I’ve been thinking about doing a complete reimagining of SILVER BROWN. Which will no longer be called by that title. Focusing on the nature of the Secret Ingredient. Which could be a metaphorical allusion to one of any number of things, depending on your interpretation. Similar to the One Ring of Tolkienese lore, only it’s a computer program. Several of the characters will be recycled, albeit with new roles. I might even rename a few.
I initially started SILVER BROWN as an art therapy project. The main reason I put it online was to fully test its potential to be anything beyond that. It was a worthwhile exercise as an art therapy project. As was putting it online. I drank a rich soup of vibes from the droppings of the Great Bird (i.e. Twitter) and professional input from a gaggle of fellow scribes, which provided me with vital nutrients to open my third eye and see that SILVER BROWN cannot continue in its present form as I originally planned. This story needs just a pinch of reconstructive surgery.
Before I expand on that further, let me drop a parable about burritos. This is one of a handful of things I know how to cook well. Learned entirely by observation, at a burrito joint I visited almost every business day at noon back when I had a supposedly glamourous job. Said joint famously lacked a barrier obstructing the patrons’ view of the kitchen, allowing for the visual spectacle of burrito wizards working their magic behind the scenes. Who taught me (almost) everything I know. About burritos, at least.
Part of the high art of making burritos is knowing how much filling one tortilla can handle. If you try to stuff too much in a single burrito, the whole thing is bound to split at the sides and fall apart sometime during the cooking process. A fictional world vastly different from the familiar is a lot like that burrito. There’s only so much you can put on a tortilla of a hundred thousand words. I initially set out to make SILVER BROWN less grandiose than any of my previous attempts to write a novel, but still found myself trying to stuff a trilogy’s worth of filling in that tortilla. More pre-planning was required for the project, methinks. Next time I mustn’t allow myself to become so distracted with the world in which the story is set that I forget to actually tell the story.
There are also questions swirling in my mind about whether there is still a public appetite for dystopian fiction, now that the present state of human society has taken on a dystopian air. The world humanity lived in when I first started working on SILVER BROWN has since molted. Its new instar bears a closer resemblance to the Environment of my story, in that it’s a world where technology and mass-ignorance has run amok. Hence I must ask myself: would people actually pay money to read this yarn I’m working on? Part of the reason why people read novels is for the escapism. They might be reluctant to read something that hits painfully too close to home. I could be dead wrong; the jury’s still out on that one. Black Mirror has temporarily ceased production because the producers thought it would be too depressing for people to watch in light of that microscopic Cthulhu coming along and ruining everything. Yet according to hard statistics, people are watching movies like Outbreak while they’re in quarantine.
Uncertainties about a potential audience don’t justify a literary facelift as much as the story’s heroine, however. Florys MacNab was subconsciously conceived as a satirical caricature of the vapidly callous materialism exhibited by more than a few people I met back in the day when I worked in one of Canada’s wealthiest neighbourhoods. There’s certainly a place for a character of this ilk in fiction, but in retrospect it was a mistake to make her the protagonist. I’m finding it next to impossible to root for somebody who values things over people, whose entire modus operandi revolves around acquiring and flaunting status symbols and making other people jealous. If I can’t root for that somebody, it’s unlikely my audience will be able to either.
This fictional world I’ve created demands a main character who is at least somewhat flexible and adaptable, who approaches novel phenomena with a certain level of curiosity. That’s not Florys. Florys is way too narrow-minded and hardheaded to be the main character. She would work better as a secondary character. One who repeatedly complicates things for the hero, and (probably) dies in the story’s third act for dramatic effect.
I guess I shouldn’t feel bad about things not working out this time around. As a certain wise man once said…
…but at least I’ve spent enough time wallowing in that shit that new vegetation can start growing on me. I was thinking about going with the same basic plot device, but with a completely different perspective, major characters reworked and fine-tuned (except Sherman, he’s perfect the way he is). Before I start germinating anything new on my ass however, I shall disperse the last of the current yield in the summer. The final chapters are the strangest in the whole book, so of course I’m going to tweet that shit.
I’ve always been inclined to be a pantser. Both in life, and in writing. I shan’t elaborate further on how this disposition relates to the former. But the latter probably comes from Stephen King, whose 2000 how-to/autobiography On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is a book I would highly recommend for anyone looking to take up this art for themselves. Chock full of useful tips and tricks on writing fiction, from an undisputed expert on the subject.
Somewhere in the aforementioned tome, King states that he always starts a book having no idea how it’s going to end. Decisions on such matters are to be left up to the characters, who take on a life of their own as the author writes, driving the story in ways the author never anticipated.
That approach (or at least some badly misinterpreted variant thereof) is one I’ve incorporated many a time. There would be a general idea about plot devices and where the story would end up eventually, but for the most part I would take an improvisational route to writing fiction. The results were hit and miss. Making it all up as you go along is all fun and games until you end up writing yourself into a hole. But never a waste of time. There are certain genres where one must learn to play before learning to hunt…
The Environment is a character in this crazy yarn I’m currently tinkering around with. Like it tends to be in many a work of speculative fiction. All other characters and events spring from the Environment, so the Übercharacter required more fleshing out than any other character. I had to invest the time to wrestle with the Übercharacter, like a bear cub wrestling its littermate. So It could hone Itself, eventually becoming strong enough to take off.