As my monthly writing week winds down, and I find myself still struggling with scenes between my protagonist and antagonist, I wanted to share a few insights on what’s working, what’s not, and what I’ve learned in hopes that it will be helpful to at least one of you.
I admire Lajos Egri’s book on playwriting, The Art of Dramatic Writing, for its advice on the sacred narrative relationship between protagonist and antagonist. In short, you sit down to write when you have an inkling what you’re trying to say. From that intention, you create a character who is most likely to struggle to see that truth expressed in his or her own life. That’s your protagonist. Then you pick the character who is most likely to oppose the realization of that truth in your protagonist; this is your antagonist. Their agendas clash, and assuming they are both well-motivated enough to keep pushing for their own success, they will keep clashing: from whence comes conflict. A story with meaningful conflict becomes interesting.
This comes about as close to a creed for manifesting conflict as a creedless heathen like me will accept. And yet I’ve gotten continually stuck when writing scenes between my protagonist and antagonist. These scenes are important, yet for years, they have struck me as arbitrary and “talky” no matter what I try. These scenes are like magnets, attracting every stray thought about the story’s meaning, and forcing them into my characters’ mouths. Yuck. And my antagonist comes across as flat—a mere villain, not the hero of her own story.
Something Egri wrote returned to me with new weight yesterday. He said that antagonists don’t have to hate the protagonist; that in fact, some of the most wrought conflicts grow out of affection.
That’s it, isn’t it? Why would two people bother with each other if they didn’t care about the other, at least on some level? To relegate their motivations entirely to an external agenda is to be writing a film, not a novel. Robert McKee says almost exactly the same thing in the first five minutes of a long interview (posted below), and hearing Egri’s observation confirmed, I will be working on my protagonist/antagonist scenes in the coming week.
Watch Robert McKee’s thorough interview about storytelling in our time here. His book Story is one of the texts I use with my editing clients.
Oh, if it weren’t for the last chapter! I fell in love Kevin Brockmeier’s writing for its sensitive existentialism (incidentally the same reason I admire Jane McCafferty’s First You Try Everything: A Novel). I enjoyed his deft handling of what could be a plodding trope in the hands of a more sensationalist writer: wounds that are rendered into light. He explores his concept with the thoroughness of a genre writer, but follows a literary sensibility through a series of interconnected short stories to show the fine resonance between love and pain.
The novel breaks down in its final chapter, however. His POV character has what seems (to me) to be an unfounded ability to read minds, and the narrator jumps without warning into the heads of passersby. I found the transition irritating, but could have dismissed it as an editorial oversight had the *entire blasted novel* not ended on one of these jumps: There, all the deliciously textured mystery of love and pain is reduced to a scientific observation in the mind of a random academic who is walking down the street. In the final lines, Brockmeier forces an explanation of his concept onto us–perhaps not realizing that when we embraced his magical realist concept in the first pages, we dismissed the need to understand, to compartmentalize, to qualify.
The flaw is so blatant, however, and the rest of the novel so brilliant, that we might still embrace it because of its shortcomings. The disappointment of a bad ending is minimal, too, because the novel is a series of stories; really, it is only one story that fails. Too bad it’s the last one, but the others make for a fine journey.
When I began editing Genese Davis’s The Holder’s Dominion in 2011, it fascinated me because it highlights the often-underestimated degree of connection between the online world and real life; it treats the Internet—and online gaming—as an extension of human society, not an alternative to it. I’m not a gamer, but I am someone who has moved around the country so often that I am absolutely dependent on the Internet as a way to conduct business and maintain friendships.
Since our collaboration, I have observed Genese’s masterful ability to work with digital media not only to tell a story, but to turn it into a book supported by a high-quality publicity campaign. Her book trailer, cover art, and website are top-tier, and she has a wide network of gamer/readers to help spread the word. As authors go, she is an exemplar of the kind of energy it takes to self-publish a book well.
The book launches tomorrow, March 1, and I encourage you to check it out at www.genesedavis.com. Without further ado, let’s talk about how she made it all happen.
1. Tell us about The Holder’s Dominion.
Like Kaylie, (the protagonist in The Holder’s Dominion) I came to gaming pretty late in life. I wanted to write for gamers and non-gamers alike about the unpredictable and influential ways that video games change us. I wanted to share with others the amazing experience of collaborative video games and the communities that grow up in and around them. This fast-paced story aims to bridge the gap between families and friends of gamers who wonder about the allure behind their loved ones’ fascination with video games.
