Thursday, 2 February 2006

There is a much misquoted remark by Anton Chekhov that originally read something like
One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.
(From a letter to Aleksandr Semenovich Lazarev, 1 November 1889)
(although on the web it is usually described as putting pistols on mantelpieces.)

The rewriting that I am doing at the moment is in part a matter of removing undischarged rifles from the stage. Having done no plotting at all when I started to write, I put quite a number of contrivances and devices into the early chapters because I thought that they might come in handy later on. I was actually surprised how many of them did turn out to be useful - including a walk-on Frenchman and, most importantly, a scene-stealing elephant. But not all of them were winners.

My problem is that the rifles are not always that easy to remove. Some of them are like the Dude's rug in The Big Lebowski. That rug really tied the room together. Take it away, and there is a big empty space.

There is one particular rifle that I am working on at the moment. In fact it is a Japanese miniature tinder pistol. I saw this picture of it and decided that it would be a perfect gadget for Lord Alexander to carry with him and use in an emergency, just as James Bond is equipped with various miniature gadgets usually disguised as fountain pens or watches.

The tinder pistol formed the basis of a conversation in Chapter One between Lord Alexander and his friend Sir Peregrine Caradoc (a slightly eccentric Natural Philosopher) during which they revealed some of the backstory. The problem was that at no subsequent point in the plot did a situation arise in which Lord Alexander needed to start a fire. So I find that I must confiscate the tinder pistol and give him something else to discuss with Sir Peregrine.

Luckily I also need to put a few rifles onto the stage too: rifles that are fired, but fired a little implausibly because we hadn't already been alerted to their existence. In this particular case I have found myself removing a miniature-tinder-pistol-shaped rifle, and replacing it with a very-large-gas-balloon-shaped one. Not surprisingly, this has required me to completely rebuild the stage.

It is at times like this that I think how lucky I am that my agent could see enough good stuff in Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth that she was not put off by such flaws.


Gabriele C. said...

Hm, I better check my NiPs for guns already now. In a Roman setting they would be really out of place.

Good luck with the revision.

Liz Fielding said...

It's both informative and entertaining to have this glimpse you offer into your writing process, Stephen. Don't be so hard on yourself about the "props", though. Books are organic things. They grow in ways we don't expect and even though I've written getting on for fifty of them, I still occasionally have to go back and put the metaphorical gun on the mantlepiece.

Congratulations of getting an agent. Can't wait to read the book!