Several of my teasers have harped on the theme of how to take a plot-essential situation and set it up so that the readers view it as a natural consequence of the setting. In one sense, it can be manipulative, but in another sense, as an author you have a vision of how things have always been. Your task is to communicate that vision in a way that feels effortless.
Setting up those expectations needn't be focused only on the immediate plot requirements. Because everything you write needs to be consistent in some way with the underlying truths of your fictional world as a whole.
One truth of the Alpennia I've constructed is that Margerit Sovitre has established a school with the goal of educating any girl who has the ambition to learn. And especially to encourage any girl with mystical talents to develop them.
One truth of the plot of Floodtide is that there needs to be a solid and believable reason why Celeste is not a student at that school, especially given her personal contacts through Serafina.
How do I resolve these in a way that doesn't seem artificial? The answer is that I lean on other, unspoken truths.
One of those truths is that Margerit can be a bit dense about how other people's life situations differ from her own. About how to give people opportunities they're able to take advantage of. And about how throwing money around doesn't solve all the problems. Akezze regularly serves as the voice of her conscience in pointing out when Margerit has structured a benefit in ways that make it difficult for some people to use. Akezze is uniquely situated for this role but some lessons Margerit has to learn on her own. And Margerit will learn some of those lessons. (All of my charaters have their tragic flaws. I may have blogged about that at some point. Barbara's primary flaw is massive control issues and having invested her self-identity in physical competence. Jeanne had to work through some of her tragic flaws in The Mystic Marriage. Roz's tragic flaw is a tendency to run her mouth off before her brain is solidly engaged. Margerit...I guess a useful way of putting it in contemporary political jargon is that Margerit's tragic flaw is that her feminism is middle-class-white-feminism. She'll get through it but it's going to be a hard road.)
Sometimes I lean on truths that can be spoken, but only to certain people, and only when they are willing to listen.
Roz makes some guesses as to why Celeste hasn't taken up the implied invitation from the Tanfrit Academy, and Celeste is quite happy to tell her the rest of it, if only she'd ask.
* * *
“Maisetra Iulien says that they want all kinds of girls at the school. Not just the rich girls, but poor ones too, if they have the talent to learn mysteries. She says they have students from the Poor Scholars there.” The Poor Scholars hadn’t done me any good back when Father Mazzu took me there, but if they were studying at Maisetra Sovitre’s school, then it was true that anyone could. “Iulien says you should ask Maisetra Talarico about it.”
I hesitated because Celeste’s eyes flashed when I’d said “poor girls.”
“You think we’re poor? When we have a good house here? And hot food every day? And I have three dresses, not even counting my church clothes?”
“I didn’t mean poor like that,” I protested. “She just said you needn’t worry about the school fees.”
But Celeste kept on. “Do you know how we have all that? Because we work hard, Maman and me. And what would Maman do if I were off all day at Maisetra Sovitre’s school? Who would get all this sewing done? You? All by yourself? In half-days? Who would mind the shop when she takes her samples and measuring tapes off to a grand lady who’s too busy to come here? You think we could ask the baker’s girl to stand behind the counter? What would Maman do if she had to hire an assistant for the sewing I do? For wages! That’s not piece-work she can send out like we did before you came. Maman is counting on me to take over the trade and help put money away so she won’t have to keep sewing when she gets old and her fingers get knotted and her eyes get dim. School!” she scoffed. “It doesn’t matter if the lessons are free or if they cost the price of Princess Anna’s gowns. Your Maisetra Sovitre isn’t going to pay for someone to take my place here in the shop.”