Now, The Hallowed Hunt had started out, in its original conception, to be mainly a romance. But the book was hijacked from the heroine by the antagonist and carted off in another direction altogether. (You do understand by now that I make up a lot of this stuff as I go along.)
This turn of events also happened in part because of my early decision to make HH single viewpoint to its hero Ingrey, rather than splitting the viewpoint between Ingrey and heroine Ijada or making it multiple viewpoint. My point-of-view characters have a distressingly strong tendency to wrap the developing plot around their own concerns, and so of all the early structural decisions I make, who gets the viewpoint -- whose head the story is shown through and in -- has the most profound impact on the ultimate story shape. If Ijada had owned a viewpoint, Earl Horseriver would have found the story much harder to take away from her.
Some wag once remarked that literary fiction is about love and death, and genre fiction is about sex and violence. (*Snrch*, I say, which is a useful internet phrase indicating a snigger.) When the most important relationship in the book turned out to be not between the hero and the heroine, but between the hero and the villain, the book became a lot more about death and a lot less about love than I’d originally planned. (And we never even got to the sex, drat it.)
Which led me to wonder in turn if that’s one of the salient differences between men’s adventure fiction and women’s romance fiction. In an adventure tale, the most important relationship is between the hero/ine and the villain (or antagonist, in the case of villain-less conflicts such as man-against-nature); in a romance, the most important relationship is between the heroine and the hero. Combining the two story types can lead to a sort of hierarchy-of-values problem. If two characters struggling for their very lives stop in the middle to smooch, it risks looking not romantic, but stupid. And villains have their ways of insisting that everyone pay attention to them. So in all my prior adventure tales, the romance, often my favorite aspect, inevitably ended up relegated to a mere sub-plot. Was it structurally possible to write an intelligent fantasy-adventure in which the romance stayed central?
The Sharing Knife was, in part, my attempt to find out. Some very interesting -- to me, at least -- things happened to the two structures when blended; a lot of important events don’t occur at quite the places where experienced readers of either genre expect them to, for one. Due to the place where the long tale was split into two volumes, the mid-book breather of the whole arc is doubling for the climax of the first volume, Beguilement. That it’s a sufficiently lively breather to do so says something.
And some of the quietest scenes will have the most important consequences; I could tell even when I was first writing them, before I ever knew how the rest of the book would play out, when it all went “myffic, with extra myff”, as Nanny Ogg from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books once said. “One spins the thread, one measures it, and one cuts it off.” Ah. Oh.
None of these observations were available to me in advance, mind you, only in retrospect. When I’m writing, mostly what’s out ahead is murk. My structure and pacing happen mainly by gut-feel. I have to write my way into the light, sentence by sentence and scene by scene, and just hope it will all add up to something worth a reader’s money and time by the end.
The second half, Legacy, starts at a rather unexpected place too; it’s not meant to be read as a stand-alone, but inevitably some readers will -- although enough about the prior events get rounded up in the first three or four chapters that I think they won’t sink. I’ll be fascinated by the reader-response from that group. But that’s looking ahead (to July 2007, to be exact, when Legacy will be published with the other half of the gorgeous cover art by Julie Bell. Go here for a sneak peek.)
-- Lois McMaster Bujold