Thursday, October 16, 2014

Writing a novel: month 6

Now that I scrapped my first novel idea, this month I started from scratch again.  What happened was comically similar to what happened when I started from scratch the first time.  That is, first I came up with a social sci-fi idea, and then settled on an anti-romance with an unusual narrative structure.  Well, now you know where my heart's at.

The first novel idea I had was based on the premise of mind-cloning.  We have a 1st person protagonist who participates in psychological research, and they copy her brain state.  A generation later, the copy is uploaded to a robot, and so begins our story.  A generation later, another copy (or copies) is uploaded, and another story is told in parallel.

The idea is not really about mind-cloning.  The point is to examine the way that culture recursively reacts against itself over generations (and to do so without changing protagonists!).  And the other point is to watch the protagonist piece together facts about her past lives, constructing self-serving narratives about them.

Then I got another idea, which is the one I'm currently working on.  The basic theme of this novel is the construction and deconstruction of romance.  It's the story of a couple, told through the eyes of a friend.  This friend constructs an elaborate narrative, with a rather loose relation to reality.

One of the major principles of writing fiction is "show, don't tell".  This is usually a pretty good rule.  In a few cases, it's actually better to tell than show, often because you're describing something of only marginal importance, and don't want to give it the whole rigamarole of vivid prose.  However, for writing an unreliable narrator, I take a third approach: show AND tell, but what I show and what I tell are perpetually in conflict with each other.

Here's why I think this novel idea will work better than the last one.  I have a strong "plotter" tendency, in that I tend to plan things out.  And then, in the writing, things don't turn out the way I expected, and getting things back on track involves large contortions.  But for this novel, I made a conscious decision to not plan things out.  I don't know exactly what will happen to the characters.  This seems to work well so far.


miller said...

I'm not an ace, but I've always wanted to write, or at least read a good anti-romance. It's such an expectation in all drama & fiction, such an overwhelming assumption that you can give the very faintest hint of the possibility of romance, and that is what the reader will automatically expect in the resolution of the plot. I always like the idea of playing with that, teasing the reader, but then instead providing recurrant misses for the protagonist, until at least the story resolves in some unexpected, but still positive way, perhaps exploring the meaning and importance of friendship, or the revaluing of some other form of human intimacy and connectedness besides romantic love. I do still want to read a story like this, but I never figured out quite how to write it myself.

miller said...

That's one approach, but I think my approach is less reliant on an unexpected ending. I figure that if anti-romance is a theme, it should be a theme throughout, not just at the end.

Actually that reminds me of how there are many stories that pose as an anti-romance, but then twist back into a romance at the end. (Looking at you, 500 days of Summer.) In these stories, the anti-romance themes basically serve as the conflict, and the romance a happy ending. It basically ends up reinforcing the supreme value of romance even more.

miller said...

Yeah, it really wouldn't work as a surprise ending. It would have to be foreshadowed in the same way that the deus ex machina was foreshadowed for the 3rd act of the film, "Adaptation". Romantic endings are more than just a cliché... it's as if it's a law of narrative chiseled in stone.