Why I Don’t Like Visual Novel Anime Any More

I find that I’m not as keen on visual novels or their anime adaptations as I was when I first started watching them. I think this is because I’ve detected a pattern in them that I don’t particularly like. That pattern in TL; DR form is that they are all about watching girls suffer with a hint of (or explicit) sex. Let me expand on this. What are the elements of your average VN?

1. A male protagonist who fixes things.

2. Two types of female characters, arranged in a harem.

A. The impossibly pneumatic middle-schooler.

Yes, I know she isn't a VN heroine. But still, she's fourteen at the start of the manga. Fourteen.

Yes, I know she isn’t a VN heroine. But still, she’s fourteen at the start of the manga. Fourteen.

2. The middle-schooler who looks like she’s eight years old.

Kud is actually one year older than Usagi. She's fifteen at the start of Little Busters.

Kud is actually one year older than Usagi. She’s fifteen at the start of Little Busters.

There are two things common to these heroines. They all are broken, requiring the hero to help or fix them in some way. And they all suffer.

The VN anime that sparked this post was The Fruit of Grisaia, which in its later episodes appears to be raising the “cute suffer” trope to absurd levels. It’s not the only one that does this, but it seems to be the most blatant example of this. What you do to make your average VN heroine is to take a cute girl of one of the two above types, show a hint of (or explicit) sex, and then pile on the suffering. You can do this in so many, many ways:

  • Put them in a coma. (Ayu from Kanon)
  • Have them suffer from a degenerative and often fatal disease (Makoto from Kanon, Misuzu from Air)
  • Have them get experimented on (Ayase from Chaos; head, with the added bonus of possibly being insane)
  • Have them get bullied, harshly (too many to list)
  • Have them be unable to relate to people/crazy/socially autistic (Kotomi from Clannad)
  • Serious emotional trauma (also Kotomi)

The whole anime winds up being one girl after the other waiting in line for the hero to solve their problems. If the chapter/route has a good end, the hero fixes her. If it’s a bad end, he doesn’t and she may die. If it’s an erogame, he fixes it and sleeps with her after. This never really varies. If it’s an otome game, change the sex of the heroines from female to male. If it’s a good VN, the hero will change and grow from helping others. If it’s a bad one, the hero is little more than a janitor fixing the problems of an endless array of cute girls.

The suffering tropes are outlandish enough, but then you get into how sex is linked into it, and then it starts getting unsavory.

Suffering as trope isn’t unique to VN anime. Oliver Twist is probably one of the earlier examples, as is the heroine from The Little Princess. But VN anime makes sure that you understand their heroines also have sex appeal. Kud from Little Busters at the end of her route is captured, stripped naked, and chained up. All the girls usually wear too-short skirts, or flash their panties, or have a shower scene, or in the worst cases suffer almost erotically. It’s never made explicit (in non-erogames), but there’s always an edge to it.

There’s more of an edge when you realize it’s always a harem. Clannad After Story was unusual in that they picked one main girl and the hero married her after. But usually the series can’t simply have a single girl who you fix; you need to have various subtypes of the two types that you fix in order to attract the otaku audience. This leads to the unintentional side effect of the hero fixing and then totally forgetting the four other girls whom he just sweat blood to save. There’s a weird promiscuity to how VN heroes work; there’s always one, and he has to service six or so women. You rarely get multiple protagonists, and they rarely settle with one woman. You have to fix ‘em all to win.

These tropes are  bad enough in the VN. But when adapted for anime, they get worse. Grisaia was hammered for trying to fit hundreds of pages of text into thirteen episodes, and VN anime have to often tell seven stories in 13 episodes or more. It can lead into choppy, truncated, unfulfilling messes. Angel Beats in particular had to ignore half of its cast to fit within thirteen episodes. You have to pare the story down to girl suffers-hero fixes. And make sure you throw in the requisite fan service.

You get jaded after awhile. I think this is why Grisaia failed so hard for me. It gets so outlandish that you realize your being manipulated. “Hey, lets bury the tsundere alive in a coffin.” But to an extent, all VN anime suffer from this.

