Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Into the Middle of Things

As I mentioned last time, I signed myself up to participate in NaNoWriMo 2011, which challenges me to write a 50,000 word novel in a little under one month. As I also mentioned last time, I'm scared to death. When I'm scared or nervous, I tend to fret endlessly about everything regarding the subject of my nervousity. (ok, I totally didn't know "nervousity" was a word before I wrote it. I guess you learn new things every day *cue thumbs up*)


OK, back on topic. When nervousity gets the better of me, I worry. Not surprisingly, I'm currently worrying about my novel. The world I've created is of utmost importance to me and, like a child on their first day of school, I want to present it in the best possible light. It will be the first time most people will see my world, and I want to make sure it doesn't trip over the proverbial steps and land on its proverbial face.

Not pretty.

If my first novel is the first most people will see of my world, the beginning of said novel is the first part anyone will see period (.)

Gee pal, thanks for dragging us through the unecessary logic chain on that one.

I know it's tedious, but I just want to emphasize how important the beginning is to me, and therefore why I'm having so much trouble nailing it down. Not only is the beginning the first part of a novel potential readers (read: customers) see, it's also where novels are potentially sold or rejected by editors and agents. It lays the groundwork for the entire book, and often a book will sink or swim based on that groundwork. You might see why I'm concerned.

Anyway, there is a terrible precedent in the fantasy genre to start books slowly. In some of my favorite fantasy series, the first book starts by carefully laying out the protagonist's humble beginnings, usually as a Luke-Skywalker/Frodo-esc farmboy, who will eventually lose their family and humble beginnings to fiery tragedy. Hero will then promptly grow up to save the world in some fashion from glossy black rebreathers, magical lightning, and cyclopsian black towers. It's such a classic and mythical archetype that the farmboy-orphan beginning persists as a bit of a cliche within the genre. Now, I'm not one to buck tradition. I want my protagonist to follow similar lines, because, well, I like it. My only problem is that I actually want to sell my book. If I persisted with my preferred beginning, the only result would be a pile of pink rejection slips. So, in the interest of my future livelihood, I've been hard at work trying to find ways to subvert and disguise that particular trope.

After several sleepless nights, I remembered something I'd heard on an episode of Writing Excuses. They referred to something called "in medias res." According to God, in medias res translates from Latin as "into the middle of things." It is a narrative technique used by some authors to break out of slow and exposition-heavy beginnings by starting the narrative in the middle of the story (read: the action and fun parts) while periodically filling in the needed exposition (read: beginning). Homer was a fan, as he employed in medias res in both the Illiad and the Odyssey.

Who am I to second guess Homer?

Through much thought and careful plotting, I've decided to start the first novel with the end of the final novel. By allowing the reader to see what happens near the end of the trilogy, I hope to lend the first two books a sense of tragic inevitability before the story finally catches up to itself near the end of last book. While this technique doesn't exactly fit the exact definition of in medias res, it fits somewhere in between in medias res and a classic frame narrative. It's not exactly an original technique, but it's unique and interesting enough that it should serve to get people through the boring exposition to the meat of the story.

Remember to sign up for NaNoWriMo if you haven't yet, and check out my entry for the 150-word Reader's Digest contest =). If you have trouble getting to my entry, "Like" Reader's Digest, and disable "Secure Browsing" in your Facebook security settings. Until next time,

Be wary of faceplants and cyclopsian black towers,


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