Ever had that feeling that something’s wrong with the manuscript even though you’ve been through it a hundred times? And you don’t know what it could be except that it’s the last fifty or sixty pages which don’t seem to hang together.
I’ve just realized this is my problem writing of the Fate of Pryde even though this is the third draft [I think!]. The characters seem great and well developed. The dialogue is pretty good, although there are certainly spots where it could be improved. So what’s wrong?
Maybe [oh no!] it’s the story itself. As I’ve said before, I usually like to work with one main plot and two subplots, one of which will magnify, comment upon, conflict with or complement the main plot. The third one is the plot which somehow makes things happen and brings the other two together.
Wouldn’t you know it! This is the problem with the manuscript—at least as I see it today. My third plot involves a retired university professor of philosophy, Henry Callan, who is trying to prevent the institution he loves—the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University—from falling into disrepute.
Now this is a venerable institution, indeed and he fears that the antagonist in the novel, Jonathan Pryde, is about to grant immense sums of money to it. What’s wrong with that, you might ask? The professor seems to think the Jonathan’s money is “dirty”, gotten from all sorts of illegal activities. And so, accepting these charitable gifts will besmirch the reputation of his beloved museum.
So far so good. But Jonathan Pryde has his own agenda. He has a great interest not only in the professor but also certain permanent residents who live at his own home in Vence in the south of France. These other people are elderly, once brilliant souls, [scientists, artists and writers] who have been nearly destroyed by visions they have had. Pryde really wants to know whether the professor has had any such visions and if so, what were they like. It seems he is doing his own psychological research.
But that’s enough of giving away the plot [which is not set in stone by any means] away. When I read the manuscript over last night, it hit me. There is no point of confrontation between these two men in this subplot. And worse still—there is no climax to this conflict. You see, I’ve been so intent in working out all the conflicts between my “hero,” Alexander Wainwright, [whom you may have met in The Drawing Lesson, the first in the Trilogy of Remembrance] and the antagonist, Jonathan Pryde, that I left this rather important loose end hanging. I have to build up the tension in this relationship with the professor and then resolve it dramatically so that it fits in with the rest of the story line.
You see—here’s the whole question about Jonathan Pryde. How can the very best and very worst of humanity lie side by side in one human breast? Is my antagonist a Jekyll and Hyde?
All of which is to say— it all comes down to storytelling. After all, that’s really why we read fiction. We want a good yarn which builds and then satisfies our curiosity right to the very last page.