As part of #PitchWars, C.M Franklin suggested each contestant write a blog post about his/her PW novel. I’ve been planning to write a series of posts analyzing how genre and fantastic elements enhance storytelling, so I decided to start with my own book, which, oddly enough, went from SciFi to realism.
The first time I wrote a novel about Helen Vencor’s escape from the live action roleplaying (LARP) world she’d created and the manipulative man who controlled it (and her), I was nineteen and my favorite books were 1984, Brave New World, and Handmaid’s Tale. It follows then that the first version of Thornvaal was a SciFi/Dystopian.
It went like this….
Something (to be figured out later, or maybe just referred to ominously from time to time) had happened to the US, and Helen and Louis founded a new society based on LARPing. Instead of soma, Louis feeds the citizens LARPing to keep them off the scent of his increasingly invasive, paranoid security measures; whenever possible, he blurs the in-game/out-of-game lines. When Helen escapes in the opening scene of the novel, she finds a city full of people who are perpetually half in-character. Louis catches her, but when she escapes a second time–this time more permanently–she joins the Revolution against the Administration (the capital letters said it all), which was a crusade to remind people of reality.
I still like the basic concept of the world, and I miss the scene of Helen going into a church and seeing people using prayers and rituals she wrote to worship gods she made up. However, the worldbuilding created structural issues: Helen begins the novel literally being held prisoner in the Administration’s Palace. Louis is supporting his tiny LARP country by creating and selling cutting edge security and surveillance techniques, so after her escape, she has few opportunities to interact with other people. After all, Louis is the guy everyone else hires to find people. In order to stay within the bounds of believability, Helen ends up living in an underground bunker, writing a memoir.
In short, the SciFi elements rendered my protagonist a passive victim. And, as I tell my students, protagonist is a structural term. It doesn’t mean “hero” or “good guy,” but rather “the character whose actions drive the plot forward.”
As I grew up, the characters and the world gained depth and complication, but the fundamental dynamic of Helen-as-victim remained stubbornly true. The SF elements simplified rather than enhanced her story. But I wanted to write a genre novel and use the world I’d built, so I kept at it.
(Disclaimer: I’m not saying all SF/genre elements simplify stories. In fact, I find SF elements often open pockets in a story, create conversations that weren’t possible in a realistic world. I’ll write blog posts in the future on this topic).
Then I took a six year hiatus from fiction, got really into theatre and celebrity gossip. I watched social media become a thing, saw how it allowed people to become a Big Deal in a certain corner of the internet. I wondered: What if Helen were trapped in Thornvaal not only because Louis was controlling her, but also because she liked being a star? Liked being the center of a small universe? What if it was celebrity, not roleplaying, that made people lose sight of reality?
With these questions in mind, I gritted my teeth, pulled Helen and company out of the dystopia, put them in Western Massachusetts, and started over with Camp NaNoWriMo in July 2013. And that’s the story of Thornvaal.
And below you’ll find links to the PitchWars blog hop.
Tracie Martin: WILD IS THE WIND