What’s different about Holder’s is that the story takes place on a college campus and therefore falls into a new genre called “new adult.” The foundation of this story revolves around that “shove” we all go through into adulthood. When we leave the nest, we’re forced to grow up quickly. Beyond our high school days are powerful new adult stories that begin and blossom in our late teens and early 20s. The whole publishing industry is recognizing the huge amount of heartfelt stories set beyond high school, thus the “new adult” classification.
The Holder’s Dominion reveals the secret side to online games, and offers an avenue for different generations to understand one another. This book is a message of hope and support for anyone going through grief or who have been separated from their family. It’s a story about a girl who discovers the world of gaming, and how to get through the tough times between friends and loved ones.
2. You mentioned elsewhere that you write for fourteen hours at a stretch. Quick poll: What’s more immersive to the human psyche, writing, reading, or gaming?
Hmmm, great question! I would have to say writing. In nothing else have I found myself so completely immersed in an activity like I am when I write. Writing demands every ounce of the my attention, where as games and even reading, allows my imagination to wander, allows breaks, and allows me to meander through at my own pace. But writing… Writing is extremely demanding on the human psyche, and requires me to give all that I have, and then more onto every page.
All authors “bleed” for their artwork. We are creating by carving and cutting the very essence of ourselves. And by doing so, each page is authentic and from the heart. It’s a personal and extremely lonely journey. Surviving all those times when I felt helplessly isolated, chained in solitary confinement, working day after day with the determination to finish . . . phew that was tough! If I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet with my creative producer and editors to figure out the speed bumps, it would have been much more difficult to finish Holder’s.
3. You have an unusual approach to writing, in that you have a creative producer. And in fact, so much of your writing and work seems to contain a message about how helpful communities can be in personal endeavors. Can you tell us about your writing process, and the role the creative producer played? How did you choose the right person for the job?
Absolutely! Thank you for asking. Communities impact our personal lives each and every day. And when we realize how much we can learn from one another, opportunities open up everywhere. And I am excited to share the new approach to writing that my producer, Eric, and I invented!
Having a creative producer is the number one advice I would offer any writer looking for a breakthrough approach to writing. Whenever I get stuck or lost in the minutia of writing, I schedule meetings with my producer and we have production one on ones, or creative one on ones. These are meetings where the author and producer can brainstorm, also known as “blue sky sessions,” and where we plan out small tangible goals using project management tools like Scrum. Project management doesn’t have to be solely for corporate environments anymore. Use these methods to develop your artistic projects, too! In fact, I’ll be talking more in depth about how to use project management tools for writing novels at a number of upcoming conventions this year. Come join in on the fun! To find a city near you, visit the “News & Appearances” section at www.GeneseDavis.com.
4. Speaking personally, Internet communities seem to level the playing field for introverts. If I can wax philosophical for a moment, do you think online connections are changing human relationships—and if so, how?
Online connections are definitely changing human relationships, and in a fascinating way. Ten years ago, when I first sat down to try Final Fantasy XI (an online game, also known as a MMO or MMORPG) I instantly became intrigued by the fact that I was playing with thousands of different people from all over the world. Final Fantasy XI allowed me to develop friendships with people in Japan, Great Britain, Canada… literally, I met people from all over the world! Immediately, this new experience with online gaming revealed a unique and healthy form of social networking and interactive entertainment.
5. You write with such a positive message about gaming, and hope to change some stereotypes about gamers. Do you think gaming plays a different role for kids than it does for adults?
Not really, and here’s why. While some games are developed for mature audiences only, most all other video games encourage ingenuity, confidence, empathy, and team building that benefit children and adults. Thousands of games incorporate multi-player mode that enhances the mentality to care about your team’s well being. Additionally, these games offer rich storylines with a legacy of lore and culture that the player (child or adult) can study and discuss. Not only do video games train your brain to make quick and accurate decisions, they also improve cognitive ability and eyesight. Children and adults play games as a way to spend time with their friends, and as a way to relax after school or work. Most of us will never know what it’s like to be a secret agent, soldier, or superhero, but video games can place anyone in the role of the hero.
