I’m having one of my doubting days.
I suspect it’s because I’ve been so focused on the one book through last week, including a massive trawl of my current text for it to correct a lore mistake I realized I had made, and couldn’t live with.
The result is a brain that feels like congealed putty and a need to have a couple of days of mindless gaming to clear the knots.
But while I’m reacquainting myself with my PS4 and one of its many stabbing simulators, I felt the urge to talk about how some of my doubts manifest themselves. In particular the ‘Is the correct beginning?’ and the ‘Is this the main character?’ doubts.
Carol, from the anime adaptation of Baccano! Highly recommended viewing (from Aniplex)!
I’m on record as an anime-lover, and one of my favorite anime for sheer story chaos is a little series called Baccano!
It’s a story series by Ryohgo Narita that takes places over multiple years and from multiple points of view. The story is, of course, the entire point, but by flitting between times, places and people, Ryohgo Narita pays homage to one of the tenets of writing I hold most dear – as far and everyone, and everything is concerned, they are the Main Character.
When the series was adapted into a stellar anime, this led to a very memorable episode I think of often, and I want to describe it now so my point makes sense when I eventually get to it.
The series has within it two characters from a newspaper/information service group. The venerable head of the organization, and his young child protege. The two are thinking and talking about the events of the story, and the child is thinking about how one would best present the convoluted tangle of people and events so that a reader can understand it.
At one point, she picks up a dossier on one character, Firo, and says ‘How about him? He’s main character-ish.’ A comment the director later concedes he sort of understands, as well as her point that having a consistent person to follow best conveys understanding.
And that’s one of the things weighing on me today.
I like all my characters having their own goals and motivations, and never having someone do something just because it’s convenient. Everyone has their reasons for things, and no one in real life is liable to do anything that will only end badly for them. There has to be a concept of worth for an action to be worth taking, even in self-less acts like caring for the elderly and infirm (usually in the hope we will receive similar care when we are old.)
This sometimes leaves me with the same problem/ thoughts as the child protege. Who is the best person to tell this story? Who do I follow to show the clearest and most interesting version of events?
And then, when I’m halfway through my draft… how do I justify not starting over with another character because my doubts are trying to make me change my mind?
There’s a piece of advice about ‘showing the most interesting time of a characters life’, but I find interest and events ebb and flow between people over time, especially on stories that take multiple years to unfurl, so sticking with one person can be hard. Yet, I feel I write best when I stay subjective and don’t ‘head hop’ between my characters too much.
In my trilogy, I have solved this by having it be a trilogy. The first book follows the most important year of Anka’s life, the second spans several years as Sarus finds his way, and the third head-hops between the two to unfurl the final tale of what happens to Rasaal, the country.
I am not yet sure how I will reconcile the gothic novel, however, which takes places over mere weeks. Hopefully, some head-clearing will provide answers.
Is this… a beginning?
I shall quote now from the late, great, incredible Terry Pratchett:
‘There are very few starts. Oh, some things seem to be beginnings. The curtain goes up, the first pawn moves, the first shot is fired (usually at the first pawn) – but that’s not the start. The play, the game, the war is just a little window on a ribbon of events that may extend back thousands of years. The point is, there’s always something before. It’s always a case of Now Read On.’
Now Read On.
I seem to get this with anything I ever write. I start where I believe the beginning to be (which is not necessarily what I write first, but we’re not going to go into my habit of writing out of sequence here), then after I’m about halfway or more through, I suddenly catch myself thinking ‘should I start it there? Or should I start it here? Or show some in retrospect? Or maybe a prologue hinting at what will come?’ and that, my friends, is a slippery slope I have learned to step back from.
That is the Number 1 stop on the train to Never-finished-ville.
Yes, there are times where writing makes one spew a crap ton of worldbuilding or some such into ‘chapter one’ that are later cut or properly integrated into a more smooth delivery of the same information across the whole novel, but starting again over and over, especially before just finishing a draft, is a steep slope of failure with a strangely alluring edge.
I’m feeling it in particular with my current focus as my gothic story has a very slow start. It has nothing one would consider a ‘hook’ in its opening, no hint of where the book will go in time, and no dramatic action piece to promise excitement and wonder. (You can read the opening here, if curious).
In the case of that work, though, these aren’t bad things. This is not a book I intend for Joe Average, as the work is much more designed to distill down a twelve year period of my life with those closest to me, and the pace belongs to no one save myself. I’m not trying to sell this story, only tell it the best way I can.
Thus, it would be nice if my brain would get on board with this concept and stop trying to make me write Interview With A Vampire: The 2018 edition.
If I had to sum a point to my post today, it’s this: whatever you are writing, and whatever you are doubting about your current project… that’s normal. What makes you great is knowing your own pitfalls and when to plunge downslope, and when to maybe step back and think about it for a while. Not every pool has to be jumped into all at once, and not every precipice is kind enough to have water at the bottom.
And now I’m going to go play some more Dishonored.