When protagonists rock your manuscript
Posted on October 4, 2012
Sometimes it feels like this writing business is a never ending story. Is there any time that a writer can say goodbye to his manuscript and send it off with a feeling of having pulled off something good? I doubt it. For me, it seems almost impossible.
I have been working on this manuscript – ICARUS’ DOOM – for a while now. The first version I rejected myself, the second version was manhandled (in a good way!) by my publisher friend, my agent and my critique partners, and still the third version didn’t quite turn out the way I wanted it. The story was there. It was a good story, a thrilling story, but something was off. I twisted it, I turned it. To no avail.
Was it the language? I knew that was a tough call. It was my first manuscript written in English. I wasn’t too worried about that when I started. Wasn’t it Hemingway who said: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.” Beckett even wrote in French to simplify his style.
It wasn’t the language. Although not as sophisticated as I had hoped, I could live with that. There was something more fundamentally wrong with the manuscript. I puzzled over it and I talked it over with whomever was willing to listen. It didn’t come to me and I was about to chuck the whole thing in the bin.
But then my dear friend and colleague came to the rescue: Steve Bramucci. Steve spent a month in Amsterdam this spring and we had some excellent writing sessions at the library. When I told him that I was about to throw in the towel, he said I couldn’t. It was a good story. One that needed to be told. Steve gave me a simple assignment in stead: write a scene from the point of view from each of your main characters. I told him I would try, found myself a good spot in the library and wrote a short scene from Dorian’s POV, a scene from Jimmy’s POV and one from Pepto’s POV. That simple assignment turned out to be a revelation. I had been writing the story from the wrong point of view. It wasn’t Dorian who was my protagonist. He was the victim in this story, the prey, the fall guy. It wasn’t Jimmy, either. It was this weird and mysterious guy Pepto. He was my main man.
Now, I am almost done with the next version, which in a way is a first version again, as changing the protagonist tilted the story in so many ways that it feels like writing a whole new story.
I will tell you more later, because changing protagonists wasn’t all I found out that afternoon at the library. Just be assured that writing IS a never ending story! And I am happy for that.