Thursday, February 22, 2007

Always the Main Character, Never the Secondary

In trying to get back into a regular writing schedule for SoZ, I've been digging my way into the heart of the conflict of the story and re-assessing the arcs and act structures of the book. And somewhere in all of this I'm trying to assimilate some sort of writing process so I don't have to entirely reinvent the wheel the next book around--I mean, if I start out knowing that the basic shape has to be round, surely I won't get mired in this again, right?

Last week I did the facepalm/headdesk thing as I realized that I've become a much more visual thinker and learner than I was in the past (or maybe I've always been so visual, I just never realized it and/or managed to play to that strength without a fuss), and that nothing in my writing process was as visual as I needed it to be. So I got the great idea of putting together a timeline that I could then printout and keep on very large posterboard on the wall by my writing desk. Excellent. Issue addressed.

Only I didn't have a timeline.

So back to the drawing board I went, trying to piece together a timeline. That's when I realized that four-act structures are great, but they're only for the protagonist's story/arc. And here I am with a protagonist for the overall Velorin series, a (different) protagonist for the initial trilogy, and yet another protagonist or two in the nebulous two to three books beyond the initial trilogy. Now, I have arcs and broad outlines for most if not all of these folks (and I'm including "Book 5 or 6: Think Final Fantasy X but with more science fiction and less fantasy, but they're trying to get back to the fantasy" as a broad outline and arc), but what about all of the other characters running around in these stories?

For my own sanity, I stuck with the POV characters from the first book (which are, incidentally, the POV characters from the next two books as well, excluding those who die in the course of the first book, of course). At first, I tried to weave what all the characters were doing in and around my protag's four-act structure. Then I did another facepalm and got to the heart of the "everyone's the star in their own show" saying. I was never going to believably write from a POV of a non-protag unless I got into their stories as if they were the protagonists. Said another way, I went back to each of my POV characters and looked at their stories as if I were going to write their stories for the book. I gave them all their own four-act structures. I'm going to give them all their own conflict boxes, too, I think.

Writing up all of those four-act structures made a few things clear to me: Ayren is definitely the antagonist, she has the most compelling view with which to tell this story as effectively (and efficiently) as possible, considering both the story itself and its salability. For example, I could write the first bit of the Velorin saga from Rayn's point of view, but then I would have to squish the first two books into one and shift my antagonist from Arzakel to Corla. Oh, and that act of squishing the first two books into one would make for either a very hefty first book (on the order of 150 to 200k) or a very superficial book on the order of 100k. Losing Arzakel as the antagonist in Book One also destroys the connection with the overall series antagonist, thus giving Loria's POV nothing to push against until I can re-introduce the series' antagonist much later in that two-into-one squish in Rayn's story. So Ayren is the protagonist, and I now can stop feeling guilty for giving her POV more time in the book than Rayn's. That fixes a lot of problems right there.

Also, looking at those four-acts for the antag and his "goons" made me solidify their backstory much better. In fact, the backstory is so much clearer, that I'm going to write snippets of it as standalone stories that will help me keep focus on character voices and conflicts. Because once the story is written, the image in my mind is solidified in a different way. It has concrete connections to something outside of my mind, and not just in a nebulous, I wrote my notes out or mapped them kind of way. But in an actual "I have translated my mental image into a complete story" kind of way. That really cements things for me, because once the story is complete, I can remember it as a movie, not just random images.

But I do have enough from all of these four-act structures to piece together a timeline and put that sucker up in lights next to my writing desk. I've got a few other things to put up there, too (such, I dunno, how 'bout the map, one of the most visual things I've had for this book since the beginning). Maybe by the end of the month I'll have put myself back on track for writing SoZ again. I really hope so.

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