Tag Archives: werewolf story

Poor long-suffering characters

I bothered one of my characters today. He is one of the four POV characters in Story (a.k.a. The Children’s War), and he is the first character I came up with, waaaaaay back in the day. Like, high school back in the day. Lest that sound alarming (wow, kid, you’ve been working on the same book since high school?), let me assure you that I didn’t actually do anything but bother this character for like two solid years. He didn’t even have a name for one year, and neither did the other characters I’d come up with by that point. (One of the protagonists didn’t make his debut in my mind until like right before I started the First First Draft [i.e. my first novel attempt ever, and it was just as hilariously bad as it sounds]).

Anyway, for those first two years, most of working on Story consisted of taking this character out, poking him until he cried, observing the effects, and then putting him back in time to go to my first college classes and such. I had no idea if these characters would ever actually go anywhere until right about the time when I named them. Once they had names, I knew they would, but I was young and scared of not knowing what I was doing, so I didn’t start yet. I just continued to bother that first character and his growing number of world-mates. The world itself slowly built itself around them all. I began to realize that I now had more than a boy I began bothering in my mind because I was bored during a high school fencing meet. (I was the score keeper, because I am the world’s worst fencer. I was bored because our team was absolutely crushing the competition.) I had a pretty complex society. I had Themes. And I had ideas for bothering my characters in a defined direction, also known as a plot.

I have written many drafts of the first book of Story since then, and I’m going to start putting together a new batch of queries for it this week. (And on we go with that ride.) Of course, I still have two more books to write, and the scene I wrote today belongs to probably the second book, if it makes it into a book at all, which who knows. But it was fun to write, and it was also a sign: when I start bothering this character, I’m ready to move on to the next thing. So: queries and draft three of Werewolf Story. (And probably more occasional dips into the future of Story, because I miss bugging those kids.) After an awesome Friend Vacation and my volunteer experiment of the summer (kids were super cute, environmental impact was okay?, still clueless about my future), my brain is now ready to get back to constant writing. Let’s get started!

Formative Narratives

So basically as soon as I said that I was going to finish the second draft of werewolf story, I experienced my patented reoutline-everything-five-chapters-til-the-end part of my ~process. (This time, on a notepad in the car on the way back from a bridal shower for about an hour. I was pretty boring company, I’m afraid.) I did this I think three times with story, so I’m not totally sure why I thought I would make it to the end of this draft? I mean, I kind of still will, but with the last few chapters written as though I’ve already done everything I now know I need to do to the middle, just to see what they look like. I’m always somehow taken by surprise when my sudden windfall of clarity happens, but I suppose I shouldn’t be at this point. It always kind of makes me laugh, actually. It’s like my brain needs to get almost there . . . before it can reboot.

Onward with werewolf story then! Revision and rewriting are my favorite thing to do. Getting closer and closer and closer to the story you know the characters deserve.

(Also: Health Stuff is on the mend. Yay!)

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking a lot about Les Miserables, which I just saw on Broadway with my mom last week. This is the fourth time I’ve seen Les Mis live (the first time I was 10 years old). I have also watched the movie musical many a time since it came out, and I’ve also read the book (known affectionately as the brick by fans) quite a few times as well. Probably 90% of my reading is children’s and YA books, but when I go for an adult title, I guess my attitude is go big or go home. So considering my 15 year old love affair with this story, it is definitely fair to say that Les Mis is one of my formative narratives.

Everyone’s familiar with the hyperbolic claim that “this book changed my life.” Usually that’s just shorthand for “it was really good.” And I don’t even mean that disparagingly — hyperbole is one of my preferred modes of communication. (For example, if as many stories had actually “completely destroyed me emotionally” as I have claimed, I probably wouldn’t have the wherewithal to write this blog post.) But for the most part, life trucks along mostly unchanged even after a good book.

