Conscious plotting and unconscious plotting. I’ve been doing a lot of the former, and hoping desperately for more of the latter. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, I stand amazed and wondering how it happened. It’s satisfying enough when it pushes the plot forward, but is pure gold when it enriches the story in an unexpected way. Here’s what happened.
We have Nolan Graves, maybe in his early forties, unmarried and seemingly alone except for the young ex-con he adopted as his son. Graves is a powerful man who rules over the lives in his little kingdom, and that probably doesn’t inspire friendship. I didn’t want him to be totally isolated, but didn’t know what to do about it.
We have a horrendous event that took place when he was only eleven-years-old — his father’s punishment and execution of a man who tried to escape and find the members of his family who’d been left behind when the elder Graves kidnapped him and his son. Nolan was forced to watch, as part of his “education” as the future baron.
Then there’s Gilberto Saltor, his second in command, who started out as a subsidiary character. Other than showing him doing his job, I hadn’t planned any other role for him. Just a face in the crowd.
Suddenly, everything came together without any help from me. Gil was the six-year-old son of the man being punished and executed, forced to watch his father’s torture and death.
That scene was influential in turning Nolan away from his father’s influence, and his attempt to shield the little boy created a life-long bond between them. Refusing to give Gil up as a friend and adopted brother was the first time Nolan stood up to his father. As a result, Gil is the only person who understands Nolan and is able to function as his friend rather than his subject.
Gil’s expanded role changed the story in many ways. The primary point of view was Nolan Graves’. Now there are two primary points of view, his and Gil’s, which allows us to learn more about Nolan. Having two strong points of view to anchor the story inspired me to start thinking about how to handle some of the other characters. I couldn’t see how Andy (remember Andy, the fellow thrown into solitary?) fits in without letting his story bring the novel to a screeching halt. I had the same problem with the Dennisons, and started to think that maybe I was trying to squeeze in too many subplots.
I’ve had the feeling, almost from the beginning, that I don’t want this to be a traditional A to B to C chronology. I’ve done that, and I’m ready for something new. So now I’m thinking about weaving short segments of Andy’s and the Dennisons’ stories in between Gil and Nolan and the main story line. For instance, the original story I wrote about Andy will probably be broken up into three segments. Some of Gil’s memories will also be presented as short segments. The segments will be titled, and will be the only divisions. No chapters.
Chapterless novels are rare, but they do exist, and I’d like to see if I can make one work. For something close to what I’m planning, you can take a look at John Brunner’s Shockwave Rider. It’s divided into three sections, but within each section, instead of chapters, there are titled segments of various length, some very short, some that could be chapters.
That’s a lot to come out of one small change — turning a walk-on into a major character. I don’t claim any credit for having thought of it; I’m just grateful that the unconscious mind works the way it does.