A Million Little Choices
Last week I mentioned that I recently made a decision about the narrator’s backstory, but I find I’m actually still waffling. Every time I think I’ve decided, my brain makes an argument for doing things the other way. I need to make a choice and stick with it, because it’s become a real bottleneck.
The question is: Prior to the events of the story, did the narrator leave home and come back, or has she been there the whole time?
The answer totally changes the story.
If she’s just returned home, then she’s unsettled. Perhaps she has few or no friends. She needs to find a job. She needs to find a place to live. She’s probably noticing what’s changed and what hasn’t. Maybe she’s questioning her decision to come back.
If, on the other hand, she’s been there all along, then the story starts in a status quo and the events of the plot are the shake-up.
Last week, I was leaning toward the latter option because I thought it would mean less need for exposition. I want to be able to quickly establish the setting so the plot can take off. But now I’m doubting this choice for two reasons:
If the narrator is already unsettled — no one to trust or lean on, questioning her own judgment — then she’s more susceptible to the con artist character.
If the narrator has just returned home, then her awareness about her surroundings is heightened, which of course makes for better first-person narration. She’s more likely to notice and remember all the little details.
So now I’m back in camp she-left-and-came-back because I think it’s the better character choice, but I also can’t keep rewriting the first 5,000 words of this novel. I might skip a few chapters ahead and write some scenes with this backstory in mind to see how it feels. If it feels right, then I’ll go with it.
Writing a novel means a million little choices. Every time you make one, it closes off some narrative possibilities, but it opens others. As I write this, I see that Jami Attenberg wrote about the same thing this morning:
People always wonder how to know if they’re making the right choice creatively when there are so many possibilities. I understand fear. I understand caution. But at some point, we must shake off the indecision and just move forward with our work. Choose your project. Choose your sentences. Choose your ideas. Choose your ending. It’s your trip and no one else’s.
At this point, I just need to commit in order to move forward.
To be continued on that! In the meantime, here are some bleeding hearts.