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Is it giving up if I decide that this story that I’m telling isn’t the one I set out to write, and isn’t one that I want to write–at least not right now?
I started this story with the question: Why would a group of people (monsters, particularly) choose to remain enslaved? And then I thought of my monster-soldiers, and Fen in particular–and then I wanted someone for contrast, someone who was enslaved but trying to escape. Not literal slavery, but genetic slavery–I mean, she’s the daughter of the Lord of the Land, the Pater Familias*, absolute head of the household, who has the right to decide anything for anyone in the family (or in his land), up to and including ordering execution without justification. Absolute power, over his daughter Allie, his soldier-slaves, and everyone else. But in the society I created, this became all about arranged marriage, and how much it would suck for this one character. To remain true to that society, Allie couldn’t become badass, at least not immediately and without extraordinarily unlikely things happening, and I want her to be badass. I wanted her to be witty and capable, not angsty, choosing and acting. But I’m giving her an impossible decision: accept the arranged marriage to this horrible guy, or run away and leave her younger sister to the same fate. Or have her sister run away too, and have the whole land, their whole family, be overrun and brutally killed. This is a dark, hard situation. The time between the beginning of the story and the point at which she could become badass was too long, and I was getting too frustrated by her lack of action. She’s not in a situation to have actions to make. And the situation I started out putting her in was to be struggling against was her enslavement, not the future husband, not the attacking monster-army. Those were incidental and extra–yet they would have to be central to the story for it to make sense. So what story am I trying to tell? I still want to tell that original story.
And do I really want to write a story about a woman being raped? That was effectively where I was leading, and if she managed to escape it, it would be too pat.
So I got stuck at about 3000 words.**
And then I wrote a scene that was really dark, even darker than I’d been managing, which would’ve totally shortened the story, getting us straight into the dark and scary. And dude, I write funny. I’m most interesting when I’m funny. Can I maintain a dark and scary tone? Can I maintain a dark and scary tone while telling a story that isn’t the one I was trying to write?
I don’t think I’m just copping out… but I do feel like I’m copping out.
Last night I realized I could write a different part of the history of this world–unfortunately, also dark and dismal–this one in a place where I can just create badass women without feeling like I’m being untrue to historical accuracy or to the society I’ve established. I know the ending of this story–it leads directly into the world of Allie & Fen–but I don’t know the beginning or the middle, and I don’t know who is involved. I don’t know what happens, but I know where they end up. I don’t think I’ve ever begun a story already knowing the ending.
I don’t even have any characters yet, or societies, or settings, and I haven’t really decided if it’s sci fi or fantasy. Right now I’m leaning towards sci fi, because it feels more exciting with that tone, and anything that excites me is more likely to lead to an exciting story. 🙂
How I feel today: “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people” -T. Mann — quoted by Laura Anne Gilman (http://twitter.com/LAGilman/status/9394628190)
* This is a Latin phrase from Ancient Rome^. Wikipedia says this:
The pater familias (plural: patres familias) was the head of a Roman family. The term is Latin for “father of the family” or the “owner of the family estate”. The form is irregular and archaic in Latin, preserving the old genitive ending in -as (see Latin declension). The pater familias was always a Roman citizen.
Roman law and tradition (mos maiorum) established the power of the pater familias within the community of his own extended familia. He held legal privilege over the property of the familia, and varying levels of authority over his dependents: these included his wife and children, certain other relatives through blood or adoption, clients, freedmen and slaves. The same mos maiorum moderated his authority and determined his responsibilities to his own familia and to the broader community. He had a duty to father and raise healthy children as future citizens of Rome, to maintain the moral propriety and well-being of his household, to honour his clan and ancestral gods and to dutifully participate – and if possible, serve – in Rome’s political, religious and social life. In effect, the pater familias was expected to be a good citizen. In theory at least, he held powers of life and death over every member of his extended familia through ancient right but in practice, the extreme form of this right was seldom exercised. It was eventually limited by law.
My Pater Familias seldom uses his powers of death, either, but … he could. And marriage? Marriage is definitely controlled by him. Usually arranged for political reasons, which was true for powerful men throughout much of European history and many (most?) other cultures in this world, too.
^ Studying Latin and history extensively give me all kinds of useful concepts to draw on. Some more depressing than others…
** “So” implies causation, and I don’t know that this is actually the cause. Here is the root of my concern. Did I get stuck because I’m telling the wrong story, or did I get stuck because it’s hard and I don’t want to work this hard? Or worse, did I get stuck because I committed to finishing this story, and committing makes me not want to work on the story anymore?