Writing Wednesday: Police Plots

I wrote recently about my research into the Paris police of the 1880s.  I’m working on that strand of my novel right now, building up the role of Commissaire Mifroid.  He’s actually one of my point of view characters, in a way.  There are times when I want the reader to know something that Meg and the Phantom do not, so I included excerpts from Mifroid’s notebook.

Despite having that in place, I still didn’t have him prominent enough throughout the second book in earlier drafts, and didn’t have enough detail on his investigation.  So today’s excerpt is an excerpt 😉 from Mifroid’s notebook–the first one that appears in the novel, in fact, which I have greatly expanded since previous versions.

Excerpt from the Private Notebook of Jean Mifroid, Commissaire of Police
10 Mar 1881

Continuing investigation into disappearance of Philippe de Chagny, Raoul de Chagny, Christine Daaé.  Second interview of de Chagny housekeeper on 9 Mar, confessed to seeing RdC and CD on morning of 2 Mar.  Last known sighting of RdC and CD.  Expressed plans to leave country, consistent with letter received by M. Giry.  Still tracing leads re: travel, current whereabouts.

Housekeeper provided no further info re: PdC.  No additional sightings after evening of 1 Mar, at Opera Garnier.  If abducted, no ransom.  Murder?

Suspects:

RdC – Motive: inheritance?  Interference with proposed marriage to CD?  Opportunity: Last seen by myself seeking PdC at Opera, emotional state extreme at time.  Capability: Possible, with weapon.

CD – Motive: Same as RdC.  Opportunity: Also at Opera at time of PdC disappearance.  Capability: Slight physical strength, unknown ability with weapons.

Cloaked man seen with PdC on stage – so-called Opera Ghost? – Motive: Unknown.  Opportunity: Likely.  Capability: Unknown.

Also continuing investigation into fallen chandelier.  Evidence points to sabotage.  Connection between sabotage and disappearance of PdC?  Connection to long-standing legend of Opera Ghost?

Writing Wednesday: French Rabbit Holes

Sometimes revisions require research, and mine has tumbled me down a few rabbit holes recently.  Trying to research different areas of France doesn’t sound complicated, does it?  I just wanted to place the village Meg is from, an almost throw-away line in a scene where she’s on the train heading to Leclair.  It got complicated.

I knew the village was in the south of France because…it just is, always has been.  Some things just are, in stories.  I read a somewhat horrifying novel about the Nazi occupation of France a while back and decided on the spot that I was going to make sure Meg’s village was not in the worst of the occupied zone–not that it really matters, since my story is set 60 years before World War II.  But it could matter to my characters’ children.  Anyway, call that a whim, and it was easy to find out where those borders were.  Conveniently it was the northern half that was occupied the longest–so far, so good.

I also knew it was an agricultural economy in the village, which might have happened because I read so many L. M. Montgomery books about farming villages.  So I figured, a little research on what bits of southern France are dominated by agriculture.  So I did some Googling, I found a map that suggested the area around Toulouse was probably about right.  So now I just want to find some information on that area.  District.  Province.  State.  Whatever it’s called.  And…rabbit hole. Continue reading “Writing Wednesday: French Rabbit Holes”

Writing Wednesday: As the Days Go By

I spent a couple of hours writing this past Sunday morning, more concentrated time than I can usually spend.  Most of it went to trying to nail down my timeline for Book Two of my Phantom trilogy.  I’m usually comfortable enough with vagueness–setting scenes in early April, a Thursday in June, the end of July and so on.  But the Phantom threw a wrench (or a lasso?) in that idea.

Throughout this book, Meg and Erik are both counting from the time Christine left.  Meg goes about it fairly reasonably, and is soon remarking on how many weeks or months it’s been, which allows for some vagueness.  Erik, however, is more intense than that.  So I spent a morning going through each of his scenes to insert a remark on how many days (and hours) it’s been since Christine left.  Which meant I had to actually know exactly which date each scene is happening on.  Happily, it’s very easy to find a calendar of 1881.  It’s a little more brain-scrambling trying to get all the numbers lined up and make sure all references are consistent.  But I think I got it–and I really like it as a character tell for him.

Here’s an excerpt where I put in Erik’s count.  I swear he’s actually getting less angsty by this point, though it may not be super evident from this particular excerpt–set on Sunday, June 5th, 1881, at about 4 in the morning.

