Friday, August 13, 2010

I didn’t really know Virtue Evelyn Donahue at all until...

... the night she slipped out of the first floor window of a house party on Shiplake Avenue and fell into my arms. Literally.

Anyone who's been paying attention over the past 7 years will recognise the name. Don't worry if you don't. It's obscure and one of the leads in a novel I'd plotted and toyed with the opening off back in 06/07.

Add to Your Faith Virtue; and to Virtue Knowledge by Walter Rane

Back then my biggest problem was style and voice. Who were my chosen authorly compadres with whom my book would nestle up to on a library shelf? Who's work did I love to read and I felt mirrored the way I wanted to write? It was a deep dark problem, compounded by the fact I don't write the same as I talk and that I do literally mix up profound words of great weight with minced colloquialisms. Many are the friends and family who advise me that I talk too much, and that, more importantly, they don't have the foggiest what I'm chuntering on about.

It was actually the bathroom window that she’d swung wide. Trying, I thought, to find safe haven from the midnight music that thudded and tinkled from the strains of some club anthem. Then she was struggling out the window the wrong way like some crazed cat burglar before she fell, bringing with her the sweet aroma of someone masking a smoking habit.

‘You wanted some air?’ I asked.

After that it became an issue of learning how to write proper and battling against my desperation to produce something fittingly pithy, amazingly descriptive, and focused, writing and re-writing my coursework for the NAW until I could barely make sense of it and didn't know good writing from bad.

While she sat in my arms, grinning broadly, her hair all plastered to her glowing face, somebody broke down the bathroom door with a bellow and the shatter of what had to be a mirror. It was the kind of sound you cringed at and hoped no one had hurt themselves or that the damage wasn’t so bad, but Virtue, she just kept on grinning. At me. Right up until the door breaker lurched to the window and shouted down.

What next? I struggled with the hope that I could write a fast flowing YA caper that would bring me the quick buck and allow me to focus on writing full time, and not when my lethargy abated to give me 5 minutes of writing time. It didn't help that I was still framed in the persistent rewrite mode. Thinking to myself, got to get it right first time, must add this extra nugget in here, must cut back there, must make it golden prose, but that makes perfect sense. The outcome was two half-started YA novels that went nowhere but which are fully plotted. Does my writing fit the YA market? At this point I guess not.
Her angular cheekbones had that classic, Hepburn look and her eyes were filled with late night dreaminess. They, or me, seemed fit to burst. Until the interruption she was happy to let her feet lightly swim in the air but she kicked then to be let down and she took her arms from around my neck and shook one and pointed up at him.
And in moving onto a pet project-cum-fairytale, that's kind of The Princess Bride meets Twilight, I realised - and this is largely Katie's thoughts that made me realise this - I have a serious problem with associating my reader with my main characters, and making them care. Think of Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies and how the vapidness of the main characters really doesn't endear them to the audience at all. Think of, for some, Inception, where many feel that Cobb really is the engineer of his own downfall and should hardly be cheered on when he's got his associates into so much danger. How does a writer make a character relatable when they both need to be generally interesting and likeable but have a character flaw that needs to seriously be turned about in order for the character to become fully rounded and for the story to have it's emotional heart?
‘Virtue, what the fuck?’ he shouted, ‘I thought you were dying in here. Did you jump?’ There was a moment when he searched the window frame, the sill and the scrabble point on the front wall where Virtue had lost her footing, as if trying to find a quick way down but threw up his arms. ‘Fuck.’

And none of my characters have been overwhelmingly relatable... not in a good way. One's a sexual snob who secretly harbors desires, one's from a gang, but refused to stand up for others, one's just a bit of a nobody kid who can't stand up for himself, one's a moany, self-infatuated psychic who keeps trying to commit suicide, one's a moany, self-infatuated spinster who has committed suicide. And of course, what you're reading now which has one possible rape victim / possible liar being used by a writer who wants to use her as his muse.


‘Shit,’ I said instead, ‘rape?’

‘New guy: Brett. Brett: new guy. Brett was my boyfriend.’


‘Didn’t you get the memo about the attempted rape, or were you too busy staring at my tits?’

You see, the problem is two fold.
  1. The characters I wanted to portray, and their character arcs were at odds with the larger story I wanted to tell. I couldn't service both as they exist.
  2. I really needed to find other ways to introduce the characters to the reader, making sure to: start late, finish early; show not tell; stay focused to the story; create tension; keep the narrative moving; make them likeable

‘So… where are we going?’ I asked.And that’s where this whole thing started. For me. Because she said, ‘Your place.’
As I return to Spoiling Virtue and take a new approach to the opening, I'm beginning to feel that the route to successful leads and therefore successful fiction maybe in both charisma and mystique. Keep them proactive, thinking, acting, emoting. It's worth a shot.