I apologize for my month(ish)-long absence. I struggled long and hard with my Camp NaNoWriMo project, and not only failed to meet my word-count goal, but also learned that all of my work combined (part II, a little of part III, and most of my antagonist’s backstory) also falls short of my word-count goal. Needless to say, my goal for July’s (or June’s?) Camp will not be 60,000 words. It’s not an unrealistic goal, but it would be far easier to obtain with a linear narrative – which this is not.
And here I arrive at my first challenge: The structure of the novel.
My Name Is Not Heather Stokes – Part II: Two Guns occurs over three different time periods (with brief references to two others). The main plot revolves around the investigation in Atlanta into the Phoenix murders. I also narrate the other Phoenix murders that Agents Steyer and (later) Remington investigate: Detroit and San Francisco (I describe, briefly, Phoenix, AZ, and have a scene from Vietnam). I have a few scenes from Detroit, since the incident was cut short rather quickly, but several from San Francisco. In fact, I discovered that my SFO scenes rival my ATL scenes in length.
Originally, I was intending for these scenes to be flashbacks. In Part I: Colossus, I weave flashbacks into the narrative. The transitions are intuitive: the love interest is revealed, which flashes back to the inciting incident. In the case of Two Guns, the narratives do not complement each other as they did in Colossus. So, now I am wondering how to weave the structure together. Should I sprinkle them in, or shuffle the chapters in some organized manner? I don’t want it to seem like, And now, for something completely different! but I don’t want the structure to be, well, strictly structured (e. g. ATL – DTW – SFO – rinse, repeat).
In addition to this, I am considering the matter of backstory. Since my antagonist’s backstory is a rich and tragic narrative in itself, I have decided to invest more time in it. Originally, it was going to be supplemental, like The Silmarillion. Now, I’m considering weaving it in, which adds additional narratives to Parts II and III (originally, part III was going to be strictly linear). I’m beginning to wonder if that will be too busy, too overwhelming, or confusing for the reader. However, it adds a completely contrasting dimension to the antagonist, which would force the reader to reconsider their perception of him.
In short, I am drowning in narrative. I am almost finished spinning the thread; Now I just need to weave them together without the result being too busy. To help, I’ve send my material to my brother. This leads to another challenge.
Everyone has that one person that they are always striving to impress. For me, it is my brother, fifteen months my elder. He is an artist – a painter and sculptor. His talent is obvious, present, and enviable. It has been this way since before we were in school. The talent involved in writing is not so obvious, and almost always debatable (James Fenimore Cooper is a genius! No, no, he writes like shit.), which is one reason writers have notoriously little confidence in their art.
Now, once upon a time (not long ago at all), my brother was very dark-minded, much worse than I am. He loved a screenplay I wrote, a prequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street (I will preen a bit – it was fantastic), so I thought that he may also love MNIN… I finally harassed him into reading it. However, he is not so dark-minded now as he once was. At least, he is far more sensitive to violence. So, when he began to read it, he criticized the gruesome and brutal nature of the material, accusing me of writing torture porn to “feel better about [my] difficulties as a teacher,” saying that the material “might appeal to some adolescent mixed-up teen, but not to an adult that has already sorted through their own issues.” Ouch.
Needless to say, I was crushed. He questioned my motivation for writing – my “personal justification” – and asked me if this is what I want people to find in themselves, what I wish to share with humanity. He pointed out an artist’s obligation to improve the world through their art.
“I think it’s funny for someone to write this well without any outward consideration for their own literature.”
“How can a writer hope to enrich the depth of their characters if they aren’t enriching their own from the writing or the study that goes in to such an endeavor?”
All I can think is, Fuck, bro, I don’t know. I just created the characters, and this is how they performed in my head. I did nothing. I just bled ink onto the paper.
I am far past the point of making this some American Psycho-style satire or Fifty Shades of Grey grey-area entertainment for bored housewives. And, yes, I have asked myself what my reasoning, motivation, benefit to humanity, etc. is, and I have failed to find a satisfactory answer.
Does James Patterson get shit like this? (That’s a rhetorical question – I’m sure he does.) Does R. L. Stein?
As a good friend – and big fan of brutal fiction – said, “That sucks. But keep in mind, your story is only for people like us.” (Those who revel in horror movies, or indulge in BDSM, or who are in reality disturbed.)
I was crushed, as a writer and a sister, by my brother’s criticism and my failing self-reflection. However, I learned that margaritas make everything better, and he warmed up to the novel when he was finished with it (“After pushing through much of the story, I’m more comfortable with all of the rape and death. Though it is a bit much to push through.”).
That being said, he also commented, “The writing is fantastic. The characters are compelling. The story is executed, thus far, flawlessly.”
I can’t tell if this is a win or not. I’d like everyone’s opinion.