As Christians we aren’t strangers to the idea of redemptive suffering. But we cannot ever eroticize it, nor can we lose track of suffering as suffering. Bad Christian art makes Jesus look like He’s reclining on the cross, chilling with His homies. The worst Christian art fetishizes it to an extent that it’s unhealthy; one of the complaints of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. These both stylize suffering in bad ways, as does most VN anime. The challenge of Christianity is to remember Jesus suffered, and only suffered. There’s no edge to it, no pandering to the otaku in that you can take pleasure in being fixed by it, or that it’s suffering tinged with other things. Christ suffered, but shed tears of blood hoping to avoid it. The VN anime girls suffer to make you feel good, and a little naughty afterwards too, panty flash tee-hee.

Not just VN girls, but it’s prevalent more there than anywhere else. Sailor Moon is also infamous for it, but it’s focus is different. The VN girl suffers to make the guy feel good, but the Sailor Moon girl suffers to make the girl feel good. That’s why in a series presumably for girls the suffering of the female characters gets raised to almost fetishistic levels. That’s a subject for another post, though.


What If Christian Culture Disappeared?

Bear with me here. Let’s have a thought experiment. Let’s assume for whatever reason, Christian culture just up and one day vanished.

I suppose we need to define Christian culture. By it, I mean specifically the various forms of artistic media that cater specifically to Christians. We’ll talk about them like they were concentric circles, ranging from narrow media to more general ones. It’s probably better to start narrow and then get wider by use of examples.

What if Christian speculative fiction disappeared?

We’d have a few small publishers go out of business. We’d have a few writers who maybe write a book every two years for a real gain of a couple thousand dollars or less lose what is essentially beer money. There’d be a few artists, and maybe a few bad movie directors out of work too. I don’t think anyone would miss the movies or novels that wouldn’t be written because of it.

There’s some argument that Lewis and Tolkien would fall under this. Lewis probably would, Tolkien definitely not; Tolkien’s been appropriated more than is a part of that genre. And honestly? Maybe some people would miss Narnia, but for the average Christian Lewis gets flogged so much by the Christian culture people get a little sick of him. And apart from Narnia few people read his fiction, otherwise he’d get looked at a lot more critically than people do. This Hideous Strength in particular.

What if Christian fiction disappeared?

The impact would probably be less overall than you think.

Most Christian fiction is just a clean alternative of very specific secular genres, and is more focused on secular actions than Christian ones. The big number is romance; if you think about it, what really is vital about Christian romance?

By this I mean let’s assume we have two romance books. One is specifically Christian, and one is secular. The secular one is a moral one where there’s no harmful content; no explicit sex, no swearing, and no harmful attitudes. What exactly does the Christian romance add to this but a light frosting of Jesus on top? The Jesus aspect doesn’t really feel as essential unless the romance author makes a serious point of things like religious difference; if it’s just a clean novel with positive depictions of God, there’s nothing a secular book can’t do to also fulfill that. It’s just not so many do as much as people would like.

Or say fiction in general. Ever notice the “serious” Christian fiction is all published secularly? Like if the category of Christian fiction disappeared, you could still get your Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor, etc. And to be blunt even if we included them, I doubt people would seriously miss them in the long term. Most of them get latched on not because their writing is indispensable, but because “Yay we have Christians who are famous!” Even then we’d lose maybe ten-twenty authors, tops. You’d have to get into the classics before we’d really start to feel pain. Walker Percy is overrated and forgettable; Dante or Dostoevsky is not.

What if Christian filmmaking disappeared?

Everyone would probably happy they stopped.

What if Christian comics or webcomics disappeared?

We’d miss out on some tracts, and maybe some one-off series would never get made. One of the sad things I notice when subscribing to Facebook feeds about Christian artists is that the big ones generally don’t do Christian works, while the talentless ones or moderate ones are the ones making (generally bad) Christian comics. On occasion this changes; Tomo from Zondervan or the manga from RealBuzz studios comes to mind. But most people don’t even know any Christian comic books exist.

I have yet to see any Christian webcomic draw anything more than a cursory audience.

What if Christian video games stopped?

Ha, ha. Like they ever got made in the first place.

What if Christian popular music disappeared?

Ah, now we finally feel the pain.

For some reason, out of all the various forms of media, Christian popular music is the most predominant. It’s the most loved, seen as the most indispensable, and the most widely consumed. Even it gets derided for its faults, but no one would seriously suggest we’d lose nothing if it all up and vanished. I think this is because unlike other forms of art, Christian directly value music as something that praises God and brings us closer to him through consumption and performance.

