Since I last noted my progress here, I’ve gotten a few scenes into Act II. Act I pushes a protagonist to go on a journey. Act II begins when the protagonist says, “FINE! I’LL GO ON YOUR STUPID JOURNEY!” (I wrote a bare bones 3-act structure post in the distant past with a little more whole-story detail.)
Heroine said “FINE!” a while ago, since the alternative was avoid capture and torture. She survived the trip to the place she didn’t want to go. Now that she’s there, it is neither what she was told nor what she expected, and she has to explore to make sense of things because what she sees is implausible and her only companion is a lying liar who tells lies.
Speaking of the liar, this is where I can start working on the romance. Is this a late point to start the romance in a romance novel? You betcha! But I’m doing this for myself, and I want a balance of fantasy and romance, not romance with fantasy wallpaper (or fantasy with a side of romance). Setting up the situation was a must, and doing so brought the future happy couple together only twice in the first act, in contexts that didn’t inspire warm, fuzzy feelings. Now, however, they’re going to be together almost all the time for the rest of the book, just the two of them for a great deal of that time, working together, learning to trust each other, comparing scars, etc. Hey, he already cooked for her their first night in the new place, and if she doesn’t die of food poisoning, that’s definitely going to influence her opinion for the better.
One of the big hangups with starting this section is establishing the setting. Every place the heroine visited before was familiar to her, either directly (has been in this specific place before) or by association (has not been in this specific place but has been somewhere similar and therefore knows the rules), so she could focus on things that were relevant to completing her task in that place. Now she’s in a place she believed didn’t exist (and still isn’t convinced it’s really that place), and it’s pretty big, AND she’s suspicious of everything. I had her enter the area through a confined space, which was an easy introduction, but as soon as she stepped out of that room, I choked because I now have to convey the entire kingdom upon which the story’s premise hangs. When she stepped outside, the most important observation of her immediate vicinity was the bodies, but I had to stop and draw a map of the entire city and its outskirts to give myself something to work with.
I eventually got through the next two scenes, which included a walkthrough of part of the city and a look at the whole kingdom from on top of the wall… but now she has to venture into the castle.
Sometimes Google Image can make my life easier by providing visual inspiration. Unfortunately, searching for “castle floor plans” or the equivalent yields mostly made-up castles people designed for Minecraft or The Sims or whatever. While they look suitably impressive, they don’t meet my needs (how rude of these strangers to not anticipate my needs!), and I figured out last night why they don’t work for me.
Their designers treat their castles as too much home, not enough government building.
A castle is the HQ of a high-ranking political figure. If you’re not thinking of the architecture and interior design in terms of politics, ur doin it rong (for my purposes). Cozy living spaces aren’t going to be anywhere near public spaces. First-rung public spaces will be vast to flex power and wealth. The more important a guest is, the more intimate the scale of where they’ll be received. Then there’s emergency preparedness. The castle is the last stand behind the last defensive wall. It needs onsite armory, barracks, and storehouses ready to withstand a siege, not a ground-floor “breakfast room.”
So, obviously, before I could write a word about Heroine going inside, in the dark, mostly to sleep and find a replacement for her lost bow, I had to draw blueprints for much more of the castle than I’ll ever actually use.
I’m trying to break the habit of feeling bad for “wasting time” designing spaces to a degree far beyond what will show up in the story. Since I am completely unable to move forward until I do it, it’s a necessary part of my process and not a “waste of time” because someone who is not me doesn’t do it. The waste of time is comparing my methods to anyone else’s. All that matters is whether the writing gets done, and if I need too much information before I can decide what’s worth writing, so be it.