It’s been a heady week for me, watching my page view hits rack up on Yahoo! Voices. The story and poem are still featured so I’m waiting to see where that run ends, but I had a humbling moment yesterday as well. I finally actually looked at the poem since I put it up and realized, to my chagrin, that I had transposed two stanzas so that the rhyme scheme was not proper for a villanelle. In a villanelle, the last line of each stanza is supposed to alternate. The way it was displayed, stanzas 3 and 4 ended with the same line. Ah, well. I consoled myself with the delusion that only a poet would notice. (I certainly didn’t.) I fixed it and had a bit of a laugh at my own expense.
Moving right along, I’m getting ready for CampNaNoWriMo. Are you? I won’t pretend that I actually intend to write 50,000 words in June, but I’m using it as a catalyst to get my new novel off the ground. Before June 1st, I’ll continue to read Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass and make notes for the novel as I find inspiration. This weekend I hope to fill out the character, setting and plot sheets I found online.
The novel I’m going to write is based on my own short story, Biomalware. (Hubris, anyone?), I’ll try to give you an idea of how I’m using Writing the Breakout Novel to help me develop this short story into a novel.
Biomalware is about a young, widowed father who takes his two year old daughter to the doctor’s office because every time she eats, she’s in pain. She only eats when the hunger overcomes her fear of the pain. The doctor writes the father a prescription that should help but the nurse slips the father a note telling him that there’s someone who can help more. He goes out to the place on the note and the farmer there tells him it’s GMO crops contaminating all our food that has made it indigestible for his daughter.
My writer’s group strongly urged me to turn this into a novel. I decided to take their advice but obviously the story needs a lot of developing to sustain a novel. Writing the Breakout Novel is helping me marshal my thoughts to do that. I’ll give some examples of advice from the book and how it has inspired my thinking.
Maass says that it is important to try to capture the times of your story. In my case, that would be current day or 2012. What things catch my attention in the news? There’s the polarization of people over issues, the different political parties, dissenting factions over gay rights, anti abortion activism is on the rise, and corporate rights seem to trump the individual all too often these days. I’m not sure what will work into my story, perhaps all of them over the course of it, but the last one seems particularly appropriate as I recall a certain corporation taking farmers to court because their seeds were contaminated by the corporation’s GMO seeds through cross pollination.
Maass suggests you should try to “shatter your protagonist with a tragedy or give him an unexpected gift.” That got me thinking. I could have the kid die, though I don’t know if I could stand to do that. I could definitely flashback to how he lost his wife. I could have him get the medicine and have the kid get worse, perhaps from malnutrition because, though the medicine is masking the symptoms, the food is still not being absorbed by her body properly. I like the latter two ideas best.
“I would like to suggest that there are two character qualities that leave a deeper, more lasting and powerful impression of a character than any other: Forgiveness and self-sacrifice,” Maass says. My character seems to have the self-sacrifice thing nailed down. He’s a single, widowed, father who is going to go to extremes to help his own child, and other children like her. Now, where can I bring forgiveness into it? The doctor? The father may be angry with him for pushing the medicine but the doctor wants to help and has probably simply accepted the party line fed to him (though he has also ignored the warnings of the nurse as new age mumbo jumbo.) He has failed his patient to some degree, but not out of malice. There is room for forgiveness here.
I’m about halfway through the book and I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish it before the 1st, but perhaps. It’s exciting and intimidating to contemplate starting a novel again. I just hope I can go the distance.