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 clichéd 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.