The structure was at that time so simple: three sequential movements, of roughly equal length with a bit extra in the middle, which I called and thought of as a triptych
. First Katy's song of a summer
, short and sweet and fierce, the statement; then ten years after, Kit's story of a fall
, expansive and wickedly farcical until it knotted into grand tragedy, the development; then twenty years on yet, Kate's winter's tale
, of middle length and bitterest edge and dearest redemption, the resolution. (I did not then think of it as music.) This would have been a slightly unusual structure, yet simple enough, and little concerned with matters outside itself. The tale really told would have been more or less the whole tale. This, like everything I've discussed up to this point, I call a real composition
It didn't really happen.
The Story of the Fall proved pure trouble from the word go. The first problem to arise was multiplicity. Kit's disaster has never been, and still is not, a single story to me. It's an utterly Kittish thing: a mess, a thing of shreds and patches, a villainous juggling-act by a perverse genius trying really hard to leave all her stupid villainous shit behind her, and constantly tripping over the great big clown jackboots of her stupid heroic entitled husband, whom she has doomed herself to love beyond restraint or reason. I've tried more times than I can think of to make the Kingdom side of this circus into one story, and it really isn't.
Kit just makes brilliant shit up at random, iterates, and deals with the ever-escalating consequences until her equally brilliant antagonist - Claire the Crafty, Luke's arch-diplomat elder sister - returns out of the blue, to smash her regime like a rotten pumpkin from every direction at once. This is the way they and Luke are, and that is the only way it can possibly be. It has every quality of a great story, except for being structured as one.
So I moved quickly on to the other perspective on the story: that of cool, devious Claire, who is not herself a particularly good person, but who for the sake of the realm has attached herself unshakeably to somebody both good and useful. Claire, The Rescuer of Realms
, does have a proper story, and then some - the tale of how she retook the Kingdom for its widowed queen and her unborn son, which necessarily involved playing a lot of hands of adventurer's poker without initially having any cards at all. It's a rollicking, riotous story. I set to it at once. It fell very promptly to pieces, because it is a story around Kit and Luke that doesn't have Kit and Luke in it
, which fills it with fifteen infodumps and sucks the life out of it like sixteen lampreys. Mark how the issue of a story with a big doughnut hole in it has been dogging me from an early date!
Okay. This is Three Katherines of Allingdale
, after all!
I then reasoned that what I needed to do was to intertwine the two separate tales, telling both around each other, so that they filled each other's deficiencies and made one story. This is still a story which might be told. I call it Crown of Foxfires
. It is big. It is sprawling and ramifying. It is most definitely a stout novel all by itself. And as I got some way into it, I began to see with sinking heart that there was another problem with it. It was no longer any part of the same story as Katy
at all. It was just something that happened in between them.Katy
are about the clash between nobles and peasants on the wild hungry marges of Elfland. Foxfires
is about high politics among the courts of the powerful, even though Claire and Kit both 'cheat' by seeking strength amongst certain of the disenfranchised and despised, wherever it works for them. The common-born queen is New Money, not Old Toil. The tone is different, the interest is different, and so is the texture. Perhaps the three Katherines' tales could still be made into one monster doorstop that would work, but I don't here see how. So - how to tell end and end, without in the interval telling the middle?
My answer here is simply to make a unity of end and end, and indeed not to tell the anomalous middle at all - at least, not as part of the same story. The relation of the two ends, I've already described. But their relation to the untold yet necessarily present story between, the imaginary story
between those really told
, is another thing again. It holds dangers and requires techniques of its own. I'm calling the technique of integrating a critical untold story into a told one complex composition
, echoing the way in which complex numbers
are built of both real and imaginary components.
The greatest exponent of this technique I know is Tolkien, and I'll be looking critically at his approach to it in my next posting, as I work on my own. I should be more than grateful for any other examples, either of admirable success or painful failure, that come to anybody's mind.