Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Strange Evolution of Tales

Well, V has been in holding pattern for awhile, but for good reason: the story itself, that is, not in its details but in its very essence, is still evolving. But it is indeed evolving, rapidly and dramatically and in quite unexpected directions.

If there is one thing I have learned as a fiction writer, it is that stories, the truest and best stories I am capable of writing, must write themselves at least as much as I write them. This is definitely what happened with Bluebird, and it is what I am allowing to happen with V. Bluebird sat for two months between my latest and greatest vision for the story and the start of the actual writing. What I have discovered in the last month is that V is not quite at the point of being ready to be written. It is in the process of letting me know what it is.

And I can tell you that this unfolding revelation is nothing if not surprising. The story as I imagine it now bears only a minor resemblance to the story I originally conceived six years ago. That story was born at a much different time in my life and reflected my life at that time. Out of necessity, it is being drastically reshaped to reflect my life at this time, and this process is being guided not so much by my conscious effort as by the powerful gravitational force of the world in which I currently live.

The science fiction element of the story is becoming far less central, although it will undoubtedly remain important, since the whole concept of the tale has to do with eros and cosmos. But the space travel elements are moving more into the background, as a sort of underlying context, giving a greater stage to the earthbound, human aspect of the story.

In fact, one critical item I am still not sure about is the exact relationship between the two parallel narratives: on the one hand, the space exploration program, and on the other hand, the protagonist's life story. As in some postmodern novels, I am starting to feel that perhaps the two narratives will exist in different orders of reality that bear an ambiguous relationship to each other and to objective historical truth. I also am starting to feel that, whatever the relationship between the narratives might be, I don't need to be overly concerned with attempting to explain it, or even fully to understand it myself. After all, it is not history I am writing, but poetry.

To further complicate matters, a third narrative is suggesting itself to me. What makes this one particularly interesting is that it involves Thomas Fairchild, the protagonist of The Bluebird of Happiness, thus creating a link between the two novels without making V an actual sequel. I had already been thinking that Thomas's poetic masterpiece would be referenced in the fictional future of V, but now that element is becoming much more prominent. I am starting to think that part of the story will entail the protagonist conducting research into Thomas's life and work and the relation between the two, in an attempt to understand his own situation.

In any case, what I have realized the most is that I am not so interested in the science fictional elements as I am in the more earthly, realistic, and human elements. This is perhaps because I have discovered in recent times that real life is far stranger and more fascinating than any fantasy we can devise.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

It Helps To Know People

The first draft of the beginning of V has found its way to the scrap heap. This is hardly surprising; I half expected it. It's just part of the writing process. I made a new start the other day, just typing up a few opening lines, but it was enough to give the opening of the story a new feel and the novel itself a new start. Of course, it remains to be seen whether and how long this version will last.

This novel has gotten off to a very slow start, despite the sudden new vision I had for it recently. That in itself is nothing unusual either (the speed and ease with which I wrote Bluebird was indeed the unusual, almost freakish, phenomenon). What is more remarkable at present is the specific reason I have discovered that the novel has gotten off to such a slow start.

It is something incredibly basic and simple, something to which in hindsight it seems amazing that I had not given more thought. That element is characterization. One thing that made Bluebird so easy to write was the fact that the characters were so vivid and real to me, as well as so particular and highly individualized, perhaps even to the point of being eccentric. I felt that I was writing about real people that I knew, and was merely reporting what they did and said and thought and felt.

This new story, on the other hand, has never had very highly developed characters. It has always been more abstract in terms of the people populating the story. I probably did not give this more consideration earlier because, unlike Bluebird--which, for all of its experimental flourishes and jumping around in time and different modes of reality, remains essentially a conventional narrative--V has been conceived from the start as more highly experimental in form. Basically, I had never even considered characterization to be as important for this story as it is for more traditional novels. The same has held true in terms of plot--V has not, and is still not, conceived as displaying what most readers would consider a coherent or easily comprehensible plot, although one is present under the surface and will no doubt be gleaned by the perceptive reader, though more intuitively than rationally.

So, going in, the fact that I did not have highly developed characters did not concern me, because, being the type of experimental novel that I intended it to be, the conventional elements of the traditional novel I did not regard as essential as they normally might be. It was to be written from a more purely subjective and psychological point of view, in which the first-person consciousness of the narrator blurs into more objective styles of writing such as news articles and scientific reports. This, in fact, is part of the theme of the story, i.e. the relation between subjective and objective views and descriptions of reality.

However, I came to realize just the other day that the new inspiration I had would work much better, and be more truly inspiring, if I were to have characters who were more real to me, who were more developed as characters. Their characterization in the story would occur in a different manner, perhaps more ambiguously and mysteriously, than it did in Bluebird or in most other novels, but it would still be helpful if I, the author, knew who these characters were. This is similar to the plot, which, though it will be ambiguous and mysterious to the reader, is something that should at least be known to me.

If I know who the characters are and what the plot is, I can choose to reveal them in whatever way I please to my readers, in whatever order and to whatever degree of coherence. The fragmentation of our experience and knowledge in the modern world is something that has been of great interest and concern to me, and this is part of the reason why I am choosing to take this approach to the story. I seek to explore the relationship between our fragmented experience and the possibility of an underlying unity or coherence to things.

In any case, I came to see recently that if the protagonist in particular, the male cosmonaut, was more concrete and defined and partially drawn upon myself, he would be much easier and more intuitive for me to write. This is true of the other characters as well, though not nearly to the same degree, since the story is to be written for the most part from the protagonist's point of view and has much to do with his attempts to know other people, who always remain to some degree mysterious.

And one thing that is quite silly is that the protagonist, as of this writing, does not even have a name. Again, in experimental fiction, this is not always a requirement, but in this story I have no reason to leave him anonymous. In short, I've realized I want to know more about who this guy is. I need to sit down and have a few talks with him, perhaps, so that I can then be better equipped to tell his story, and to make V a far more human and emotional tale, as it was already becoming, than a purely intellectual and conceptual exercise.