Being at the bottom of my present work schedule Charlie is getting something of a battering at the moment. Rebels is racing towards publication and the second volume of Dark Legend is turning out to be quite a bit longer than the first (Mind you, those two extra chapters i added aren’t helping much!). So you can very much see how Charlie has ended up on the back burner. Still things are progressing, albeit at a slower rate than I would like. But still… It’s high time I started thinking about how to make this one of the best books ever written…
Now recently I’ve been having a read of some Dickens… You know because if you want to be the best writer the world has ever seen you’ve got to know what you’re up against. You’ve got to know your opponents strengths and weaknesses… You’ve got to know what makes them good and what makes them bad. The good thing about Dickens is the style. It seems complicated but once you get into it you find that isn’t complicated at all. With Dickens you imagine long pages of description and it taking whole chapters for anything to happen but I’ve found that is not the case, at least not with what i’ve been reading. The prose is very simple, direct and straightforward… Or at least it seems that way and I like that. Also the characters are well drawn, very well drawn, particularly the male characters and they do stick in the mind. There’s a good reason why ‘The Artful Dodger’ ‘Miss Havisham’ and ‘Fagin’ are three of the most memorable characters in English literature… They’re good, well written characters. But there are bad points too. Some of the books are quite lengthy and sometimes it can take quite a determination to make your way through them. And then there is the padding… Martin Chuzzlewit is notorious for it’s padding for instance and Nicholas Nickleby has an awful lot of padding there too (that stuff about the gentleman in the chimney, all the gumpf with the Kenwigses and the latter sections involving the Mantalini’s for instance… We didn’t really need that stuff in all honesty.) Then there’s Dickens overfondness for coincidence and convenience… Like how the Dog in Oliver Twist turns on Sikes at just the right moment so it can go running off to the baying mob, take them to Sikes, save Oliver and thereby bring the novel to it’s close.
It’s clear to me therefore, if i want to beat Dickens to the top, I’ve got to succeed where he failed. Therefore, the plot for Charlie has to be water tight and everything has to weave itself together almost perfectly. That means there can’t be any padding and almost everything has to contribute to the plot in some way, even if it’s only small. What I’ve written so far does a good job of setting up the characters and their initial relationships as well as some overarching ideas and themes but there has been very little in the way of actual plot development. It’s very clear to me now that the main plot is going to focus on Charlie and his battles against Jeremy and Carrion and if I don’t want any padding everything has to tie into that threesome in some way. So far a lot of the book already does that as Charlie has already been at odds with Carrion over beards and he’s been at odds with Jeremy over women. Charlie’s ideals and his character have now been clearly defined so it is definitely time to press on and begin to press on with the plot.
The first thing I need to do is to manoeuvre him into a position whereby he can go ahead and chase Jeremy and Carrion when the time is right. To that end it’s time to bring the old Morfasson family back into play and have them twisting Charlie’s future. The whole reason why this happens owes to Charlie’s close contact with them and hence they become worried about Jeremy’s actions and begin to grow suspicious of Carrion. To be on the safe side they decide to give Charlie the training he needs in order to keep a close eye on both of them… Basically Charlie is going to become a part of their massive business empire (They’re actually government sanctioned gangsters but don’t say that to their faces.) And finally, in order to do this, we have to leave Towcester and get Charlie across the country to the Morfasson training facility in North Wales. (Specifically at a place just behind what is now the A55 service station in Llandegai.)
This is familiar territory to me as the opening chapters of Rebels take place in the same area. The situation here is very different however. Before I was dealing with a romance in the 1970’s… Now I’m dealing with military style training in the 1920’s… And that means I’m dealing with a very different sort of place. Whilst in the 1970’s I was dealing with a very romantic and majestic landscape, a placed filled with history and somewhat more relaxed than the modern world. It was very much a fantasy/ fairytale kind of landscape. In the 1920’s I’m dealing with something that is much more a working landscape. It’s less beautiful, it’s harsher and it’s more dangerous. It’s not so romantic. Then again I don’t want it to be romantic. I want it to be cold and unforgiving, a whole world away from Towcester. And I want Charlie to have something of a rough time whilst he’s there…
Basically it’s all for the purposes character building as well as providing a contrast for Charlie’s relationship with Jeremy. I’ve decided I need more continuity between Charlie’s childhood and his time in Spain. So to this end I’m introducing a new contemporary who will train alongside Charlie and travel with him to the aforementioned Spain when the time eventually comes: Baker. (And if you want to know where I got the name from look up the lyrics to Goodnight Saigon by Billy Joel.) They aren’t going to be friends either… Not at first anyway. They’ll become friends later on but that friendship will take a while to form. It’s the polar opposite of what’s happened with Jeremy. Whereas they started as friends and become enemies, this time Charlie makes an enemy who becomes a friend. And it shall be their rivalry that pushes both them on. Throughout their training they constantly attempt to out do each other and this competition sets them apart from the other trainees. They stand out from the crowd and they become the best of their generation in the process. This places them in a good position for going to Spain… It also means that Charlie has more than one reason for going. It’s now not only because he knows Jeremy and grew up with him, but it’s also that he’s one of the best gangster-mercenaries around.