*******

The special performance was going to be so…far from what it could have been, if his own opera had gone differently.  If she was still here, launched on the career only he could have given her.  Continue reading “Writing Wednesday: As the Days Go By”

Writing Wednesday: Layers

My Phantom trilogy has more layers and more things I’m trying to do than anything I’ve written before.  A lot of the work of revising is to make sure all those layers are there.  Or, to put it with another metaphor, to make sure each of many, many threads is woven through in the right places with the right prominence.

So it’s nice when I can work a lot of things into a small space–because there’s plenty to get in here.  I made edits to the scene below, adding layers (or weaving in more threads).  Most of this was slipped into a conversation that was already in the previous draft–but I managed to add a musician reference for Erik, have Meg observe it, explore why Erik is haunting the Opera, give Meg data on same, add a music metaphor for Meg the ballet dancer, and throw in a clarification on just how rich Erik is–all while the main purpose of the larger scene is actually what Erik is going to do about the policeman hunting him, something that’s starting to nudge him out of his apathy.

Revisions are complicated. 🙂

***********

Erik drummed his fingertips against the stage, each one tapping independently as though he was following a rhythm too complex for me to decipher.  A pipe organ—Christine had mentioned a pipe organ and that’s what this was like, like a musician’s hand on keys.

So busy watching his hand, I almost missed his words, when he said, voice quiet, “Don’t you think it’s an awful thing, a man terrifying an Opera Company with hauntings?”

Maybe it was strange to say, but I never had.  I lived among the people he was frightening, and yet never disliked him for doing it.  Maybe I was too used to it.  Or maybe he had always drawn just the right line.  “They’re not actually that frightened,” I said.  “I think they enjoy—”

“Of course they’re frightened,” he said sharply, going as stiff and tense as he’d been when he first stepped out.  “They have to be, that’s the point.”

Talking to Erik was like a very complicated dance, one where you never knew which board in the floor was going to drop out from under you.  It kept things lively.  I made a tactical retreat, a temps levé backwards.  “Yes, of course.”  A meaningless phrase, then a jump to a new topic.  “And really, it’s Monsieur Andre’s problem if he doesn’t appreciate the valuable services of a theatre ghost.  All things considered, you’re probably a bargain.”

He turned his head to look at me this time, eyes widening in surprise.  “Do you know how much they’re paying me?”

More each month than I was likely to earn my entire career—but that wasn’t what mattered, and my half-joking comment had set me off on a sudden new idea.  I sat up straighter.  “No, wait, maybe that’s the answer!”

But you’ll have to read the book to find out the answer 🙂

NaNoReMo Day 9: Anger and Apathy

I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo this year, because I’m too deep into revisions for my Phantom trilogy (book two), but I did set some revision goals: so let’s call it NaNoRe(vision)Mo and share some updates anyway. 🙂

I actually did do a lot of new writing this week, as I realized I needed a couple new scenes in the early stages of the book, to carry a few threads forward rather than trying to jump two months in book time.  And the new scenes, combined with the realization that I had the Phantom’s tone all wrong in the next scene after, made for some interesting revision work.

In brief, the Phantom (Erik) is grieving Christine’s departure, and while I don’t want him to be TOO angsty…well, he’s over-dramatic and heartbroken and probably a little angsty.  But this scene as it was first written had him too angry and indignant, losing all the apathy and depression he should still be wallowing in.  So I rewrote it–still essentially the same scene, all the same action, but a new tone.

Here’s the original:

Erik sat in a narrow passage with his back against the hidden side of the Dance Foyer’s mirrors and fumed.  The sheer audacity of the man!  And the inconvenience!  After so many years of polite disinterest, how dare Mifroid suddenly decide to take up ghost hunting!

He had had to attend the performance from the catwalks, where the acoustics were comparatively dreadful.  Not to mention the view was poor, the seating left a good deal to be desired, and he had to keep an eye out for wandering scenechangers the whole while.  No, this was simply not acceptable.

And furthermore, why did it have to happen on Saturday?  The one day in the entire week that it actually mattered that he have possession of Box Five after the performance—not that it mattered very much, of course.  He took a deep breath, carefully checked the free flow of indignation.  Talking to Meg was, well, a bit of a diversion.  And now Mifroid had managed to disrupt even that.

*********

And here’s the revision–not hugely different, but hopefully it’s all in the nuances!

