I am over 15,000 words into the rough draft of a novel, and I have a major problem. I doubt my protagonist is interesting. His personality reads flat so far. He is neither colorful nor irresistible. He avoids confrontation. And here is the deeper problem:
The protagonist is me. Not literally me, because he and the story are fiction. Allegorically though? Thematically? He is me. Why pretend otherwise? Pretty much all my creative writing starts in an autobiographical place. So if the protagonist on the page is a snooze, then maybe the guy typing on the laptop is also.
And “Ug” came to pass.
Why persist in writing a novel with a character so dull on the surface? Because, back in July I found inspiration.
The following virtual choir performance moved me more than perhaps any new content I’ve seen or heard during the pandemic. You only need to watch the first 3 minutes of the video. Everything after that is closing credits for the 17,000-plus singers who joined in:
I fell instantly and completely in love with this video and the song. It channeled my current sorrows and hopes. It made me nostalgic for my college choir days at Weber State University. The other big thing it did was fill my head with visions of my novel’s protagonist. Not literal visions of course. Creative ones.
As I listen to “Sing Gently” over and over, I can see my protagonist weathering the climactic moments of his life. Best of all, I find myself caring about him and wanting to go on our adventure together. The writing process remains nerve-wracking and grueling, but worthwhile and fulfilling. The things, and the people, who can get us through this winter are out there.
So I’m thankful for Eric Whitacre and the global, cooperative choir piece he engineered. For you good readers, if you haven’t already enjoyed “Sing Gently,” I hope you’ll give it a viewing and I hope it sooths you. This novel I’m working on may never see the light of day. I may seal it up tighter than that one section of the golden plates (which of course figure into my novel.) But “Sing Gently” and other pieces like it are out there, proof that we can connect, cooperate, and sustain each other.
What music or other art have you found or rediscovered during the pandemic? How is it helping you?
What types of leisure activities are you considering to help you weather the winter?
If you’ve ready me regularly on Wheat & Tares, you’ve met my protagonist. His name is Fellow, with a capital F. You can meet him or revisit him via the following pieces:
I am writing my novel as part of National Novel Writing Month. Participants of NaNoWriMo commit to writing 50,000 words of an original novel during the month of November. That’s 1,667 words a day for 30 days. If I meet that goal, it will be the second time I’ve completed NaNoWriMo.
Jake, don’t give up on the Novel…and thanks for the song.
Lovely song. I hadn’t heard it before.
I too am doing Nano. I do it most years as we have a small, strong local group. It’s all zoom this year, which isn’t quite as fun but I still really enjoy the companionship.
For me, intentionally being creative requires several steps. The first is getting rid of the all the mental junk that gets in the way. I do this using Julia Cameron’s 3 pages method. Then the second step is adding into my life enough varying pursuits that I have information/experiences/thoughts to draw upon. Which is what I think your questions were trying to draw out.
So this year, I’m reading several books all in different formats for different reasons at different times of day (Ursula LeGuin on Audible while I do morning chores, Marcus Aurelius as my daily morning 3pages prompt, Brandon Sanderson just because he’s SO good at writing craft, and Melissa Inouye outloud with the family in the evenings). To trigger new ideas, I also decided to teach myself Chess (and err… I’ve got a book for that too) because I’m so bad at strategy. This last one has been huge on my writing. I find it popping up unexpectantly in a ‘oh look, I just divided up all my characters into pairs to take action. They are functioning as Pawns!’ kind of way.
I also decided to grow oak trees from acorns, although that is a more long term type project. We’ll see what comes out of it. (and err… if I can keep any of them alive.)
You didn’t ask for advice on your character=self problem, but I thought I’d offer a tad anyway. It’s a pit I personally tend to fall into as well when I’m not paying attention. For me, it tends to be related to allowing my character to become too inactive and push the job of driving the story off of themselves and onto others so that my character is reacting more than taking action (so reacting is of course important). When this happens, it’s a big red flag that I need to work on my scene-sequel sequences and make sure my character has strong goals. (unsolicited advice over. 🙂 )
Hey Jake great video. If your book reflects the video then don’t give up. The name of my first book came from a song. Music can be both soothing and inspiring.
All the best,
Queen, “Somebody to Love” live in Montreal 1981: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aA2IRoPFIn0
Every time I hear Freddie’s voice, I feel the greatest joy I’ve ever felt. Not much gives me hope these days, whether we’re talking about the church specifically or the world in general, but artistry, passion and beauty make the days bearable. Good luck with the novel. The first 10k words are the hardest, so you’ve already made it through the worst part.
What you see as boring I might see as relatable. It might well be the novel I wish to read based on what I know of your other fictional works. I’m hoping it sees the light of day. Especially if Eric Whitacre is the inspiration.
I went to see The Bands Visit right before everything shut down in March and I think about it so much. About waiting, about longing, for something different.
Then a few weeks ago the orchestra started playing again and they played Strauss and a Japanese composer I hadn’t heard before and I wept. They played them as if they were movements of the same symphony and it was heart wrenching and hopeful and felt like something bigger than the parts. Those three things are now part of my soundtrack in my head.
Thanks to each of you for chiming in, sharing your thoughts and encouragement. I confess there was a self-serving element of this post, and the gracious response is truly appreciated. Echoing a couple examples cited in the comments, I think we have a treasure trove of offerings from the band Queen, timeless and invigorating. And how I wish I could see a live performance of The Band’s Visit, which for now I only know through a couple of choice clips, including the hypnotic performance at the Tony Awards. Thanks again, you all!