Wednesday, August 20, 2008

David's Identity Crisis

Today's ruminations on name choices:
A scary thought occurred to me on the way home today. What if David's name is supposed to be Alex. Alex Donovan Noyes, a not so subtle nod to alexithymia. I'm not terribly fond of being so overt, but the more I thought about it, David even seems like an Alex to me. But I like 'David'. I like the sound of it. It's softer, somehow. Perhaps I'll ditch the Donovan, which was really just pulled out of a hat anyway, and use David Alexander Noyes. Yes, I like that. And Katherine Alexander is actually stronger than Kate Donovan and it lacks all the Irish associations. Okay, whew. That made me a little nervous. David was having a full on identity crisis. But no longer. David Alexander Noyes. His mom calls him Alex. I don't know why yet.

Today's ruminations on the theme of Self-Knowledge:
I have considered the thought that David being so caught up in academia and so stymied by his alexithymia is what causes him to have absolutely no self knowledge other than perhaps a strong sense of self-preservation. Claire, on the other hand, has a very clear view of herself (hence the name Claire), and how others perceive her. She is a self-sacrificing, warm, loving person, but is also fully aware of her flaws and consciously tries to compensate for them. She is a model of self knowledge and through the course of their acquaintanceship, she attempts to impart her skills to David out of a worry for his inability to steer his own course.

David, then, will be a highly dynamic character after all. That's a relief because I worried about him stagnating in the plot, about him having insufficient motivation to undergo any significant changes. He's good at taking direction, even if he's not great at directing himself, so he should be receptive to Claire's 'teaching'. I will set up Claire's teaching ability by having her fulfill certain volunteer duties (as yet undetermined, but likely as a Walking Escort on campus or perhaps running a small bible study for young women, though I'm not sure how big a role religion will play in the book yet). Using this model, I don't think I'll have to worry so much about David, which is good because Claire gets herself into all sorts of difficulties, and I can tell I'll need to reserve all my worry for her. Shonda Rhymes, the creator of Grey's Anatomy, lays on the floor of her office for hours and does nothing but worry about her characters. I do much the same thing, but it's more of a deep meditation from my bed (what I call a 'waking nap') instead of a sobfest on the floor.

Today's ruminations on outlining:
The above-mentioned are all things that I have to work out in outline (and blog) form before I start writing. Otherwise, I'll have David saying something that David wouldn't say, or I'll have Claire doing something that Claire wouldn't do. Orson Scott Card ran into that problem when he started writing the Shadow books. Once he got to know Bean a little better, he realized he'd had Bean doing and saying things to Ender that Bean would never say or do. So I try to get to get to fully know my characters before I start writing from their perspectives. Of course, I always leave the door open for surprise.

I have decided to outline up to Christmas break in the story (about the halfway point) and then start writing in earnest. I'm considering a "novel in two semesters" format a la Chip Kidd, but don't want to box myself in at the onset. Anyway, after having outlined up to Christmas Break, and having written at least two chapters, I will turn over two chapters at a time (one from David's perspective and one from Claire's) to a select panel of first readers who will be chosen from amongst my personal friends. I will then continue the outline, taking into account the input from my first readers. The individuals who are to compose my panel of first readers will be formally invited to take part (like, no joke, I'm printing invitations on some pretty snazzy card stock). Out of those who accept the invitation, three will be chosen to join the panel. I'm very excited about this as I have some very, very interesting and intelligent friends from fairly diverse backgrounds, and I'm positively itching for their input.

I've just learned that Carl Iagnemma doesn't outline. He says:
I believe that the depth and richness of a story usually emerge during the writing process, and so if I begin with a clear idea of where the story is going, I risk rushing to the end too quickly and overlooking what the story is truly about.

The same logic explains why I don't write from an outline. I usually have a general idea of where the story is going, but I try to avoid planning in too much detail. The best endings are those that emerge only after I've thought long and hard about the various ways the story might end. Then I choose the ending that seems surprising yet somehow inevitable. If the ending is surprising to me, there's a pretty good chance it will be surprising to the reader.

More ruminations:

Claire has always lived in Bloomington.

Claire only ever panics over one thing. (Sorry, can't tell you what, though.)

I worry there is not enough racial diversity amongst my characters. I don't want to force race upon my little population of imaginary friends, but it would be nice if a character would declare himself as something other than Caucasian. There is a pretty huge spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds to explore, though, and that's always interested me more than racial distinctions anyway.

Claire may very well share many characteristic with Jasper Hale of the Twilight series, though her scars are not surface scars and she doesn't harbor the same resentment as Jasper. She has chosen a healthier route. She's let go of the past and focuses on her hopes for the future. She is unusually emotionally cognitive, though, and so has a tendency to help those around her feel at ease and comfortable.

I had worried about who exactly would be the second party in Claire's heart-wrenching catalyst moment, but having determined that Claire has always lived in a college town has cemented the image in my mind. And it works. (Sorry so cryptic, I'm just not prepared to reveal exactly what I'm on about at the moment. I don't even like thinking about it, but it's already written and it fits so perfectly. Wish I could share it here, but I don't intend to write the novel on the blog, so some information will have to remain off limits.)

Another worry I'd had that was solved by Claire's Bloomington upbringing was that I'd wondered where Claire's mother came up with the middle name of Lucasta. But perhaps Claire's absentee father was an undergrad hookup studying English Lit or poetry and contributed the name Lucasta. That solves that mystery.

Yet another worry. I don't know what to do about David's father. He's nonexistent, of course. But should he have died? I can't decide. I do know that I briefly thought about killing him off in a car accident during David's childhood, perhaps leaving David with some subtle brain damage to have caused the alexithymia, but now I've decided that I don't even want the word alexithymia in the book anywhere. I don't want to have to name it and give the clinical details. I just want it to be so. It's a part of his personality, and it's even more appropriate that he not be aware of his 'condition' than it would be for him to have a knowledge of it. So that's really two worries: what to do about David's father, and to what extent to reveal an obscure cognitive disorder. I think I'll purposely avoid them both. That seems the most simple. I don't foresee there being any reason to break from the narrative to expostulate on either one. It's just the way things are.

Katherine Alexander lives in a loft-style apartment in downtown Louisville with a killer view of the river. She gets in by 6 every night and stays in. She is very, very good at the NY Times crossword puzzle. David and Claire spend the Christmas Break with her.

I've gotten enough outlined to fill out perhaps six chapters without needing too detailed an understanding of the lab-side of cognitive sciences. I may jump right into writing tomorrow.

Tomorrow I intend to publish the Google Notebook containing snippets of research I've been doing this week. It occurs to me that this project is only one week old today! Wow. I hope progress continues at this pace. Though only about a dozen paragraphs have been written, the amount of thought and research I've already put into this project is encouraging. I hope I can stay this motivated and dedicated because Claire, David and MarLo deserve a chance to tell their stories.

And the Google Labs folks are going to get a giant shout out in the Acknowledgments if this thing ever gets published!

No comments: