I wasn’t planning to start a major new project, but somehow I’ve cranked out 12 pages of a YA novel. I’m still not sure if it will sustain momentum once I get deeper in, but I’m off to a very promising start.
The project in question is not brand-new, more of a fresh approach to an old, old idea. Years ago, as a joke, my friend Tricia (creator of the webcomic Swiftriver) and I re-imagined ourselves and our friends as super-heroes (y’know, like you do…when you’ve had a little too much to drink). These were not at all serious alter-egos (again: drinking), but some of the characters got stuck in my brain.
From time to time I’d mentally revisit the characters and see if I could find a purpose for them, and a few years back I tried them out in a TV series setting, and hey, it worked. Before long I had done something unusual for me: I had crafted remarkably detailed storylines for this imaginary series, including an overall series arc. I wrote up a script in the appropriate format for a one-hour television show — my first time doing so, and getting the pacing down to account for commercial breaks was TOUGH. Maybe that’s why the idea died on the vine and the project, which I’d dubbed Action Figures, went back to purely a thought experiment.
Every so often, I take an old writing project and try to resurrect it, and one of the things I like to try is to re-write an old story in a new format. I have a couple of stories that exist as both prose novel and screenplay, and in those cases I found the new format felt like a better fit for the story in question than the old one.
Since I wrapped work (temporarily) on Bostonia, I’d been wondering what my next project might be, and no ideas were presenting themselves. Then I began reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I was immediately struck by the first-person present tense perspective, and it sparked something. So I decided to bring back Action Figures — conceived as a very adult TV series — as a YA novel, told from the perspective of one of the characters.
So far the novel has come together quickly — 10 pages in one day! — but I foresee a few problems ahead. When you’re dealing with the fixed perspective of single character, the conceit is the reader sees everything he (or she, in this case) sees and nothing more. Other characters either have to have their moments in front of the protagonist/narrator or have them reveal those moments to the P/N later.
It’s entirely possible to simply have the P/N narrate these off-page moments as well and trust that the reader will follow, but for some people that can be jarring; in their minds, they’re wondering how the main character can know about developments he/she wasn’t there to witness first-hand (even though the idea that the character is speaking to them directly is accepted readily and without challenge).
Then there is the method I’ve seen Brad Meltzer use in his novels to split the difference, with the main character providing first-person perspective narration in some chapters and an omniscient third-person perspective narrator assuming control in others. Again, readers can be thrown off by this dual narration technique, but it never bothered me personally.
For me, I think finding the right approach is going to involve a bit of trial and error. I don’t mind the trial part, but I’m hoping to keep the error to a minimum.