Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Abandoned Outline

Back last year I wrote a fantasy novel [1], which doesn't work for structural reasons. A heavy rewrite could probably solve that, but more importantly it has a problem in that our protagonists travel about for ill defined reasons to places where they can fight people and tell each other stories. If I was going to rewrite then I would do better to follow a tangent to my original story which will throw up an identifiable plot to follow earlier in the story and give the protagonists problems that deserve clever solutions and a more interesting climax. Hence I outlined and began Novel 2.0.

It's now a week later and I look at it, and it's fine[2] but I think I can make it cleverer and more interesting and weirder. So today's task, and probably for the rest of the week, is to take some elements from Novel 1.0, the outline of Novel 2.0 and other stuff that is just in my head and clever it up, give it some interest and weird it out.

While I'm at it, the outline is below. It is not self explanatory; it needs a character list, some geography exposition (maybe a map), and a couple of political infodumps to make sense of. By happy chance these are some of the things I will be writing weirded etc. up versions of as the week goes on.

Will I follow this story? I'm hoping that, at the very least, some good plot will drop out of my weirder, cleverer and more interesting people, places, situations and so forth; this may mean some minor changes or it may mean back to the blank page. Anyway, enough of this, time to weird up the Stennish[3]

[1] Currently enjoying the somewhat austere title Novel 1.0
[2] If the outline is tl;dr then it's In an empire shattered by a (now) dead general, man previously bodyguard to dead general comes out of retirement to be bodyguard to general's daughter who is having an arranged marriage to a barbarian warlord. Complications ensue.
[3] Current two word description: fantasy Huns.

Shatterstone Outline

A man sneaks into a castle and tries to kill someone. It’s a trap. As the guards close in, everything catches fire
Part One
(Open with a letter? From Minala Minolaxos, mother of Aurus, talking about horses, explaining to the Lady Helena that her son is at the Quiet Houses, some gossip about children.)

We discover our first person protagonist Aurus in the Quiet Houses, hospitals and hostels for war wounded and those driven mad. He meets Lady Helena. It is revealed that a. Aurus is physically well, and b. He has previously been a guest of the Quiet Houses. Helena offers him a job, which he immediately accepts. She wants him to be guard captain, translator, advisor and bodyguard for her daughter who is travelling with an embassy to the north to the court of Stennish Warlord Dead Tiger Shi in the spring (It’s just after midwinter?). Aurus gets less and less happy. Helena remind him that he served as bodyguard to her husband Lord Kell, promised that Kell would come back, yet Kell died. She reveals that she intends to marry her daughter to a barbarian warlord because things are so dangerous with internal and external enemies.

We find ourselves at Shatterstone castle, where rebuilding of the burnt apartments is taking place. Aurus meets with an old friend Valen, now quartermaster. Valen’s daughter Olivia will be one of the Lady Alixa (Helena’s daughter) attendants. Aurus is also Olivia’s godfather.

In the officer’s mess Aurus is greeted with restraint by some and anger by others. His race, low birth and survival of his liege lord are held against him. Colonel Graves intervenes.

We cut to find Aurus supported by the veteran sergeant Andros barking out orders. It turns out that this is not his guard company (in an aside found to be climbing a mountain in full gear) but Lady Alixa and her attendants. At a complaint (from the chef?) Lady Helena appears and puts him in his place; declaring herself too old to fight, she then shows off her archery skills. The warrior woman (new) tradition is explained.

Next we find Aurus getting a sword and watching some gold melt. He and the smith Garilenor rib each other. It becomes clear that Garilenor was once smith to the Emperor. Spell steel is mentioned. Menos arrives. They swap news.

We flashback to the meeting between Menos (then a baby), Garilenor and Aurus during the sack of the great palace, which, if I’m lucky, can be taken whole from Novel 1.0.

Part Two
We open with a letter from the capital to Aurus, ostensibly about horses, but detailing some deaths and mysterious fires and the political fallout from that (Bad – Secessionists from the Commonwealth gain power, those who have it in for Shatterstone sticking the knife in etc.)

