If I belonged to the Insecure Support Writer’s Group I would post this on the first Wednesday of August. But, I’m having my moment of serious self-doubt right now, so I can’t wait that long.
Suddenly, something about the blog posts and articles that I’ve both written and read recently have made me question everything I have written so far on my NaNo#1 Novel – That which is left is lost. It’s culminated in a long list of panic-stricken concerns that I am convinced means that I have no ides what I’m doing. For example:
- Is my protagonist a willing or unwilling hero? Is he even a hero at all?
- Does my antagonist orchestrate the events in the novel that lead to my protagonists change in circumstance?
- Does the structure of the novel support the story arc? Do I even have a recognisable story arc?
- Do I demonstrate change in my protagonist?
- Will people (readers) even care enough about my characters to continue reading past page 1?
- Do my characters react to change or create opportunities to change?
When I’m reading all those ‘how-to’ books on writing or advice on creating a novel I can say I understand it but then when I try to apply it to my own work I fall flat. My novel isn’t one with an out and out hero, my characters don’t seem to fit into the archetypes of fiction where their flaws determine how they progress and change throughout the story. Rather, my characters put one foot in front of another and make decisions based on limited assumptions that cause them to alter the path of their own, and others’, future. Even my antagonist – Madeline – isn’t really a bad person, she’s just misguided and desperate to make an impact on the world – she isn’t my villain or my anti-hero. She just is.
Once again I feel as though I have no clue what it is I am doing. The fear is that I will put in all this hard work on the story I want to tell but that, somehow, in the telling of it I am dooming it to never see the light of day. I don’t believe my novel is ‘traditionally written’ in the sense that the book is not based on one person’s narrative: on the face of it, the story is about Dr Whalley and his need to ensure his patient not die alone. Yet, beneath that, the driver for the book itself is to tell Madeline’s story, but not from her viewpoint. The premise is that people remember Madeline differently to how she herself is, but that she ends up taking on this persona and becoming what people believe her to be.
I guess the problem is I have never really come across a novel like the one I am trying to write. I can’t think of any comparable titles. I don’t know of any story told in quite the same approach, or understand what it is I am doing that is so different to other writers. All I know is that I’m writing the story the way I think it should be told. Yet, I can’t apply the most basic of writing ‘rules’ to it in a practical sense, at least not yet, not to my eyes.
So I am in doubt. I feel that I may have written something worthwhile and yet all the evidence makes me wonder if it’s just hopeful desire getting in the way of woeful acceptance that it’s not a good book. For me writing has never been a formulaic approach – I’ve never had to question the motives of my main character and consider if they are aligned with the theme of the narrative, or if the obstacle they are fighting against is a metaphor for something bigger, or even if the struggle they are going through climaxes at the right point. I just write.
And now, having written, I am struggling because I do not know how to apply all the advice and suggestions to the manuscript I have in front of me. I have written something that I do not understand, at least according to the wisdom of those who have gone before and set the way of authorship.
Does that make me wrong? I don’t know.
Does it mean that my novel will never see the light of day? Possibly.
Does it make me a bad writer? I hope not.
Despite my lack of faith in my abilities, I do believe in the story I am working on. To me Dr Whalley, Madeline, Cecelia, James – they aren’t characters that can be categorised or placed in boxes to be ticked off, they’re people; complicated, unknowable individuals that have the capability to surprise not just the rest of the world, but themselves too. I can profess to know them well and explain away their actions, but I can’t understand them any more than I understand myself. As characters – as people – they are each an enigma.
Maybe I don’t understand fiction, perhaps I will never be capable of identifying the three act story, or placing the proper scenes within an ideal story structure. I was always told that I over-complicate things, that if there is an easy way and a hard way I will always end up with the latter because I believe the first is a cheat and the ‘hard way’ is more character building and worthwhile. The hard way makes for an interesting story – a quest in which I can be the heroine. But if I can apply terms like this to my own life, why can’t I do it with my own creation?
All I know is that the questions rolling around in my head – like the ones above – are ones I would never ask of ‘real life’ and for some reason I feel that by trying to pinpoint the answers within my novel I am creating something more artificial than believable. To me, my novel isn’t a fantasy, it’s real life…and real life has no true answers.
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