What i’m essentially doing with this is using a process of cause and effect- It starts with Charlie meeting Violet and then stealing Anna’s jewel. This causes him to become friends with Morfassons. His friendship with Violet, meanwhile, sets off a chain of events that drive Jeremy into the arms of Carrion. Charlie’s contact with the Morfasson leads them to suspect Carrion of evildoing (thanks to several incidents with Jeremy) and the result of this is that they begin to train Charlie to keep an eye on him. During the course of his training Charlie forms a rivalry with Baker and the eventual result of this being that they become the best and both go to Spain to fight Jeremy. Each incident in the book is caused by another. Take out one incident and the whole thing falls apart… Charlie meeting Violet for instance. What starts out as a random occurrence that could happen anywhere and on any day pushes the whole book forwards. Every plot point has a relationship to something else… The only coincidence is that the Morfasson just so happen to be gangsters… But as without their meeting the rest of the book couldn’t happen I think it can be overlooked.
The only problem is how to make it look less like a coincidence that Carrion is an evil villain working for one of the main opponents of the Morfasson family. I suppose you could say that there are evil men everywhere and that it can be just a coincidence but I’m not happy with that idea. I think that the solution to this problem lies in the period: the late 1920’s… One of the most politically diverse times in all of history. You’ve got capitalists, communists, socialists, fascists… I could go on but I won’t bother as there are too many to count. It’s not too much of a stretch to think that a member of a particular group could be residing in Towcester… And if that group has recruits all across the country then it stands to reason that there would be a few in the vicinity of Northampton, especially considering it was a major industrial centre at the time. It is a bit of a coincidence that he happens to be a member of that particular group but it’s a minor coincidence when all things are considered. Besides which it’s a coincidence that drives the plot… Without it there would be nothing.
And i think that is permissible, so long as you don’t have too many such coincidences of that sort. If it’s something that drives the plot then fine… To go back to Dickens, it’s a coincidence that Pip happens to come into contact with both Magwitch and Havisham (And if you know the book you’ll know that Magwitch was the one who got punished for the crime of Miss Havisham’s fiancée, who more or less got away with it…) But as it is those two meetings that drive the plot then it’s entirely permissible… It’s permissible convenience But the same can’t be said for other Dickens novels where coincidence and convenience are used to solve the plot. Oliver Twist for example. Where a convenience is used it must be used as a main instigator in the plot… Pip meeting Magwitch and Havisham for instance. The same can be said of Charlie… He meets the Morfasson’s and lives in a small town alongside a man who is their enemy. In a small place like Towcester everybody would know each other so it stands to reason that Charlie would know Carrion from an early age. And as these coincidences serve to set up the main plot then it is definitely permissible. What wouldn’t be permissible would be to suggest that Baker happened to be Violet’s cousin or that Charlie was to meet another old friend in Spain (Let’s say Henry) on the off chance and together they went up against Jeremy. So I think in terms of coincidence Charlie is currently at an acceptable level. There can’t be any more coincidences though…
And looking through my entire universe I can only think of a few other obvious plot-driving coincidences… and all of those are relatively minor and can be easily justified. It seems that most events, in the 20th and early 21st century, have some sort of root cause. They happen because of something else. Everything that happens can be traced back to something else. Take Rebels… The whole plot happens because Harry has a whole issue with his son, Otto, falling in love. Not only can this be traced back to an earlier point in the universe but by the end of Rebels something happens to one character and that somethings leads into the events that set up things for the plot of Dark Legend. In fact… When you think about it everything that happens after January of 1963 can eventually be traced back to Harry in one way or another. It’s his fault that Rebels happens and therefore, by default, so is Dark Legend. None of it is coincidence. One thing leads to another and then another and then another. You could say that characters meeting for the first time is coincidence but i don’t think so… That’s more happenstance. People meet each other everyday. However, if they just passed in the street and said hello before running into each other again at random for no reason whatsoever… That would be coincidence.
So i think i’ve well and truly beaten Dickens on the coincidence front… As for characters… Well I think you’ll like Baker and there are a few others who will stick in your mind. Hopefully the length won’t be ridiculous either… Though by now i think we all know that it isn’t exactly going to be a short book. I’ll leave the style till the book’s finished as I won’t really know what it’s truly like till then… Public opinion shall have the final say on that one. Hopefully however, by looking at Dickens and looking at where he went wrong I shall at least be able to improve myself and my own work, most of all Charlie.