Wednesday, January 28, 2009

[writing technique] you may or may not agree

One happy spin-off from having no internet is the chance to rework the three novels and much of the weekend was spent doing that. Writers might be interested in skimming through this post to see if it’s what they do and they might offer some helpful tips for me.

The greatest problem with a partly autobiographical novel is the fan fiction trap or to be more specific, the Mary Sue trap. Either the main character is so outrageously immune to bullets, poor shooting, being wrong or else he/she always comes through in the end, in the face of almost insurmountable odds, that the thing is a bore.

The Andromeda series fell into that trap when it became a super-hero vehicle instead of a good series. The trouble with the Russian section of my novels is that those things really did happen but they read, in a novel, particularly badly and so it was necessary to at least split the main character into two people and the main girl into two as well.

The next step was, rather than having two superheroes coming at you, for each to have realistic foibles and not to have things always working out well in the end.

Three decisions may or may not have been wrong.

Firstly, I went with a plethora of characters, each filled out at least to an extent and last count there were 58 of them, some with similar sounding names [Sean’s criticism].

Secondly, the books are written in the third person, rather than the autobiographical first person.

Thirdly, where many novelists run sub-plots as separate chapters, e.g. Tolkien and some run them interwoven, jumping from scene to scene, I’ve taken the risk of organizing the twenty five or so chapters in each of the three books to be about fifteen pages long and within each chapter are sub-chapters, marked with Roman numerals, which are both irregular in length and jump from one sub plot to another.

There are usually three subplots going on at any one time, each converging in some way, somewhere down the track.

The number one problem is to mute the main character sufficiently so that his sub-plot does not occupy, say, three pages while another character’s troubles occupy half or three quarters of a page.

On the other hand, one mustn’t mute the main character to the point of blandness and that’s definitely an issue with one of the two protagonists, Marc, for whom I’m having difficulty making him genuinely attractive to women and men. I’d like him to be more attractive than the main character – he’s certainly adept in what he does.

The difficulty with the main character now is that he never seems to actually do anything but is usually around when things are being done, usually by the women around him who are the main agents in moving the plot forward.

I don’t think the feminists will have any criticism of the characterization from this perspective. He occasionally provides an insight which has moderate impact. He seems a bit passive to me, with bouts of craziness but he has a modicum of wisdom, born of experience.

Another issue is which characters last throughout the book and which come and go. In the novel’s original form, one man and one woman went right through. Now it will most likely be so but the two who go right through do not become an item until the second book.

Finally, do the characters grow as people, [the Robinson Crusoe motif] and how do they grow as people? Three novels is a long time to make people grow. The way around it, of course, is two steps forward and one step back.

Anyway, I’d appreciate your thoughts on writing.



I always find that too many characters confuse me in trying to keep up with their history.

You have lovely writing style though, so maybe you are able to circumnavigate that problem.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

I agree with Uber about the number of characters. I've just finished reading the first volume of Marquez's autobiog and I found it very heavy going, partly because the translation leaves a lot to be desired, partly because it needs a chronology and indexing but mostly because there are so many characters in it that I gave up trying to remember who was who.

As for tips, do they get, or can they get, "Mslexia" magazine in that library? Don't think it's rubbishy because it sounds feministy - it isn't. OK, it's aimed at women writers, but it's full of good tips and each edition has a published writer who shows you part of a first draft, then the changes made and finally she tells you why.
I'm sure you'll make the right decisions!

Pisces Iscariot said...

I dunno about all those rules and technical guidlines James... I just make it up as i go along - perhaps this is the reason i remain unpublished :)

CherryPie said...

I am with Pisces on the rules and guidelines. they are just that - Guidlines.

I think what Sean said about the characters having similar names is important. I think that would make it difficult to differentiate between the different characters.

Jonathan said...

Very interested that we now talk about "benefits of having no internet.."

Curious also that my kids aged 11 & 9 don't really understand what "not online" means - they think that means someone is away from the desk and set msn status to "away"

James Higham said...

Well, the first part is ready and I'll publish it soon online.