Within the last week, I’ve had two clients with the same problem, a sign that I’ve found a good topic for an article. (They’ve given me permission to use them as examples – thanks, guys.) What was tripping them up was that they both had to keep the focus on a key character when there was no easy way to put that character on stage.
One of the manuscripts is a historical novel set in the early 14th century and centered on two women. One is Margaret, a noblewoman who’s left in charge of her husband’s castle when he rebels against King Edward II. The other is Edward’s queen, Isabella. For reasons I can’t get into now, the castle is besieged by Edward, and Margaret is captured and sent to the Tower of London with her children. Isabella is put in charge of her captivity. For much of the book, we watch Margaret struggle to keep herself and her children sane and to gain her freedom, with few glimpses of Isabella. But late in the story, Edward summons Isabella north, then essentially abandons her. She is nearly captured by Robert the Bruce, almost dies while escaping, and finds that Margaret’s capture was part of a scheme Edward was running behind her back.
The natural structure of the story is the parallel between the two women, who start off with a serious imbalance of power and eventually grow to see that both are under the control of narcissistic husbands with little leeway to determine their own fates. The problem is that, when Margaret is in the Tower, there is little reason to include scenes from Isabella’s point of view, and when Isabella leaves London, Margaret can do little in the Tower except wait for her to return. Readers don’t really have a feeling for who Isabella is before she leaves, and they lose track of Margaret when caught up in Isabella’s adventures. (Incidentally, after the events of the story, the real-life Isabella has Edward assassinated.)