Pretty much any other form of culture is seen as disposable compared to it. Even the most die-hard “christian culture sucks” person would probably admit to missing something from it if the genre disappeared entirely.

What if the Christian high arts (theater, sculpture, painting, etc) disappeared.

Buhahaha.

Essentially, no one would care barring again, works that were made hundreds of years ago and are considered secular in distribution. Can anyone name a decent modern Christian play? Does anyone really care about Christian sculpture or to be blunt sculpture at all? Consider the most widely known modern Christian painter was Thomas Kinkade.

So what is the point of all this?

Fair enough.

Mostly the point is that people take the lack of a vibrant Christian culture for granted, to the point where if it disappeared there’d be little active harm to believers.

I think this is another factor in my increasingly large series of rants about it. Very few people really seem to value the need for Christian culture specifically. Our best authors go secular, and real Christian art is seen as something the untalented and preachy do save for the few unicorns the secular market bestows their approval on. I think we value it so little that if it disappeared (and Christian spec fiction in particular for all intents and purposes disappeared from the general market) no one really would care.

I’m not all that sure what to feel about it. One part of me really wants Christian culture to be made, consumed and to be awesome. But another part of me comes across against the reality that few people seem to really want this. It makes for feeling torn in two. Like we have zero Christian video games. Zero.

Yes I know, cue the “but you should make them then!” I’m only one man. People don’t get that you can’t just have a small handful of people make culture; it’s a big thing that needs the participation of many people. And tbh a lot of people who perceive the lack in Christian culture have little power to influence it. Those that have the power, don’t. I mean we have over five hundred Christian colleges in the USA; where are all the writers, novelists, moviemakers, etc?

In the secular world.

Not much you can do, I guess.

 

 


Five Things Christian Culture Doesn’t Need Any More Of

1. Bibles.

According to Amazon, there are 33,192 different results for Bibles when you stroll over to the Christian Books and Bibles>>>Bibles page. When I go into my local Books-A-Million, they have three wall shelves just for Bibles. You can get a Bible for almost any purpose. Getting married? Bibles for Brides. Men? Bible for you. Women? Bible for you too. Like Duck Dynasty? Bible for you. Want a comic Bible? Will that be western or manga?

Of course, the reason that the Bible is public domain, always wanted, and is capable of being marked up to absurd prices might factor into this.

To be honest, most of them are worthless in terms of added features. I have a men’s Bible that was given as a gift to me. It has a lovely leatherette cover, but when you open it it’s impossible to actually read. Every page has some nugget of wisdom, some commentary, some reference, or some pop author pontificating on whatever passage you open to. It’s like reading a poorly laid out newspaper. And then there’s the rotating new translations, because the NKJV and NIV aren’t good enough, I guess. I’m not a KJV only guy, but sometimes the new translations go too far in terms of making the Bible colloquial or modern.

We have more than enough Bibles. Can we freeze the approval of new models for a decade or two, or at least just keep changes to external factors like covers?

2. Animated cartoons about Jesus.

This whole post came to be because animated movies about Jesus were so plentiful that they made the Wal-Mart hall of DVD shame. The Hall of Shame is a special honor for any movie that is so bad that Wal-Mart will take it and release it on a ten pack of movies for five dollars and toss it in their DVD bins.

Jesus animated films have joined the ranks of bad kung-fu films, public domain movies, Sy-fy monster movies, Whatever crap the Asylum puts out, and horrific made-for TV kids movies. Are they bad? I don’t know. They have a weird, bland sort of look to them. jesus

Yeah, I’m sure I want to watch that.

Closely related are the movies that are about Jesus but not about Jesus, like this:

jesusbird

That’s bird Jesus, y’all.

This is Iesodo, from the animated series bearing his name. Yeah, whatever. I mean, when I was a kid, I’m really not sure I would watch a movie about bird Jesus here. I really blame Veggie Tales, because they opened the floodgates to a lot of Jesus and Neo-Jesus animated movies that honestly seem to sprout and wither on the vine. It’s not that they are bad in moderation, but this is the only thing Christian animated studios seem to make. Sometimes they even combine the two!

jesusdoggie

Can we please get Christian animated films about other things, please?

