The first five chapters of the book introduce us to all the players in the story: Adam Salton, Richard Salton (his uncle), Sir Nathaniel de Salis, the Lady Arabella, Edgar Caswall, Mimi and Lila Watford and their father, and the villainous Oolanga—and in chapter five they are all together at some sort of party. But keep in mind chapter V is about half dedicated to buying a mongoose, too.
Mongooses. Oy. We’ll set those aside for now.
Just for meta-purposes, let’s note that the original book has 50 chapters, so there’s an average of about six pages per chapter. That seems like a good size. The reader should be able to pick up the book and get a nice bit without feeling like he has to commit for the night.
OK, the first chapter has Richard and Adam meeting at the dock. Great. Then they spend the night on the ship. This is probably realistic, given that the journey from Southampton to Derbyshire by train, and then from Derbyshire’s center to the country where the action takes place would take many hours, but it doesn’t really suck the reader in, so we’ll have them leave immediately.
Also, their relationship is thinly drawn, to say the least, in the original. It seems like Richard wrote Adam one letter and the latter relocated from Australia. We’ll need to beef that up.
Chapter two is all Caswall, but not our story’s Caswall. It’s all about the family Caswall and is simultaneously lengthy and not very illuminating. Stoker is relying on tropes of 19th century physiognomy which come across as hokey as phrenology in these days. It’s fine if our character use this, but we shouldn’t narratively pass it off as credible.
More importantly, the Caswalls highlight one of the book’s first major problems. The Caswalls are essentially vampire characters. Not undead, but arrogant, domineering, semi-hypnotists. I believe the whole struggle with the kite that dominates the second quarter of the book is due to Edgar Caswall being a dick, not so much that he’s the great evil, which is The White Worm. His struggle with the kite and Mesmer’s box is his own struggle for his soul, but this is (again) not well delineated.
This idea opens up a lot of possibilities for tying together Castra Regis and Diana’s Grove, but we’ll have to find a more organic way of getting it to the reader than just having Sir Nathaniel come over and explain everything.
Chapter III is expository, again, all about Diana’s Grove. We can drop out some (all) of the historical stuff—alluding to it as needed—and use this chapter to describe the area in which the story takes place. There’s a reference to “Cheshire Vale” but all we know about it is that it isn’t much of a vale. Chapter III kind of makes hash out of Chapter I, as they all trot off to Liverpool like it wasn’t 80 miles away and they’re all still using horse and carriage. But this is so they can actually meet Caswall coming in from West Africa.
Let’s have Caswall be on site in Chapter I. This will give us some urgency. I’m going to call the site of the story Sulla Downs, for a variety of unimportant reasons. The four houses (Castra Regis, Diana’s Grove, Lesser Hill and Doom Tower) will be arranged in a loose trapezoid they call The Quadrangle. The physical space between the four houses was inconsistently defined, so I’m going to lay it out in concrete early on. For me as a reader, this creates more suspense as it feels like the writer is less able to cheat.
For me as a writer, this is a pain in the ass, unless I can cheat without the reader noticing, but that’s life.
In Chapter IV, we meet Lady Arabella, who is having car(riage) problems. She’s broken a spring, and Adam is all set to fix it. This is important to Adam’s character development but I can see absolutely no reason for him to actually be carrying the tools to fix the spring at the time—Stoker also describes the spring as a heavy one and I’m not sure how you’d fix that without a forge. I could research carriage repair or I could just say the spring slipped and have him use his strength to re-set it.
The whole thing with Lady Arabella is a kind of is-she-or-isn’t-she The (literal) White Worm, but never is she or is she not directly connect to the worm. Stoker could not be more obvious here, as he could not be more confusing later on, when the characters talk to themselves with utter confidence that she is.
I think the answer lies in these ancient houses, which we are told are ancient, and on whose history many words are spilled. We need to tie in the Druids, the convent and the…March’s? Crap, we don’t even have a name for the family.
We have our work cut out for us.