The other day I was listening to playwright Abi Morgan on “Desert Island Discs”, and she compared writing a play with solving a mathematical puzzle. And Abi is right: there is a great deal of maths-style logic in writing: you have to keep an eye on the word count, and the structure, and the distribution of lines, and the chronology of events. (In the first draft of one of the Sam books, I remember that I had John Wontner taking his hat off three times in one scene. He looked like a music hall act.) This weekend I was plotting “Plank 6”. As I mentioned last time, I now have the overview of both plots – main and subsidiary. But it’s the mechanics of getting it all to work within the constraints of the structure of the Sam series that is now exercising me.
The Sam books are written in the first person. This has many, many advantages – not least, I get to spend lots of time in my head with Sam, and you all know that I am in love with him, so this is no hardship. But the main disadvantage is that it means that I can write only about things that Sam sees, hears or is told. And the first two are much better than the third. So – for instance – in “Plank 6” I want a character to have some adventures in the Cayman Islands. There is no way that Martha is going to let Sam sail that far from home, so it will have to be a third party report, but pages and pages of that can be very tedious. So I will have to be imaginative – perhaps he finds a diary or some letters, or maybe he attends a trial where some details come out, or… This is precisely why Sam is such an active constable, and why he is always keen to put on a disguise and get stuck in – I’m always looking for ways to get him into odd places as a direct witness to events!
Roy McCarthy said:
Why not break with your own convention and tell the Cayman adventure in a separate chapter(s) either in third person, or first person of the character involved? I.e. a bit of a break-out from Sam’s telling, but no doubt feeding back into it at some point.
Depart from the norm, Roy? Have you taken leave of your senses?! You know that Sam and I are both creatures of habit… But it is an interesting idea and I will certainly mull on it. It might end up being my only option, if I am to avoid pages and pages of reported incident.