3. Romance Novels

Love inspired has 867 books for sale. This is one imprint of one publisher. 867. They look like this.

lonestar

 

You could argue that well, secular publisher, they like to make money. But you can find 400+ listings under a search for “zondervan romance” on Amazon. You get stuff like this:

zonder

And this is straight up romance. Not sure if it includes the romance sub-genres like romantic suspense, or the dreaded Amish romance. Chances are if you went into a Christian bookstore and picked five books at random, 2-3 of five would be romance. Maybe more.

I think we don’t need so many.

Well, yes, I am a man. But let’s flip it. If all the books were science fiction, I’d be just as incensed. Because I’d know SF would be crowding other books off the shelves. Romance dominated Christian fiction to such a level it did just that. To the point where its assumed men don’t read fiction at all. Ouch. They do read these next things, though.

4. The “Christian Conspiracy Theory” Book.

Technically it’s not an actual conspiracy theory. I mean things like this:

mystery-of-the-shemitahbiblecodebloodarma

The conspiracy theory books for Christians tend to posit some form of prophetic explanation for future events that is about as Biblical as Erich Von Danniken’s Chariots of the Gods or David Icke’s Reptillian stuff. This has been going on since the seventies and the rise of end-times books like Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth. But they’ve been getting nuttier and nuttier as of late.

You could make a case that these books are actually Christianized forms of divination. It’s not enough to have the scriptures and have faith, but we need a wise pundit to interpret them into a sure-fire system that prepares us and removes that nasty faith element. And of course, our “Christian” publishers let them go to press in order to make money off of them. And they are popular. There’s something that appeals to guys in them; the sense of being in the know and being part of a fight against hidden shadowy powers. And not a little mental illness, either.

Yeah, Christian publishers…a little discernment please? Remember, these things harm people, and make us look like laughingstocks when the systems don’t come to pass or are proven wrong.

5.  Heretics. Free Spirited Thinkers.

held

zimzumgiftiepastysteen

Okay, I’m being a little harsh. But there’s been a rise of the “real” yet theologically muddy personality who really is in danger of compromising faith. It’s not a bad thing in itself, and I’m not judging them because of that. What I do dislike is when they suddenly use all the power of the Christian Publishing Industry to somehow portray themselves and their muddiness as real, authentic, post evangelical Christianity instead of shutting up, keeping it to their own private blogs, and working out the fact that they don’t know how to deal with the faith.

At some point you have to realize the faith is bigger than you, and while you have your part to play that part isn’t in normalizing doubt about core areas of the faith on a wide scale. You can help people in the wrong way, especially if the world sneaks up behind you and focuses the spotlight on you instead of the faith. This is kind of why I think sometimes the whole Christian Publishing Industry should die; they make kings instead of servants.

So, join me in my crankiness. What do you want christian culture to not stop making?


Nanowrimo 2014 Failed: A Post-Mortem

Roughly 14,000 words in, I realized the project was doomed.

The goal was to write a magical realist novel about the struggles of four young people as a demonic factory rolled into town. It would in turn be opposed in part by an equally magical circus, and the four would find themselves on one side or the other as the battle played out. However, progress completely stalled, and I couldn’t work out the difficulties.

The main halting point was after introducing Schezerade, the ringmaster of the circus and the good side of the magical/supernatural. The idea behind this character was that they were a type of Christ, and that the Schezerade of history really existed and continues to exist. That each of us as humans were the king, sitting on our thrones and executing what we thought were other people but really were ourselves. Schezerade would tell us tales to slowly awaken us as Jesus told us parables, and the big reveal at the end would have her undo the scarf around her neck, showing a decapitated head and that she had been killed and yet still lives.

While I had the character’s concept, the actual fighting part refused to develop. Even the four young people’s individual battles were a blank beyond the endings. I think many times that it’s the middle that is the hardest part of writing, because beginnings and ends write themselves. And the middle to this was a brick wall.

The ending scenes were vivid though. Fred the Speed loses his battle, and becomes a Dullahan. Like in Sleepy Hollow. Ginny would live up to her nickname, Guinevere, but it would be a modern retelling where the line between her Lancelot and Mordred would be a lot less stark than thought. Netcat had elements of Little Red Riding Hood, but would end up with the circus as an animal act. And the Librarian would be driven out; sometimes the only victory you can have is saving yourself. It’s just getting to those scenes was impossible to do.

It didn’t help that I became disillusioned with Christian culture at the same time.

