In Which I Try to Convince Myself that I Am NOT Writing “The Bourne Identity” in a Fantasy Setting…

Several years ago I brought a sample chapter of my book to the writer’s group that meets at my house every month or so. After reading it, the first comment was, “This sounds a lot like the Bourne Identity to me.”

My initial thought: Damn.

“Whatever do you mean?” I asked, even though I could kind of see whatever they meant. Here are a few of the similarities pointed out to me:

“Well, the guy has amnesia.”

True.

“He knows how to use a bunch of weapons. Killing is instinctual to him.”

I cannot deny it. This guy’s a freak of destruction.

“He’s part of a secretive military group, members of which may be trying to kill him.”

Undoubtedly so.

“What about the vague and unhelpful shaky-cam flashbacks?”

(Getting annoyed.) You didn’t need to take dramamine before reading my story, did you?

So, I resolved to make some changes. Granted, the premise is very Ludlum-esque, but it’s set in a fantasy world with a magic system and all sorts of freaky creatures, so I think I have a chance. Maybe. If someone can read past page one without saying, “Amnesia? I’ve read that one before.”

New marketing strategy: Target amnesiacs to read my book. It will be like nothing they remember experiencing before.

Five years later, I’m trying to write a log line for this book, so that when people ask me what my book’s about, I don’t have to say, “Uuuuummmm,” or, “It’s…complicated.” (I don’t have a gift for spoken words).  I sent the log line to a trusted fellow writer, who’s first comment was, “It’s sounds a lot like the Bourne Identity.”

Five years. Nothing has changed.

The good news is, I now have a working log line!

“Hey, I hear you’re writing a book! What’s it about?”

“It’s basically the Bourne Identity in a fantasy setting.” (sigh).

Enjoy an honest trailer of the book I’m currently writing:

 

Creating Vivid Pictures (a storyboard sketch)

During my time studying theatre, one of the most important things I learned about constructing a scene was creating “pictures.” This is a moment on stage that’s visually interesting if you were to pause it like a movie or take a snapshot. I try to bring this picture making into my writing as well. When beginning to write a scene for “The Epic,” as it’s come to be called in the absence of a proper title, I had a very vivid picture of of what I wanted the last moment of the scene to be like. It was so vivid that I later sketched it out like a panel in a storyboard.

The story is pretty typical, a fifteen year-old boy with supernatural powers that he struggles to control. He inherited this power from his mother, but they both have very different ideas about how to deal with it. The vivid picture is of the first time the son lashes out at his mother. He accidentally hurts her and destroys her garden.

The truth was she was terrified of her own son, and she knew that everything in him that scared her came directly from herself. Everything she had ever done, she had done because she was afraid. Afraid of being weak. Afraid of being powerful. She had thought she couldn’t fall any further. But she feared her own flesh and blood more than she feared death.

“I’m sorry,” Elijah said again. Then more quietly he asked, “Why am I like this? Why can’t I do anything good?”

Alene held him in silence. She knew that with a few words, she should be able to dispel all his doubt and frustration and self-loathing. But she couldn’t even do that for herself.

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Character Inspiration Doodle: Ocean For a Heart

I’ve had this phrase in my head for a while now. I came across it while reading about empathetic people, and how they (we) often make the world’s problems and responsibilities their own. In short, we carry too much. And we give too much.

I’ve been writing a story for the past… I don’t know, decade. Which means it has evolved from my teenage years to young adulthood, and thank God the earliest drafts didn’t survive. The plot has been in constant flux during that time, mercilessly disemboweled on more than one occasion, and almost nothing remains the same from the original draft completed circa 2006 by a very proud high school student. Well, the Greats never said write your first draft well or at a reasonable age. They never said wait until your skills are honed to perfection. They said “Just do it! Finish it. Finish it!”

So I guess you could say I achieved.

But the one thing that has stayed constant through the years is the characters. I have a wonderful cast, and they’ve been with me for a long time. I kind of grew up with them. My favorite character I’ve ever created is a young man named Tol Clayman, who has an uncanny ability to see people’s physical, mental, and emotional hurts like a map in his head. He’s a very old soul because of this, and being able to see what his family and friends are feeling has been both a blessing and a burden, and it has filled him with incredible compassion, but also an incredible cynicism. 

