Page 2 of 6
By KatG (2005-12-07)
KatG: Another interesting element of Telling is the sheer amount of dramatic action it contains. There are battles, earthquakes, storms, and the persistent pursuit of the heroine after one of her family’s killers across many lands. Was it a challenge to handle that many heavy action sequences and different cultures in what is a relatively compact story? What issues did you have to deal with when you were crafting scenes like the fight of the Alilan and the Perona, or the final explosive fate of the castle of Yagol?
CS: Because the story grew organically (that adverb, again), I didn't know how long it would end up being, and I didn't do any strategizing about where the battles and natural disasters would happen, or how I'd deal with them. I have to say, it's very, very interesting (and rather gratifying!) that you refer to these as "heavy action sequences." People often react so strongly (whether positively or negatively) to the poetic prose that they don't comment on the plot; or, if they do, they refer to the whole book as a "quiet fantasy," which makes it sound as if nothing much happens at all. I didn't feel that differently about writing the action sequences than I did about the slower, more introspective parts - though I do remember being even more excited about the possibilities of the language, when it was applied to quick, complicated, often violent scenes. ("Lyrical violence" - another oxymoron?) The destruction of the fortress of Yagol was a particularly thrilling sequence to write; I saw it as an intensification of all the surreal, dreamlike, sensual stuff that had taken place there before.
Some readers have commented that the tone is too uniformly lyrical, and that the drama in the action scenes would have been heightened if I'd pared my language way back and made it stark, rather than poetic. This may be true - but it wasn't something I thought about, while I was writing. There was a real flow to both plot and language, and it wasn't until subsequent drafts that I started being analytical about it all.
You mention Jaele's pursuit of the Sea Raider. This is the one plot element that most definitely demanded strategy, as it didn't exist, originally. In the first draft, Jaele wasn't following anyone: she was simply heading east, following the path Queen Galha had taken on her own quest for revenge. It was my wonderful first agent, Jeff Kleinman of Graybill & English, who told me the story needed more momentum, that Jaele needed a focus for her rage and a specific reason for the urgency of her journey. This was excellent advice, and it demanded a considerable amount of rewriting. The end of organicism! And my first inspiring, nerve-wracking experience of what amounted to professional editing.
KatG: So it may be a matter of reader expectations – that we expect hard action stories to have that leaner, 1940’s mystery style, rather than "lyrical violence." Which is sort of funny, because I know I’ve read several fantasy novels that were supposed to be quite violent and fast-paced, and they turned out not to have a lot of hard action scenes after all. Whereas you have this intense chase with near miss encounters and stand-offs, which reminded me of "The Fugitive" or Stephen King’s The Gunslinger – you could almost hear the Clint Eastwood "Fistful of Dollars" music in the background. So your agent’s suggestion, which led you to develop this suspenseful central focus to the story and this great character, the Sea Raider, were you surprised at how well it tied into the conflicts between Jaele and Dorin? It seemed to really add strength to Dorin's character without detracting from his mystery.
CS: Stephen King! Clint Eastwood! What fabulous, fascinating, unexpected analogies...
It was amazing how an actual, physical pursuit lent the story a whole new dimension, and how the character of the Sea Raider acted as a sort of doppelganger to Dorin's. Dorin disappears and reappears during Jaele's journey, just as the Sea Raider does. She pursues Dorin in an emotional sense, seeking his love, or at least understanding of his motives; she pursues the Sea Raider physically, in search of the same sort of understanding (though initially she thinks of this second pursuit as a matter of vengeance, only). For much of the book she's very certain of the moral correctness of her position: she has to make Dorin stay with her; she has to find the Sea Raider and exact a just revenge. But closer to the end of the story, her certainty blurs a bit, then a bit more. The intersection of the Dorin/Sea Raider interludes are directly responsible for the entry of grey into her previously black-and-white world.
You mentioned Dorin's air of mystery; the Sea Raider is an even more enigmatic character. That doppelganger element: they're twinned Others whom Jaele (and readers) never really "gets." But that shouldn't matter: it's their combined influence on her journey, and its ending, that's ultimately important.