Saturday, September 20, 2014

Writing a novel: month 5

This month, I nearly completed my second chapter, and then I decided to scrap the whole thing.  I mean, the whole book.  So now I feel more at liberty to say what was going on in my novel, and what I think was wrong with it.

The basic ideas behind the book were "switching perspectives" and "anti-romance".  So I conceived of a structured novel where the protagonist goes through a series of four relationships, each one failing, and rightly so.  The first relationship is a friendship, the rest are romantic relationships.  I wasn't really imagining outright abusive relationships (abuse does not strike me as an enjoyable topic).  Rather, the relationships are created and destroyed because of social expectations of what a relationship should be.

The protagonist is not me, but naturally I draw from personal experience.  I've had a couple relationships that failed in this way.  The protagonist is (aromantic) asexual, but doesn't identify as such until the end (I never worked out the details of the end).  It's not a book about asexuality, but I use the character to underscore the power of social expectations, even when the desire is absent.

The "switching perspectives" part was also very structured.  For each relationship, I'd switch to the other person's perspective.  It would go in sequence A B A C A D A E A.  So nine chapters (or "mega-chapters").  I think, now, this structure was way too rigid, and possibly unworkable, and this became especially clear in the second chapter.  I spent a lot of time focusing on character B and their problems, but afterwards that character just drops from view.  It becomes a loose plot thread.

More generally, I had difficulty directing attention towards the most important conflicts, themes, and characters, and directing attention away from the more marginal aspects.  Stories are not much like real life.  In real life, everyone, including minor characters, have extensive back stories, and there's always more in every direction you look.  In a story, there's a lot of misdirection to get all readers to look at one thing, and look away from the boundaries of the story.  I was not very good at this misdirection.

Part of the problem, perhaps, is that I have a very modernist aesthetic.  I like stories that are disjointed.  I like stories that do something clever with the narrative structure.  For example, in The Book of the New Sun, one of my favorite aspects is the way the narrator would omit certain incidents, and then later forget that he had omitted them.  One of my favorite aspects in The Unconsoled was the way that the protagonist sometimes looks at someone's face, and learns the entire backstory behind that expression, as if it were the most ordinary thing.  If I can't imitate at least a little of that cleverness, well, what am I writing a novel for?  It's a difficult thing to imitate, but it's worth the hard time I give myself.

Anyway, what should I do with this novel?  I still like the anti-romance concept, and I did sketch out a restructured novel with the same characters and same basic point.  But maybe it would be better to scrap everything and start with another idea.  Now I'm imagining some social sci-fi where a small group of astronauts travel to the future and have cultural clashes.  I haven't decided yet.