I realized in the middle of the night that everything I had imagined about the plot structure of Three Sisters was insufficient unto the task. I had assumed I could move from one sister's narrative to another, forming discreet and somewhat separate interludes. But, I realized as I turned over on the pillow that If I stuck to that plan, the novel wouldn't have a wholeness about it -- it would lack an integration of ideas, themes, and characters. It would just be like transplanting three short stories into an artificial frame. I wouldn't be taking the extra step as a writer to make it mean something more than a reproduction of the fairy tale plots of the sisters. So who then to help me make the stories work together? I needed characters naturally endowed with the gift of storytelling and a nomadic way of life. Characters whose profession is to transform the local tale into art, and art into an evocative display of the universal human condition (along with some decent naughty jokes to spice it up).
And all at once, there were there. The Libertini, a Commedia dell' Arte troop (who livened up the pages of The Innamorati), appear sporadically in the early chapters of Three Sisters. And what woke me in the night, beside that nagging plot problem, was the realization that my intuitive brain had written them into the background, knowing before me that I would need them -- need their expertise at improvising, need their brilliant observations of human nature, need their mythic masks that speak through the actors with unvarnished voices. And...a wagon and a portable stage so as to be nimble enough to move across the different plots and localities of the sisters' tales. The Libertini might well be the ones to bring all the stories together. And there it was...enough of an answer to allow me to return to sleep, assured that my problems once realized, were also half solved.
But, now, in the light of day, I am a staggering around, trying to re-think the entire plot structure to give my performers a little more stage time so they can do their job of explaining it all to me. The next few days are going to be pretty interesting. But like Pulcinella below, this is how I do my best work at problem solving when it all proves too much.
Art: French School, Scene of Commedia Actors, (ca 1580), Jan Miel, Commedia dell'Arte Actors on a Wagon in a Town Square (ca. 1650), Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, Pulcinella asleep after a night of drinking (ca. 1755).