the cutting room floor

As I’ve discussed before, history isn’t tidy. I made some strategic cuts to the story at the outset, mostly for my sanity. Now I’m cutting even more as they don’t add to the story I’m trying to tell, which is a damn shame as Dee and Kelley generated So. Much. Weird. that begs exploration. Just not by me:

Dee and Kelley’s possible ties to Shakespeare – interesting if true, but not relevant to my story

Nuances of alchemical process and symbolism – you’ll get your furnaces and flasks but not painstaking detail because I’m not a chemist.

Dee and Kelley’s sojourn in Poland courting the patronage of Stephen Bathory (yes, cousin of that Bathory). It’s not the story I’m telling and someone already has anyway.*

A series of incidents in which Kelley apparently conjures demons and poltergeists outside of his actions with Dee – and this breaks my heart because I so, so want to play with what was going on here! I found this delicious story in the footnotes of part 9 of I.R.F. Calder’s thesis but it’s so divided from the rest of the spiritual actions that I can’t justify including it.**

The possibility that Jane Dee was from a recusant family. I could only find one reference (since removed), and there’s more narrative tension if Jane is solidly Protestant in Catholic Bohemia.

And there’s probably more. What are you cutting, and why?

animated gif of little girl and men in suits sawing/drilling away on a piano
Hacking away. Courtesy gfycat.

*Looking forward to reading this after I finish the WIP.
**Actually, I might do a short story based on this.

fizzle to a bang

The third act. The moment of truth, the home stretch, the part of the book in which I bring the reader to the climax of the story by throwing everything I have at my protagonist so he has no choice but to face his demons and cut them down.

Which is great when your historical timeline fits nicely into a three-act structure but when it doesn’twell.

Most fictional treatments of the Dee/Kelley partnership fudge the timeline, I suspect because thumbnail biographies of Dee imply that he parted ways with Kelley right after they swapped wives–a well timed climax (ha!) if ever there was one.

In reality they–and their wives– limped along in the same house for another year and a half and I really want to milk those 18 months for all the dramatic tension they’re worth. Unfortunately, this is the part of the book where I’m supposed to tie up loose ends and race for the finish.

So I have to either make this drawn out angst into a rollercoaster or cut it completely. If the latter it’ll break my little black heart but I’ll do it in the name of art. Besides, I can write short outtake vignettes if I still feel the need to punish my characters just that little bit more.

How about you? If you write based on real events, how do you work with (or against) the timeline? Or if you’re a reader, how much accuracy do you want in your “based on a true story”s?

structure and the leaky plot

ship as drawn by John Dee in the margin of one of his books
One of Dee’s marginal doodles, shown in the Royal College of Physicians exhibit “Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee”. More about the exhibit design here, including the joyous news that there will be an exhibition catalog.

Keeping it short this week because I’m up to my knees in story slurry.

The plot fell apart once I got put everyone on a boat to the continent. Effects with nonexistent causes abound, stuff happens without consequences, and useless character tail-chasing brings the action to a crashing halt.

So many craft books talk about the pitfalls of the “mushy middle” but I honestly thought that the sheer amount of stuff I have to cram into the second act would prevent it happening to me. Yet somehow boring departures/arrivals, exposition, and wheel-spinning are all in there and I have to hack them out.

This thing may never map out to a predictable plot structure but A must lead to B because C and have D lingering effects. Trying to include all the facts only left me with enough red herrings to stock a fishery and I’m having to cut out every one to avoid confusing the reader. I’m re-outlining to clarify themes and character arcs, which probably adds as much new junk as I’m cutting out.

The book’s taking a new shape I can’t define yet, but taking this wider view has already answered some long-standing plot questions. Repeated “edit-edit-edit, walk away” cycles tend to make fixes obvious, to the point that I can almost feel when another bit is about to snap into place.

Has anyone else experienced slump in the middle of your WIP? How did you straggle through?