Sometimes, though, “this book changed my life” isn’t hyperbole. Sometimes it’s actually an understatement. There are some narratives that I can honestly say didn’t just change my life; they shaped it. I have several, but for me the main two are Harry Potter and Les Mis. Harry Potter’s a bit obvious, as a huge percentage of my “kids who liked to read and were born in the late 80s” demographic also fit that bill. The fact remains, though, that the Kathleen who lives in an alternate universe where Harry Potter never existed is not the Kathleen writing this post right now. She’s probably fairly similar — for example, I had alighted upon my writing ambition pre-HP, because I’m one of those obnoxious people who’s always known what she wants to do — but so many of my professional interests, political views, and personal relationships and patterns can be traced very clearly back to my childhood and adolescence with those books.

Similarly with Les Mis, I’ve been engaging with these characters and narratives for three-fifths of my entire life. I fancy myself a bit of a Les Mis connoisseur, with an oddly detailed memory of minute performance details and musical-novel connections. Also, I have literally been reenacting my favorite death scene  from the book (listen, Les Mis has a lot of them) for 12 years, maybe? Including on the school bus in middle school, all the way up to outside a Tasty Burger for an audience of grad school friends. So that’s . . . a weird thing about me.

But it’s not all encyclopedic recall and gushing fannishness. It’s determining the kinds of narratives that matter most to me, both as a guide for creating my own fiction and also for creating my own life. Of course real life has more moving parts than even a beast of a book like Les Mis, and any editor would tell you that it is overcrowded, poorly paced, and has far too many loose ends and dropped plotlines. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t plan our lives like narrative (or that I don’t, at least). We expect a satisfying conclusion to any number of our efforts. We want our own character development to pay off, and we hope that we accomplish something. (I am assuming here that no one actually wants to live the lives portrayed in the drab cynical contemporary adult realism subsection of the market.) (I’M NOT SAYING ALL CONTEMPORARY ADULT REALISM IS BAD. Just, you know, a lot of it.)

My formative narratives are the stories that helped direct the rising action of my own life really early on. I honed my opinion-forming skills on these books. I went on HP-verse werewolf rights tirades in eighth grade that were actually my first opinions about healthcare. That same year, I was zoning out in class to consider the implications of How Cynicism Sucks, But More Importantly, Is Incorrect embedded the character of Grantaire in Les Mis. Much later on, I learned to be critical of these texts, and if that’s difficult, it’s because these texts have become a part of me, and being critical of oneself is always difficult, but also necessary. (I need to keep getting better at this, especially with regards to Harry Potter. But I’m working on it. And I’m certainly trying to not have the same flaws in my own writing, especially with regards to representation of race and sexuality.) (Being critical is easier with Les Mis, mostly because if you don’t find some things to disagree about with a well-off white guy from the 1800s, you probably have to do some pretty urgent reevaluation.)

When I was watching Les Mis last week, a lot of things were going through my head. I cried a lot, because that’s what I do. I cataloged actors’ facial expressions with a furious intensity, mostly because MY MOM GOT US SUCH GOOD SEATS. (Last time I saw it, I couldn’t so much . . . see. But that production [25th anniversary UK tour, baby! I was studying abroad] was so breathtakingly perfect that it kind of didn’t even matter.) But there where also moment when I would feel a sweet, aching tenderness. Parts where I thought: ah, yes. That’s where that part of myself was born. Hello, little me. I still love this. I still care about this. I’m still here, trying to make myself in the image of narratives of hope, and love, and the possibility of change.

Think Big

I’m getting close to the end of the second draft of Werewolf Story, which is super exciting. For me, second drafts are still For My Eyes Only. Third drafts actually resemble books. So the second draft is still a bit of a mess, but a mess much closer to what the final product will be than the first draft was (lol first drafts). I have almost all the pieces now. I know these characters; I know their story. Now it’s time to tell it in a better and better and better way.

Putting my goal in indelible internet-ink: a query-able draft by the end of this year.

Putting my hubris in indelible internet-ink: I can totally do that.

One thing I do have to figure out is how best to describe that feeling. You know the one, or I hope you do. That feeling where every nerve is alive with purpose and love and a joy so great it feels like anguish. Which, looking over that last sentence, is as good a description as any, but how do I infuse my character’s narration with that feeling? How do I let it run over every action at this point in the book? And another thing feeling — the feeling of wanting something so badly you think you might die of it, except the wanting would never let you die. (I know that feeling well. It’s how I feel about having a writing career.)

