02 December 2009

The Difficult Decisions

This post is more of a random musing than anything else. I'm stuck, and I need to think out loud; and lacking any more inspiring ideas for a blog post, I thought I might as well muse here and see if any of you want to offer opinions :)

So, on Monday I signed up for Holly Lisle's revision course. Although I've 'done' the first month already, the lessons I saw were the original drafts; I'm now working from the beginning again with the 'proper' lessons.

Lesson one got me thinking when I first read it a month ago, and it's blistering in my brain again now - and I don't know how to answer it. It's all about goals, about knowing what you wanted your book to be when you started writing, about knowing what it actually is now that you've written it, and about knowing what you want it to be.

You can't hit a target you can't see, after all.

I'm using Jesscapades for this course, obviously, since it's the finished draft that I want to edit. I love this story, always have - but I am really struggling to know what I want to do with it, which is, I think, why I've stalled in edits for it so many times.

I know what I originally wanted it to be; I still have my notes on scrappy bits of paper and in random books and on random blogs and websites, talking about my plans for the book. It was to be the story of Jessana, called Jess, who is about to graduate from the Shard Academy. Shards are assassins who kill at the direction of Fate, assumedly to protect the world from people who are Better Off Dead. Only in order to graduate, she is told that she must kill John, her best friend, whom she 'knows' is innocent. So she lashes out against what she's been told, uncovers a conspiracy in the process, and More Stuff Happens.

That's what it was to be, with fights and shiny technology and intrigue.

What it is (other than a mess of a first draft O:)) is altogether less spy and more magic than I'd intended. Jess is quieter, less certain about life and death. There's virtually no technology and only one real fight. She's still told to kill John, but that's only the catalyst for the real conflict, which is the conspiracy she uncovers. But the story doesn't really end; it's blatantly a Book One - which it is, but I wish it weren't so obvious about the whole thing. I'm a big believer that each individual book in a series ought to be able to at least mostly stand alone; and Jesscapades at present does not.

So. What do I want it to be? This is the confusing part. A lot of the problem in the draft stems from the fact that my central conflict, my main story arc is confused and unclear: is it the having to kill John, or is it the fall-out from uncovering the conspiracy? Of course, it can be both, but one or the other needs to dominate so that it can be brought to a satisfactory conclusion at the end.

As it stands, the kill-John arc is concluded about 2/3rds of the way through, and the conspiracy arc isn't really concluded (because that's part of book two) - so there's nothing left to conclude at the end. I suppose, based on this, it's most sensible to draw out the kill-John arc to the end, isn't it? :)

But my major dilemma is this: Originally, the catalyst for Jess running off to join the Shards, the reason that she uncovers the conspiracy (because the conspirators have been shadowing her ever since), is the death of her sister, apparently murdered by the conspirators.

Fine and good, but for that line to work, Jess needs to step up to the plate in terms of character. She needs to become more of who she was supposed to be - a sassy, confident assassin - and less of who she became - a concerned, caring individual who wants to save everyone, and whom I'm not convinced (and neither are my beta-readers) could actually kill someone. Fight and maim, sure, but kill? Not so much.

In essence, Jess needs to be.... Tara. This is where it gets confusing. Tara is Jess's sister that was murdered - only in one lot of revisions that I started in the middle of the year, somehow, Tara didn't get murdered. Somehow, Tara ended up being the one at the Shard Academy, the one training to be an assassin, then one told to kill John. And Jess was her older sister, stuck on the outside, jealous at the attention and schooling and abilities Tara got but wary of the Shards, of their morals, of their attitudes. In this version, Tara gets in over her head when she discovers the conspiracy, and Jess has to save her.

My dilemma: at present, both stories have equal weight. Both sound like stories I want to write, and I'm in a complete deadlock over which I should write. Do I leave the original story and change Jess's character to fit? This is tricky because in my mind, Tara now has that personality. Or do I change the story to fit Jess's character, which is tricky because in a way, she's no longer the 'main' character; Tara is the one in the thick of the actual action and intrigue.

*sigh* Like I said: deadlock.

So I throw it open to you: Have you ever been in this situation? What did you do? If you were in this situation (imagination, here), what would you do? Which story sounds more appealing to you? Can you help me at all????

Thanks. :)


Snazel said...

Wow, those both sound really interesting. Hmmm. I haven't been in that place myself, since I haven't, ever, really, edited. *cough* But I do like the one with Tara on the inside better, just cause that's how my mind works. And then you have views from the inside and outside! *beams*

Merc said...

I've had situations where one character takes over. My... second, I believe, NaNo was that way. Magran appeared out of nowhere and more or less took over the novel.

