Things to Consider…

Returning to earlier contemplations on writing and the process thereof, I had been spending quite a bit of time on the first step or two in my multi-step approach to writing. I’m not sure that this is a bad thing, but I’m finding it difficult to expand much on the steps beyond those first one or two. I think part of the problem is that since I’ve never actually gone through those other steps, it’s hard for me to write knowledgeably about them.

Again, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. I think the process of laying a solid foundation for a story is extremely important, and that’s really what you’re doing by developing a theme; you’re creating a structure on which the setting, characters, and plot will all be attached to. So I thought I’d spend some more time on those first few steps, this time coming up with some of the themes I’d like to explore, and just seeing where the keyboard takes me as I consider them.

Theme 1: Nihilism. I’m thinking that nihilism is an interesting basis for a theme, because in my experience most people are not nihilistic. Most people seem to attach a lot of meaning to things. Isn’t it true that people describe childbirth as a miracle? Why? What the hell is so miraculous about that? A) there are 7 billion miracles on the planet right now and B) I think medical science has explained the process pretty accurately, so why is something that prosaic and common-place considered a miracle? It amazes me. Here’s another – a plane crashes and one person survives. That is always called a miracle. “Thank God for saving this person from that horrible crash! It’s a miracle!” Okay, what about the 299 people who died? They didn’t deserve a miracle? Wouldn’t it have been a miracle if the fucking plane hadn’t crashed in the first place? No? God was too busy to stop the damn plane from crashing but He had time to step in with the miracle to save 1/3 of a percent of the passengers? What a bunch of horseshit.

So anyway, I thought there might be enough in there to start building a theme. You can always go back to the earlier discussion on originality of course. Some people could read this and easily say, “oh, dude, there are books about nihilism already.” Which is true, but I think it’s very important to remember that there’s nothing wrong with revisiting a them others have already worked on – the goal is to find a new way to explore the theme by contrasting or combining other themes in new ways. Believe me, by the time Shakespeare was finished there weren’t any more themes out there to uncover – now writers work in the shadows of the giants eking out a living by uncovering the few nooks and crannies of the human experience that haven’t already been written about to death. I’m thinking I might read Slaughterhouse Five. My understanding is that it’s one of the earlier nihilistic works, and I think it might be a good starting point.

At this point in the writing process, you would take your basic theme and start to play around with it. Nihilism might be a good idea for a theme, but it’s just a seed. Now we need to plant it and see if we can grow something fresh and worth writing about. So let’s think about this. What is nihilism? It’s basically the belief that there are no higher purposes, powers, or agendas. In essence, that there is no meaning in a spiritual or, I don’t know, COSMIC sense to anything. One thought is that to explore the concept you’d want to create two characters: one is a spiritual person, not necessarily a priest or anything overly ham-fisted like that, maybe a Tai Chi instructor or someone who’s really into organic food and yoga; your other character is an atheist and a nihilist. No, actually I’m thinking that you don’t do that because the plot would end up being a conflict between them, which would be a little obvious and uninteresting. It might be better to have the character start off as a very spiritual type, and over the course of the plot, he transforms into an atheist and nihilist.

So here’s where things get interesting. That doesn’t sound like the foundation for a novel, but it could be an interesting short story. So the plot needs to introduce our spiritual friend and give us some insight into his belief system. Then we need a few events that could unhinge his beliefs, and the story wraps up with something symbolic about his transformation to a nihilist.

Here’s a rough outline. Our protagonist is Steve; he’s a college drop-out living in a downtown loft condo in a converted 30s or 40s office building. Steve works at LuLu Lemon, or however you spell the name of that company. He also teaches yoga at the YMCA and Tai Chi and meditation at the local community centre. Steve in general is a well-liked, decent guy. The plot of the story is that Steve is throwing a party; more of a get-together actually for friends at his condo that grows a bit into a party for maybe a dozen people. Before people start arriving, Steve is on his balcony. His condo is on the 7th or 8th floor, and his view is basically just the sides and backs of the buildings around his. But he does have a good view of the alley behind his building, and sometimes he likes to stand on his balcony and watch people walk by, and to take guesses as to who they are and what life has in store for them. Today Steve is watching an old homeless man searching garbage cans along the alley. As people arrive and the party starts, Steve occasionally goes out to the balcony to watch this old guy. At some point, a group of young men approach the homeless man and start to harass him. For some reason Steve doesn’t do anything about it but watch, and gradually others at the party start to watch as well. The confrontation grows until these men actually beat the homeless man savagely and light him on fire. Still the people at the party do nothing, and eventually even start to use the experience as a sort of entertainment, taking bets on how long the man will live and so forth. The story ends with the party winding down, and Steve… I’m not sure, doing something to symbolize a change in his outlook. Like quitting as a yoga instructor or pouring his organic yoghurt down the drain – something like that.

So there are a lot of holes in that, but as a rough beginning outline I don’t think it’s half bad. The party-goers would round out the cast of characters and they could provide a number of perspectives on the themes being explored. I could even have one of the attackers then show up at the party, not knowing that the other guests knew what he had just done. In order for the story to have a real emotional impact it would be critical to build up Steve as a sympathetic character and make it believable that he doesn’t immediately call the police when he sees that attack taking place. But it could possibly work, or it could possibly be a confusing, unbelievable, jumbled mess of a story that just plain sucks. That’s the risk in writing, I suppose.



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