Enter the pianoforte

One thing a writer must guard against is introducing something or someone late in the story with the assumption that the reader is already familiar with the thing or person.  This can happen when the story is revised and the introductory section is cut. The direct result is a reader scratching her head and muttering, “Where did this come from?”

I am in the midst of revising a historical novel I wrote a few years back. About a third of the way through, the heroine is asked if she plays the pianoforte in the library.

Wait! What library? When I describe the house as first seen through her eyes, there is no mention of a library or a pianoforte.

I am not even sure I mentioned it in the first draft. I needed a library, so I put it in. The problem is, I needed to have done this earlier, not thrown it in, ta da! Surprise!

Then I wondered if a planter on the North Carolina frontier in the early nineteenth century would have a pianoforte in the first place. A little research showed me it was possible, although not probable. These expensive instruments had been introduced to the colonies, but were mostly owned by the wealthy aristocrats.

My hero is not an aristocrat, but he is wealthy. And, he is striving overcome his background and be accepted by his neighbors. In his case, owning a pianoforte would put him a step above. Call him a show-off, a social climber, a braggart, and you will be correct. He has a past to overcome. Alas, the pianoforte doesn’t help him because his neighbors never see it.

So, does the heroine play? Well, no. Unlike her granddaughters, she will never have had a lesson. Playing the piano has not yet become the social asset along with embroidery and fine penmanship that will aid later generations of women in finding a suitable marriage.

The pianoforte, which appears like a deus ex machina in this draft has a part to play in illustrating the motivation and goals of the hero. But as far as the heroine is concerned, it’s just a big piece of furniture taking up room that she must keep dusted and polished.

Now I have to go back to the beginning and make sure the pianoforte is mentioned. Maybe it’s not as important as popping in a character who has so far been unheard and unseen, but hey, if someone is going to shoot a gun, shouldn’t you first mention that he has a gun in his hand?

Details can trip a writer up, and readers can be unforgiving when that happens.

I’m glad I caught this one.





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