To change things up, I’m starting with the letter today! (previous letters: Helen to Pollux, Pollux to Helen, Letters From the Kings, Helen to Theseus)

 

Lovely Helen,

With all my being I struggle between granting you this gift, granting myself this gift, and doing what must be done for the good of my people. What you ask may well provoke a war, and though I confess to wanting you for my own, I would not wish to betray the trust of my people this way.

Helen, you are but a child yet. If your father does not heed your warnings, perhaps it is with good reason. Perhaps he has information which you are not privy to? Your brothers, too, are good men. If they believed you to be in the path of harm, nothing would stop them from protecting you with all their strength.


I do not know what causes you such anxiety for your kinsmen, but I am keen to listen. While I can not promise to give you what you ask, I would meet with you and hear your concerns. If your reason is sound, I will not dismiss it, Helen. That much I can and will  promise you, whether or not you become my wife.

If it is to be done, it is best done in secret. You may trust I will reveal your request to no one, though if your worries are founded on any truth I can present to Tyndareus upon your behalf, I would be happy to do so. Only a fool would refuse to listen to his equal in rank and dignity.


Your Servant,
Theseus, King of Athens

 

I don’t usually write with an outline. As a writer, I tend to fly by the seat of my pants more often than not, trusting my gut and my characters to show me the story the way it should be revealed. Occasionally I get a good sense of where things are going, and those are the periods of time that I spend staring at the ceiling in bed, while my mind whirs through possible scenes and exchanges of dialogue. Sleepless nights aren’t really my favorite thing, so maybe you can understand why I don’t like to plan ahead.

In writing my novel for NaNoWriMo about Helen, I was faced with a dilemma. For the first time, I was working from a story that already had a beginning, a middle, and an end all spelled out. I have a lot of freedom with the details, but there are definite plot points that I have no choice but to hit. Certain events that I can’t avoid. One of those intrinsic pieces of the story is Helen’s kidnapping as a child by Theseus.

 

According to different sources, Helen is anywhere from age 7 to age 12. Since seven is kind of pervy, no matter how far back in time you go, I opted for the later age and made Helen a very mature 12. What makes this even more complicated is that Theseus is alleged to be nearly 50 years old. I struggled a lot with how to make the sequence of events a bit more palatable to a potential audience, as I wrote, and am still struggling with it now. It’s probably going to be something I’ll have to clean up in revisions, either by aging Helen a bit further, or by emphasizing the difficult position she’s been placed in–probably both.

 

But even once that issue is addressed I’m still faced with an even bigger problem. In the last letter, we see quite clearly that Helen is turning to Theseus for protection. Bargaining herself for safety from a danger that no one else is taking seriously. The trouble is, no matter what happens between Helen and Theseus, it’s all doomed to failure. The myth tells us that Helen ends up married to Menelaus, and that it’s Menelaus from whom she is stolen by Paris, causing the war with Troy.

 

Helen, no matter how hard she works to secure her future, will never have a happy ending. And knowing that as I write her is probably the most difficult aspect of this project. In all of my other books, there has always been that chance of happiness, the hope that my characters will be able to work things out and overcome the challenges they face. The more I write, the more attached I become to Helen, and Theseus too, and the less I want to subject them to the tortures the future holds.

 

It kind of makes it feel like I’m slogging through molasses.

 

So how about you and your novel? What’s your process? Did you have a plan? A detailed outline? Do you know how it’s going to end, and is that helping you or making you drag your feet?