I’m sure you’ve seen articles in which writers explain their struggles to find inspiration. I’m sure you’ve seen articles where writers explain how, crushed as they are under unbearable work loads and familial burdens unequaled by Atlas himself, it’s just so hard to find time to bless you all with another glorious tome of kitty poems. The sheer creative weight of the writing endeavor may inspire you with pity or it may cause you to throw your wireless mouse and say something like “try working for a living you dirty, ungrateful *long stream of expletives,* and your mother, too. ” Either way, I don’t judge.
The truth is, I face neither problem. I get bogged down just like everyone else, but finding inspiration isn’t usually a problem for me because I’m blessed to live and work with a lot of very interesting people and, even more fundamentally, my entire job, both as a writer and a lecturer, is to think about new topics to discuss. Workloads, likewise, don’t – can’t – present anything more than temporary obstacles to my writing. Not because I’m such a go-getter, more because I suffer with chronic, untreatable diarrhea of the pen. If I hold it in too long, I’m gonna pop.
(I’ll just leave you with that popping from diarrhea of the pen image. You’re welcome.)
Since I’m not short on inspiration or crushed by work, what, then, is the point of my writing you? Part of it is make you all hold my hand and guide me through the creative equivalent of adolescence, propping up my delicate self-esteem and patting my head. But even beyond my desires to build a literary kingdom built on the servitude and oppression of my readers, I am writing this letter because my next book is shaping up to be a 1400 page, unintelligible black hole of faux symbolism, philosophical pig slop and non-sense characterization and I need some outside perspectives.
Here’s what I know about the story so far:
- a) The first protagonist, we’ll call him The Striver, has to choose between being morally good and mattering. He cannot have both because there are no realistic, legitimate paths to power for people of his class, in his society.
- b) The Striver has to choose being bad and meaningful, at least initially. Otherwise there’s no story. He can change his mind at the end, but if he does so, he goes back to being meaningless. I should point out that “bad” in the sense of this story is not going to be pointless cruelty or puppy kicking. I mean it more in the sense of being willing to do almost anything in the pursuit of his goals.
- c) The second protagonist, we’ll call her The Prophet, is going to be based on Machiavelli’s “unarmed prophet.” She is idealistic, fair and absolutely in love with justice. She is also very brave and very tough. For these reasons, she’s doomed. Think Savonarola but minus the crazy.
- d) The Prophet is going to have a relationship with The Striver before she dies.
- e) The third protagonist, we’ll call him The Scion, is well-intentioned, well connected and basically a nice guy.
- f) The Scion will not have earned his power and will thus have to decide how he plans to deal with The Striver. The Scion can capitulate or he can attempt to keep his position, but he won’t be able to get along nicely with The Striver since his power necessarily comes at Striver’s expense, and vice-versa.
- g) The antagonist is going to be a personification mathematics – specifically the uncertainty principal. Or, in other words, he is nature revolting against determinism.
- h) The antagonist by no means has to antagonize the protagonists at all times, or even most of the time, but he is always the enemy of long-term planning, prescription and prediction.
These certainties leave me contemplating a number of possible paths. For example, if The Striver and The Prophet are in love at some point, I can make The Stiver’s rejection of idealistic goodness – and thus The Prophet herself – into a tragedy. However, I’m also playing with the idea of making their relationship platonic, involuntarily platonic from The Striver’s point of view. This would leave the reader feeling that goodness is fundamentally beyond The Striver’s reach. He’s going to choose power over goodness in either case, but I can’t decide if a motive of traumatized idealism makes for a better story than a motive of frustration.
I also need to decide if The Scion is going to empathize with The Striver. On one side, empathizing with The Striver would make him a wise, admirable figure. The reader then would feel more invested, hopefully, in his struggles. On the other side, it would mean that mounting a strong defense against The Striver’s striving would be, at least in part, an admission on The Scion’s part that power by birth should be more important that power by merit. I can avoid both these things by having The Scion commit the fundamental attribution error and dismiss The Striver as evil. This will be easier to write and at once makes the conflict easier to justify for both characters and morally cleaner for The Scion, more easily preserving him as the story’s knight in shining armor guy. I’m not sure which way I should go on this.
Lastly, I need to decide how the story turns out. Some endings I’m thinking of now include a victory of The Striver over The Scion where The Striver continues choosing power over goodness. This probably ends with The Scion’s death. On one hand, this ending affirms the Horatio Alger story of pulling one’s self up by exertion and skill. On the other hand, it is the almost literal death of innocence. Another ending I’m considering is The Striver achieving power, deciding the ruthless needed to achieve it was too much and returning to a meaningless life. This ending would affirm a very Confucian worldview, where people who are born low should accept their inferiority and not challenge their betters. It also allows goodness to prevail. If I want to go dark, I can have the Scion defeat The Striver and thus affirm that upward mobility is hopeless and wrong. This would also make it hard to show The Scion’s goodness, since it would require a great deal of squishing enemies. If I want to make it super dark and a parable about the ambitions of men, I can have mathematical uncertainty destroy, for no reason, whoever emerges from the struggle.
I’d be honored if you, my impossibly groovy and awesome readers, would be so kind as to leave me your suggestions on these problems. You are of course welcome to propose solutions outside what I’ve already laid out.
Ben Garrido is the author of The Blackguard, published by Lucky Bat Books and available here in both print and ebook formats.