Finally we get to see the characters in a contented middle-age... which means of course that they have to negotiate the rapids of the First World War first :-(
I think this Raoul is still very much in love with Christine, to be honest. (And he's Victorian enough in his outlook to appreciate a bit of extra padding, though she assumes that's just flattery!) But she doesn't want him to say it, so he isn't going to push matters any further.
( Ch3: So Glad You're Here )
Having shaded the first chapter from misery to calmer waters, I was trying to get the second chapter from calm to active happiness... by getting the characters to split up! Raoul is the first one to understand that having a 'submitted wife' isn't doing either of them any favours, but I think Christine works it out by the end of the chapter...
( Ch2: All I Ask of You )
So this one is something of an experiment: my first attempt at first-person narrative (which had the unexpected side-effect of making me more conscious that this was a story being told, with occasional 'comments in retrospect' from the narrator), and my attempt at 'unshipping' my favourite pairing. Arguably it's a bit of a cheat in the latter respect, since I've taken up the tale at a point when the canon has the characters pretty much on the verge of splitting up anyway; but I've done my best at subverting that!
The story is based on the original soundtrack recording, but takes place in a different continuity from The Choices of Raoul de Chagny: this Raoul never suffered concussion when riding in the Prater in Vienna, or had an embarrassing run-in with autograph-hunters when kissing his wife in the Tuileries. And as will be seen, they weren't nearly so lucky with the weather...
What if Christine and Raoul really had taken up his angry suggestion that first night, packed up immediately, and walked out of the hotel to go home without the money? The marriage still doesn't seem to be working out for either of them...( Ch.1: The Debts We Owe )
(And yes, I've now realised that this has come out as yet another 'Rescue Raoul' rather than 'Save Christine' story... I appear to have invented a new genre for myself..!)
Raoul acquired an impromptu limp and an illegitimate daughter more or less on the spur of the moment while I was writing this: the injury seemed to make psychological sense at the time (as a wound from the Great War, it's a badge of honour to counteract his sense of public dishonour), and the little girl was an attempt to show that he has in fact been getting on with his life quite adequately away from Christine... although to fulfil the remit, it had to be an irregular relationship to demonstrate that the two protagonists were both still 'single'! (And I confess that it always seemed rather unfair to me that because Christine has Gustave, Raoul therefore can't have any descendants at all, though making it a girl was a gesture at the awkward situation that might ensue between an older and a younger son where the latter was illegitimate and the former was completely unrelated to his supposed father...)
The main problem with this one is that the characters seem to be constantly struggling to 'ship' themselves, however swiftly I keep telling them they're supposed to be just friends! I need to keep quite a close eye on it to make sure I actually meet the terms of the challenge, because quite frankly the natural trend of this final scene is for the mother and father of the groom to meet again at the wedding, discover that they're both happier now that they've grown beyond the problems of their youth, and... fall in love all over again :-) The way Christine is looking at Raoul is not altogether impartial at the moment, even if the original intent was only to show that he has got older.
The story now has a provisional full title of "Dear Old Friend" (what, after all, could be more appropriate to the intended plot-line?) with chapters named as "The Debts we Owe", "All I Ask of You" and "So Glad You're Here".
This is obviously not going to be quite the 'one-shot' project that I'd initially planned; but I'm assuming that the third scene is going to consist of another single chapter (2,000 words or so), after which the story will be satisfactorily finished. I might even get it done -- albeit probably not posted and/or finalised -- by the end of the week I had so optimistically estimated for a one-shot fiction!
Re-reading what I originally intended, I seem to have ended up with rather more emphasis on the practical rationale of the split (Raoul's impending bankruptcy), rather than the purely generous impulse to make one another happier. But I think that was because I'd used the idea that they were actually in an unhealthy relationship (in modern jargon I suppose Christine is 'facilitating' her husband's destructive unhappiness) rather heavily in the first chapter, and didn't want to repeat it too much for the second. I did manage to get it in for the finale as a Memorable Ending, but I probably still do need to get the "I was saving you from me" idea over again more explicitly in the third chapter.
(And, as usual, I've probably made Raoul implausibly reformed implausibly quickly; I did try to intimate that he hasn't given up drinking (yet) in this one, and to indicate from the start that this Christine isn't really 'in love with' him any more... although she does waver nostalgically occasionally.)
- First chapter: rescuing the characters from one another (and the Phantom).
- Second chapter: proposing an affectionate (no cheating with tragedies) and civilised break-up.
- Third chapter: demonstrating that the characters have fulfilled the remit of 'happy, whole, and very single'
While still in the middle of writing my last 'challenge' story (Most Improbable Crossover: Blake's 7 meets Phantom of the Opera), I was struck by another challenge that happened to match up with a little question that had been rolling around in my head for a few weeks: what if Christine and Raoul really had taken up his suggestion, that first night of "Love Never Dies", packed up immediately, and walked out of the hotel to go home without the money?
I'm assuming the reason no-one has ever pursued this particular prompt is that, as a plot lever, it doesn't really solve anything: the couple are still unhappy, they're still up to their necks in debt, and the Phantom is still looming in the offing. But the challenge was Sink your Favourite Ship:
Alright lovelies, this is for all the shippers and romantics out there. I'm calling this challenger "Operation Beautiful Ocean Depths"! Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write a fic that believably sinks your favourite ship! No cheating with tragedies either... or jumping ships either. Both your characters must walk away happy, whole, and very single.
Given the recent tenor of my writing there doesn't seem to be much doubt about what my favourite 'ship' is at the moment... so what if "I've got a mind to pack and go -- never you mind the debts we owe! Who would have thought we'd sunk this low?" turned out to be the prompt for a civilised break-up..? After all, the characters are arguably bad for one other at this point, and it's a reasonable outcome for one or the other to come to the conclusion that they'd be better off apart simply in order to make each other happy. This particular scenario would actually work quite neatly with the challenge... and given the stipulation "no jumping ships", I can quite legitimately leave the Phantom out of the equation altogether :-p
And given the plot of "Love Never Dies", it's actually an alternative possibility for a 'happy ending': I can 'ship' my couple in an non-romantic way, as it were, and incidentally evade a whole lot of heartbreak all round. (And -- just to amuse me -- it's yet another way of writing a 'Love Never Dies' story with no Phantom in it, making my third so far!)
Just to make it even more of a challenge, I'm thinking of doing this in the first person -- which I don't think I've ever actually done -- from Christine's point of view...