Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Mind the Thorns Reflections
It's been a very interesting run so far on both counts but mostly I want to think about Mind the Thorns and how that has played out as time has gone on. It was an experiment, to be sure, and one that I'm proud to have engaged in. Quite a few things worked, a few did not, and for the most part I feel like my writing has done nothing but improve in the time I've worked at it.
Which, before I get into the nature of Regan and the dangers of trying to write something as immersive as a reader-directed novel, I want to talk about.
Writing is work.
Okay it's not back breaking labor. You don't get muscle strain, or risk getting cancer from fume inhalation (unless you smoke while you write). But it is work. You don't just sit down and say "I'm going to spend the next few days writing a novel" and then POOF there's a novel there. It takes time. It takes energy. It saps you. It's like any other "job" in that it's a little easier when you love it, but there are going to be times where you're just not feeling it, but you need to do it anyway.
World building is even more work then I think most people respect. The real world, the realm in which we live and all "realistic fiction" takes place is pretty easy to write in. We know what cell phones can and cannot do. We know what kinds of food we eat, what the political situation is for most nations, and we have an idea of the basics of currency.
But when you're making your own universe from scratch, you have to make an active choice as to what each of those things are. You need to have some kind of conflict and it has to be genuine. You can take inspiration from current or historical events but at the end of the day you still have to start writing, and start building and then letting it take shape.
One of my goals for Fictional Omens was to turn it into a clearing house for back story and additional information on my Scifi Epic "The Queen's Fury", which is still lodged, months after I last worked on it, in chapter 3. I've just not had it in me to figure out which race is at war with whom and why, nor exactly what the enemy ship that has just appeared is going to do now that they have a crippled ship at their mercy. Which is even more of a shame as Mercy, the protagonist of that tale, has been labeled one of my most interesting main characters, easily eclipsing Allison in FantastiCon and Regan in Mind the Thorns.
So what is it that makes Mercy so engaging?
As far as I can tell not much; the fact is that Regan is rather bland.
Which begs the question: why is the protagonist of my most ambitious project to date so plain-Jane?
To answer that let me turn to a complaint my wife often lodges with me when she's done reading a piece of not so well written prose. She will praise the writer for having a good story, and a good world, but laments, regularly, that the characters are interchangeable. It doesn't matter who the main character is, anyone could follow those bread crumbs and stumble along to the story's completion.
What she craves is someone who doesn't follow the bread crumbs because they are there, but because that is just the kind of person the main character is.
And that's hard to write. The conflict between character and plot is very real, and not in the sense of "The plot creates conflict" but in finding that sweet spot where the character drives the story, and the story forms new character traits. Instead what tends to happen is that a more generic character is born to garuntee that the plot can be followed, that there are no conflicts between what a given personality will do, and what is required to move the story forward.
The writer's nightmare is layout this massive intriguite plot, only to have the final climax become impossible because the main character simply won't do what is needed.
I ran into a similar problem with Regan but for a totally different reason.
When I started I did not Regan to have too much personality. I had some main ideas about her background but I left her personality very open so that I had room to develop her as it went along based on reader direction. Emma, Harrison, and everyone else had clear characters. They had depth, complexities and each clearly had their own agendas. To be honest that was how I wrote up my notes: "What does this character want?" That way as the story progressed, I'd know where to take them.
But Regan never got past that initial "Jane Every Girl" character. Part of it is the nature of a readership who only has 4 days to read a chapter and pick an option. Often the most passive option seems the most agreeable and so when we look at the choices that Regan has made so far, they do add up to a very casual character.
And another part of it was purposeful. I wanted Regan to be someone that any reader could both relate to and like. I wanted her to be a character that readers cheered for, and supported and hoped would come out on top when it was all over. I did not want her to be someone that people did not feel vested in or were unable to project themselves into. I found myself working against the challenge of writing a Choose Your Own Adventure while at the same time presenting it as stand alone prose, and I think Regan suffers a little for it.
So what's left for Mind the Thorns? Quite a bit, be that good or bad. I've not really given Regan a chance to pursue a lot of romance, and there are still a few plot points left to hit in the other main story so her tale has several months to go.
I'm also changing up the format. I'm extending polling to a full week and giving myself a week to write the next chapter. This will slow posts to twice a month which may prove to be too infrequent, but it also gives me more time to work at the next chapter, and as I said when I started, writing is work.