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:

 

“Prepare to Evacuate Soul!” (What Fight Club says about Generation X)

I was a little disturbed by how much I enjoyed reading Fight Club. It has a lot of hopeless and negative messages, for example, “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.” “This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.” “Our Great Depression is our lives.” It took me a long time to figure out exactly what I liked so much about this cynical, chaotic, and seemingly hopeless book.

Around the same time I was reading Fight Club, I got into a discussion about the characteristics of different generations during this past century. The generations of this century have come to be known as the G.I. Generation (born 1901-1926), the aptly-named Silents (born 1927-1945), who often get forgotten about in generation discussions, the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1945), Generation X (born 1965-1980), and the Millennium Generation (born 1981-2000). 

The piece of information that got me thinking about Fight Club in relation to these generations was a description of the G.I. Generation, the people who grew up during the Great Depression and fought in World War II. Their legacy was that they had saved the world. They are often referred to as “The Greatest Generation.” It’s hard to measure up to that. Hearing about this amazing, patriotic generation that valued loyalty and teamwork, lived through one of the world’s greatest monstrosities, and came out on top, I was reminded of a quote from Fight Club, which was written in 1996. “We’re the middle children of the history man, no purpose or place, we have no Great war, no Great depression, our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives.”

Fight Club was written in 1996, around the time when Generation X would be the same age as the unnamed narrator of the book. The more I heard about Generation X, the more parallels I saw with Fight Club. The kids of Generation X are known as the “latch key kids.” They were the first generation to live with divorced or career-driven parents, and often came home to an empty house and had to let themselves in. Tyler, the cynical chaotic revolutionary in Fight Club, points out that he and the narrator are part of a generation raised by women. The narrator’s father left when the narrator was six. 

Generation X is independent and street smart. Government and big business aren’t very important to them, and they are cynical of institutions  and authorities that seem to have failed them and their families. While the G.I. Generation was more focused on the common good, Generation X focused more on the individual good. They still wanted to learn and explore, but with the arrival of digital information, there was a lot more that one person could do on his own. This trend of individuality had been evolving from the Baby Boomer’s revolution for free love and no-fault divorce, and finally became one of the defining characteristics of Generation X. The very name “Generation X,” came from that generation’s rebellious desire not to be defined or labeled.

That’s not to say that everyone from this generation was going around wreaking mindless mayhem in their youth. That’s not the point. Fight Club gives us a look at how the generations respond to each other, and the extremes that people can go to while attempting to be different from their parents. The G.I. Generation had a lot to offer in the way of achieving great things, but left very little room for an individual’s personal goals. The Silents lived off of their parent’s success, but made very little progress. Probably in rebellion against this disciplined and neat world of white picket fences, the Baby Boomers became known as the “Me” generation, the first generation to think about the individual as being more important than the community as a whole. And as a result of the revolutions of the 60s and 70s, Generation X became, in a way, an abandoned generation, rebels without a cause.

I feel like I’ve focused a lot on the negative here. But I just want to say, even though the year I was born says I’m a Millennial, I feel like I have more in common with Generation X. What can I say? I’m an old soul. The Millennials grew up with “helicopter parents” and have been told “you are special,” but I had a latchkey like my mom did before me, and even though I knew I was “special,” I knew everyone else was, too, so we all canceled each other out. I don’t find that depressing or anything, either. I find it very true and kind of funny. Like the narrator says at the end of the book. “We are not special. We are not crap or trash, either. We just are.”

That’s why I liked this book so much. The narrator spent the entire book trying to “be a different person,” and it took him as deep into cynicism and bitterness and destruction as a person can go, and he came out knowing an important truth about how simply existing is enough reason to exist.

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What’s In the Stack O’ Books? – I typically have two  or three (or five) books on the reading stack at a time. Here are the books I’ve chosen for November.

That Hideous Strength, by C.S. Lewis

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevzky

 

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)