The Mirage of Innocence, Development 1

[FYI this is very rambly, as will most of these posts. {side note to the FYI: I am aware rambly is not actually a word.}]

So, as I noted on the About page, all of this exploration into story-telling is an attempt to understand what it means to tell a story. I am a writer and I am working currently on my first big fiction piece, working title The Mirage of Innocence. I’ll give a little background on what Mirage is about next. What I’m hoping to accomplish with this blog is (methodically) how reading can inform writing. How are these storytellers telling their story? What devices do they use? How are these characters going through different things and making decisions at each turning point that raises the stakes, truly? These are all things I need in my novel and I’m hoping this exploration gets me close to an answer—this is the “Book of One’s Own” from the title. Plus, you know what they say: the best writers are the greatest readers.

So, about Mirage:

The Mirage of Innocence is a coming-of-age novel/novella (I haven’t decided yet) about how a little girl named Lilly goes from a beautiful bloom to “a flower with no petals.” Through journal entries from her first 18 years of life and then, at nineteen, her lamentations on the melancholia she feels, we hear her story.

[I know this is vague, but the specifics don’t matter as much for this post.]

This post is about the first development coming out of this process: a frame narrative. For a long time, I have worried about telling Lilly’s story because I worried a lot of my story was getting lost. (This novel is an attempt to tell the story of my childhood through the eyes of a girl who lives in Italy—first problem, I did not grow up in Italy). My worries have been about how I can take something that happened to me and then sort of translate that into Lilly’s life. So, really, the metaphorical storytelling in Lilly’s story is my attempt at distancing myself from writing a memoir. But my problem up to this point with doing this is that Lilly is not me. Some of the things she goes through are not things I have gone through. So my worry, of course, is How do I accurately portray this without sounding cheesy, or inauthentic? This is, of course, a very writerly insecurity. Nonetheless, I think I’ve found a way to fix both of these problems (I see it as two: the inauthenticity of Lilly’s story and the not telling my story).

With a frame narrative, I’ve decided to create a character who is writing Lilly’s story. This author-character is more so me and is dealing with the insecurities that I am dealing with now. He is not me, of course, because I don’t want this to become a memoir about me writing a book. But in creating him, I can be more me than a little girl growing up in Europe (something VERY not me).

This frame narrative also gives me a chance to solve some other problems I was worried about writing this novel, like structure. The structure of the novel before was Part A: journal entries age 6-19, Part B: lamentations at age 19. The problem with this is that there really is no conflict until we get to Part B with the lamentations. And without conflict right from the beginning, no one is going to read a thing. I thought about inter-weaving Part A and B to see if the conflict could appear sooner, but I fear this may make the storytelling more clunky. So, with the frame narrative, I can follow the author‘s conflict, not just Lilly’s.

I’m still interested to see how this is going to manifest itself in the novel once I get back to writing, but I wanted to share this development because it is, indeed crucial. I’ll share my findings as the develop.

– Preston

Why Lindsey Lee Wells is the Best Katherine of All

[There are spoilers so don’t read ahead if you haven’t finished!]

When he reminisces about Katherine XIX early in the novel, Colin says “She said I love you as if it were a secret, and an immense one.” This very thing he loves about Katherine XIX becomes the thing which connects him to Lindsey Lee Wells in the first place—she bites her thumb in front of him, a “private habit.” They become the people they most want to be around, the people you can think out loud in front of, the people that show you their secret hiding places.

Lindsey’s biggest insecurity is that she is never truthful. She says the only statement that’s true that begins with “I am” is “I am full of shit.” She has been faking everything for a long time, which is why when it’s finally over with TOC, she’s mostly relieved because she doesn’t have to pretend anymore. This is the relief she transfers into her relationship with Colin, someone with whom she had always felt like she could be private in front of. The sharing of private things throughout the novel (whether it was biting her thumb in front of him, or sharing the theorem with her, or sharing her hiding place, or thinking out loud in front of her—something introverted people like Colin simply don’t do—, or telling him how full of shit she is) is, again, what binds them together.

Now the reason Lindsey Lee Wells is better than all the other Katherines is how she makes him forget about all of them, especially Katherine XIX. What Colin discovers about his breakup with Katherine XIX is that “Dumping isn’t something that gets done to you; it’s something that happens with you.” It’s more like an inevitable coming of separation. The reason it didn’t work was because he was too needy and she was too inconsistent. She was a good person and kind, he says, but she lit up his heart a little too much. With his insecurity and her inconsistency, they were an obvious bad match but he didn’t notice because he had wrapped himself up in her. Lindsey helps him unravel.

In his final story, he also says, “You don’t remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened.” It’s not about what happens it’s about what we remember happening that makes it matter.  Later, in the epilogue he says that in a moment nothing may happen but it can still be thick with mattering. The affect is what matters. So, even being around Lindsey makes him forget things—that’s something worth noting. And further, forgetting is just the beginning because it allowed him to step back and look at his relationship with Katherine XIX, which just wasn’t right.

Most importantly, though, is that Lindsey Lee Wells is the one who teaches him storytelling. He even says that this is so much a part of how and why he loves her. She teaches him that mattering (his biggest insecurity) comes from telling stories. Again, it’s about affect. How we are changed by what happens to us is what really matters. And how we are changed is how we remember. Those are the stories of infinite meaning, the ones that make us matter. And further, she shows him we cannot be in the stories we have finished. The future is wide and expanding before us and in that, there is always the possibility of mattering—the ability to reinvent oneself, to transform oneself into something different, something even better.

