I’d like to welcome Janet Wertman to Layered Pages today. Janet is taking part in my characters in Motion series and talks with us about her earliest draft of Jane the Quene. Be sure to check out her links below and click on her website to learn more about her.
First, let me thank you for this series and the opportunity to discuss Characters in Motion. It was a fun exercise for me – especially since it was a topic I struggled with. I didn’t get to create the story from my characters, I had to create my characters from the story…and likable ones at that!
My debut novel, Jane the Quene, is the story of Jane Seymour, the third wife for whom Henry VIII executed Anne Boleyn. A lot of people know the basic facts, and virtually all of them are Team Anne. But there is a way to tell Jane’s story that highlights its natural poignancy. That’s the story I wanted to tell, the one that would give Jane a team of her own – or at least acceptance.
The earliest drafts of the novel failed to do that. I wanted to make sure I got the story factually right, so I established my markers – very specific dates on which things happened – and I filled in the characters based on how they were reported to have acted at that time (I did have some wiggle room thanks to conflicting reports from inconsistent chroniclers, which let me pick and choose from a tapestry of stories that many had heard before, and reinterpret them in the way that felt right to me). As my writing books suggested, I told each scene from the point of view of the person most impacted in it …but that led to me giving voices to eight people – Jane, Henry, Edward, Cromwell, Anne Boleyn, Anne Seymour, even Mary. Jane’s voice and experience were lost, and the story was flat.
Then I found a great developmental editor who told me that I needed to forget the objective story and make it all about Jane’s personal experience. I could keep my timeline but I had to drastically cut the POVs. She originally suggested keeping only Jane’s voice, but I knew I needed a second someone to tell the other side of the story, someone who could detail the actual plotting that was taking place. Cromwell was the perfect choice – he was another vilified character with a poignant story (though the poignancy does not emerge until the close of this book), and he allowed me to reveal more of Henry (Jane saw him as good, Cromwell saw him as evil).
From there, everything just fell into place. Since everything I wanted to say had to be filtered through Jane or Cromwell, I found myself showing more and telling less. Making each scene unfold slowly, with sensory details to anchor it. This was fiction after all and I was able to layer in the imagined private moments of Jane’s journey. The September 1535 meeting in the gardens, the April 1536 hunting trip where Jane learns that Anne will die…these were the key pieces of the narrative. Invented, but still loosely based on facts (like the fact that Henry loved concocting medicines…the fact that hunting involved unmaking the deer and sharing the “good” organs on the spot…). I had almost free rein with these, except for one particular pivotal scene: The December 1536 confluence of two blessed events (Mary’s return to court, London gathering on the frozen Thames to cheer on the royal procession to church) with two tragic ones (Jane’s father dying and another miscarriage). Luckily, everything worked (assuming a relatively speedy messenger!).
I’m finding the same challenges in the sequel: I am currently working on The Path to Somerset, which is the story of Edward Seymour (another vilified character with a poignant story…I have a pattern!) during the second three-set of Henry’s wives (Henry’s crazy years). Jane was about morality, Somerset is about power and risk. I am really enjoying getting to motivation in between the things we know happened…though I have to say I look forward to the editing process as I already know some places to be smoothed out a bit!
For more information on Janet and her book Jane the Quene, go to her wonderful website, where she blogs on Tudor history.
Jane’s Twitter (yes, she has her own – and tweets different stuff than I do!):
Be sure to check out Nancy Bilyeau’s interview with Janet!