If you have to take fifty pages in the middle of the story to explain the point of your novel, your novel is pointless.
So I have a new idea for the story I’m working on. Here will follow a long section of literary terms and comments on characters you know nothing about. Deal with it.
I noticed something about two authors I’ve read recently, Ayn Rand and Barbara Kingsolver. No one will probably argue that these are both highly intelligent women and gifted writers. They both write fiction more to make a point than to tell a story, which I’m okay with if you do it well. And they do. But they both also use a literary trick of making their opposition seems disgusting, laugable, stupid, or some combination of the three. This does make their point, but it doesn’t make it very well. And I was thinking back to my old faithful, favorite author, Victor Hugo, and his antagonist Dom Claude. Dom Claude is an abusive father, a priest consumed with lust who would rather execute the woman he burns for than to let her reject him. Nobody likes Dom Claude. But, Hugo doesn’t write him as an entirely black hat. He was a good father to his younger brother that he raised, and most of his motivation (outside of the lust thing) has to do with trying to atone for his brother’s sins so he can be sure that his brother will go to heaven. Out of this motivation, he adopts a hideously deformed child who’s been left to die on the church steps. That is to say, nobody likes Dom Claude, but you can’t entirely hate him either. Hugo starts the story out with a great deal of identifying for Dom Claude, then slowly moves him into the realm of the despicable. It’s frightening and powerful because when he first starts drifting, you feel youself drifting with him too. This is a much better way to make a point, not to mention a much better way to tell a story.
I’m writing this story about two sisters, that moves chronologically backwards. The theory behind the story is that in the beginning, one sister is the villain and the other the victim, and by the end of the story their roles have flipped. Since it moves backwards, what I had done is made one sister evil, but you don’t realize it until the end. However, I think it would make a much more interesting story, and a better point about assumptions, if their roles were true. So at the end of the story they could both be condemned and they could both be redeemed. This does an interesting thing to my reader, which I always like to try, in that I won’t tell the reader who is the worse evil, who was more greatly wronged, or who was more rightous. The reader has to decide, or decide not to decide.
So here’s the rub. There’s a rapist in my story, a rapist who turns into a murderer by the end. It is still hard for me to accept, but believe it or not, rapist and murderers are humans also. Is it possible, is it worthwhile, and would it be right, to make an attempt at some amount of identification with that character? I have a way in mind to do it, but the last two questions remain. I don’t want to encourage people to identify with rapists and murderers, but the story hinges on this idea of compassion and judgement, wouldn’t it be self-defeating to judge and condemn one of my characters? I’m not exactly looking for answers, but if you have thoughts, and you made it through all that, I’d be interested.
Blessed be your name when I’m playing regular chords and sounding great,
and blessed be your name when I’m playing bar chords and cats are screeching at me.
Sometimes, late at night, after my husband is asleep, I creep out of my room with a novel and make myself a huge cup of tea. I make it on the stove instead of in the microwave so I don’t wake him up, and because it calms me to do it that way. At this time, when I know I am alone and no one is awake, I like to wear pajamas or a bathrobe since nudity seems to be the freeing uniform of marriage. But for half an hour once in a while, I like to remember when I was captive in my clothes. I buttera piece of bread and eat it in tiny bites because now I’m not eating to nourish myself. Drinking a cup of tea involves more waiting than drinking because you have to wait for the water to boil, then you have to wait for the tea to steep, then you have to wait for it to cool. While I am waiting, I bury myself in a good book. What is happening in the book doesn’t matter as long as it’s well written. I’m not reading to find out what happens next, I’m only letting the rhythym of the language soothe me. Then the tea is finally ready to drink and it’s warmth and subtly comfort me as I read. Drinking a large cup of tea frees me from time, from the endless watching of the clock because my time is up when my tea is gone. I’m not sorry to finish it and creep back into the dark bedroom. Now I am content, satisfied to be slipping between warm sheets and laying a hand on my husband’s back as he breathes deeply in sleep. I can easily fall asleep, glad to be surrounded by love and safety because my need to be seperate and independant has been fed and put to bed.
