“The patrons and the actors, too
Uncertain if the show is through
Wide sidelong looks await their cue
But the frozen mask just smiles”
–Alan Moore, “This Vicious Cabaret”
I don’t know what I’m doing.
I have been working on Cannibal Hearts and I’m kind of stalled because I don’t really know what kind of story I’m trying to tell. Or maybe I do, but I just don’t want to admit it.
When I started on Catskinner’s Book I had some very definite ideas about what I wanted to do. Structurally, I was inspired by a couple of Urban Fantasy series–Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments to name two–and I knew I wanted to create a world and tell stories about a continuing cast of characters.
I wanted to build a brand new world, and I think I’ve done that. I’ll admit to taking inspiration from a number of sources–William Burroughs, Clive Barker, Samuel Delany, Phillip Dick, Howard Lovecraft–but I have tried to make James and Catskinner’s world my own.
In particular, I wanted to create a character who reflects my own experiences. I’ve fictionalized it, of course, but I think I’ve managed to capture what it is like to be dissociative, at least in part.
So far, so good. I feel like I have the stage set and the characters ready to go, and I’m happy with all the details, but I don’t really have a story to tell. I know what I should be doing, I create a villain and I have him or her threaten my good guys and have some kind of evil plan, yadda yadda yadda, and the good guys have to figure out what’s going on and, you know, thwart it.
Every time I try to move in that direction, though, I get stuck. Because life’s not like that.
I know, I know, I’m writing fiction. I’m writing about a guy with an alien in his head who is in love with a hermaphroditic human-plant hybrid, fergoodnessake. I can do white-hot metal centipedes and water elementals and people who dissolve into puddles of pink goo.
I just can’t seem to plot an actual story. I love writing, and I love writing about James and all of his bizarre friends. I have some new ones in Cannibal Hearts that I really like. When I let myself just write, I’ve been doing some good stuff. The bit about Catskinner talking about the sky going dark–that’s really moving.
Moving where is the problem. I have ideas for things to happen, and I have a pretty good idea of how the characters are going to react to them, but they are all just… things that happen. I don’t really have a story.
Maybe I’m overthinking this. I didn’t really have a story when I wrote Catskinner’s Book, and people seem to like it anyway. It was just, well, this happened, and then that happened, and then the other thing happened, and then the end.
So maybe I just need to write it and not worry about if what I’m writing is really a novel. Deep down, I don’t believe in good guys and bad guys, there are just people who try to do what they think is best and usually screw it up. Maybe if I just write down enough things that happen I’ll end up with a bunch of words in a row that I can collect into a book and people will buy it.
Yeah… it’s not exactly a plan, but I guess it’s plan-like.