Those feelings are big. They’re uncontainable. One word for them is hallelujah, which is why I have the last line of Leonard Cohen’s song tattooed on my body. (With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah.) I like big feelings. I equate them with monsters. Monsters are too big. They spill over. They expand to fill and reveal all dark spaces with the light they have within them. People are afraid of monsters because dark spaces are meant to stay dark. We’re not supposed to see what’s there.

But I want to see, because I want to write about it. I want to describe the triumph of joyful monsters.

I’m feeling overly philosophic perhaps because I’m dealing with some Health Stuff. Health Stuff sometimes makes me feel rather small, like I’m a being confined to inches of discomfort or pain. But I’m not. I mean, I give much worse than I’ve got myself to my characters, and they still manage to be glorious, enormous, transcendent monsters.

Another phrase that I will tattoo on my body at some point: watch me. I mean this the way it’s used in Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go, where it comes to signify the defiant drive to be the best version of oneself.

I will write monsters, and I will become one. Watch me, hallelujah.

Stories confused millennials like

I’ve been working on the second draft of Werewolf Story all day, which is going swimmingly thus far. I am absolutely a rewriter as opposed to a reviser. I’m splicing in the odd paragraph here and there from the first draft, but I think only two full chapters will stay more or less unchanged, with two or three more smaller scenes. I remember back in high school and early college, the idea of a blank page rewrite totally terrified me. It felt like throwing work away. It was only once I started writing the first draft of Story five years ago (which, good lord, five years) that I realized that, oh yeah, literally all of this was going to have to go, and that that was okay. The work was technically discarded, but not at all wasted, because I learned so much from doing it. Turned out, I didn’t keep much of my second draft of Story either. Or third. Or fourth. But each one was extremely important to me as a writer.

So I’m not expecting the second draft of Werewolf Story to be some polished product, although all those drafts of Story did teach me a lot, not least of all how to work considerably faster than when I started. So it’ll get there, and in the meantime, I’m really enjoying the second draft. Second drafts are exciting because after the long hard slog of figuring out who these people are and why you’re writing about them, you can finally sit back and look at everything and say, oh, hey, themes! And complete character arcs! And then even though you know you may start everything all over again, at least you’re writing something that feels like a book.

So now that I have those themes and such, I’ve been thinking a lot about the kinds of stories I care about and the kinds of stories I want to tell. This is an Important Existential Consideration for me, because stories are essentially all I’m good at and therefore they’re my one shot to provide the world with a little TLC, which as we all know it rather desperately needs. Since I just finished grad school, my head is pretty full of Important Existential Considerations these days. Meanwhile, I just finished a thesis about monsters in His Dark Materials, I’m trying to convince agents to love Story, I just wrote a guest post about Hey Arnold! on my friend Gizmo’s blog, and, uh, I hang out on tumblr a lot. Oh, and I’ve been internally weeping about Captain America for the last month and a half. So all of these things have provided lots of good food for thought re: narratives that I want to create.

That also means figuring out what kind of narratives I don’t want to create, and for me, that means anything where A Lone Hero Emerges to drive the plot — any sort of plot, but especially a plot where they save a bunch of people and/or the world, probably in a badass manner — all by themselves. I’m not interested in stories that uphold exceptionalism. That can be either on a grand scale with uninterrogated chosen one arcs, or it can be on a smaller scale in less fantastical genres. The latter can be harder to define, but it usually occurs when a character is portrayed as more virtuous/clever/all around great than everyone else. This doesn’t mean when the character themselves thinks that, because then there’s a chance that they’re just kind of an ass and I can roll with that. But when the narrative validates and rewards that opinion, then I start rolling my eyes.

Instead, I really, really care about narratives that have to do with cooperation. Stories about mutual care and mutual effort. Instead of A Lone Hero, strength in numbers. Connection, integration, multiplicity. Look, I’m a millennial. Individually bootstrappin’ it was the Baby Boomer way, but there are a lot of people my age who are looking at the world right now and saying, “Well, that didn’t work.” Within YA specifically, I really like narratives that present a different way of coming of age. Though millennials aren’t teenagers anymore, I guess (what are the generation parameters on that one?), that’s still something we’re figuring out, and definitely something that younger readers are figuring out, as well.