Erik sat in a narrow passage with his back against the hidden side of the Dance Foyer’s mirrors and resented the world.  After so many years of polite disinterest, how dare Mifroid decide to take up ghost hunting.  Not that it was news—Meg had told him about Mifroid’s inquiries weeks ago—but this was the first time the police had actually got in his way.

He should have stayed home this evening, never should have bothered to come out of his dark seclusion.  He had dragged himself up into the light, and for what?  To find the police commissioner sitting in his own personal box, with other policemen running in and out all through the performance with reports.  As if it needed that to make it sufficiently obvious that Mifroid was here on business, not for the pleasure of observing the Opera.

He should have left as soon as he realized Mifroid was here.  But it was Saturday.

He had lingered in the catwalks all through the performance with a degree of regret that had surprised him.  It had been 73 days and 22 hours since she left, which meant—he had to pause to do the math.  Nine.  This would have been the ninth Saturday since he had started meeting Meg in Box Five.

 

Writing Wednesday: Through New Eyes

I’m well into revisions for my second Phantom novel now.  One thing I’m finding particularly fascinating is the new opportunities for describing my two main protagonists.  You see, this book is strikingly different from Book One in a significant way–my main characters actually spend time together!

In Book One, my two point of view characters, Meg and the Phantom, almost never interact.  They’re only in the same scene five times–twice they don’t talk to each other at all, and once they exchange only a few lines of dialogue.  All of which means, there are very few opportunities for my two protagonists to describe each other.  We mostly only get to see each character from his or her own viewpoint–and the Phantom in particular is not very communicative.  I’m excited by how much more I’ll be able to share about my two characters in Book Two, by being able to present them through each other’s eyes.

The excerpt below is from chapter two of Book Two, from Meg’s point of view, and it’s the kind of thing there was simply no opportunity to put into Book One.  So it was fun to write!

*********

I watched him covertly as we talked, though I probably needn’t have tried to hide it.  He rarely looked at me, keeping his gaze on the curtains closing off the box, just as though they were open and a performance was going on.  When he did look at me, it was a quick glance that slid away again at once.  What was he thinking, in those moments?

My eyes had long since adjusted to the dim light, and I could see that his dark evening clothes were as immaculate as they had been the day I met him six years before.  Whatever grief he felt about Christine leaving, he wasn’t showing it in a disheveled appearance.  Why did a man no one ever saw care what his clothes looked like, anyway?

His mask hid so much of his face that I quickly dismissed it as a place to learn anything about his thoughts or his mood.  I found myself watching his hands instead.

When I had first come in, his hands had been closed around the arms of his chair.  It took some time, in the shadows, for me to realize how tightly he was gripping them.

Not so calm after all.

As we talked about music, first one hand and then the other rose, sketching points in the air.  He had long fingers, the right hands for a man who played the pipe organ.  I could almost see the notes in the air as his hand flowed through a crescendo.  His voice had grown warmer too.  Not enthusiastic.  Barely even friendly.  But at least there was a hint of interest.

Writing Wednesday: Knowing One’s Role

I reached a big milestone recently–I finally finished (for now, at least!) revisions on the first book of my Phantom of the Opera trilogy.  I’ve gone straight on to revisions for Book Two, and will likely post about that in the near future too.  But it’s also nice to celebrate work accomplished.  I’ll likely come back to this first book for a quick read-through after I’ve done more on Book Two, making sure everything still lines up, but in substantive ways, this one is done.

So today I’m going to celebrate by sharing one of my favorite exchanges in the book.  And in some way it feels an appropriate one for Halloween too.  Meg and the Phantom speak to each other very, very rarely in the first book (this changes in Book Two!) but they are together in the final scene.  So here’s a glimpse at the very last chapter, and how each of my protagonists views their role in the story–at this point, at least.  Although, of course, they’re both wrong…

*********

He looked back over his shoulder at me, and I wished so much that I could see his face, for whatever hint his expression might have given me.  No clues revealed themselves in his perfectly calm voice as he said, “You realize, of course, that I’m the villain in this story.”

I couldn’t tell if I should take that as funny or tragic, so I half-smiled and said, “I won’t hold it against you.”  Then I shrugged, and the same impulse that had made me confess loneliness led me to add, “If you don’t hold it against me that I’m only a supporting character.”

He didn’t agree or argue, merely turned away.  He continued his silent walk a few more paces, until he could leap down into the shadows of the orchestra pit—and was gone.  I didn’t know of an exit from that spot, but I was sure there was no point in going to the edge to see if he was still there.