All this turning of my mental tumbler has finally produced a shiny rock: I now know what’s wrong with Pawn Takes Knight. That’s the good news. The bad news is that fixing it is going to take a page one rewrite – the fourth such rewrite for this novel.
What’s the problem? To answer that question, let’s go to the movies. Specifically, let’s pop in the DVDs for Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom. After that, let’s watch Die Hard and then Die Hard 2. Go ahead I’ll wait.
Okay, it’s been eight hours and we’re back to talk about the highs and lows of what we’ve just seen. The highs are easy. Right? The originals are the highs. The lows are little more complex. Why is Temple of Doom so rightly reviled by fans of the franchise? Why is Last Crusade so much better than Temple of Doom. You can ask the same questions about the Die Hard franchise with the notable exception of a quality sequel down the road somewhere. After the original, Hollywood only ever managed to crank out punk-ass simulacra.
Ask a thousand people these questions and you’ll get a thousand different answers. Mine is pretty simple. Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade are Indiana Jones stories. Temple of Doom is a story with Indiana Jones in it. Die Hard is a John McLean story. The sequels are stories with John McLean in them.
During my downtime, I happened across a Roy Doyle short story I wrote a few years ago. After an initial attempt to sell it to a couple of magazines I decided to keep it back as the outline for a future novel. The interesting thing about that short story is that it is far more a Roy Doyle story than Pawn Takes Knight.
Pawn Takes Knight is not a Roy Doyle story at all. It is a story with Roy Doyle in it.
My original plan for the five novels of the Roy Doyle series was for each to tell the story of a particular phase in his life. Over time we would watch as a bumbling amateur became a great private detective. The phases are: Before the War, The War, Homecoming (The Vengeance Season), I don’t know, and I don’t know 2: the sequel. That’s right. I don’t know the theme of Pawn Takes Knight. I only know the story elements that have to be included. As it stands, it’s far more thematically related to Arlene, a mysterious central character from The Vengeance Season, than it is to Roy.
We see this a lot in the movies. As a matter of fact, most sequels are just other stories with the central character from the original ladled in as an afterthought. And it’s an especially easy trap to fall into in the detective genre because you generally come up with the crime and the solution first and then backfill your recurring characters into that framework. I’ve seen this happen in detective series great and small.
Before I start yet another draft of Pawn Takes Knight, I have to ask and answer the question: What does this have to do with Roy Doyle? Why couldn’t I just put another character into this story? Or, put another way, if I did a global search and replace of “Roy Doyle” for “Joe Schmo”, would it wreck the story at all? With the draft I just finished, the answer is no. That Pawn Takes Knight could just as easily be a Joe Schmo mystery because, while there are characters brought forward from the first novel, there’s no emotional connection between the two Roys.
So… when will the sequel be ready? As soon as I can answer that question, I guess. Feel free to send in suggestions.