It’s been very interesting writing as this character, who has the perfect tools to become an ultimate manipulator, but whose sense of integrity forbids it on most occasions.

First and foremost, Tol is a helper and a healer. He grew up with a troubled younger brother and was able to quiet some of the kid’s rages because of his gift, and this always made him feel useful. As long as he could help someone, he was doing what he’s meant to do.

As you could probably guess, at one point in the story, he fails, and something tragic happens to one of his family members as a result. Tol sees himself as utterly responsible and guilty for this event that even with all his power, he couldn’t prevent. He had put his identity in this ability of his, and discovered that he couldn’t carry the world on his back like he thought he was supposed to. He can’t save everyone. Reflecting on his failure to help, Tol wonders, “I was made to help and to heal. If I can’t help, what’s the point of me?”

It’s the burden of being the one who helps. Even when the problem or the hurt isn’t yours, you blame yourself when something goes wrong. You become caught up in the lives of others to such an extent, that it’s like the hurt is happening to you. It’s possible to lose yourself in this kind of mindset. Some people are so good at caring for others that they see caring for themselves as selfish. They have an ocean of a heart that can hold so much. 

This character has been an interesting journey of self-discovery as well. I dont have supernatural abilities, but I have a lot of the same thoughts about my purpose in life as someone who finds their identity in helping. I’ve been trying to learn that I don’t have to carry everything.Writing has helped me with this in some ways.

Pictures: “ocean for a heart,” and “giving hands” (Hannah Kubiak)

Scene List

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I tried putting my scenes on note cards first. Let me tell you, drop those suckers once and the entire system buckles. Especially when you have an intricate intermixing of “present day” plot, “childhood flashback” plot, “a few weeks before present day” plot, and “stuff my character did in real time but forgot because using his magic gives him amnesia” plot.

Thus, I became a recent convert to the Scene List discipline. Four pages. Not an impossible puzzle to reassemble if dropped. Unlike this catastrophe.

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*Reenactment of note card catastrophe. Do not attempt.

I learned about scene lists from this article by Monica M. Clark, in which she illustrates the usefulness of creating a scene list to keep yourself organized. Before I read this article, a fellow writer told me about an interesting method used by J.K. Rowling in plotting The Order of the Phoenix, which included a column for each subplot and which chapters added to that subplot. For example, under the “Cho/ Ginny” subplot, the interesting development “Harry finds Ginny snogging his roommate behind tapestry” would be included.

Personally I found the subplot tracker the most useful in this exercise. I’ve had difficulty remembering what stage the subplots are at in the various timelines and what my characters know about them. (Unless it’s Amnesia Guy, in which case he probably knows nothing. Figures).

Link(s)/ Resource(s):

Scene List by Monica M. Clark

Just do it!

After over a year as a missionary in Ireland, England, Scotland, and… Illinois… I opened my laptop three days ago and pulled up my novel in progress. It’s a beautiful reunion.

The draft I have at present is the result of the great writing marathon of my Christmas break from missionary work. I made the mistake of asking my best friend what she wanted for Christmas, and she requested a finished draft after eight years of fruitless writing, cutting, editing, and complete disembowelment of the manuscript. It was rough, but what I am incapable of doing for myself, I will suffer sleepless nights, caffeine headaches, and keyboard calluses on my wrist bones to do for someone else. The draft was completed, with a lot of shoddy summaries of events and slap happy comments made by myself at 3 a.m. Some of the most slap happy include:

(Just realized, he isn’t actually dead yet in this flashback. When less lazy, think of a different traumatic thing for his family to discuss.)

“Fire!” (Do they even have ammo?)

(Insert medical jargon… can’t go wrong with a punctured lung?)

“He banged his fist against the back door of the safe house.” (There’s a cool password to get in, like “Vatican Cameos.” Maybe… Bar mitzvah Commando?)

(Insert something really witty/ biting/ threatening here.)

In a word, I was inspired to finish this thing. It was rough, but in that one week I accomplished what so many greats have recommended for writing and anything else a person might want to achieve in a given day. Here is what the greats have to say:

“Just do it.”  (Stephen King)

“Just do it!”  (Shia LaBeouf)

“Finish it.”     (Joss Whedon)

“Finish it. Finish it.”    (Neil Gaiman)