The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Friday, December 5, 2014

Writing a Sequel: What It's Like

Over at the Trollope and his Contemporaries reading group, I was asked about my writing process--particularly in terms of characterization. I thought that it was an interesting question, and one worth addressing here, as well.

The precipitating factor was, when my wife and I watched Simon Raven's 1974 adaptation The Pallisers together, we talked about our shared affection for the novels, and I got to complaining about how Phineas Finn seems shorn of his fire in The Prime Minister and The Duke's Children. I suggested that AT wasn't done with him--that the failure of the Prime Minister to sell at his usual level had discouraged and maybe diverted him. She urged me to write it up. I wrote the first three chapters--and dried up. Then my computer crashed. Six years later I found the manuscript, and typed it into my new computer. When I finished retying chapter 3, I knew what should happen in chapter 4.

From the moment I started the book, the ending--I mean the last two lines of dialogue and their context--were known to me. That Emilius and Lizzie would return was, too, and that Lord Chiltern's and Violet's son would fall for Phineas's niece--all this I had from the start. The character of Savrola Vavasour was a later idea, but he fit--his historical antecedent had a mother who was of a higher American social class than Winifred Hurtle, but the idea of putting her in play was irresitible. And George Vavasor was not a bad analog to the historical father.

By and large, the characters ran the show. The book just poured out of me, although I had to do some research, looking up geographic details, reading about mining, and 19th Century criminal procedure in Britain. But the interactions were pretty spontaneous; most of the characters came enough alive at least in my own mind that I felt I knew who they were and what they were about--how they would and wouldn't speak.

In the writing, the identities of characters would resolve--the magistrate became John Toogood after I wrote the opening part of his courtroom scene.

Keeping track of the primary characters was reasonably easy; keeping track of where they lived was not. I had to do a chart with all the locations of the various homes of the London-based residences. The cameos were trickier yet. Somewhere along the line, I decided to have cameos, not just from Trollope, but from other writers in the same era. Some were fleeting appearances (blink, and you miss Zuleika Dobson or Paul Montague. Some will be of considerable importance. I think of them as my "Easter eggs." The more important ones appear in more than one scene; they were brought in to fit the story, but to enrich Trollope Country by visiting--to make my fictional universe a broader place, with its ethos from Trollope, but with some (hopefully successful) visitors interpolating themselves. I liked the idea of bringing not just these other characters but their implications and milieu adding weight to their interactions with the Trollope characters.

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