Rambling about No More Lies, characterization, and mostly illustrating why I shouldn’t have caffeine in the evening
“The key with characters is to be honest. If a character’s actions are believable, then that character will work.” — Russell T. Davies
A couple of days ago, I was rereading the bit of No More Lies I’d revised that day and suddenly recalled some writing advice from somewhere — one of those bits that just seeps in when you do daft things like lurk on writing forums full of people who’ve never been published and, in far too many cases, never even finished a short story, yet feel like they are experts in the One True Way of how to write. The advice in question pretty much said that in each scene a character should undergo some sort of emotional change. Just one, mind you. This advice made me worry that I’d just done something horribly wrong because in the scene I’d just revised Bobby went from furious, to scared, back to furious, and then back to scared. It was a heart-wrenching scene, one of, I humbly say, the best bits I’ve ever written. But according to the advice I’d read, it was wrong.
I decided the advice was what was wrong. I’d done what was true to Bobby. I suppose if I was the kind of author who carefully crafted her stories with flowcharts and notecards and storyboards and all that kind of shit, I could’ve planned the scene so that both things that made him mad were in the same spot and it was some sort of arc thingy. But it’s not the kind of story that really works for that. No More Lies, as I’ve said before, is an unholy combination of a romantic comedy, action-adventure, and quarter-life crisis story. It doesn’t have nice, neat points where it breaks into acts or anything like that. Hell, one of the biggest problems I’m having revising it is deciding where to put the fucking chapter breaks (the first draft didn’t have chapters, but I decided it needed them while revising.)! Bobby’s life has suddenly become utter chaos, and that’s reflected in the way he reacts to things. He’s, though he’d kick the ass of anyone who said this to him, emotionally fragile at the point I was revising. It wouldn’t make sense to have him smoothly transitioning from angry to scared or vice versa. It makes sense for him to be ping ponging between the two. That’s who and where he is at that moment.
And as this has already gone somewhere totally different than I meant for it to and than I thought it would, I’m going to talk about No More Lies for a bit. Because I feel like it and it’s my blog, so nyah!
I’d love to find an agent for it and get it traditionally published because, right now — I know this will change randomly because it’s how these things work — I’m convinced it’s utterly brilliant and wonderful. But I also know that I probably will end up self-publishing it. Why? Because it’s an unholy combination of a romantic comedy, action-adventure, and quarter-life crisis story. Because it’s a romance with a first person narrator who’s male. Because it’s a romance with a first person narrator who’s an egotistical prick who needs a slap upside the head sometimes. (He does receive a few, at least.) Because it being in a space opera setting barely affects the plot at all. Because it doesn’t follow the romance formula. There are all kinds of things going against it. Hell, those are all reasons it might never sell a copy to anybody but my mother . . . who I really think would buy it and tell me it was brilliant if I wrote “C spot runn. He runz real gud.” That’s okay, though. Every writer needs somebody like that in their life.
But you know what? I don’t care. I had fun writing it, I’m having fun revising it . . . well, as much fun as revising can ever be; people who say that’s the fun part of writing are utterly mad. I have fun reading it. I know, for some reason, I’m not supposed to enjoy reading my own work. I’m supposed to only see the flaws. And I do see those, hence this revision and the planned next draft. But the flaws (mostly) are in the craft side of writing. The flaws (mostly) aren’t in the art side.
I enjoy it because Bobby’s a fun character. Yeah, he’s an asshole; yeah, a lot of the drama in the story could’ve been avoided if he’d just gone to a psychiatrist because dude’s got issues; yeah, sometimes I realize I have things in common with him — not traits you ever want to realize you have in common with a character, alas — and feel sorry for everyone who has to put up with me. But he’s fun, nonetheless. He’s quirky. He’s . . . he’s a comic book geek/ninja/spy/assassin/musician . . . but not competent enough at any of those to reach Mary Sue levels. He’s good, but he’s not great. He’s too lazy to ever be great at anything. And, well, comic book geek is in there. This is not a trait traditionally associated with your superspy archetype.
I enjoy No More Lies for many of the same reasons I enjoy several of my favorite books. It’s, if you get right down to it, not really a romance. It’s only a science fiction novel by definitions that revolve around setting instead of plot. It’s almost an action-adventure, but there is far too much down time between fight scenes for it to really be one. It’s, ultimately, the story of a bit over one year in a guy’s life and everything that happens in it. I like that kind of story. I don’t like things that fit in neat boxes. Oh, yeah, sure, now we can put Little Women and Anne of Green Gables — judging by the number of times I’ve read both, these are the best contenders for “my most favorite book” — in the wonderful catch-all category of “Classics.” But what if they were new books coming out today? I’ve seen them both called romances, and the movie versions of Little Women — at least the two I’m most familiar with — certainly are. (I haven’t seen the Anne of Green Gables miniseries in about twenty years, so I can’t talk about it. I just remember I thought it left out some of the best parts of the book.) But the books? They aren’t romances. They, though they’re both frequently called this, aren’t coming-of-age stories. They’re stories of a hunk of some people’s lives and what happens in them.
If they were set in modern society, they’d be just plain ordinary fiction. But if you put them on another planet or some place with magic — and didn’t change the text except as necessary to support the new settings — what would we call them? They’re not science fiction or fantasy, many would argue, because the plots aren’t the sort we associate with those genres. (And, really, could some influential sf/f author please do a post or something on how there are so many more sf/f plots than the fucking Heroes’ Journey! I swear three-quarters of the self-published stuff out there is a variation of it, and two-thirds of the advice on how to structure a plot is really “how to write a by-the-numbers Heroes’ Journey story”! It’s driving me mad!)
And I totally forgot where I was going with that. I’m really not sure this post makes much sense at all, but I’m going to post it anyway. Maybe somewhere in there I said something that’s interesting or insightful or something.
This was supposed to be a post related to this post by Sam Sykes. http://www.samsykes.com/2015/09/unshaken-not-unstirred/
Mostly though, I think I just illustrated that I shouldn’t have had that second glass of Pepsi with dinner.