Then we’re in third person with Angelique (maybe should be Olivia??), an orphan fostered on Aurus mother’s farm, riding with the embassy. They are learning Stennish from Aurus. He hints at his time on the steppe.

Angelique and Menos talk to Andros about this, but he deflects and instead tells the story of the battle with Dead Tiger Shi 7 years ago, lifted from part one of Novel 1.0. This fills in some backstory about Dead Tiger Shi, and the current state of the Empire (6th Succession War?)
Then we’re in a tent with Helena, Alixa, Olivia and some other attendants. Helena is apologetic about the hardship of the journey, Alixa is stoic. This is a proxy for the whole selling-daughter-to-barbarian-warlord part of the relationship.

We cross the border at a high pass, due to reports of bandits on the merchant’s route. Despite this, some of Shi’s men ride in, being attacked by strangely well armed bandits. These are dealt with with the fight from Novel 1.0.

We arrive at Tigerbridge, description again cribbed from Novel 1.0. There’s the feast, rewritten from Angelique’s POV. Alixia takes Angelique and Menos to ask Aurus about why he’s known as Three Death Slave, and after some picturesque searching finds him at the horse market. We get the story again from Novel 1.0.

At last there is the betrothal between Alxia and Dead Tiger Shi’s son, Salt Heart Shi. The armrings are given and their pedigree explained. Shi’s followers who disapprove try to cause trouble; when they are put down, their womenfolk attack Alixia. Due to strict gender division men are not allowed to interfere. Olivia, Angelique and Alixia defeat most of them, with the other maidservants holding off the rest, and the fight finally ended by Helena drawing a sword. The Shis are entertained and promise that Alixia will bear fierce sons.

Part Three
Open with another letter. Helena to Alixia, telling us about the rebellion in Angos, Kell’s injury, General Georgius being effective and a pain Menos distinguishing himself. Hint at Imperial money and foreign mercenaries.

Back with First Person Aurus at the court of Dead Tiger Shi, late summer. Chaos and murder. Someone has stolen the arm rings that were a wedding gift to Salt Heart Shi, killing several of his closest companions including a cousin. We discover that it seems to have been 
Commonwealthers, Westermen, here trading. Everyone blames everyone else. Dead Tiger Shi rules that as it was a Westerman, a Westerman must bring him to justice. Opponents of Alixia demand Aurus go alone, which he agrees to, although he takes “a boy to hold his horse and a woman to cook his food”, Ash and Angelique (the first thing the Stennish do when they take on civilisation is become lawyers).

They ride out. Some Stennish try to kill them at their first camp, but Aurus is ready for this. We see a little more of Dead Tiger Shi’s domain, with Stennish acting like arses, but not actually setting fire to things and killing everyone.

The trail heads for the coast, but Aurus heads for Shatterstone over the merchant’s road. They catch up on news, finding that after the battle Menos went to Orisha the capital to join General Georgius staff, and get gossip about the thieves from sailors. Aurus takes a herd of yearling horses south with a party of volunteers. They avoid Angos, despite hearing that the thieves might be there, and head for Orisha overland.

They arrive at the city in good time. Recycle the arrival at the city from Novel 1.0. Some stuff happens. Menos is involved. There are fights, a trial, a duel, assassins, shopping and metalcrafting.  There’s some explanation of the various emperors in the former empire. They meet up with an advisor to the Dragon Emperor’s ambassador. Eventually they catch up with the thief, get back the rings and with his dying breath get some kind of mysterious revelation. This sends Menos off to the Empire, and Aurus back to Dead Tiger Shi.

Part Four
Another letter, from Alixia to Helena, about her pregnancy. In addition there are rumours that an Imperial general has crossed over the gap to reconquer the western provinces.

Third person with Olivia. We open at midwinter. Alixia is uncomfortably pregnant, and the Stennish use the various taboos as an excuse to avoid her. Aurus has not returned. An Imperial envoy arrives, and Alixia sends Olivia to watch. The envoy makes threats. He is a wind wizard. Andros recognises this and in turn threatens him. A brawl breaks out, and a mini tornado rips through the audience chamber before Olivia tackles the envoy.

