It’s Monday and we’re back at it. We left off on Friday at the end of chapter one; today, we begin chapter two and the introduction of our main character, the future Cardinal Richelieu. Even before we start to write, we can see a number of topics we might need to research based on what’s in the synopsis:
Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu, the Bishop of Lucon, awaits the pleasure of the Queen-mother, Marie de Medici; from an upper window of the Louvre, he sees young Louis XIII in close confidance 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.
So, we know from the two bold passages that we need to research the Louvre . . . but in its former incarnation as a royal palace, rather than a landmark museum. One striking feature of the Palais du Louvre is the Grand Gallery that follows the banks of the Seine. THAT would make for an interesting locale, so we spend Sunday (ostensibly our day off) researching the site via the internet. Come Monday morning, we write:
That Sunday, the twenty-third of April, in the Year of Our Lord 1617, the Grande Galerie of the Palais du Louvre was nigh deserted. For six days it is the haunt of artists and envoys, courtiers and courtesans, but on the seventh day it becomes a respite for those who call the Palais home – and for those summoned to attend them. Such was the station of the man who strode with purpose down its length.
In that first sentence: That Sunday, the twenty-third of April, in the Year of Our Lord 1617, the Grande Galerie of the Palais du Louvre was nigh deserted we’ve fixed our time and place — and created another topic of research. Namely, would the Palais du Louvre be deserted on a Sunday? It sounds plausible, so we keep it in the story, for now (and for you sticklers out there, I didn’t misspell “Grand Gallery”; rather, I opted for the French spelling of it — a useful technique for instilling the idea in readers that they’ve stepped into another world, but use it sparingly). Onward, we write:
Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu, the Bishop of Luçon, cut a grim figure against the Baroque backdrop of the Grande Galerie, a lean black shadow who wore the purple sash and skullcap of his rank. Gold winked on his finger as he acknowledged the bow of a passing servant. But, Richelieu was not there that afternoon in his capacity as a clergyman; rather, it was in his role as Foreign Minister of France that he found himself called to attend the Regent and Queen-mother, Marie de Médicis.
Passably good, though somewhat loaded with exposition. There’s still a sense of movement, though, and some requisite stage-setting. Unless you’re creating an wholly alien world, it’s not really necessary to describe every detail of the world around your characters. Sometimes, it’s best to choose loaded terminology and leave the rest to the imagination of the reader. For instance, coupling the fact that Richelieu is a bishop with the phrase lean black shadow conjures images of a cassocked priest. Describing his skullcap and sash add a measure of solemnity to offset the colorful descriptor, Baroque. If we’ve done our job correctly, readers will see Richelieu step full-grown into their imaginations . . . and their imaginations will fill in any details we choose not to describe.
Richelieu did not waste time speculating as to the reason behind the summons. He served at the pleasure of the Regent, and if it was her pleasure to summon him from his weekly game of chess with the Rector of the Sorbonne, then so be it. Marie de Médicis was a charming old woman from a storied family, deeply entrenched in politics and desperate to keep both crown and head intact. Richelieu frowned. As much as he loved the Grande Dame, it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep power in her hands; in truth, he wasn’t sure she wanted to hold the reins of State any longer. But, to whom would she give them? Her son, Louis de Bourbon, the rightful King, or perhaps his cousin, Henri, the Duke of Enghien? Or would the Regent’s favorite, Concini – Italian adventurer and self-styled Marechal d’Ancre – seize power for himself?
Politics are always difficult to relay in a dramatic fashion — especially the subtle politics of 17th century France. This paragraph boils down the basics; we can expand upon it later, but for now it captures the uncertainty of the times.
Richelieu shook his head. Regardless of the outcome, his task was to keep France’s enemies at bay – be it through treachery, treaty, guile, or gift.
And that’s our stopping point. It’s not a bad beginning, though it might be judged a bit too exposition-heavy; the next segment will need to focus more on action and dialogue than politics and contemplation.
Barring any pressing family matters, we will take it up again, tomorrow . . .