anythingbutthenovel, writing

How do you set a trap for your future self?

If you catch her, what do you do if she’s not who you expect?

Friends keep asking how the novel is going. I’m working on it enough to think it’s terrible, again. So, it’s going well. Progress isn’t always pretty.

A long time ago, a friend and I had an argument about my writing. He said I wasn’t ever going to succeed unless I incorporate playwright requirements of action. He wanted to see more physical movement and action to follow traditional narrative structure and ground my writing in the outside world. He isn’t wrong, but I don’t write a lot of action, so it’s difficult to agree. When there is action, it’s off stage, to use his reference. Tension and internal conflict are my primary interests in moving a story forward.

A professor once asked me what I cared about in my writing. She insisted I could describe it using only one word. I chose time. I’ve been struggling with timing ever since. How long do you spend building the internal conflict until you know the tension is ripe? Once, I wrote a post-apocalypse story. Yeah, okay, more than once. In this one, 90% was mother-daughter conflict and how one deals with such a thing after the world is over and there’s no one else.

When I gave up on writing this novel, it was because it felt like I’d lost all narrative movement. To help, I’ve been mapping characters to layer nuance. I’m outlining and the chapters look as boring as they did when I stopped writing altogether. After three hours of work last week, I groaned Do they ever even go anywhere?

What if your entire claim to fame was that you lived?

It’s easy to frame things as though nothing changes and no one goes anywhere. It doesn’t change all the movement and growth happening. I sometimes fall into false dichotomies in March. It’s an old pattern I’ve broken many times, but a few years ago I couldn’t quite break it. I saw a therapist because I couldn’t write or finish any creative projects. This year, as before, I’m writing my way through it and deciding how one of my characters handles facing her own false dichotomy. It’s not a question of intention because I’m still not sure she’s self aware enough to see it’s happening. When I think about it, it’s a question of consequence of action, but even that is too direct.

The characters are moving, both in location and development. The outline notes chapter changes by physical location and internal conflict shifts. For years, I was trying so hard to cover every detail so they’d feel real I forgot to be a storyteller. If the teller forgets their audience, they’re alone with their tales and no one to listen. It’s a lesson I’m incorporating, even as I worry I’m losing my audience again. I went to an art closing in January where a friend had a painting up and spent most of the evening talking about how great the frame of the painting was.

A month ago, I sent a drafted short story to another friend. She labled me a subtle writer. It’s a well-fitting compliment. The image keeps my anxiety in check as I remind myself pushing through this pacing struggle isn’t the answer. For other writers, pushing through pacing may be fine, but I have to take my time to see how it all connects, without letting myself give up trying to write it because I’m impatient.

Another friend says she’s fascinated by the way my brain twists the story. She’re probably reading this blog right now asking, Yeah, but why that title? This isn’t the draft you sent me and that’s not the title I expected.

I’ve been watching Star Trek: Discovery. I have this nagging suspicion Gene Rodenberry is tuning over in his grave . If you don’t know me, this is where I let you know Deep Space Nine is my favorite, partially because it challenges the utopian vision. The examination of what happens on the edge of the known universe when you can’t just move on to the next planet fascinates me. As does exploring the inner monologue of a flawed main narrator who is still trying to build that future utopia while honoring her present circumstances. This last week she made herself the bait in a trap. As expected, it didn’t go as planned.

When one comes into direct contact with their future selves, one must ask What if something massive happens in an instant and I become a wholly different person? Do I have to change my assumptions about how my brain processes?  The show instead followed through with its assumptions intact. The base assumption wasn’t wrong, but it also wasn’t right. This gray area is holding my attention.

My life feels as though it’s lacking action. It’s silly, really. I’m building routines and reconnecting with my surroundings. Catch me on any day and ask me what I’m up to, I have a full list of things I’ve done. Yet, this feeling lingers. I suspect it’s connected with my novel struggles and this idea I’m working with an old-new map. I suspect in trying to maintain a sense of who I am, I’ve created a massive, subtle shift in my core.

Years ago, I changed the narrator in the novel. She became a nurse telling the story of a patient based on a bedside oral history. It didn’t work. It shifted the main character from the young granddaughter to the grandmother. The grandmother is fascinating and should hold a reader’s attention, but she’s not who keeps me awake at night. I’ve abandoned this attempt to have a distant, untrustworthy, but well-meaning narrator. Instead, we have three close, personal narrators who are desperate to tell their story, but don’t know how to hold a reader’s attention.

As with everything in life, Dear Reader is on a spectrum and story tellers are relative to the story. I’m reminded there is no such thing as new-old space; there’s only new space where you know a bit more than you did last time you were there. I’m asking myself How do you write a story with wind in the syntax while you’re sitting in the backseat of a car?

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