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Teaser Tuesday: Setting Up Endings

Tuesday, June 25, 2019 - 08:00

I usually set up the teasers to work through examples from the book in strict sequence, but I had some thoughts on the drive this morning that prompted tying it in to the chapter 9 sample. (And frankly, chapter 8 is all a bit spoilery, so maybe I'll skip over it entirely.)

I was listening to the podcast "Our Opinions are Correct" (which is a Hugo finalist for fancasts this year) talking about how to set up story endings and make sure they're properly earned. And that got me thinking about a structural issue I have in planning Book 5 (Mistress of Shadows). I'd already been poking at a couple of subplots that don't really fit into the main storyline (which is thrilling international espionage and sorcerous peril in Paris with Barbara as Alpennian spy-master, Serafina as her consultant on mysteries, and new character Zobaydah as ... well, that would be telling). In particular, there is a subplot about the unwise developing romance between potential-heir-to-the-throne Efriturik Atilliet and Jewish alchemy student Anna Monterrez. A subplot that currently mostly plays out in why Efriturik is abruptly included in the Paris delegation, and in a resolution when they all return to Rotenek at the end of the book.

The problem is: that subplot structure doesn't leave any room for getting Anna's side of the story. The resolution leans heavily on her internal journey. So I'd been thinking of writing a separate story about Anna working through her issues back in Rotenek while everyone's off in Paris. As a back-fill story, that would work. But my morning podcast listening got me to thinking about something I already knew: the Anna/Efriturik side-story in Mistress of Shadows is a dangling orphan of a plot that doesn't really fit in well. And yet it sets up some essential background for Book 6 (Sisters in Spirit) and the future of Alpennian royal politics.

Why was I setting it up that way? Well, one factor is that I envisioned the middle-of-book action all taking place in Paris. Another factor is that so far all the viewpoint characters in the Alpennia series have been women who participate to some degree in romantic relationships with other women. And--sorry folks who wanted it to go in another direction--Anna Monterrez is heterosexual and disastrously in love with a man. At least as far as romantic love goes. (spoiler spoiler spoiler for book 6)

But on the other hand, I've already determined that I need to break the strict "tight POV with a limited set of viewpoints" approach once I get to book 6 and need to write scenes where none of my central female characters are present. So would it be so much of a problem to expand the viewpoints in Mistress of Shadows to include Anna, not only working in her viewpoint in the opening and closing bits, but also including the "working through her issues" scenes as they occur chronologically in the story? I'd probably have to give her more to do directly with the thriller plot (which is tricky since she'll be back in Rotenek). But it just might work. In any event, it would work better than my previous approach.

But what does all this have to do with teasers for Floodtide you ask? We, as readers, know from events in Mother of Souls that Jeanne was the key agent in getting Margerit to hire Roz, and so, indirectly, to sponsor Roz in her half-time dressmaking apprenticeship. But Roz doesn't know that. And in the first draft of Floodtide, she never found out. Which left a bit of a gap when Jeanne and Antuniet have a brief but important role towards the end of the story. It isn't so much that Roz needed to be more familiar with their place in the social web she's moving in, but the reader needs to have a sense that these are people who are integral to the story, and not just convenient figures tacked on as needed. Especially the reader who is coming to the book as a stand-alone.

It's that thing about setting up endings so that they feel earned. Jeanne needed to "earn" her key role at the end of Floodtide by establishing her place in the story earlier. There needed to be a reason for Roz to pay attention to gossip about her and to have a sense of who she is and what her family connections are to Tiporsel House. And the easiest way to establish that was for Roz to learn what she owes to Jeanne and interact with her in the context of the dress shop. It also gave me a chance to show Roz learning some of the "soft skills" of the profession and to point out Dominique's expertise in that regard.

* * *

I didn’t remember waiting on the Vicomtesse de Cherdillac before, and I would have remembered her for the French name. But when Mefro Dominique asked me to fetch the sample books for them, the Vicomtesse called me by name like she knew me.

“Rozild! Dominique has been telling me how well you’re doing.”

“I…I beg your pardon, Mesnera de Cherdillac?”

Mefro Dominique took the sample books from me and put them on the table, saying, “Rozild, the vicomtesse was the one who asked Maisetra Sovitre to hire you.”

“Oh!” I curtseyed very low and said, “Thank you.”

The vicomtesse patted me on the cheek. “I think the last time I saw you, you were trying not to drop a tea tray. And look at you now! One of my small successes, I think.”

I wasn’t sure what to say to that, so I curtseyed again.

“Now let us see what you’ve been learning. Tell me which of these colors you think would suit me best.”

I looked over at Mefro Dominique and she nodded to give permission. So I looked at what the vicomtesse was wearing, and her coloring, and thought about what the other ladies in the shop had been choosing and I picked three samples I thought might suit her.

She laughed, but it was a merry laugh and not making fun. “There, you see Dominique? She agrees I should not wear the brown you chose for me. But you will make me a dress in the brown and it will be glorious and I will tell everyone you are a genius!”

After the vicomtesse left, I asked, “Did I make the wrong choice?”

Mefro Dominique turned back to the fabrics I had chosen. “No, child. If it were only a matter of the colors and the patterns, those would suit her. But Mesnera de Cherdillac is a very strong woman. And a strong woman should either wear bold colors to defy the world something soft to conceal her fire. There’s a time for each and you will learn it.”

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