This probably doesn’t make any sense without examples, so I will provide some, starting with the ones I mentioned above:

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman: IN MY ANALYSIS, ANYWAY. So these books have Issues (what book doesn’t) but when you think about how deeply and profoundly Lyra and Will connect with one another, and how deeply Lyra connects with, like, everything, especially the things she’s supposed to fear (the dead in particular), and how these connections reconnect nature with nature, joining the parts that have been sundered by violent autocrats back into a whole — well. WELL. That’s a good story. And it’s directly contrasted with the more traditional narrative of a powerful man (Lord Asriel) deciding to Fix Everything by causing more destruction, except that super doesn’t work at all and he winds up having to (spoiler alert, I guess) literally erase himself from existence to make way for these two twelve-year-olds who’ve got it more figured out than he ever could. There’s a lot more going on in these books, hence why my thesis was 108 pages long, but this is the aspect of the trilogy that I love best.

Hey Arnold!: If you want to know all my feelings about this show from my childhood, here’s the link again, but essentially, this show was ALL ABOUT the complex interpersonal relationships young children have to navigate, and it was funny and thoughtful and compassionate, and I’d forgive you if you stopped reading now and just went and marathoned this cartoon until 3:00 in the morning.

Captain America (the movies, as I have not read the comics): “But Kathleen, isn’t a story about a character literally called Captain America going to be about exceptionalism?” YOU’D THINK THAT, WOULDN’T YOU. Except while a blond, blue-eyed American supersoldier does seem like the worst kind of Better Than You protagonist, that is very much not what the movies are about. In fact, the literal enemy is exceptionalism, in the form of the Hydra organization. “What makes you so special?” “Nothing. I’m just a kid from Brooklyn.” And then even more importantly, basically the whole second movie is about friendship and trust, and how relationships between people are what will ultimately hold up in the face of Great Powers trying to bend the world into uglier shapes. Also, Cap will never, ever stop being an idealist and believing in people even if it literally kills him. That is the kind of hero I can look up to: someone whose faith is not only in himself, but in others.

Pacific Rim: The plot of this movie is “let’s save the world by literally sharing all the thoughts and feelings in our brains with each other, which allows us to be big and strong and powerful and caring.”

The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud: I read these for the first time this spring and I’m still not over it. By the end of the trilogy, averting total disaster hinges upon making a huge effort to put oneself aside in order to reach out and understand a way of being that’s completely different from one’s own, without ego, without judgment, and without self-preservation, even. (Though he’d never admit it, Bartimaeus is also a frustrated idealist. He hopes so hard it hurts.)

Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness: I gave the first book of this trilogy to my coworker as a gift, because I like to cause other people suffering, apparently. But emotional devastation (emoshunnal devastayshun?) aside, these books are 100% about interdependent sefhood, because that’s what Noise, the broadcasting of thought that takes place in this alien world, engenders. Those who try to impose a hierarchy on this system wind up ruining everything. Of course, some things are allegedly unknowable — human women don’t have Noise, but human men do. So for misogynistic men who can’t stand to be in a position of vulnerability . . . well, I suppose you can guess that doesn’t end well. But Todd realizes that he can know Viola’s silence just as she can know his Noise. The Mayor (who is terrifying) tries to teach Todd to suppress his Noise, to constrain and diminish his selfhood into one tiny hidden spot, but Viola’s name in Todd’s Noise expands him (and Viola) into something greater.

Those are enough examples for now. If you’d like to recommend something to me based on my ~WE ARE MORE THAN WE ARE; WE ARE ONE~ preferences, let me know! Also, bonus points to the first person to name that reference.

So in conclusion, these are the types of things knocking around in my head as I create my own stories. I suppose that’s how I wound up with four very different protagonists in Story and a found family narrative in Werewolf Story (my wolves are not lone wolves). Even in sad, neglected Middle-Grade Story, I have a central character who finds herself positioned to be a Chosen One but thoroughly rejects the notion of her own specialness in favor of elevating everyone else around her.

