Last night I didn’t add words to “And Blow Them at the Moon,” instead spending my evening re-reading the relevant chapters from my research, and thinking about the story. It’s important to ask myself: what am I trying to do? What are the things I want my narrative to accomplish?
Normally this isn’t the kind of thing I share publicly (it comes too close to spoilers), but this time I think I’ll think out loud. Behind a cut, though, so you don’t have to know anything more about the plot than you want to.
What do I need this story to do?
1) Explain what the Gunpowder Plot was. I think a decent percentage of Americans could manage the one-sentence explanation of “Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament.” (Brits could, one hopes, manage more.) This is almost enough: add the clause “though it was really Catesby’s idea,” and that’s most of what I need to convey. There are a lot of smaller details, of course, but this is a short story; the finer points of them leasing the Whynniard house and the store-room underneath the Lords and all the rest of it doesn’t really matter. Not when my pov character is not a conspirator. Maybe one sentence mentioning that they want to set Elizabeth up as a puppet-queen afterward; that’s as far as it needs to go.
2) Explain why the Gunpowder Plot was formed. This is both more important, and less well-known: thanks to V for Vendetta, some Americans might be able to quote the rhyme, but I doubt they know it had anything to do with Catholicism. So I do need to lay out the basic framework here, of Catholic persecution, the belief (carefully fostered by James) that a new King would mean new toleration, and the disappointment when James’ supposed promises turned out to be the usual political noise.
3) Work in faerie involvement. Because this is, after all, an Onyx Court story. I’m attempting to follow my usual pattern here, which is to slip the faeries in beneath the cracks, using them to explain otherwise murky turns of event. In this case, that means two things: 1) the supposed Westminster mine and 2) the Monteagle Letter. I’d also like to make use of the eclipses, as I’ve said before; they could help magic up what is otherwise currently a rather mundane story. But that means connecting the eclipses to something else, and I’m not sure what. (Why couldn’t Tresham’s father have kicked it on the lunar eclipse, or Catesby have recruited Tresham during the solar one? Very inconvenient timing on their part.)
4) Give the reader a reason to care. Every story has to do this, of course, but here I need that reason to serve two additional purposes: one, generating a degree of sympathy for the Catholic community (if not for the Plotters themselves), and two, bringing the mortal and faerie worlds together. Because I’ve chosen to write from the perspective of a faerie, and moreover a faerie who’s sympathetic to the Catholic cause. She cares about those people (against her better judgment), and wants to prevent the disaster she sees coming. It isn’t going to end well for her, of course — it can’t, unless I turn this into alternate history — but that’s okay. You can get away with tragedy in a short story.
Unfortunately, that’s four things I need to accomplish in as few words as possible. Less than 10K is my hard limit; less than 9K would be better; less than 8K would be better still. (As I lose at least one good market at each of those thresholds.) Less than 6K would be excellent, but it’s not going to happen; I currently have 4,770 words, and I need to write at least two more scenes — one with Tresham, and one before it, since it’s too soon for that to happen — and finish the two I wrote the other night.
Too soon for the Tresham scene yet; therefore the logical question for me to ask next is, what has to happen before that one can? I think I need to work in more faerie stuff. In a story that revolves around what mortals are doing, it’s easy to let the fantasy fall by the wayside, so I need to come up with something Onyx Court-centric that also furthers my plot.
I have some ideas, I think. Time to go roll around on the floor and stare at the ceiling until they take shape.