Saturday, April 21, 2018


Lately I've been sleeping a little fitfully, so I saw this tweet early this morning at 4:30 AM. Although I don't always feel compelled to look at my phone, I do often find it calms my mind down to have some #content to #consume.

My response was that I couldn't tweet mine, per se, because in my delirious state, having had it jarred from the recess of my mind, I thought maybe I had made a breakthrough that would crack this thing wide open just yet, and I supposed that the thread would imply that the ideas we have when we're teenagers are juvenile and that mostly respondents would have given up on them by now. (A sampling of the responses to these novels were actually quite supportive.)

Although I've always wanted to be a writer, I never had an idea for a novel until I was in my last year of high school. By that time I had written a fair amount of output: beyond school assignments like drama presentations and the 30-minute short film I did for CommTech, I had written a one-act play for the school's Fringe Festival, a feature-length screenplay that I sold to an aspiring filmmaker friend, and co-written and drawn 12 issues of my own webcomic. Some of this was very good for a 17-year-old, some not so much. My point is that I had output.

The idea struck me in the middle of a Writer's Craft class presentation on allegory. I started to envision "the saddest girl in the world" leaving her hometown and searching for her long-lost brother. Eventually she uncovers a scheme to control minds with pharmaceuticals. There are a few other key bits of quirk I am omitting here for succinctness and because, as I said, I haven't let go of it yet. But the idea that a 17-year-old could accurately and bitingly diagnose and resolve all of society's ills is something only that 17-year-old could think.

Like many of the responses to that tweet, this was to be my first NaNoWriMo attempt, and despite being in my first year of a college course in Journalism by that time (or perhaps because it was only my first year, in a college journalism course,) I did in fact reach the goal of 50,000 words, coming within maybe 10,000 words of an organic ending to the story.

Time passed, my computer crashed, all that work was lost, although I could recount virtually the entire plot outline I had set out when I was 17-18. Every once in a while, when I felt I had leveled up in prose, I would take a stab at my dream opening chapters, where we meet the narrator - not the "saddest girl in the world," whose name was Melancholy (again, I was 17,) Mel for short, but her male friend Eli, to whom she relates her adventures. My premise was that I could never actually get inside Mel's mind, and somedegree of distance was needed. Plus for all that quirk I planned on including, I could put in a sort of "Big Fish" device where you're never quite sure if what Mel had told Eli is the literal truth.

Earlier in this decade I made a very brave stab at trying this again and to a point I was pleased with the results. I got to maybe 35,000 or 40,000 words over the course of a year or two (no more NaNoWriMos for me, life always gets in the way) when the ending that I had envisioned started coming unglued because while I could get from point A to point B to point C - the parts that I had long envisioned and ruminated on from my teen years - points X, Y and Z were a little more of a stretch. The concept of medications brainwashing people felt more rancid as I learned ore and more about the stigma of seeking help for one's mental illnesses, and the theme was transmuted more into TeleComm, somewhat awkwardly. Moreover, I had invented some new ideas to play with that turned Mel into a secondary character in her own story.

In the time since I last put it down, I actually started dating a woman named Mel, which makes it a little awkward to use that as the name of my character - but as a writer you tend to get attached to things like these, so she continues to live in my mind as Mel(ancholy.)

In the light of day, my "breakthrough," feels less like a breakthrough, but just something to play with. I have spent a lot of time grappling with not only my intended Mind-Blowing Social Commentary (I'd settle for a making a few noteworthy observations, but it's hard to tamp down that teenage ambition) but also pondering whatever right I have to slip into the skin of a female character and push my intended "the princess saves herself in this one" narrative, and what responsibilities I have in doing so. As a dude writer, in 2018, you have to be aware of how much your natural inclinations may reinforce played-out tropes, and whether you are up to doing the extra legwork to avert or subvert them should you decide to do so.

I want this to be a smart, funny, surprising book, in the event that I ever finally finish writing it.
 I want it to live up to the potential of being a story about a smart, unique young lady coming to terms with her flaws and meeting her potential, all on her own, without necessarily defining success as "winning a guy." If she is indeed to be the "saddest girl in the world" (a premise I have played down as I've matured) I want to end by determining what place that sadness holds in our life - that it can liberate us as well as hurt us, as long as we are not controlled by it.

I may not have time in the near future to revisit the world I had created for her, but Mel, or whatever name she has in the future, continues to live in my mind, as real as any actual person I know. Realer than most, honestly.

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