Going into the novelization of “House of Cards”, I again went into planning stage.
I thought the story would rotate between several groups of people:
- August and Julie
- August’s sister and her partner
- August’s workmates
- Julie’s school crowd
- Julie’s workmates
- the nursing home where Julie’s aunt lives
- the café where August hung out during lunch breaks.
Lots of these groups involved blocks of characters, e.g. the workplaces, and Julie’s school. Most of them would be supporting or peripheral, but I wanted (and needed) them to all exist.
I drew up eighty characters, assigning them different roles.
In the book, I used only about twenty of them.
The story never went to Julie’s workplace, although it’s referenced. It only featured a handful of people from Julie’s school, but that became a more dominant subplot thread.
August’s workplace fared better, although with each draft he’d lose a friend, and their role would be collapsed into another character.
Originally, he had four close friends – three guys and one girl.
Two of the guys were too similar, so they became a single character. The girl survived most drafts, but her insight into relationships (as a woman) was becoming a liability. She was too bright for this crew, so she was cut. What remained of her advice was given to one of the two remaining guys.
They became ying and yang: one was warm, compassionate, and considerate, and the other was crude, blunt, and opportunistic.
I knew August met Julie in a café – it was meant to be a play on satirizing the love at first sight cliché.
In the short story, August meets her three pages in – that’s 584 words into 10,000 words. But in the novelization, I wanted to show more of August’s world and hint at his haplessness. In the novel, it’s about 9,000 words into an 82,000-word manuscript.
August sees her daily and is fascinated by a small tattoo on her lower back – he can never quite make it out, and is constantly guessing in his own head what it is, and extrapolating a narrative behind it. (This plays out later after he knows what it is and realizes why it’s symbolic.)
He also builds her up in his head so that each day he sees her and does nothing about it, he finds it harder to approach her.
And while all this is happening, we’re seeing him more at work, with his sister, and at home – really getting to know just who he is.
The story itself dictated the pace and where it went, which meant many of those carefully prepared characters were ignored. Potential subplots and scenes I’d considered earlier evaporated.
It also moved away from being a straightforward romcom, and became more an exploration of identity, how the past defines us, and how people need to come to peace with who they are and what’s happened if they’re to move forward.
Next Week: Music and its role in August Falling.