So I actually did do some writing yesterday, I was very proud of myself. Actually I was very frustrated with myself for getting like half a page revised without adding any real new material to the piece I was working on. I give myself a little lee-way with this particular piece since it is by nature very slow going. But I did really sit down and work on it for over an hour without playing solitare and for this I can rejoice.
This new story (new in relation to the aforementioned novel, which is four years old) is a kind of attempt to explain insane behavior in a story form that will make sense to a more logical kind of mind. I took one character with a series of rather common but sparsely understood behaviors and split it into six parts, each representing a different traits and tendancies. I have found this model to be very effective in expressing the feelings and thoughts that go into extreme coping mechanisms. It is also confusing as I’ll get out. This is worse even than the story I was trying to write backwards.
So I have this one scene plotted out in my head, and I have loosely chosen the main character that will be appearing. But I find myself saying something like, ‘hope and anger fought within her’ and realize that that’s a totally ambiguous statement that doesn’t really express anything, and there is no need for such a statement since I have already created characters that represent hope and anger. Which begs the question, when did those two show up? What are they saying? Are they actually fighting with each other? What would that look like? Is there some signifcance in two of the stronger personalities being there together that I need to put emphasis on? Should one of them be the main character instead of the one I’ve chosen? Will the reader be able to follow a three-way conversation that takes place outside of the actual scene and still know what’s going on?
This is how, in three simple steps, you can spend an hour and a half revising half a page, then seriously consider going back and changing it again.
This is why I am so darn picky about dialogue and plot points in movies and books. It is absolutely incomprehensible to me how a person could write something and put it out there for the public to see with a host of weak places in the text. Which is probably why I don’t really write for the public anymore.
As some of you know, I wrote a short historic novel in highschool about female pirates. I have been really into writing off an on pretty much over my whole life. While I really enjoy writing and can get VERY into it, I never thought much of the end product. Little things like grammar errors and sentence structure always got me down, and I have been told by many people my whole life that writing is like an art; fun, but not a living. A few months ago I gave a copy of the pirate novel to Ben’s parents, Joel and Donna. There was some reason for it at the time, but it escapes me now. Yesterday I heard from Joel about it. As my Dad put it, I now have a fan. That’s putting it a little lightly, in fact. Joel has made it more than clear that he feels that it would be extremely bad stewardship if I do not focus my attention on my writing. He paid me several very high compliments on the manuscript and the talent that went into it, all of which is very contradictory to everything I’ve ever thought or heard about it. Both my parents have refused to read my book, Dad because he felt the violent situations I was writing about would turn his stomach, and Mom because she said she couldn’t stand to read a whole book where every sentence started with the subject. Most of the people who have read it have liked it, but they were mostly high school friends and I didn’t give much weight to their opinions. I had one English professor that I used to work for read it. She gave me some critique, but was much more concerned with my psycological state during the writing (which I didn’t consider to be a compliment to the manuscript). But now, somewhat out of the blue, I have a man whom I do respect greatly and who does actually know something about writing comparing this thing I wrote when I was 16 to Tolkien’s work. How did that happen? So I spent most of last night re-evaluating all of my plans for the near future and wondering if they are all completely off-base for what I should really be doing. The writing thing has been brought up by several people in the last few months, and I always disregarded it since it came mostly from people who have never read any of my writing. I also don’t give it out too freely anymore, since I don’t really write for the public anymore. But what if those people were really speaking from God and cautioning me that I am heading down the wrong road yet again? After praying about this for several hours and driving myself insane chasing my thoughts around in a circle, I finally fell asleep. As he sometimes does, God showed me a really cool answer through my Bible reading this morning. I happen to be in the beginning of 1 Kings, chapter 3 to be specific. I think God really used this passage to calm me down a little bit, and also as a promise. God did give me a great talent for writing, I’ll claim that. And I think the promise is that if I continue to pray for wisdom about how to use it and what steps to take, he will pour out his blessing on it. For those of you who are wondering, I’m kinda scared.;)