With November and National Novel Writing Month just a few days away, writers everywhere are stocking up on ink, canned soup, and self-doubt.
I took part ‘officially’ through their website a few years ago, but it was an irritating experience I’m not looking to repeat. In strangely fortuitous timing, I’ll be writing the first draft of a cyberpunk heist novel in November, which, if the characters play nice, I’m planning to spin into a series. The idea has been percolating for a few months now as I’ve been busy finishing off my last book, Zenith Rising (releasing in December), so I’m confident it’ll come together. I’m also excited to be writing in a new genre, bring on the megacorps and cyberware!
Think you’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo this year? If you are, good luck — try not to get lost in the big picture, just put down one word after another; it’s always worked for me.
I recently came across a video essay from Nerdwriter that asks the question ‘is it possible to make Passengers better with some minor changes?’
If you weren’t aware, Passengers is a 2016 sci-fi film about a spacecraft transporting thousands of people when a malfunction in its sleep chambers awakens two passengers 90 years early. It’s an interesting premise reminding me of another sci-fi film, Pandorum, which has crew waking up onboard a spaceship with no memory of their identity or mission.
The video essay discusses how Passengers writes itself into a corner with the original script, leaving the last act of the film without any real tension or suspense, even requiring a new plot device to keep things moving. However, rearranging the footage and changing the point of view character alters the dramatic structure, injecting intrigue and mystery right from the start. The essay argues that editing it this way creates a more engaging viewer experience as well as a less predictable story, and I found it difficult to disagree.
Video below. Spoilers ahead, obviously.
After seeing how a simple idea could have such a huge effect on the story of the film, I began questioning if a lot of my own writing could be improved by switching up the point of view character or reordering the events shown.
As a general rule I choose the point of view character by figuring out who has the most to lose. In the case of Passengers, you could make arguments for either character on that front, but what is clear is that each character’s point of view tells a different kind of story, even going so far as to switch up the genre of the work. So arguably, the decision then becomes even more important.
It’s an interesting concept to experiment with. Maybe that space opera story you’re writing becomes a romantic comedy when seen from another character’s perspective, or that coming of age story turns into a disquieting mystery thriller. Looking back over my own work, I quickly found the possibilities spiralling.
So next time you’re bored by a book or a film, try giving some thought as to whether the story could be better told from another character’s viewpoint. Like the video says, you can learn just as much from films that don’t work as those that do.
Anyway, some of the entries in the Electric Literature contest were pretty damn good so I thought I’d share a couple of my favourites here.
James Lough, “When We Lost Alphonse”
We worried when Alphonse tried heroin, which exposed him to the world of marijuana, and quickly opened the door to beer, which naturally led him to pretzels and peanuts. Before we could intervene, we found him enmeshed in a group who allegedly ate nothing but vegetables.
Stephen Aubrey, “Cohabitation”
Our first night living together, we took in that puppy howling outside the door. An auspice, I thought. But we’d never done this before. We didn’t know how small things can grow, what little space we can be left to live in. We were not the sort to abandon something until we were.
They’re all well put together, each one making me more excited to give the constricted format a whirl myself. It’s said creativity comes from setting limits after all. Just look at superheroes for an example: Superman wouldn’t be a very interesting character if he had no weaknesses whatsoever, he needs those constraints to create an interesting story.
So how about you, feeling inspired by the 280 character limit? Or do you hate having to create within artificial boundaries? Either way, let me know what you think in the comments.