Characters, Trotsky, Weaveworld and Mortgaging a City

I have two novels currently on the go. One is on the back-burner for the time-being. I hit a bad bout of writer’s block and have never got over it. I will return to it one day but probably not soon. I did learn some things from a combination of writing it and reading other things, though.

First, in my book, a few chapters in, I introduced a new character, one that I had not planned on having. She just appeared out of nowhere, out of the writing. Putting questions about the wisdom of this aside for a moment, I was faced with a quandary: do I introduce her from the protagonist’s perspective or her own?

I’ve read a lot of books where new principal or supporting characters are introduced through their own point of view. Quite a lot of these books were written by George R. R. Martin, to be honest. Anyway, this helps to give the reader an immediate insight into the kind of person they are and may, given the circumstances, offer a new perspective on events in the novel or allow for a different take on the other characters in the story. Fair enough, so why don’t I just give her take on it all from the word go? Well, my reservation lies in the uncertainty around the character’s status: will she be important to the story or will she have disappeared after the first few chapters? I have not written this far.

When I think about it, it makes little sense to not use her perspective. As I will talk more about later on, I’ve recently read Weaveworld by Clive Barker and I noticed that in one scene he uses Brendan’s (Cal’s dad) perspective in a scene with Shadwell.

 Pretty much sums it up.

I don’t want to give anything away for those of you who might want to read Weaveworld in the future but Brendan is not a key character whilst Shadwell is Cal’s principal enemy, the antagonist of the tale. Even so, Barker uses this scene to do two things: 1) it gives a new description of Shadwell; 2) it shows just how Shadwell’s jacket works to ensnare people’s will. So, I think that when introducing a new character, if there is some new take on the story or characters to be gained from it, use the new character’s perspective. This could get messy, though so I’ll have to watch just how often I do it.

Second, writing the book has made me start to think like a sociologist again. Basically, I came across an argument put forward by Trotsky regarding revolutions. He said that if poverty was the cause of revolutions, there would be revolutions all over the world, all the time because most people are poor. What is needed, he argued, is a spark to electrify the people. Very often, this spark will be a violent death or a large-scale clash between protagonists and antagonists.

Where does this lead my story? Well, do I kill someone in the novel? A principal or a supporting character? Or just a recurring name, never met by the reader but often referred to as key to the protagonist’s/antagonist’s goals? I would also have to think about how the person dies: during a protest gone wrong, or an assassination, or in a direct conflict with the authorities?

Third, I caught the Time Team special on Liverpool’s first wet dock, the Steers dock, a while ago. It was filmed during all of the construction work for Liverpool One in 2007 (I think) and looks at how the dock was conceived and built and its impact on Liverpool as a city. More importantly, though, it looked at how the dock’s design and construction were financed.

 Old Liverpool waterfront.

In order to pay for the dock to be built, the City Corporation (the equivalent of today’s City Council and the name I intend to use for the Council in my novel) mortgaged the whole city for £10,000 after an initial £6,000 payment (this was in the way-back when these were astronomical sums of money). Had the dock failed, Liverpool would have had no way to pay off this mortgage and would have been forced to sell off huge swathes of the land and massive amounts of the city’s assets to service the debt. I never knew about this when I started writing the book but it has given me a little boost as it means that the idea of a city being sold to service debts is not as outlandish as I thought.

Fourth, as I mentioned, I finished reading Weaveworld last month. I just want to say a couple of things about it. I’d never read it before then, despite it being recommended to me by three or four people. Having started to write a book set in Liverpool, though, I thought that it would be useful to see how Barker dealt with the use of place-names and the geography of the city. As it turns out, he doesn’t, not really. He mentions a few street names but only to anchor the reader in key locations (Roe Street, where Mimi’s house is, for example) and as shorthand for key events (the outbreak of hysteria on Lord Street). This makes a lot of sense, when you think about it, because no-one outside of Liverpool is going to care about County Road or Mather Avenue for their own sake; nor will they be interested in the history behind the names of Water Street or Castle Street or Seel Street. To the casual reader, these are just places, there is no sentimental value attached to them and they hold no significance in any other city. Without wishing to sound like Dr. McCoy, I’m writing a story, not a history lesson.

On the whole, Weaveworld is a good book. The characters are well-written and have a lot of integrity. Their motivations are pretty clear throughout the novel and it is easy to understand their actions. There are a couple of issues, like Suzanna’s flitting between who she loves and in what way, for example, but things are mostly consistent. The city, as I said, is treated well but without too much sentimentality. However, the ending is really frustrating and quite confused. The book as a whole is like a shoelace: very easy to follow with a clear path and pattern with no surprises beyond its own conceit. That is, right up until the end, where it knots up all snarled and confusing, obscuring the pattern and flow of the story.

Fifth (and finally), I need to ask a question. If you write or have ever written, how do you do it? By this, I mean, what tools do you use? I’m a bit frustrated by own choice, despite it working for me. I write a draft in a notebook whenever I get the time. It is not until I get a large chunk of time to myself at home that I put that writing into a Scrivener file. This works for me because I have a continuous stream of thought in my notebook, an unbroken line from one event to the next. It also allows for me to see what needs editing at the point of typing it up. It does make extra work, though, as everything is essentially written twice. Do you think it would be easier if I saved the notepad for brief notes and thoughts and just did the actual writing on the computer? Or do you do things in a similar way? Please comment with your answers.

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