While more people today play video games than ever before, there are still significant misconceptions about gaming. For example, the average gamer is in their 30s, and up to 70 percent of all Americans play video games in one form or another. Though many see gaming as an “alien concept”, games literally have something to offer everyone. The key is how we define games and the word “gamer.” Gaming is not just children’s entertainment or a consoling escape for social outcasts: Lawyers, doctors, athletes, office workers, nerds, jocks, children and adults, even politicians, men and women alike, are known to play games. Just as it is in film, gaming has something to offer everyone, and everyone is a potential player.
The pilot episode for Pixel Legends’ newest web series called “Pixel Vision” just released on Youtube and I’m the host! In this first episode titled, The Gamer In You, we discuss the importance of understanding what “Gamer” really means and why we need to redefine this term. Check out the link below and see what’s true about gaming and what are the stereotypes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdzwDZZNCFY
6. So far, you’re doing a heck of a job promoting The Holder’s Dominion—from producing a book trailer, to placing articles, to getting great blurbs, to arranging talks. Do you have advice to offer other indie-publishing writers? What work do you do yourself, and how do you pick a great team for the other pieces?
Oh thank you! It has been many late nights staying up till 3:00, 4:00, sometimes 5:00am, so it is very encouraging hearing your feedback. (Hugs!)
The best advice I could offer authors is to find an excellent creative producer and excellent editors. The benefits from having a highly skilled and motivated team can help the author’s inspiration significantly. Without a team, we are utterly alone. Producers and editors remind us of our goals, reveal new outlooks, and reinforce our personal convictions. Meet at least bi-weekly with your creative producer, and edit, edit, edit your work with your editor. Getting to work with such a fantastic editor like Sarah Cypher was integral in getting Holder’s where it is today.
Also, for anyone interested in tips and tricks on writing books, publishing, promoting, marketing, conventions, video game insights, or filmmaking, check out my blog titled “Between Books” at www.GeneseDavis.com. Most recently, I posted the article, “How to Shoot a Live-Action Book Trailer” and talk about the unique approach directors, Brian Horn and Eric Kieron Davis took to make The Holder’s Dominion live-action movie preview. See what they did at www.Youtube.com/AuthorGeneseDavis!
I feel the secret to success is in extra preparation. Before you ever think about publishing, hire highly recommended editors to go through your novel with you. After I completed the first draft of Holder’s, I did this twice. I hired two different editors before approaching any agents or publishers. This way, you have a crisp, clean, tight, and thrilling manuscript ready to take the next step. (Which, remember, should be more editing and proofreading with your publisher, hehe.) Editing is key!
7. Can readers hope for a sequel to The Holder’s Dominion?
My next book is a completely new genre—not the sequel to Holder’s. But, I would love to continue the Holder’s saga… After all, the Holder certainly does have a lot more to reveal… So, perhaps you can expect a sequel for The Holder’s Dominion, but we’ll see!
Several folks have asked me lately, in the various and sundry ways of communication these days, what I’m working on. If you are one of the few, the proud, or the curious who swing by this blog from time to time to see how it goes with me and where the heck I’m living right now, I hope you will find this FAQ helpful.
I thought you were living in Oregon/Maine/Texas/California? The latter would be correct, but only until October. Then we might stay in California. Or go to Massachusetts. Or Virginia. I sure hope not Alaska. It depends on the Coast Guard clinic where E. will get stationed.
Wait, you’re married? You and I really haven’t talked in a while, have we? E and I are formalizing the whole shebang in Manhattan next month, where it’s legal ‘n stuff.
Wait, to a woman? Last time I checked, yep.
I thought you wrote fiction. What are all these Salon essays? My weekend fun. I do still, as ever, bleed fiction every morning from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.
What’s happening with that weird set-in-the-future Mideast novel? The great Marjorie Braman edited it last winter. I brooded on it for a year. Now I’m halfway done with a revision, and I’m posting chapters on Authonomy to see if the genre really is all that weird. The editors chose it as One to Watch last week. I hope the new draft is ready to submit later this spring—only, oh, a year after I wanted it to be done and told people it would be done. (Clutches hair in hands.)
How’s business? The Threepenny Editor turned ten this month. It’s great. I’m booked until May, but taking a week off every month to write, though, for my sanity.
Did I see something about your going to school? I’m also getting a second bachelor’s in Arabic.
Do you still race? No, I just run. If you do, too, I’ll see you at the San Francisco Marathon this summer.