One of the issues that paralyze me when writing for Christians is that I am simply too weird for the average believer. While you always write for yourself in any book, you also write to be heard. The audience of most Christians to Christian-centered works is not weird at all. They are not weird to the point where even magic must be carefully justified as a device in a story. Using magical realism in this sense would be an invitation for any potential audience not to read me.

I am a weird Christian. I am Christian, yes, but I am also pagan and skeptic. I’m pagan in that when I look at the natural world, my thoughts travel to elves and dwarfs instead of saints and natural processes. I don’t really have the discomfort others do about the pagan past in myth, and can appreciate the stories and images without them becoming diabolic. Like my imagination is more of a baptized pagan at times.  I think an example illustrating this would be the tale of St. George and the Dragon. I’m comfortable with a world where saints exist, and dragons exist, and none of which needs to be written or explained away. I think most Christians do the latter; they feel the need to explain away things, and make elves saints and magic in stories something to be abjured. But an elf who converts still would remain an elf, not become a person nor an illusion, just as when we convert we also remain ourselves at the core.

I am skeptic in that I simply cannot enjoy authority as authority. I know several good friends and many others who do so. Part of falling in love with High Protestantism and Catholicism is a love of authority and tradition, and accepting the authority of priest and magisterium in your life. I can’t really do this in a strong sense; there’s too much of the dissenting Yankee in me to accept it. If you wonder why I’m argumentative, this is part of the reason. My idea of heaven would be going back to walking with God in the garden, not being one petal in Dante’s carefully described rose of believers.

I ramble on these things to show mostly I don’t connect with the average Christian well at a root level. I’m orthodox in my faith; don’t get me wrong on that. But the stories in my head don’t really mesh well with other believers. Writing the magical realist novel (which never found a title) made me aware of this. This is also why I can’t bite my tongue, start to churn out Amish romance, and get rich. I think many of this blog’s readers in a sense are the same; people who are deeply Christian yet not in the typical sense of it.

The last problem would be lack of connectedness. No real regional events, few friends actually doing it this year. One of the things I dislike about life at times is that so much of success or failure is connection-based, not merit-based. No connections, everything becomes much harder.

Those are the reasons why this year I failed. I have 14k words, but they aren’t particularly that good. Not really that bad, but not enough to build on or revamp this project. It’s not a bad thing in my opinion, because even failing you learn new things about yourself as a person and a writer. Still, no badge for me this year, and it as well as other events are making me seriously rethink my direction for 2015.


Honesty

We’re living in the middle of what could be called a geek renaissance. If you had told me twenty years ago that Starlord of all people would be getting a movie made by Disney, I probably would have laughed. If you had told me that people would grow to love graphic novels, role-playing games, video games, and other geek paraphernalia, I would have raised an eyebrow in disbelief. Geek culture has become mainstream to an extent beyond what most geeks back in the day would have imagined.

Now if you are a Christian publisher, wouldn’t you think that “Wow, geek culture is really big! Maybe we can minister to people by making our own Christian geek products, like comic books, speculative fiction novels, and even movies!”

If you are a Christian geek, wouldn’t you think that “Wow, I love geek culture! I really wish other Christians would make culture like it that embrace Christianity. I’d love to see my faith and myself as a Christian reflected in speculative fiction!”

Or a Christian creator of things geeky. “Wow, it’s a great time to write! The genre I love is popular, and I can reach a ton of Christians while not needing to compromise my faith!”

Guess what, you in the aggregate really don’t think this. This is what you really do think.

The Christian publisher thinks. “I want to make a lot of money, so my secular publishers get a nice return on investment and I get raises every year. So I’m going to ignore this whole geek thing, which I don’t really understand anyways, and focus on the most profitable sections of the Christian market; romances for women, nonfiction for men, endless theme Bibles for everyone! Here, have this.”

ucky

Because I know you like hunting and beards and stuff.”

The Christian reader actually thinks “You know, I really don’t care about having Christian elements in fiction.”

Yes, he does.

He might go on and on about the need for Christian speculative fiction, but it’s an abstract thing. Not because he really buys it in any amount, but because he’s not honest with himself. He loves secular stuff like Brandon Sanderson, Arrow, Doctor Who, and Firefly, but he doesn’t feel comfortable in just saying “I like secular works. For the most part, they are fine to consume. I don’t think they are spiritually harmful at all.”

