Tuesday, August 23, 2011

This one won't end in a wedding.

(This post is for the "media" installment of Carnival of Aces).

I'm having some serious writer's block right now. Not just on this blog (maybe it's some kind of 4-year curse), but on the godforsaken NaNoWriMo novel that I'm editing (or more accurately, completely rewriting). I wanted to talk about how attempting to write a novel taught me more about the media than reading hundreds of novels, but I feel like my head is full of pudding. Anyway, I thought I would push on anyway, with the warning that I may not be able to fully explore all my thoughts. Oww, my pudding.

Back in November, when I was doing NaNo, I promised that I'd tell you all how it went, and I don't think I ever did. Well, I won, which means that I wrote a 50,000 word first draft of a novel in a month. I always liked some things about chick lit, but thought it was missing something, like a story that I could really relate to from a personal level. So I decided to write a chick lit novel about an asexual. She would not have an awesome job, she would not live in the hippest neighborhood, and she would not have stereotyped friends. But it would be a coming-of-age story focused on a young urban woman where everything basically works out in the end. No one dies or anything.

So here I am, working on Draft 2, trying to do an "alternative" take on a very clich├ęd genre. And sometimes I feel like by attempting that, I've set myself up for failure. I finally know why writers are always doing "meet cutes" in books and movies: Because it's extremely difficult to get two specific people who don't know each other to connect in the real world. For instance, I want my protagonist, Annie, to meet another person who can help her in her quest. So far, in various iterations, they're met at a bar, a wedding, and after Annie reads about him in the newspaper and looks up his e-mail. All of these scenarios have felt forced to me.

I also learned why movies end with weddings and why romance is inserted into plots that don't need it. I was once told by a wise playwriting professor that in my play, something awful needed to happen to my protagonist before the final redemption. In an analysis of Confessions of a Shopaholic (okay, that sounds funny), there are two awful events in the book. The first one is that Becky, the protagonist, is asked by her love interest to help him pick out a suitcase, but she later discovers that the suitcase is for his girlfriend. In a vacuum, this event might seem awkward or embarrassing. We're supposed to read it as awful because it dashes her romantic hopes (for the moment). When you have a crush on someone (and I'm reaching here, because I last had a crush in 2004), little things can seem significant, which can lead to emotional ups and downs. Without these ups and downs, there is no plot.

I feel like plotting my novel is just about finding news ways to make things harder for Annie, which she will struggle to overcome. Again, it feels forced because real life isn't necessarily laid out like a story. Sometimes you need to create drama where there might otherwise be none, and marriage is one thing that can do this. The TV show Once and Again, which I've been watching recently (thanks Owen!) is a prime example of this. It's a big event that marks time in people's lives. Everyone can agree that your wedding day is important, so readers/viewers can be on the same page (hurr, hurr) plotwise. Even if we're not marriage-oriented people, we've known them. But in the case of Annie, I feel like I'm starting from scratch when I try to show readers what's important to her and why. Once I leave the usual chick lit script, I have to work much harder to make the crucial events in Annie's life seem crucial to a reader.

Like everyone else, I want more asexual characters. That's why I put one (and maybe one more) in my novel. But it's been extremely difficult to place her in a compelling plot, even though there are some interesting and unique things about Annie and her circumstances. Yeah, plot has never been my strong point, but maybe there's a reason why there has never been an asexual chick lit heroine: It's very confusing to do. Sometimes I think about screenwriters wrangling their twisty plots and wondering if I could ever do the same. I don't know if their reluctance to explore lesser-known sexualities means they're truly disinterested in those sexualities, or if they just don't want to spend the time constructing a new world where everyone can agree that asexuals fit. As I wrote in my review of Animythical Tales, a story compilation by an asexual writer, "I'd had no idea how much, as a reader, I'd relied upon, and expected, sex and sexualized romance to move a story along."

So I don't want to rely on it as a writer either, but I can understand why people are tempted to.


Anonymous said...

Maybe they could "meet cute" through AVEN?

Just a suggestion :)


heidi said...

Other than bodily injury or family crisis, aces have pets... sometimes. But "Fido went missing" is about as thrilling as "best friend is getting married" (for an ace, the line could still be read as 'in love with best friend' though)

...blah. I really hope to incorporate asexuality into my Language & Gender class this fall. Kinda nervous, but it should be interesting.

Anonymous said...

Coming up with obstacles is one of the big problems I have when I'm writing ace characters, too. I have one in the works where I was originally attempting to write a contemporary YA book and had to end up inserting dragons because I couldn't figure out how to move the plot forward. This may be just because I'm bad at constructing contemporary plots, but while I had a lot in mind for "building friendships" I couldn't think of an overall plot arc to keep things rolling smoothly.

From my own writing experience, it seems like the less structured the environment the harder it is to not fall on romance or tropes to move things along. I don't know if that's just me, though. (Contemporary adult U.S. being the most unstructured, contemporary schooling more structured than that, fantasy/sci-fi universes or mystery/suspense-driven plots more structured by virtue of having to be worldbuilt.)

Carolyn said...

Hmm, if you don't want to kill anyone and you don't want anyone to get married that does sound tough. Maybe a health problem or a divorce for drama? I read mostly memoirs and non-fiction, and believe me, stuff in real life happens even crazier than in the stories :) I suggest going to some new places to meet some people with more drama and you can get some ideas from that. Fight the writer's block, I really want to read your story!

Anonymous said...

Ah. It's a goog thing that I've never tried comtemporary stuff, I think.

I'd probably be struggling with similar issues if I tried something contemporary -- one has to create significance where other people might not see any.

I'd probably not hesitate to kill someone, divorce the heroine's parents or turn a friend who wants more into a creep, if need be. Also, coming out can include a lot of drama. (Hell, I'm going on thirty and still have trouble if and when to tell my parents.)

The meeting cute through AVEN(-meetups) seems a good idea, as might be some volunteer work Annie might be doing (animal shelter, pride staff, whatnot).

(As aside: it did become a blog after all.)

bdiddle said...

someone may have already mentioned it; but in media creation, the main character could actually be quite boring while the world and characters around him / her are very interesting and full of drama or whatever. I read a review about the movie Nicholas Nickleby, it says this about the movie and character Nickleby. Characters such as Smike, the corporate twins, the torturous adoption service-worker, love interests. Nickleby seems like he's walking through a world where he is nearly having to contrive his words to match the situations he finds himself in, or the character is more removed from the drama surrounding him. Of course, torture and abuse can do that to any person, either make them removed from or violent to life occurences.

Emerald Girl said...

When you think about it, aren't all events in books somewhat contrived? I don't know if you've heard of the Theory of Narrative Causality, but it basically says that all events in a work of fiction happen because the plot requires them to. There is no "natural" way for things to happen in a book. I don't know if that helps, but it was (hopefully) interesting.

As for obstacles, you could write a big, dramatic argument with someone the heroine cares about, or a natural disaster, or a serious injury/illness that almost kills someone but not quite. I could get more creative, but it tends to scare people when I start talking in depth about tormenting my characters. I sympathize, though.

Ily said...

So many good comments, I want to respond to everyone individually! But I only have limited internet access at the moment, so will just have to say "thanks!" for now :)