“Canto” is what I idiotically call a chapter in my hometown novels. Writing a chapter in a novel is a much more complex and difficult thing than you might realize. I just finished rewriting Canto 23 of the novel I am working on for the third time. I will share that chapter here as an example of what I am blathering on about.
Canto Twenty-Three : Scaling the Wall of the Werewolf House
“So, you figured out how to get across the gap between the branch and the window?” I asked Milt.
“Of course. Look up there at the peak of the roof directly above the window.”
“What exactly am I looking at?” I asked.
“Don’t you see that knob thing on the top corner?”
Straining my eyes, I did see a tiny silver ball thing on the centerboard of the roof, right at the very peak of the corner. It looked microscopic from the ground.
“Well, that’s the answer,” said Brent, pulling a coil of rope out of his backpack.I swallowed hard.
“Yeah. I’m gonna throw the rope over the knob thing and then you can swing in through the window like Tarzan.”
I began to feel ill in the pit of my stomach.“I don’t know…”
“You aren’t gonna chicken out now?” asked Superchicken. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure for a Norwall Pirate.”
“And I’m gonna be the only one swinging in?”
“Naw. If you don’t die swinging in first, we’ll all do it.” Brent grinned with the confidence of somebody who never experienced accidents the way the rest of us had at one time or another.
“Why do I have to do it first?” I complained.
“Because Andrew decided not to come. We always make Andrew do the life and death stuff first. But he’s still mad about the dilly-whacking party going bad, and nobody being willing to go to it.” Milt was grinning that lop-sided grin of his, like a Cheshire cat, only more snarky.
“So if I die, you will tell my folks how it happened?”
“Of course,” said Brent. “We’ll make sure they know the whole thing was entirely your idea.”
“And we’ll say you forced us to do it,” added Milt.
I looked up at the tree. Branches for hand-holds were not too far apart. I had climbed worse trees before that particular tree. Then I looked at Milt. He was nodding “Yes” and grinning.
I looked back at the tree and swallowed hard again. Then I looked at Brent. His grin was even more fake than Milt’s.
I looked over at Superchicken, probably the most sensible member of the Pirates. He looked kinda grim and just shrugged at me.
I figured the time had come to decide. I started to walk away from the base of the tree.
“Whoa, there, buddy,” said Brent, grabbing me from behind and turning me around to face the tree again. He gave me a push towards the tree.
Gingerly I tested each branch before I used it to pull myself upwards. And then I got a foothold on the lowest branches. As I climbed higher, Milt started up right behind me.
“Keep going, Todd,” Milt said. “You can’t just stop climbing. You stop climbing while I keep going, you end up sitting on my head.”
I looked down at him and frowned. He grinned up at me. When he was on the third branch up, Brent began climbing after us. Superchicken brought up the rear guard. If I didn’t keep going, Superchick might end up with three guys sitting on his head.
Then I got up high enough to be on the branch that was about even with what we believed was Torrie’s window. Ooh, did that look narrow out towards the end! But I bucked up the old courage and slid out towards the little end.
“Guys, this branch is bending down!”
“Be brave. We’ll tell your parents you died heroically if you fall.”
So I ended up sitting on the narrow end of the branch, sagging down about two feet below the bottom of the window. There was about four feet of empty space between where I sat and the window.
“Now what?” I complained.
“Now the rope!” said Brent. He tossed it outwards and upwards, the coil carrying it up over the knob on the roof peak just as slick and as cool as Roy Rogers ever did during one of those singing cowboy shows. The rope uncoiled back down until it dangled in front of me, just out of reach.
“So, how do I get a hold of that?” I complained again.
“Lean out and grab it,” Brent said, like that was nothing. Like that was the easiest thing in the world.
“Yeah right.” I leaned out as far as I could. I could just barely touch it with the tips of my fingers. I tried twiddling my fingers to get hold of it, That just made it wiggle and dance out of reach.
“Lean out further,” Brent said.
“Easy for you to say.”
I leaned out an inch too far. And suddenly I was airborne. My feet were hanging over nothing. My heart was trying to escape by coming up out of my throat and bursting across into the side of the house. Or maybe that was my stomach. My flailing hands snagged the rope. I bashed into the side of the house with a loud thump, but I had saved myself from falling to my death like the Andrew stick figure in Milt’s diagram.
“Hang on!” said Milt and Brent together in hoarse voices.
“You hang on!” I said to Brent. He was anchoring the rope with both hands and his legs were wrapped firmly around the branch.Just then, the window went open and the baby werewolf was looking out at me with a scared expression that was probably at least the equal to the one on my face.
“Wha-what are you doing there?” Torrie stammered.
“We came to visit you,” I said, breathlessly.
“Oh, wow!” Torrie seemed to catch his breath. Then he caught hold of the rope and helped Brent pull me up to the window sill. He grabbed me by the seat of my Levis and hauled me into his attic bedroom.
Then, as I sat disheveled on the floor and looked at Torrie, his hairy face blossomed into a huge white-toothed smile.
“I can’t believe it! I mean, I hoped you would come, but I never imagined…”
“Hey, werewolf! Swing the rope back to us so we can come in too,” commanded Brent. Torrie quickly moved to the window to comply, but never for a moment dropped that huge happy smile.
So, there you have it. A single filigreed puzzle piece in stand-alone form. In the previous twenty-two cantos you would’ve learned that Torrie suffered from a genetic disorder called hypertrichosis, the werewolf-hair disease. Because of that genetic anomaly, he was living his life in isolation and imprisonment due to his family’s shameful secrets. Todd, the narrator-character, has vowed to befriend the secretive boy werewolf. He is even willing to climb a tree to get to Torrie. It kinda helps to know that stuff before you try to read and understand this canto. But a canto has to have its own beginning, middle, and end. There needs to be rising action, a climax, and a conclusion. And yet, it has to link to the cantos both before and after. And in a comic fantasy novel like this one, it helps if there are also funny bits. You can see, then, why this canto was a struggle for me. But I think now the hurdle is finally crossed. So, on with the story!