Hey everybody! Long time since I last posted something. Well, since I’m still in the trenches (editing (which always means rewriting), working, baby-ing), I find it quite hard to stretch to topics that aren’t directly related to all that. So I’m gonna stick to the writing part of my recent occupations, since it’s most pertinent to what this blog is about.
When I was drafting my MS to a full-bodied outline for the first time (2 years ago), I made a few decisions which were as difficult as they were bold. Or rather, crazy, because I was in no postition to make these decisions from an informed, experienced perspective. I made them simply because I wanted to experiment, to make this novel my own, and because for unsubstantial, flimsy reasons these things seemed sexier than their traditional alternatives. I’ll talk about these decisions in a minute.
But first, let me say that writing a whole MS based on these decisions wasn’t a walk in the park. And even now, on my third thorough rewrite, I still find that they come with high risks. I just hope these risks will pay out in the end. Readers will tell.
The thing is, most everyone I’ve asked about these things, unrelated to my own work, just spoken in general, was against them. Some for personal, taste-related reasons, others for very “objective” reasons, like “professional writers don’t do this”, “only an amateur thinks this works”, “people who do this only do so because they want to be special; and fail” etc. Very encouraging. I would have really appreciated hearing someone seasoned tell me that anything goes if it serves the story well (belated thanks to Chuck Wendig for that attitude). I would have truly loved to have someone tell me it’s okay to make crazy choices, as long as you work your baking buns off making the MS sparkle.
And that’s what I want to do with this post: offer encouragement. I’ve made these choices, and despite being told they weren’t the brightest or most strategically valuable ones, I still feel they were the right ones for my story. (Of course, if I succeed in getting a good agent/editor eventually, and they swear I’ve been an ass and have to change them, I’ll do my best to negotiate the differences without compromising my story; and keep you posted). But so far, fuck that. I think that every story has its own demands, and the technique used to tell that story needs to serve those demands, and not someone else’s understanding of what goes and what not.
So without further ado, here is the top 5 craziest things I did in my MS.
If any of you have done the same, or if you’re currently battling with yourself over whether you should dare to step out of this box or that, consider this my official high-five to following your gut and the demands of your story.
1. Present tense
By far the most “controversial” decision I’ve made was to write my novel in present tense. Oh, many modern novels are written in present tense, you say. What’s the big deal? It’s true, there are many novels in present tense, especially YA, urban fantasy category. But my novel is adult science-fiction, space opera category.
Meet the biggest hypocrisy of the genre: science-fiction is about novelty, speculation, daring adventures, wild environments, and incredible odds. And also about traditional storytelling, rigid rules and narrow-collared critique. If you break the mold as a greenhorn, you’re very likely to get rejected. And I want to try for traditional publishing first, so I’m already thickening my skin in advance (boxing cacti without gloves and cuddling with hedgehogs). But, you know, to me story is king, and if I’ll only get rejections, I’ll self-publish. Take that, you stiff-upper-lipped, mysoginistic, mentally calcified dinosaurs!
2. Mixed POV
I don’t mean I have several POV characters. What I means is I’ve written the MS in first person POV (protagonist) and several third person POVs (main characters). The narrative switches from almost stream-of-consciousness first person, to intimate third person, and even distant third person, and then back to first person, etc. All in present tense. Trust me, it’s not as confusing as it sounds.
3. Split, mobile focus
For a space opera, the general focus is on large scale dynamics and interstellar, interspecies, intercultural affairs. But the focus in my story is aimed at the psychological changes within the characters. Sure, there are interstellar, interspecies affairs and wars going on, politics and explotation, slavery and genocide, but those are only external triggers. They form a vivid, vibrant background and stay there. And yet, the story remains a space opera due to the implications and ramifications of its plot, the number of characters and the width of its scope.
The focus is split between the main characters themselves, and between the characters and the wide-scale cultural background. It’s not a floodlight aimed at a rich scene, illuminating every aspect the same way and offering a large, complete picture (the way most space operas are written). It’s a flashlight that moves through a large chamber, flitting from face to face, from detail to detail, highlighting separate things the reader has to connect on his own, but also leaving dark corners and shadows.
4. No hero’s journey or adventure
My protagonist evolves during the course of the story, but she doesn’t go through a classic hero’s journey. She doesn’t go on an adventure, or take on an injustice and right it. What she does is stomp through the tulips in military boots, cope with the consequences of her own mistakes, and eventually, try to make amends for the damage she’s caused others along the way.
The external plot has a fairly typical evolution, from inciting incident, through growing action, straight to a climax and denouement, but the main plot—the internal plot—isn’t linear. It’s more like a sinusoidal line, going up and down, up and down, along a bumpy upward slope.
I’ve written about The 3 Types of Character Arc before, and in her case, it’s a growth arc.
5. No direct antagonist
This is a bit more complicated to explain. There are bad guys in my story, plenty of them, but they’re not classical antagonists because their actions don’t affect the protagonist directly, and there’s never a direct confrontation*. They affect the environment in which the other characters of the story operate, and thus affect these characters’ actions, which, in turn, affect the options my protagonist has, and the decisions she makes. Also, since the main plot is an internal one, the biggest bad guy she has to face is herself: her own stubbornness, her fears, her prejudices, her predisposition to take action before thinking things through.
*just to not get clobbered later, there is what’s technically considered a “show down” at the end, but the bad guy in that scene is just a catalyst and complication, not the true adversary.
I hope I’m not confusing you with my half-examples, here.
What’s the most daring, crazy thing you’ve done in a manuscript (or even published story, in which case I wanna know what the main reaction was)?
Are you currently fretting over something similar in your WIP? Can I shake my pompons for you?