The Story — Part III

Yesterday, we decided the story would be Richelieu’s; the future Cardinal was one of the most dynamic men of his age, and even his sworn enemies stood in admiration of his mental and political acumen.  Our touchstone event, the Concini Affair, which occurred in the Spring of 1617, goes a long way toward illustrating Richelieu’s bravado.

We have a protagonist and we have an ending, of sorts.  Now, we need to sketch out a rough map that will take us from point A to point B.  Outlining is a great bugaboo of writers: some produce outlines that brim with detail, others jot down only a few lines on a notecard, and still others do no such thing and are vehemently opposed to the idea.  Since this is my story and you good people are just riding shotgun with me, I’m going to do my usual outline.

How do you think a story like this should begin?  Does anything in our research thus far suggest a beginning to you?  It does to me; I think it should begin like this:

I. Darkened room; two figures meet to plot the death of another.

I like it.  Something short, atmospheric, and somewhat ambiguous: who are they and whose death are they plotting?  As the writers, we know the answer (it’s Luynes and de l’Hospital plotting Concini’s death), but if we do it right we will have seized the reader’s interest.

I write down these plot points in NotePad, and I generally have three or four tabs open in my browser — one to Wikipedia (a great basic research tool), and the others to various websites, pdfs, Google books and what-have-you that I’ve found over the past few days.  I build my cast of characters as I go.

Where to next?  After a scene in the dark, I want the next scene to be bright and opulent.  I write:

II. Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu, the Bishop of Luçon, awaits the pleasure of the Queen-mother, Marie de Medici; from an upper window of the Louvre, he sees young Louis XIII in close confidence with Luynes, his most loyal supporter.  Louis sees the Bishop watching and turns away with a snarl; Luynes, on the other hand, very courteously salutes Richelieu.  The Bishop returns the gesture.  A servant interrupts him and escorts Richelieu into the chambers of the Queen-mother.

Marie de Medici is attended by her creatures, Concini and his wife, Leonora.  The Queen-mother and Concini barely register his presence, so engrossed are they in arguing with one another in Italian; but Leonora rises and greets him as an old friend.  She reveals the source of their discord: the Queen-mother believes the plots against Concini have become unmanageable and that he should escort Leonora to a safe haven in Florence.  Marie de Medici stops their argument and asks Richelieu to render his opinion on the matter.  The Bishop is in agreement – they walk a knife’s edge, and that edge shrinks with each passing day.  Concini berates him and storms off.  Smug in her perceived victory, the Queen-mother dismisses the Bishop with her thanks.

Richelieu exits; he watches Concini at the far end of the long Grand Gallery, courtiers flittering around him like a flock of sparrows.  Eyes narrowing, the Bishop turns and leaves.

A good scene, I think.  Builds character and reveals a bit of the tension that exists between Concini and the Queen-mother, and Concini and Richelieu.  And it introduces a little nugget I picked up from C. Burckhardt’s Richelieu: His Rise to Power . . . Luynes and Richelieu were, if not friends, very respectful acquaintances.

This scene also presents several topics that need further research: the layout of the Louvre Palace, the name of the gardens one can see from an upper window, 17th century fashion and forms of address.  Often, I will stop in mid-writing and find what I need online or in one of my books.

What next?  Me, I want to go back to our assassin for a moment:

III. A figure in a broad-brimmed hat goes through the elaborate ritual of loading his pistols, polishing his rapier, and praying.

I like the way the story points are flowing, so far.  Those familiar with my work know I go in for a cinematic style, and this qualifies, I think.  Now, we don’t want to be away from our protagonist for too long, so our next scene goes back to Richelieu:

IV. Nightfall.  Richelieu’s carriage trundles down a quiet Parisian street.  The Bishop hears a voice hail his driver; the carriage judders to a halt.  Suspecting foul play, Richelieu draws a pistol from beneath his seat.  The carriage door opens to reveal . . . Luynes, the King’s close confidante.  Richelieu relaxes and invites Luynes to sit.

Hmmm . . . the plot thickens.  I stopped writing, here, because an idea presented itself.  An idea that needs a bit of massaging: What if Richelieu is pulling the strings?  What if he secretly advises Luynes in how to proceed . . . which would mean he planted the kernel that grew into Concini’s assassination?  It’s not historical at all, but it’s intriguing nonetheless.  For now, let’s think on it and do some research.

Tomorrow, we’ll sketch out the remainder of the tale and delve into the writing.

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4 thoughts on “The Story — Part III

  1. Scott –

    Do you outline your novels in the same detail? And how far out ahead of yourself do you go? A chapter or two at a time, or the whole enchilada?

    As I’ve been working on my book, I have an end in mind (bad guy, caught) and a few data points along the way (bodies, dead; clues, hidden), but I could never sketch out an entire novel scene-by-scene. I usually have the next few scenes in the buffer, as it were, but if you asked, “What are your next ten scenes going to be?”, I couldn’t tell you.

    I’m reminded of a passage in Stephen King’s book on writing, in which he says his approach is to drop his characters into a difficult situation and then see what happens. Have you ever written in this way. It would be difficult with historical fiction, as you’d run the risk of thing going in a counter-factual direction (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Nor would it work with mystery simply because you need to plant clues and red herrings along the way.

    But I do think it would be a lot of fun, and for book #3, I’m jumping into that approach with both feet. I can’t wait!

  2. I do, actually. I don’t always stick to it, but I generally plot out a novel or a story scene by scene. Sometimes the end result is wildly different from the outline. That’s cool . . . so long as it’s a good story, I’m not too concerned 🙂

  3. Outlining is something I struggle with. I usually have and opening line and/or scene as well as a general idea of where I want the character(s) to end up when I finish. I’m like Sam in that I usually know the next scene or two, possibly three. Usually I don’t know all the way to the end unless I’m almost there. Even if I don’t know the next scene, I’ve found that my subconscious usually does and by the time I finish the current scene, I know how the next one will at least start. If I don’t, then it’s not time to write the story yet.

    Thanks, Scott, for sharing your writing process with us. It’s giving me something concrete to compare my methods to.

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