This isn’t bad, because to a point it’s true. I’m not someone who thinks secular equals Satan. But those readers don’t want to admit it, because they feel bad about how little having a Christian slant to fiction matters. Although some people admit it straight out to the point of snarkiness, and consume Christian culture ironically. But if everyone but a small minority of readers were honest, they’d admit in the end, they don’t care if we have a specifically Christian geek culture. They’d be fine with maybe a little nod to the faith here and there, but they’ll just baptize whatever they like in Jesus’s name anyways.

The writer, well. He at first really believes all three things above. But then he discovers the real versions of what publishers and authors think when he can’t get his explicitly Christian books published unless he self-pubs, and he can’t sell any of his self-pubs to a point where breaking even even matters. Maybe he can make soda money from doing it. So this is what the writer tells himself instead.

“If I go into the secular market, I can reach unbelievers and serve God there.”

Dude, this is BULLSHIT.

I’ve been reading SF for over thirty years. I can count on two hands the number of explicit Christian authors published by a secular press whose names are not Lewis or Tolkien. I can list names none of you have even heard about. You know what most Christian artists do when they cross over?

They hide their faith.

Amy Grant did it. She went from El Shaddai to Every Heartbeat. Stephen Lawhead did it when he did his Celtic Trilogy. DC Talk did it when the radio edit of Just Between You and Me excised the teeny tiny lyrical bridge that actually mentioned Jesus. I remember listening to some atheist guy whose one of the reasons why he disliked Christianity was just that, that the moment Christian Gospel acts got big, they immediately crossed over.

So I’m going to be blunt. You are not going to win people over with your carefully encoded Jesus, and it’s a longshot you are going to get an actual explicit Christian worked published by the secular press. You’re also not being honest with yourself.

You want to say “Christians don’t want the kind of stories I can write for them. But I want to write, and I can write good secular fiction.” You don’t, because it hurts inside. It hurts that they don’t want it as much as they say. They don’t care. Oh some do, but it isn’t enough any more to be worth writing for. Even if you wrote for free, it wouldn’t be enough. Writers want to feel they are reaching an audience, not just consigning words to an empty room.

I don’t write this to tear people down. I write this because I really used to believe the first three things. I’m finding that instead the last three things are what is really true.  As a reader, I’m suddenly realizing that I will never see any thing that I might like because there aren’t enough Christians willing to support it. I’ll never see a decent Christian SF film, or an anime, or more than a handful of speculative works that rise above fanfiction a year. As a writer, I have to realize that even if I pour my heart out on the page and try to marry explicit Christianity to a good speculative plot NO ONE WILL CARE. Publishers will not buy it, and most readers won’t buy it either. They are too busy worrying about whether or not Jurassic World will be any good, or when the next Dresden Files book will come out, or how many Amish books the market can support, or maybe its time to give Rob Bell a new book since he’s on Oprah now.

This is part of a huge disillusionment I’ve been having over the state of Christian culture. It’s like a knife in the gut. I’m tempted to say the whole thing should just die, because then maybe we wouldn’t have the illusions we did. If we have NO Christian culture, we’d have to face the fact that the world isn’t writing for us. Maybe we’d be okay with being outsiders, or maybe we’d miss it an awful lot and decide this time we’ll really support Christian culture and make it grow into something worth having. But right now it’s like no one is satisfied and people are double-minded about the whole thing.

I’m working out in my head how to deal with this. I’m going to inflict a whole series of rants about it on this blog, so I don’t blame you if you want to stay away for a bit. I’ll do a post-mortem on why my Nanowrimo project failed in a few days, so you can come back to that. I’m also not doing this to insult others, but this has been building in me a bit and needs some working out.


Nanowrimo 2014: 10k Words And Sample Chapter

I’ve reached roughly 11k words, passing the dreaded 10k mark. The writing isn’t hard, but it’s not particularly inspiring. Usually when I do a first draft, it tends to resemble an outline more than anything. I write to discover the story, then go through extensive rewrites to make it work. This novel is no different.

Things I’ve learned:

  • I’m not sure if this is magic realism, or spiritual warfare at this point. Or even straight fantasy. Writing this draft isn’t really leading to a lot of metafiction and subtext, and I’m not sure seat-of-the-pants writing is the best way to write in the magical realist genre. I think next time if I poll, I will poll far earlier.
  • The book is leaning more to one protagonist than four. The Librarian’s voice is the easiest one to write in as a viewpoint character, and he’s coming alive quickly.
  • Keeping a unique tone for all these characters is harder to do than I thought. Some are easy; Netcat in particular is painfully so. But I am going to have to nitpick my prose and make sure after I’m not confusing characters in terms of their voice and tone.
  • It sucks when no one in your region is doing it. There’s no real networking in Connecticut-East.

