Maybe it’s the bad decision that inspires the time travel to begin with.
Maybe it’s the bad decision that inspires the time travel to begin with.
July 28, 2014 —Entry #3
A lot has happened in the last week, including the near-complete scrapping of the above-mentioned book and the full-throttle jump into a new novel.
I had planned on writing something about Point of View, specifically how strict adherence can sometimes be a detriment to a story, but that will have to wait for the next update.
So, what happened to my book, you know, the one I’ve been planning for over a month, writing all those character letters for, making all those story notes?
After 11,000 words, I realized the story wasn’t working. The characters were coming to life, but there were serious motivation issues and troublesome story points that either weren’t going to work or were simply going to be so hokey and ridiculous that I was going to hate it.
I halted the book.
Then I spent a few days mired in self-pity, taking baths in hopelessness with bubbles of despair. I looked back at old ideas I’d had for novels, including one my agent advised me NOT to write. Maybe I could find a new angle …
All, however, was not lost. I had characters, from all those letters, who I liked, people I wanted to spend more time with, people about whom I felt there was still more to discover. And, more importantly, people who could mix together to create some intriguing narrative fireworks.
It’s almost impossible to accurately explain how the idea for a novel comes about. Keep in mind that I had already written those character letters, so all their “issues” were bouncing back and forth in my mind.
Last summer, I wrote almost 200 pages of a novel entitled The Revivalists. It was about a man whose elderly father suffers a stroke, is clinically dead for several minutes, and then is revived. But then the old man starts to age in reverse. Pretty soon, the man’s gradually reverse-aging father is putting the moves on his son’s wife, threatening to take over his son’s life, and that’s when things start to get creepy.
It was “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” as a horror novel. Two problems led me to stop writing that book.
1. I didn’t like the main character. Speaking in first person, the guy became something of a prick, and once I lost empathy for him, the story was lost. Without empathy, there can be no horror.
2. This strange group of people calling themselves The Revivalists popped into the book and started saying they could raise the dead and that the reverse-aging father was suffering from a form of demon possession. Thinking about it now, I wonder if I could make that work, but at the time the story became far too unwieldly.
Anyway, that book was going through my mind as a possible project to tackle while I worked out the bigger debacle of this most recent abandoned work-in-progress.
Along with that, I’ve been watching HBO’s adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s novel THE LEFTOVERS and really digging how the speculative concept has been handled. (Tomorrow I’m grabbing the book and getting reading.)
That is, after all, always the problem with horror/speculative stories: THE WHY. Why did this happen? What is the cause of such and such? What’s the answer to the BIG MYSTERY?
Well, as Joe Hill commented in an interview, “Explanations suck.”
[Side note: Mind you, dear reader, explanations can matter and should be handled skillfully, but it is the journey that matters, so much more so than the destination. Even so, the point here is that I needed to be OKAY with NOT KNOWING what the explanation was before I started writing. Searching for the explanation first constipated the whole process. As Hill said, they suck. Story, after all, should be fun.]
Also, at some point in the past I had scribbled the following in my writer’s notebook: The day the boy died, the street smelled of hotdogs.
Some line, huh? Well, the story seemed obvious to me: Man accidentally kills son during a block party barbecue and then kills self, only the man comes back to life. No matter how many times he kills himself, he comes back. Yet his son remains dead. What a perfect way to imagine Hell, right?
Anyway, all those different ideas/stories/insights were jangling in my mind and BAM! a new(ish) idea arrived.
What if I took the idea of The Revivalists and put it in this Warrenville town? What if I went even further and isolated it to a single street in this town? Now, what if I took the idea for that short story and broadened it a bit into something with more legs? Say, for example, what if anyone who died on Happiness Avenue in Warrenville actually came back to life?
Now, that sounded very interesting.
I’m now over 11,000 words into this story and it’s really going strong.
One final thing: It’s not on Happiness Avenue—it’s on Revival Road.
And that sounds like a pretty good title, too.
Oh, uh, he doesn’t say “beat the heck out of each other” in the movie. But you mighta guessed that.
Great trailer. Looks like the film will do proper justice to the novel.
Neil Gaiman (via maxkirin)
Great advice to read and reread …
HORNS. The movie.
Okay, so, here is where I’m going to chronicle my journey through my next novel, at the moment titled HAPPINESS AVENUE.
Sounds like some pretentious Franzen-wannabe literary novel, right? Don’t worry—it’s not. In fact, it’ll get a better title, one more befitting the book’s events, eventually. Here’s hoping it comes knocking during the writing.
I’m about to start the actual writing, but here’s some necessary background info:
I’ve been prewriting for over a month.
The prewriting is in the form of character letters. I got the idea from Joe Hill who re-blogged a post regarding something author David Mitchell said. Here’s a similar quote:
“If you don’t believe that [your characters are] real, why should you care about them?” Mitchell asks. He suggests writing your characters’ autobiographies or, better yet, letters from the character to yourself. In doing so, Mitchell notes that you will no longer have to think about how a particular character will respond to a situation. If you know their histories, you can better form their futures—from the actions they will take to the idioms they will use. (http://umich.uloop.com/news/view.php/53162/david-mitchells-advice-to-aspiring-authors)
Here’s a link to the actual quote as I reflagged it.
Writing character letters has been one of the most enjoyable, stress-free forms of prewriting I’ve ever attempted. It’s not tedious and infuriating like outlining, and it’s not removed and unemotional like character biographies. It has freed up my imagination to let ideas percolate without restriction.
I wrote each letter in first person from the character to me, the author. In some cases, the character argued passionately for her inclusion in the book, even implored my assistance: “I need you to help me help my son.”
It’s terrific fun. It has helped me capture the unique voice of each character and discover relevant background details. Some of those details may make it into the book, but many will not. Yet, those details will help inform my crafting of the character as I write the novel’s first draft.
Without the letters, much of my first draft would be doomed to character discovery and thus have to be jettisoned. I hope the character letters will help keep the novel progressing, moving forward, not getting stuck in the mud of characterization.
I’ve written 18 character letters. This is going to be a big book.
I’m not sure how many of these updates I’ll post, but I hope these entries will serve as an informal but interesting documentation of one writer’s journey.
And now it begins.