So I gave in (scrapping the NaNo when it was done) and started writing about him. That became "Necromancer Rising" (working title). All well and good, right? So the second book was still supposed to be about him... except it wasn't, I realized. It's about his mentor/friend Leopard. (Which is good. It works MUCH better this way.)

So I think, since you have two characters and basically two different stories, no, you should not try to change Jess to make her Tara. I highly suspect this Would Not Work and characters would rebel. ;)

(Though it could be interesting if there was enough in their psychology to have Jess, say, make herself become Tara if Tara died, but that's yet ANOTHER story.)

If this were my novel (imagination, here ;)) I would go with Tara's story, which is closer--it seems--to the original Shiny Idea. Jess could be a subplot of that, maybe giving Tara second thoughts about choosing between her family and her career as a Shard, or however that plays out.

If, after that, I wanted to write about Jess-as-she-is-now, a companion novel would definitely have merit. Jess' story has a different plot and focus; Tara's story is the one that is the plot and focus of "Jesscapades".

Both sound fun, but I've liked the plot of "Jesscapades" and I think if that requires Tara to be the MC and take over, that would be the one I'm most interested in reading first. O:)

Remember you CAN write both if, eventually, you want to. You just gotta pick one to start with, fix it, then you'll know where the other needs to go/is headed. ;)

Danyelle said...

I vote for the second option--Tara not being dead. Just my opinion, because I tend to write by character rather than by plot, if that makes sense. My characters create the plot, and not the other way around. It feels more natural to do it this way, because then the characters aren't forced. Do you really want to spend an entire novel forcing Jess to be someone she's not?


I've never had this problem. >.< Erm, I do sometimes come to a brick wall is over setting. It usually happens early on, and I end up scrapping what I have for what works. GF was originally only in the MCs POV, but then Myles happened along, and well, now it has four POVs. >.<

Krispy said...

Tough place to be Inky one. :( I'm going to agree with Merc and Dani on what they said about character: you shouldn't fit character to plot or force them to be someone they aren't. So I guess that means going with Tara's story. Plus, from what little I know about Jesscapades, the Tara version does sound the closest to the original !!! idea. I just lament that changing it to Tara's story would make "Jesscapades" something of a misnomer.

Good luck!

Rie said...

Inky, if you need someone to work through HTRYN, I'm here.

But also reading Jess, Tara not being dead works well, I believe.

Yunaleska said...

Why can't Tara stay dead?

(is it wrong that I like killing cahracters because it provides conflict?)

Plus I wouldn't worry too much about making it a stand alone book. Agents love series. I love series. Write it as a series!

(NB: I'm writing this shortly after waking up, which might give a different answer to when I'm fully awake).

Ashtah said...

I think that the second Tara-not-dead option would provide a much more powerful story... :)

My only concern is the issue with the title... :( I love "Jesscapades" and "Taracapades" doesn't quite have the same ring... How attached are the characters to the their names? Any chance Tara has to spend some time pretending to be Jess (or in fact is enrolled as "Jess" at the academy, for some yet to be thought of reason?).

Anyway! Yes, Tara alive would make everything excellent I think.

Good luck!

Liana Brooks said...

Write them both. Alternate chapters with Jess on the outside and Tara in the thick of the action.

Or write the original idea with Tara.

Honestly, it sounds like you're getting hung up over a name. I know it's not that simple, but hear me out. You had a Shiny Idea and a Cool Title. And you started writing... but then the character you were writing about wasn't the cool one.

Fair enough. It happens.

But instead of continuing with the Shiny Idea that you want to write you're stopping because the MC you wanted has, essentially, the wrong name.

I know characters have more life than that. But if your only hang up is the name, write the original idea and keep going.

Jess doesn't need to be the center of attention (all double meanings intended there).

Martha Skye Martin said...

Hi Inky. I like Tara more than Jess as she's the stronger of the two, from what I've gleaned. I don't think I'm going to be much help because my fiction writing to date's been pretty lame. I do read a lot of it, though, and I recognize traits in both Jess and Tara from other books. It kind of reminded me of Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern and Nerilka's Story. The two women weren't sisters, but there are similarities. I don't know if that's helpful or not...


Charmaine Clancy said...

I think Jesscapades sounds more intriguing than Tarapades. Kill the sister, let Jess shine ;-)
Build up your kill John plot, and subtle the conspiracy to start to open towards the end, giving Jess something to tackle in book 2 - bit like the Wolverine's journey in the X-men series, you can always make book 2 start before book 1.
Either way sounds good and I'm excited to hear the editing is underway - I REALLY want to read this one!

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