Most of the chapters aren’t good enough for me to be comfortable showing them, but the last one I did I think I can at least show you. It’s an interlude chapter written mostly to have Netcat speak her own mind, and it’s done in the style of a blog post. Netcat is the main character’s friend, and she’s the hikkikomori (shut-in) character of the crew. I think the chapter speaks for itself, even as brief as it is:

Interlude-Netcat

 

I don’t want to be human. I never wanted to be it.

I saw what being human was, with my mother. I saw it meant looking fine, and doing things.

  • smiling on cue
  • scowling at home
  • saying nice things
  • saying evil things
  • cooking food
  • throwing food

The list goes on. I saw what being human meant, and I didn’t like it.

I saw that it meant being broken, and being something I dont understand. I saw it meant acting one way, then acting another, then another, changing and changing and changing until I no longer knew what happened. All I know is change, and I don’t like change.

And now it isn’t mom any more. It’s everyone.

I have my friends. I think they are animals like me. Ginny is a sleek mink, always preening her fur and looking at her reflection in a lake. I like her, and she’s a pretty animal.

Fred the Speed is a jangly bird, one of those who never stops running on his two spindly legs. He likes to try to make me run with him, and sometimes I do. But I get scared to run so fast, on that metal machine of his. He was the first to change. Now he’s not running any more, but all happy and slow and peaceful.

He shouldn’t be. Happy and peaceful animals get eaten.

But the Librarian-no, Thomas-has changed the most. He is an animal, but at first I didn’t know what type. He was little more than a pair of eyes staring out at us from the safety of a leafy bush. But his bush was books, and he always carried it with him. Now I see what he is, a soft, gentle deer whose antlers hold the leaves that make the bush that hides him, and who on occasion will poke his narrow head out when with other animals he trusts.

But now…

He is scared. I know it. I watch him, even when he doesn’t know it. I am a cat, and cats sneak. They hide. They see in the dark, and they know. Thomas is a deer, and he is hunted. He knows something is wrong.

I trust him. I will act like something is wrong too.

I have already begun. I have made my knapsack, and I keep things inside. I keep two sandwiches, rotated every day. I keep a small foil blanket that crinkles when I wrap it around me. I have fishing tackle and bandaids and aspirin and a compass and matches and a shiny canteen full of milk, because milk is for cats. I am ready to flee with him.

But I don’t know from what. I don’t know humans, Thomas. I don’t know when I should hide. That’s why I hide all the time.

So I will watch you, and I will be ready.

9/14/2014 posted at 12:32 a.m by #netcat. Tags: animals, friends, cats, danger, DANGER!, DANGER!!!

***

It’s rough, and I haven’t edited it at all. I was surprised at how easy her voice came out on the page. She’s the youngest of the four friends, and I tried to capture the oddness of her view of things and yet the way it makes sense to her. The chapter is brief, but most of them are. I usually expand them later as more details come to my mind. When I write, I think on the page more than think in my mind. I’ll definitely add more of her thoughts on Ginny later, as Ginny is the most hazy of the four main characters in my mind. I was surprised to find that Netcat is fond of the Librarian, as the idea of a love interest for him never crossed my mind at the conceptual stage. Ideas tend to come like that.

If any of you are doing it this year, I hope you’re reaching your goals. Again, feel free to friend me or look me up by posting in the comments here. I still have 39k words to go. Still no title, aaargh.


Nanowrimo 2014: Characters

Two days in, and I’m at 4300 words. There’s some issue with Nanowrimo’s suite being slow to respond and throwing up 404 errors, but I managed finally to create my book and put in my first word count. Unfortunately my local region seems to have no rep and no real events happening, so networking is not going to happen. I’m about two very rough chapters in, and I’ve got a basic handle on my four main characters. Here’s some sketching of them, as spoiler-free as possible.

All of my characters tend to refer to each other by nicknames. The setting is a small, poor New England town tentatively called Cynosure. The four of them have formed an unofficial clique, by means I haven’t fully explored yet. The wonders of writing to discover, yay.

