Friday, August 08, 2008

Friday Forays in Fiction: Musings

As I announced last week, I am devoting Friday posts to fiction writing. I will post snippets from my WIPs occasionally; talk about my goals and evaluate progress; muse on the process of story making; showcase websites, software, books and other products and services aimed at some aspect of a fiction writer's tasks from idea generation through final draft. And possibly on through submission, publication and marketing.

Today I'm allowing myself a rambling musing on what has been on my mind regarding my major WIP, my Fruits of the Spirit story world. I've been contemplating with intense focus for nearly a month as to why every story I set in this story world stalls out about 1/3 to 1/2 way through. The latest being Crystal's story which I was posting hot off the keyboard between Easter and early July.

I had long thought this story was to be a single, though long, multi-generational novel with a cast over 100 of which about 20 would have major POV sections, their story arcs woven together to form the story arc of the novel like strands of a rainbow. But last summer, I worked out that, just with the stories I already had going, the completed novel would clock in between 2500 and 3000 pages. Who publishes such things? And who could stand to hold it long enough to read it?

All four of my NaNoWriMo projects were based in this story world with the last one, Spring Fever, the first consciously intended to be a single stand alone novel. Previously I fudged the 'rule' that it be a start-from-scratch novel by choosing a POV character for whom I'd not yet written more than 1000 words in an actual scene and ran with their story as far as I could go in thirty days.

Spring Fever, was at first conceived to be completely free of the FOS story world but about halfway through mapping out the story I needed a supporting cast member with certain characteristics and qualifications and lo there she was over there in FOS. And besides, the theme of Spring Fever was so related to the premise of the story world. Of course once I'd let one thread in from FOS it just made sense to bring in another... and another... Sigh.

And so it goes. It is the fate of every new story idea I grab hold of for I seem to be held in a death grip by this story world. No, that is too grim of a metaphor and there is nothing grim about being in the grip of FOS. Embrace rather. Or enchantment. Yes, I've been enchanted and set to the enthralling task of braiding rainbows.

The overarching premise of the FOS stories is to give each major character a name indicating the fruit of the Spirit they represent i.e. love, joy, peace, patience, faith, hope, mercy, and so forth. There are more and I include many that are not in the familiar list in the New Testament Epistle, Galations. The idea is to put them on stage interacting with each other and other characters in conflicts that are rooted in the antithesis of the fruits of the Spirit. Often the character's main conflict is with that part of themselves that tends to exhibit the opposite of the fruit they are meant to represent.

I have found it so discouraging every time one of the stories I'm working on stalls out. I just couldn't seem to figure out what the stumbling block was. I knew the story and the characters and their arcs and the obstacles and the climax and resolution for each of them. I've got more word count in notes and outlines than I have in narrative and dialog. For nearly twenty years this story world has been more real to me than my waking life, its characters more real than my friends and family.

In desperation I was bending my husband's reluctant ear one more time this week and in an attempt to grip his attention I asked him to take what he knew about it and treat it like a programming architectural problem. I won't try to replicate the discussion from that point but after he'd drilled me about half an hour the way he used to question clients when he worked for an Internet consulting firm, eliciting what he called the 'project requirements' from me, he zeroed in on the problem. He said that there was an 'object' that was in interaction with every other object, in fact it was the only object that had that distinction and yet it was not yet clearly defined and not only that it was the principle antagonist and to top it off I had a personal aversion to it.

OK to clarify if that is possible, an object in computer programming is a graphic or a piece of code with a purpose that can be manipulated and directed by the code. Objects can call on other objects, objects can be embedded in objects and so on. I know that is a feeble explanation that will make coders cringe but it is enough I think to make the analogy plain.

What my husband was referring to as objects in my story world are the characters, the settings, the events, the crisis, the themes and etcetera. The object that he identified as the problem was the doctrinaire sect that was founded around the time of WWI and which bifurcates two or three times per generation into the present decade. Its role as antagonist is that of showcasing the antitheses of the fruits of the Spirit. For in its attempt to govern the lives and hearts of its members with carefully spelled out dogmas and rules it is fated to strangle their souls and create the very opposite of their intent to honor God and fulfill His will.

This of course, in spirit tho not in particulars, is similar to the fundamentalist sect I was raised in and began to question in the early nineties and broke with irrevocably on November 2nd 1994. Turns out this story world has been my therapy. LOL. Every POV character for which I've written scenes has to struggle against the influence this sect has on themselves and/or their loved ones. Many of them, like me, are extricating themselves from its clutches. But every time it comes time to write a scene in which the particulars of it are featured in more than an oblique way, I balk.

That is the stumbling block and apparently I have no choice, if I am determined to write these stories, to define it as carefully as I've defined the characters. And worse, I've got to write the scenes that make its detrimental influences explicit.

There are two main forces at work in my reluctance. One being the knowledge that once these stories are released to the public (and this blog counts) they are likely to be encountered by my Dad (prior to 2005) and Mother, sister, brother, several Aunts and Uncles and some twenty dozen cousins still affiliated with one version or another of the doctrines I've left behind. Of course they already know that I'm disaffected but most don't know to what extent. And it isn't so much that I fear their opinions of me once that becomes clear but that I resist inflicting the pain this knowledge is likely to cause to them.

I am also anxious about some of them attempting to match certain characters or events in the stories to real people and events in our mutual history with the sect most of us were raised in. This should not be possible since I did not base any characters on real people. Not even composites. Nor have any of the events in my stories been based on actual events. But since so many of the events are based on fairly common human dilemmas and conflicts there are bound to be a few that resemble something that happened to someone at sometime in the history of our sect.

I think I've made a great deal of progress in facing that particular aspect of the stumbling block. But there is another that is harder to face, hard even to cast casual glances at. And that is my own emotional aversion to being the creator of such a sect (even if in fantasy) and of the characters who are the true believers who, in their piousness and prettily dressed intentions, wreak such havoc on the lives of their members and surrounding communities.

And then there is the emotional baggage I still carry. But apparently the stories have been my way of working through that and if I want to continue reaping the benefits of that I must now face the demons in the inner chambers of my own soul.


It is after 8AM as I prepare to post this. I started work on it over ten hours ago. When I was about 1/3 into it, my computer froze me out and I had to force a restart. Which caused me to loose several hundred words. Sometime I wonder if there are something analogous to demons plaguing me at every turn with this project. Especially when it seems I am about to make a major breakthrough. Grrrrrrrrrr.

1 tell me a story:

Anonymous,  8/09/2008 1:44 PM  

I understand. Most of all I understand not wanting to inflict pain on your family, who still believe. Try this. Write the stories, telling yourself you have no intention of letting anyone read them. Let them rest until you do find you can release them to the public, if you ever do. That way, they'll be written, and they'll stop bugging you. LOL!

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