Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I'm Officially Stuck

It's official; 60,000 words into Voodoo Queen and I am completely stuck. I've been stuck for a while and it's finally time to admit it.

The problems I'm having with this book are numerous and unavoidable. First off, I know my plot, characters, and a good deal of my research, but I haven't decided a narrator yet. I'm not exactly sure what structure I want the book to follow. (I'll write about this in greater detail at the end of this post.) I figured I'd just write until a voice popped out of me, but it never did.

Since I'm a control freak, it's frustrating to wait for my subconscious to make creative decisions. I tried making a pros and cons list to make an educated decision on how this book should go, but that didn't work. Every time I just "picked" something, it didn't feel right. 

I hate to admit it, but ideas need time to develop on their own. There's a lot of truth to the whole I-need-to-wait-until-my-muse-speaks-to-me theory. So even though all I want to do it finish this masterpiece that's inside my head, I think I need to put it down for a while. It's time to respect the creative process.

The thing that sucks the most about this is that I write from home, so now that I'm stuck, I don't have much to do. I think I'll get back to one of my old Nano books, like Hunger or Fierce. 

Readers, what do you do when you get stuck?

The Problem 
(for anyone interested in offering much needed advice)

Here's a breakdown of the problem: ever since I had the idea five years ago, I planned on this book alternating from two first-person POV's: Marie Laveau and her daughter, the Second Marie Laveau. The two of them are talking like they're having a conversation, and at the end you realize the mother has already passed on and she's speaking to her daughter from beyond the grave. (Just like Mama Day.)

Problem is, I found out there was no Second Marie Laveau and the daughter died 20 years before the mother. Also, I decided the story will include five generations of Marie's family instead of just two. Not to mention that voice just didn't work for me once I got started. 

Now I have the following options:

1. Make it an epic family saga that's third-person limited, but the narrator changes from one generation to the other. It would be like Roots. Problem: Sometimes I want to be inside multiple heads and I don't think I could limit myself to one narrator at a time.

2. Third person omniscient. This will give me all the freedom I want to go into anyone's head at any time. Problem: It makes the book impersonal and less interesting, and it's difficult to do. Few authors use third person omniscient because few readers like it.

3. Have Marie's daughter tell the whole story as if she's recounting her family history. This will give her enough insight into all the characters that I can get inside multiple people's heads. It would be like the Red Tent, which starts out third person omniscient and then switches to first person once the main character is born. I like this option the best. Problem: The daughter dies 20 years before the novel is over. She would have to continue telling the story as a ghost. It would be just like The Lovely Bones. This might be too complicated for me to pull off. Plus, the daughter's character hasn't developed much in my head yet.

4. Have Marie Laveau be the narrator. This makes the most sense, since she's the main character and the book ends with her death. I don't like it, though, because I don't feel like parent's have enough insights into their children's lives to tell their stories. Her daughter would not be as well developed as I would like because I couldn't get inside her head; I would only see her life through the eyes of her mother.

Any thoughts?


  1. Have you read Kate Quinn's Mistress of Rome? If I remember correctly, she uses three different characters as narrator to tell the story. Some of the sections are in third person and some in first person. I don't know if many people could make this work, but IMO, she pulled it off splendidly!

    1. I have read it, so I'll have to look through it again. Thanks for the tip!

    2. I have read it, so I'll have to look through it again. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Whenever I get stuck I do the washing up, and it works every time. But I am a big advocate of letting projects ferment for a while and coming back to them refreshed.

  3. Before you put pen to paper or finger-tips to keyboard, you should have your narrator and ending of your novel in mind so you can do a proper character arc and pace your story to its horizon properly.

    Multiple POV's often confuse and frustrate the reader. They invest an emotional connection to a character, only to be torn away from that person.

    If you need for there to be a daughter, then have a daughter. For all you know, some historical document may be unearthed that proves Marie actually had a daughter. Have fun with your novel, or your lack of enjoyment will translate into bitter prose.

    I think the conversation motiff between mother and daughter fascinating. The mother would make a fine narrator. And I've found that many parents understand their children far better than the children understand themselves. It's a maturity issue.

    I wish you luck in breaking through the log-jam, Roland

  4. Leaving an idea to ferment and develop in the back of your brain is never wrong. And in the meantime, you can polish other writing projects, finish them, plot them, etc.

    I agree with Roland above, that making a decision on narrating voice before starting writing would be advisable. The choice of voice, as you say towards the end of your post, can dramatically change the structure and tone of the narrative.

    Personally, I'm not too fond of diverse voices taking it in turns to narrate a story. Most of the times, I don't find the voices have been differentiated enough one from the other.

    I disagree on your take on the third omniscient. It not necessarily makes the book less interesting and less personal, it's not more difficult to do than any other narrating voice, and many authors use it all the time. It can of course not be your favourite way of expressing your narratives, and that's fine :) but sincerely, it can give you a breadth of scope for examining different characters and their motivations in ways that a more restricted pov like first person can not.

    As to your choices, I too find the dialogue mother/daughter very intriguing.

    As an option, I think your best solution is to start with the daughter's narration and have it picked up after her death by the mother (whether readers are aware of it or not). It keeps the historical integrity you obviously care for, and offers insights on a mother's grief (or not, according to their relation!) about her daughter passing before her time. You would have a fresh, young voice for the first part, and a mature, older and strongly different one for the second.

    But in general, don't worry too much. Let your brain work on it as you do other things, and a solution of your liking will appear :)

  5. Teralyn, I've had similar dilemmas for some of my own literary projects. Namely, I couldn't decide whether to use first or third person! I liked the thought of using first person because then the reader could have a more intimate relationship with my MC, but then that would limit the other characters' voices. Using third person was an attractive choice because I'd considered alternating between characters for the narrator role.

    I like the idea of your #3 choice, particularly because it sounds like a really cool way to tell a story, and you like it the best anyway. :) And it would only be too complicated for you to pull it off if you never try! Good luck; I hope you work it out soon.

    Hope you're having a great weekend!

    ~Wendy Lu

    The Red Angel Blog

  6. Have you considered a narrator who isn't really included in the story? Like someone who observes what is going on, such as a servant, but is not actually part of the action? I've heard people use that sometimes. It seems to work if done well.

    1. That's not a bad idea. I considered using Marie's grandmother to tell the story of the generations that come after her. I haven't decided on it yet, though.


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