This new character-centered approach that I’m trying out seems like a really powerful way of structuring stories, and it’s allowing me to rethink all kinds of ideas that I’d previously shelved as unworkable (before, I always used to get a third of the way through the idea and then say, “Ugh, but what is there for the character to do?” Now I feel like I have a better sense of the answer. Instead of the plot being just about the character doing things, it can be a mix of them doing stuff and stuff happening to them, because the real motion that matters is the internal motion: what’s happening inside the character.
It’s even allowing me to write core genre-type material that I thought I could never do again. The story I’m working on right now is a secondary-world fantasy. It takes place on a mountain-type purgatory (think of the topography of The Divine Comedy) that’s full of metallic trees and robot-demons and strands of magical energy, and none of it really feels unnatural to write.
It turns out that the thing that I really objected to about the SF that I was writing was that I’d started to feel like a lot of it was pointless motion, people running around and blasting each other with lasers and swinging swords without anything really happening on a human level.
But I don’t quite have that problem anymore. Now, whenever I start to get that wheels-spinning feeling, I just go back to “what does this character reveal about the character’s psychological journey?”
On some level, it feels reductive to reduce a novel to psychological movements, because it doesn’t seem like that’s enough. Obviously there’s more going on than just that. But the psychological movement provides a structure; it’s something to ground the narrative. It gives me a reason for including some scenes and excluding other ones.
But I still don’t really feel like I can say that the writing is going ‘well.’ This is a pretty complex book, and it could (and probably will) fall apart at a moment’s notice. In fact, I suspect that’ll happen. I don’t necessarily feel as firmly grounded inside the character as I could. Unlike a lot of writers, I listen to that internal voice that says “Stop writing this shit” because I’ve found that when I ignore it, then what I produce is, well, shit.