Olivia and the envoy are put on trial for breaking the peace of an embassy. This obviously goes to trial by combat, Olivia demanding the right to be her own champion. She takes advantage of the Imperial champion’s disrespect to cut him down, although he wounds (maims?) her in return.

Spring comes. Olivia is mostly recovered. Medical interlude? Alixia is hugely, magnificently pregnant. Aurus has still not returned. Dead Tiger Shi rides out to deal with raiders, but it turns out to be a full scale invasion, although from whom is not clear in Tigerbridge, until an army turns up. The Stennish commander (Shi’s uncle?) leads an attack, but is beaten. Most of the Stennish scatter, but the most loyal fall back to be besieged. Unsurprisingly they are really bad at it, although so are the besiegers. After the first attack and the death or injury of most of the Stennish nobles, Andros, who has great experience at siegecraft is put in command by Alixia, who rules from behind a screen. This goes on for weeks.

There’s escalade, mining, bribery and a couple of parlays. Then they mysteriously descend into chaos and withdraw. Quite coincidentally Aurus arrives later that day with a company of volunteers. A son is born.

Part Five
Time for one more letter, from the Count-Marshal to Alixia. Half his troops have been pulled out and the sea is swarming with Northern raiders. No help from that direction. This is also why Aurus has been delayed thanks to shipwreck and pirates.

For this final section we flit about; third person, first person, White Ash Ho, Olivia, Alixia, Andros, Angelique. Dead Tiger Shi returns with the autumn, savagely wounded. Salt Heart Shi takes command. A Stennish faction tries to kill Alixia and her son, but they are held off by our various heroes. 

As we head into winter refugees pour into the lands, talking about dragons and wizards. It becomes clear that there is an unnatural winter war going on to the east. A swirling, raiding war, half-Stennish steppe fight, half defending isolated villages and strongpoints breaks out. Finally another embassy comes from the Dragon Emperor’s general, including the advisor to the ambassador from Part Three. A man claiming to be an emissary from the Elders of the Empire tries to claim Aurus’ loyalty with poor results. After they leave a mysterious fire breaks out, and Salt Heart Shi is killed.

Overrun with refugees, some Stennish flee, others try to mount a coup. Alixia puts it down bloodily, and proclaims her son the heir and herself war leader for Dead Tiger Shi. Aurus kills the three men who disagree.

Spring. Minala Minolaxos arrives in Shatterstone escorting a message brought from Alixia by a courier who got as far as her farm over a smugglers pass before he and his horse collapsed. The Count-Marshal is dying and Lord Kell and Colonel Graves are fighting raiders who have occupied a town on the coast, so she meets with Lady Helena. Alixia is training up refugees and offers Stennish scouts and skirmishers – the least loyal ones – in return for drill sergeants.
The Dragon Emperor has seized the (Great Port) and has an army and a fleet preparing there, as well as his army in the western provinces. However his attempt to seize the Eastern Shore has failed thanks to Menos and his service with the Night Emperor. We end then with an old story of the Great War that just maybe might explain what the hell has been going on.

Not enough weirdness. We probably need a Stennish shaman to tell us about the last god. At some point someone needs to be initiated into the cult of the swordsman. The Lady Josephine should make an appearance in tales, lurking around disaster and teaching about how to fight magic.

At the climax Aurus needs to walk into certain death, only to be rescued by (Alixia?) We need an emphasis on guarding a lord’s honour almost, but not quite, as much as their body. Aurus also drinks tea that no one else should have; wears his scarf in the style of the Young Lord; won’t let the barber near him.

We also need lots of dogs and horses, some named, some just running in packs. Maybe even do some research! And of course spellsteel.  

Diamond of Despair. The Lady Josephine.

Winter begins about the start of December.

Stillwater is a pun; they distil whisky (water of life?) there.
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