The Librarian: Imagine a very bookish, very dry college student. I haven’t fleshed out his physical characteristics beyond a pair of glasses, but he’s descriptive, ironic, a bit pedantic, and a cataloger of things. He’s called the Librarian because in his own words “I read books, and I own books.” Actually working as a librarian or liking them is far from his mind; after all, libraries don’t have a great selection of titles nor are they open late.

He’s the first viewpoint character and the protagonist of the book. He’s age 20, and he lives in Cynosure mostly because it’s dirt cheap, and he can commute to a nearby college. No job, lives off of a parental endowment and financial aid.

Fred the Speed: Rail-thin, sharp-cheekboned, everything angular. Spends most of his free time tooling around Cynosure on his motorcycle, trying to escape the dullness of his life. About 21, but seems older. He’s not really in college nor in full-time work; he lives with his extended family and works part time as an assistant manager at a fast food place. Smokes a lot.

His main themes are escape, and anger. If you’re a young man in a small town that can’t really do college yet can’t find a job to break free of your parents, you soon risk developing a desire to escape that can boil into self-destructive anger. Fred suffers from this, although it’s all internal. He’s called Fred the Speed because someone once rode with him, and the first words out of their mouth was “Fred, the speed! Too fast! Too fast!”  One of the many stories that tend to develop around people in Cynosure, because most people can only afford stories.

Ginny: Short for Guinevere, real name Cathy. Sometimes small towns can generate strikingly beautiful women, and Ginny is one of them. She’s 17, but has legitimate model looks. It’s not just a “Miss Hayfield, 2013″ thing; she knows fashion and manages to project timeless style. Out of all of them, she probably has the least mental issues, counter to the usual depiction of model types as bulimic, abused, what have you. She can leave Cynosure, and is planning on it.

Ginny was nicknamed because despite what you think, she has a love for Arthurian myth. Not in a YA “omg HAWT” form, but an actual love for it as a subject. She’s a normal, slightly bookish girl who also is very, very attractive and stylish.

Netcat: Netcat is sixteen, and is basically a shut-in. Mostly communicates on the net, via her incomprehensible collage-like blog full of code-words and insider references only she and a few others understands. A very damaged young woman due to an on-and-off abusive relationship with a mentally ill mother. The mother is functional at times, but lapses into episodes in which Netcat often had to bar herself in her room to survive. The barring of the door became internal, and Netcat locks her room and sleeps during the day, only to emerge at night or when accompanied by one of the other three. There is no talk of treament or calling in; the mother is deathly afraid of being institutionalized, but Netcat couldn’t bear to lose her.

Netcat named herself because she doesn’t think she’s human. She has a point; if you define humanity as the sum total of experiences people have, she has so few of them that she resembles a cat more than anything. She is fed, watered, sleeps all day, and goes out at night. She’s not mentally ill despite this; essentially you have a sane, albeit eccentric person who has been formed by experiences few have ever considered. She’s somewhat of a group mascot.

Prester John, aka John Tims: He’s the character whose death sets off the book. He’s about sixty years old, is African-American, is morbidly obese, and uses a mobility scooter to get around. Like his namesake, he’s sort of the emperor of Cynosure, a man on disability who nevertheless is the center of the town. He’s the first character to show magical realist elements, as miracles seem to follow him everywhere he goes.

I’m trying not to make him a “magical Negro” character, as opposed to a man who is sort of touched by God. He’s very intelligent, and he’s full of secrets, one of them being he was sent to Cynosure for a purpose. The Prester John nickname came from Ginny, who as a tween saw him in his apartment and had sort of a vision of him surrounded by gold and on a throne. All of the four other characters above have met him, as in small towns you tend to know everyone else. One of the first images I had of him, and which became the Librarian’s memory, was of a Saint Francis-style character who was surrounded by dogs everywhere he went. He also has John the Baptist elements, and he’s “guarding” Cynosure in a spiritual sense. So he’s a complex character despite never being alive in the book.

These are the base five characters. Since I’m writing the first draft to discover, I’m inventing on the fly. Future edits may change them radically in terms of detail, but I don’t think the general conception of them will be altered much. I haven’t gone into the main antagonist and other characters, but this is more due to the fact that they don’t become real presences in the book till later on. With Nanowrimo, my goal is a working first draft that I heavily edit later on, not an ironclad novel ready for submission or sale.

Still no title though. Had to name it something, so “Darkness Four” for now.


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