– Preston

John Green: Transformation and Story-Telling

Transformation is so important in a novel. There must be, from the very beginning, the conflict and through the course of the novel a protagonist deals out a way he or she can change in an attempt to assuage this conflict. Frankly, that’s fiction writing. No conflict, no novel. No transformation, no protagonist. So, in An Abundance of Katherines our protagonist Colin has to go through a transformation. Luckily for us, the journey he makes specifically involves the power of storytelling. [FYI There are spoilers if you have not finished the novel. Too, there is no summary so if you aren’t familiar with the story, you may want to become familiar].

Before: So, we begin with conflict. The conflict from the very beginning of the novel is finding one’s place in it all—how perfectly young adult (YA) fiction of Green. Colin wants to matter. He wants to have that Eureka moment that takes him from prodigy to genius. He feels misunderstood (YA) and often just plain distant from a lot of the world (YA!!)—there’s a reason he dates the girls from smart camp—because of his prodigy lifestyle. No one really “gets it” (YA!!!!). So, we can guess his transformation is going to be feeling misunderstood to being understood. Who’s going to help him do that? Well, a love interest that creates a love-triangle of course (YA)!

Before Lindsey Lee Wells, Colin mentions the problem has always been transition. (This is something she hints at as well when she says he goes from thing to thing too quickly). He also, according to her, lacks the necessities for a good story: adventure, romance, and a moral. In this journey with her, Colin learns the importance of what Green later says in the afterword is the third most important advice he gives young writers: always tell stories and always listen when others are telling you theirs.

As we established, Colin wants to matter. That’s been the conflict since page one. In the end, he learns that telling stories is how we matter. The stories will make the infinite mattering possible even when the future erases everything. Each of us causes a little ripple with every story we tell because, even just slightly, people are always different after hearing our story than they were before. So there’s his transformation. We all matter, he says, maybe less than a lot but always more than none.

[I would also like to point out that even using something like anagramming — an act where you take a word and change it into something it wasn’t before — is a method of transformation. This is more a testament to John Green’s brilliance, but this talent is Colin’s greatest pastime because it speaks to the beauty of language and how language is so malleable. Green speaks to this in the afterword, saying “Words are not static. Language shapes our memories and it is also shaped by our memories.” This motif accomplishes just that in such a subtle way.]

– Preston

Beginnings

“She was young, beautiful, and damned. Her name was Vanessa. And she was dead.”
— Jenna Jameson

“The morning after noted child prodigy Colin Singleton graduated from high school and got dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine, he took a bath.”
— John Green

“In the early nineties (it might have been 1992, but it’s hard to remember when you’re having a good time) I joined a rock-and-roll band composed mostly of writers.”
— Stephen King


Beginnings are extremely important, at least to me. My favorite writer of all time is Albert Camus, famous for opening his opus magnum L’Etranger: “Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.” Just with that beginning, you’re already wondering Who died? (Is that how one says mother)? How did she die? When did she die? Why doesn’t this person remember when their mother died? So, just in that opener the reader is drawn in, questioning, and curious enough to read more.

Let’s look at our first three beginnings.

  • In Jenna Jameson’s case, we have a short Prologue that begins with someone dying as well. Who is Vanessa? Why does she die so young? Did someone kill her? Is that what she means by “damned”?
  • In An Abundance of Katherines, Green presents what seems to be something prolific as far as being a “dumpee” is concerned coupled with something as ordinary as taking a bath — an action completely lackluster in comparison to getting dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine. Why was he dumped nineteen times by girls with the same name? Why would someone dump a prodigy? Is he going to get her back? Why is he just taking a bath? Shouldn’t he do something else?
  • With Stephen King’s First Foreword (one of three), we’re given insight into his life in the early nineties as a purported writer-rockstar. Why is the band composed of writers? Why start a band when you’re a writer? What did they get out of this? Was it really that “fun”?

Of course, these initial incidents or conflicts or, at the very least, questions are soon expound upon (whether very quickly or throughout the duration of the piece). But the significance is not only how, if they are, these questions are answered. The greater idea with posing these questions is to get a reader interested in the story you’re telling.

I have begun all three books by this point and the beginnings have not disappointed. In King’s book, he is addressing a bit of autobiography after the introduction to the piece as an attempt to explain what the leaflet explanation of the book calls “the inextricable link between writing and living.” The first section of this book after the Forewords is what he is calling a C.V. It is a catalogue of the life he has lived from his earliest memory to contemporary life to try and make sense of how all of those things created the writer. Jenna Jameson begins similarly, stating her struggles in her childhood and teenage years with her first boyfriend and how the decision to be with him, to go to the river, led to a downfall she had never seen coming. Colin Singleton’s story begins a little differently, entrancing us with a mixture of the nuanced character traits and specific memories and insecurities that make up the perfectly relatable YA novel protagonist (even if he is just a kafir, sitzpinkling over a girl who’s likely long gone — and completely absent as of yet).

So then what does this tell us about story-telling? Transformation. That’s the theme of the first set and that’s what we’re already seeing with these three books. There has to be something that happens for these characters that makes Jenna Jameson’s “A Cautionary Tale,” Stephen King’s “A Memoir of the Craft,” and Green’s “a mission.” There is for each of these characters a choice, an event, or a set of a events that will come about at which point a transformation must occur. What will come of this road trip with Hassan? How does she know The Preacher killed Vanessa? How does a life lived inform a writer’s bibliography?

– Preston