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.

Writing Wednesday: Gabrielle’s Necklace

I’ve almost finished another rapid pass through my Phantom novel, putting in references to Meg’s sister–because I decided she did have one.  Though I’m not 100% sure that won’t change again!  But for now I’ve dropped in a few references to her sister Gabrielle, who died before the novel began, and even more references to the necklace Meg is wearing throughout the book now.

I realized this was an excellent opportunity to give Meg a tell-tale habitual gesture–and now she touches her necklace whenever she’s feeling lonely, alone or disappointed by her friends.  And perhaps the excerpt below will explain why!

*****

I wished I could talk to someone about the Phantom, really talk about the Phantom, but that someone was not ever going to be the police inspector.  He was the last person I wanted to tell about the man in the mask.

“Meg Giry knows about the Phantom,” a voice announced.  The words made me start and I turned my head to find the speaker.  Jammes, of course.  “Her mother is the Phantom’s boxkeeper.”

Enough gazes were directed towards me that Inspector Mifroid had no difficulty identifying me.  He paced closer, pencil poised above the notebook’s open page.  “Your name, mademoiselle?” He looked at me out of cold gray eyes that didn’t seem as comfortable and at ease as I had expected.  A smirk still lingered in the corner of his mouth, but the eyes were serious.  I felt myself go still and grow small under that gaze.

“Marguerite Giry,” I said, my voice sounding small too.  My hand crept up to touch my necklace.

His gaze followed my hand and he said, “With a G, of course.”

I blinked, then realized he was looking at the G engraved on the small gold disk of my necklace.  It was not for Giry.  It was for Gabrielle.  Somewhere my mother had a matching necklace with an M on it, my necklace, but I had worn Gabrielle’s ever since—well, for years.

I was as likely to tell the police inspector about Gabi as I was to tell him about the man in the mask.  So I only said, “Yes.”

Writing Wednesday: Late in the Day Revelations

Sometimes I work on a novel, or work with characters, for years before I suddenly realize something new about them.  I’ve figured out a character’s motivation, or what caused their most striking character trait, after I’ve finished writing a book.  And I feel like saying that wouldn’t make much sense to non-writers–after all, if I didn’t make up their motivation, it doesn’t exist, right?  Well, true in a way–but not true in another way.  I think most writers experience that click moment, when something comes together or comes to light and it was clearly always supposed to be that way–everything else points to it–you just couldn’t see it before.

Just a few days ago I had what may be my most extreme example of this phenomenon to date.  It requires a little backstory.  I started writing a version of my current Phantom trilogy thirteen years ago.  A lot has changed, but on a fundamental level, my main protagonists Meg Giry and the Phantom have been the same characters since then.  I’m still continually learning more about them, uncovering some new character insight, but I’ve felt like I knew them very, very well for a long time.

But there was a kind of missed thing with regard to Meg.  You see, I read Gaston Leroux’s original novel all those years ago.  But apparently I missed a line that could have changed things–Meg is described as Madame Giry’s older daughter.  It’s one word, one grammatical choice, but it means she has a younger sister.  I didn’t pick up on that line until I was rereading the book a few years ago–it may even have been because I read a different translation.  By then, Meg’s life and her relationship with her mother, largely influenced by the fact that there’s just the two of them (because I did pick up earlier that her father had died) was so set that there was no room for a sister in the picture.

So I figured it was a might have been but I don’t need to be consistent with Leroux in everything–I’m very, very not, in fact–so let it go.  But I mentioned this whole story to a friend just this past weekend, and she said…what if her sister died?

Oh.  Ohhhhhh.

Now, if this was just an effort to line up with Leroux, I wouldn’t bother.  But it clicked.  It fits.  It explains why Madame Giry is so protective, and also so unwilling to take nonsense from anyone (she lost her husband and her daughter–she has no patience for trifles).  It explains why Meg is looking for a best friend and can’t seem to find one.  It explains why she’s drawn to Christine, who seems so innocent and naive, and why Meg wants to look out for her.  It explains why Meg and her mother moved to Paris.  It explains why she actively works at seeing the good side of life and people, because she knows both can be fleeting, and that it doesn’t always come easy.