(The unbearable earnestness I warned about in the intro post is approaching.)

I want to write stories about change for the better, because I want to live in a world that’s capable of change for the better. I don’t want to write a narrative of change that I’m never going to see in real life — namely, one person changing everything. Instead, I want to write about people joining together to change whatever little things they can, which in turn will cause more people around them to change what little they can.

And of course, I want to be one of those people, too. So I’m working on that narrative, as well.

Intro post part 2: my writing

So this really isn’t going to be a writing advice blog, partially because several million of those already exist, and partially because I don’t consider myself particularly good at giving advice, whether about writing or anything else. I mean, I don’t think I’m actively terrible at advice-giving or anything like that. It’s just that my advice usually tends to boil down to I DON’T KNOW, MAN, DO WHAT FEELS RIGHT, which in my defense is usually what any advice-seeker does need to do. I will admit that this is unhelpfully vague, though. The thing is, this vagueness is sort of necessary at least for writing. No two writers do it the same way! Which is not to be all ~creativity cannot be categorized~ or anything like that. It’s just that making up stories is a very long process with a lot of moving parts and no fixed formula. Plus, we’ve probably all read different advice blogs.

I also don’t feel super in the position to give advice because I am in a new stage of my writing life at the moment. Actually, I’m in a new stage of my life in general: Not A Student Anymore. Everything I have written to date has been written while simultaneously being a full-time student. (To be fair, much of it was written in conjunction with being a full time student, considering I was a creative writing major and then got an MFA.) I now have to write while simultaneously being a full time person, and I have a feeling this may be more difficult. (The person-ing will also be difficult. I think I may have a better handle on the writing.) As with anything else, I’ll be figuring it out as I go along.

I figured I’d give an overview of my works in progress, though, as I will probably be referring to them frequently. They are:

1. Story. Otherwise known as The Children’s War. Book 1 of Story is my most complete project to date, and I am currently querying it. (There will eventually be three books, because of course there will.) It’s a YA fantasy that I call high fantasy sometimes, but there’s no actual magic or, indeed, any supernatural/paranormal elements at all. It’s just a pseudo-historical (or rather, pseudo-past-but-not-connected-to-any-actual-historical-period) secondary world. Genre is hard, is what I’m saying. Anyway, Story is kind of the love of my life. There are four protagonists (war historian, soldier, messenger, and deserter from the other side), and they are very different and therefore exciting to write. But as different as they are, what they have in common is that they try really hard. Sometimes it pays off. A lot of times it doesn’t. They keep trying. I don’t think I’d know how to write any other type of protagonist.

2. Werewolf Story. Otherwise known as . . . uh, Werewolf Story. TITLES ARE HARD. It’s a standalone YA fantasy that is also slightly hard to put a more specific subgenre to, but I’m going with alternate universe. As of today, work on the second draft of Werewolf Story has begun! The protagonist is Millie, a rather unsuccessfully genetically engineered werewolf, who winds up falling in love with a girl named Gret, who was born a werewolf. There are various other monster teens, as well, of various sorts. Millie tries really hard, too, often just to figure out what it is that she should try really hard at.

3. Middle-grade Story. Otherwise known as Sky Child. It has been sadly neglected for, uh, two years. Sadface. But maybe now that I’m no longer a student, I can get back to it! I feel like it’s probably going to be my “I’m frustrated with everything else, so let’s tinker with this” story for a while, but that’s okay, it’s good to have one of those. It’s about people with wingggggs!

4. Judas Story. I’LL GET BACK TO THIS EVENTUALLY, MOM, I SWEAR. (My mom really likes this story.) This has been sadly neglected for like one million years. It’s, uh, about Judas. It’s probably going to continue to be neglected for a while. But I haven’t forgotten youuuu, Judas Story.

So that’s where I am in my writing life at the moment. I’m excited about all of it, all the time, and if suddenly the world decided no more new books were going to be published ever again, I’d still keep writing. I figure that’s a good thing.