I write my stories in third person almost omniscient by habit. It’s just how the words hit the page. I like knowing everything that’s going on, and I don’t like having to write extensive notes just to remember what actually happened in a scene (which, believe me, I have done). I also love writing from multiple perspectives within a story (but never in the same scene –– too confusing).
At any rate, I will occasionally scribble down something in first person limited –– just a random scrap, nothing significant. Usually, it doesn’t go anywhere and remains an intriguing but stagnant slip of writing. In the past, I’ve managed to stretch one out to 10,000 words, but it was writing that started off strong and fizzled out by the end.
Not so with my current work, however. I’m baffled and delighted that I’ve kept it going. No, it doesn’t have a title yet. I haven’t learned enough about it to name it. Hopefully, I won’t have this same attitude towards naming my children in the future (if I have any). And what has kept me writing it? I’ll give you a few details…
1. The villain. I like writing a villain who is cruel to the nth degree, yet somehow appealing. Cold and calculating (the smarter the better), filled with malice, and rarely losing his/her temper (but burning with the very flames of hell when he/she does). Even better if he/she is strangely attractive to the protagonist. Whether or not we know much about the villain, he/she should put a chill in our very bones –– or at the least, into the bones of the protagonist. I like a well-written villain. In fact, in some cases, it could sometimes be argued that I favor the villain over the protagonist.
In this particular tale: The villain is a redheaded man with deep blue eyes, dressed in forest colors. The eyes are important, as my protagonist is obsessed with them. However, the villain terrifies her. Whenever she sees him, she freezes up and barely knows what to do with herself. This is a far cry from my usual main characters, who tend to be strong-willed and bolder than most, but I digress. Most of what makes him scary is what he might do, not necessarily what he has done.
2. The collision of worlds. Whether it be two entirely different cultures, worlds, universes, or time periods, this interaction fascinates me, no matter what my characters know or don’t know about the other culture/world/universe/time period. Perhaps I’ve watched too much Doctor Who…
In this particular tale: We start off in the modern world, where there are highways, cars, policemen, and speeding tickets. It shifts from here to woodlands in a medieval type of world. Most of my readers will tell you that I have more than a slight obsession with writing about the medieval. I may not be an expert, per say, but I do love the stuff… Given a choice, I may never have these characters shift back to the “real” world. After all, they might even be in the “real” world already. Interestingly enough, while my protagonist and her protector shift with the change in environment, the villain does not.
3. The idea of an established world that I’m still learning about (as an author). It’s kind of like when you have a dream, and you know more than you should, as if “it’s always been this way,” yet you’ve only been asleep for however long, so how could you possibly know? There is so much backstory that is not told, but an excellent writer will write as if the reader knows everything [within reason], only dropping hints here and there. To out and out explain it can spoil the effect. This is why prequels are not always a good idea.
In this particular tale: I know bits and pieces about this world. It’s still forming in my head, but there are a few established things –– two very distinctive cultures that interact but don’t necessarily mix well, a third party that’s still ambiguous, and a few landmarks scattered here and there. Some of it still doesn’t make sense, but it’s getting somewhere, and I have a feel for it.
4. I have limited this to one character’s perspective. I’ve tried this in the past, but I usually reach the point where I start to get bored with the character and open up the possibilities with other characters. However, this is in first person, so limiting it to one makes more sense. This presents a few simultaneously wonderful and terrible obstacles to overcome: I can’t “see” the protagonist unless she sees herself in a reflection. I can only “see” or “hear” what the protagonist sees or hears. The reader knows nothing that the protagonist does not know. I like giving the reader endless questions about what’s going on, but this takes it to a whole new level.
In fact, in the first part, I picture the protagonist driving in my car –– yes, my red Subaru station wagon, with the cup-holder that isn’t quite big enough for a travel mug, and the beaded necklace and feathers hanging from the rearview mirror. It’s very weird, because I almost feel like I’m writing about myself, yet I’m not. This is a different person, though she has some of the same reactions I would. Writing in first person, in this case, feels like driving the character around like a car. What would I do in this situation? What would I say? What would I think? If I were to take this approach with more characters in this story, it could become a mix of characters who are all too similar.
5. The protagonist’s potential love interest is already in danger of being completely lost. This may not sound like a typical writer’s source of inspiration, but when the odds are stacked against my protagonists, I write better. It forces me to think of creative ways out of whatever situation they’re in. It also shows me what my characters are really made of. When held captive by the villain, do they submit meekly and panic, or do they exhibit snarkiness and refuse to comply past a certain point? How do they interact with one another? When presented with a challenge, do they complain loudly, forge ahead, or sit and sulk? What is their pain threshold? What is their sanity threshold?
One might say I have reached this test of character too soon. How am I to “up the ante” later on in the story if this is how bad it is after merely 5,000 words? Folks, never forget the laws of Fictional Bad Circumstances. If things are really bad, they can always get worse. I plan to play on my protagonist’s fears, for sure, but also to surprise her with more than she expects.
And so, this is me processing the birth of a new story –– something that has never been written before (at least, not by me). It is probably the most exciting thing I experience as an author, aside from finding the voices of my characters and watching them blossom into their individual personalities. I may read back in later years and say, “Well, that was a load of crap,” but for the moment, I don’t care about that. I care about getting this written.