It just fits.

I think.  Because I’ve known Meg for thirteen years and I never knew she had a deceased little sister, and I may decide in another week that no, it doesn’t really fit who she is after all.  A dead father might be enough tragedy in her past.  So you might buy this book in a year or so and there won’t be a sister in there after all.

But I also kind of think her sister is named Gabrielle and had blond hair like Meg and they probably wanted to have adventures together, and Gabrielle might have been the last person, outside of Meg’s mother who Meg never thinks counts, who thought that her sister was a heroine, not a supporting character.

We’ll see.

Writing Wednesday: Pre-Edited

Occasionally while working on revisions, I find myself thinking I need to add something and then, happily, find that I already have.  I’ve been over and over this story so many times now, it’s hard to remember at times what’s been written and what’s only been thought!  This happened to me recently, as a beta-reader recommended that I add in a Joan of Arc reference in the scene when Christine tells Meg that an Angel of Music has been speaking to her.  I couldn’t quite find a spot in the conversation–and then as I read on, found that I’d already done it at the end of the scene!

Here’s a glimpse at Meg’s reaction to the news, including that Joan of Arc reference.

****

I was a good Catholic girl and I believed in angels in the abstract—but to believe that an angel was speaking audibly to Christine in her dressing room, and giving her advice about how to improve her singing?  I was more likely to believe that the Ghost was really a ghost, and I didn’t even believe that.

Besides, when there’s a man lurking around an opera house, possessing an amazing voice, an ability to walk through walls and strong opinions about music, you don’t have to look far to find an explanation for an angelic visitation involving singing lessons.

It was that likely conclusion that was keeping me awake more than the uncertainty.  Should I suggest the idea to Christine?  But the thought of telling her made my stomach hurt.  And besides, I was only guessing that the Angel was the Phantom.  Perhaps I shouldn’t upset Christine if I wasn’t sure.  Even at the time I knew I was trying to convince myself of a way to avoid an uncomfortable conversation, but the half-decision still let me fall asleep.

We didn’t speak of the Angel the next morning, parting on the most cheerful of terms, and the whole idea seemed no more plausible while I was sitting in Sunday morning mass.  Angelic visitations had precedent, true, but angels had had more important things to say to Joan of Arc than recommendations on singing techniques.

Writing Wednesday: Retreating

I have exciting writing activity coming up, as I’m going on my annual Stonehenge Circle Press writing retreat this weekend.  Organized by one of my writer friends, a small group of us are getting together for a long weekend to do some workshops and spend some concentrated writing time.

As part of the retreat, we’re also collaborating to write a Beauty and the Beast novella (with some twists!)  We each took on a chapter or two, mostly from the point of view of different servants.  We’ll discuss at the retreat and smooth out fitting our different parts together.

I wrote one chapter from the librarian’s point of view which I may share later…but today I thought I’d share the beginning of Chapter Two, when the prince becomes cursed.  A familiar if unnamed character is to blame for it all…

******

He really should not have been rude. Kind-hearted as I am, dedicated to the highest principles of Goodness and Niceness, I normally try to rise above that sort of thing. But some rudeness simply cannot be borne. For the good of the rude person, naturally. And I always act for the good of others. I’m sure he’ll thank me someday.

The whole little affair began for me on a snowy, blowy night. Just the sort of night for cozying up to a nice cup of tea, for petting an adorable pink kitten, or for wandering about in the snow disguised as an old crone, testing souls.

I pulled my carefully tattered cloak around me (so much goes into tattering a cloak just so, for that truly decrepit look—it’s an art form) and shuffled up the long walk towards the main doors of the castle. I pride myself on my cronish shuffle. And I never go to a castle’s backdoor. You don’t meet any princes that way, and I obviously have not time to waste on the souls of the common folk. They just don’t have that royal touch, you know.