A Day in the Life of a Writer: Returning to an Old Story, Choosing a Main Character, and Being Generally Irked (But Also Excited)

calvin block

I have good news and bad news, dear readers. The good news: I’ve started writing my thesis novel again. Yay! I’ve been patting myself on the back all morning for deciding to pick it back up after shelving it almost a year ago (I need all the self-indulgent reassurance I can get. I’m a writer. It’s how we roll).

The bad news: I can’t decide who my main character is. Which is the reason I stopped writing this story in the first place.

Boo city.

The dilemma I’ve run into (and been running into for the past year) is that I have two strong and compelling characters, one male and one female, who are competing with one another for the coveted spot of main character. Now, I am not a person who subscribes to the rule that you can only have one main character in a story (Thelma & Louise being a prime example of a story that breaks that rule), so when I first encountered this problem I decided to resolve it the easy way by just letting them both be main characters. Easy, right?

Well, when your characters are normal, sure, maybe you can do that. But my characters are decidedly abnormal. See, the part that I neglected to mention is that my characters are both psychopaths, and as it turns out, having two psychopaths as your main characters kind of doesn’t work. Like, at all.

better main character meme

I got about a third of the way through the first draft of having these two psychopaths pitted against each other on the page and got increasingly frustrated, because the more I wrote the more I realized that I wasn’t rooting for them. I didn’t want either one of them to accomplish their goals and finish out their quests. What’s more, I didn’t care enough to see if they did accomplish their goals or not; I disliked them so much that I just wanted to get away from them. They were just too unsympathetic, too unlikable, and I hadn’t included a character who was strong enough and sympathetic enough to offset their extreme darkness. And without having a character to root for, I lost interest in the story. I came to the realization that if I, the person who thought up these characters and brought them into existence onto the page, had this kind of reaction to these characters, then readers were going to as well. And so, a little less than a year ago I gave up on the story with the intention of never returning to it again.

The problem is the little bugger’s been nagging at the edges of my brain ever since, refusing to give me any peace of mind and keeping me from working on the other story idea I’ve been playing around with for a few years now. It’s really rather rude.

So, since I’m apparently not allowed to work on any other creative projects until I give this psychopath story another whirl, I’ve decided to return to it with a new approach and an actual plan in place (my god, what a concept. A writer with a plan!). First, I’m rewriting the entire story from scratch. This sucks because I’ve written ~150 pages of it in the first draft, but necessary, because of those ~150 pages maybe 10 of them are good/salvageable. The plot and characters got jumbled around a dozen too many times for me to make any sense of it, and trying to work with those original pages will just confuse me further. So that first draft is getting locked away in my desk and not being looked at until the second draft is finished. Then after I finish I’ll go through the first one and see what if anything I can pull from it and incorporate into the new story.

Second, I’m putting my foot down and limiting my story to one psychopath/main character. This is turning out to be harder than I thought, because like I said above, both characters are strong and compelling in their own rights. I’ve polled fellow writers and friends for their opinions on whether they’d rather read a story about a male psychopath or a female psychopath, and the results were a 50-50 split.

Naturally.

At least now I know that a.) I’ve got two cool characters and b.) I’m insane for having trouble choosing between them (fun fact: I care more about point b right now).

So, I’ve decided that I’m going to be ambitious and write BOTH versions of the story, one told by the male psychopath and the other by the female. Since writing two novel-length manuscripts of the same story told by two different characters doesn’t sound all that appealing to me (shocking, I know), I’m planning on condensing the story down into either a long short story or a novella. Then I’ll see which one turns out stronger and proceed from there. And I’m choosing to not think about the possible scenario where they both turn out strong and I find myself in the same position I’m in now, because that can’t happen, right? Right? (Ugh.)

 

ryan gosling novel