As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve narrowed down my options to two possible theses for my MFA. Both stories draw me and I’ve been reluctant to make a decision. I can continue to work on both for a few more weeks to possibly months, but the decision will have to be made at some point and the longer I take, the less time I’ll have to focus on my thesis in the long run. In a previous post, I mentioned that I haven’t been writing and haven’t felt much draw to do so, but I have been muddling over the stories in my mind, weighing pros and cons of each option, and exploring the worlds and stories of the characters, and this is a vital part of the process, even if it feels less productive than the physical act of writing.
I’ve let the stories germinate for some time, which is necessary, but I can see that I am reaching the point where I need to make a decision and choose one story to focus my attention on because I can no longer develop these ideas as well as they deserve while my attention is split. At this point, I also feel that it really doesn’t matter which story I choose because both are good and worthy stories that I would potentially enjoy writing and each will continue to be blocked as long as I’m trying to work on both. Each has very good reasons to be the Chosen One and each has its unique set of challenges that I can’t even begin solve at this stage of the game. Each has an intriguing protagonist whose story deserves to be written.
I love William to death. He was one of the first characters I created when I started writing more than ten years ago, but the idea of him has been with me for at least 17 years. He started out as a minor character with a simple purpose, but I fell so deeply in love with him that I had to go back and tell his whole story. Over the years, he’s been featured in 3 of my 8 winning NaNoWriMo novels—one of which starred only him; the other two were intended to be about Arah, but he crept in and took over. He’s lived in my brain and in my heart for a very long time and I know him better than any other character I’ve written. I love the character; I love his story. I love the world he lives in (it’s my favorite universe to write in) and the magic around it. I love writing fantasy. The particular book in his series I’ve chosen as a possible thesis will be the hardest to write. It involves his experiences in the war and some difficult decisions he has to face as far as his life path and his true nature. War is such a big topic, I’m not sure how to tackle it, but there is a lot of information out there, so it’s mostly a matter of lots of research and absorbing as much as I can. The emotional aspects of the book will be quite heartbreaking and thrilling to write, as I discussed in my post “First Blood.” The biggest problem with this story is that it is so very BIG. There is already story to fill 2-3 books prior to the events in this book and I know the timeline following can take at least another book or two. This story could stand on its own—if I do it right—because it involves the most pivotal decision he will ever make, the one that will set him on his life path and so is a powerful story in and of itself, but there is so much more to William that I really do want it to be a series. This story doesn’t mean nearly as much if you don’t know what follows, if there aren’t books to tell the rest of the story. And his whole character relies heavily on his life experience prior to this time, the relationships he develops, the people he loses. So I really feel like if I’m going to work on this book, I have to be ready to tell the rest of the story and the rest of that story is just so BIG. I’ve been working on it for over a decade and I’m seeing now that I’ve still only scratched the surface. I want to do it right and I want to do it justice and I’m just not sure I can wrap my brain around it all at this time and in the format of this program.
I have many reasons for writing Sarah, one of which is that she’s so very hard to write. The story is a very personal one for me; it’s a story I wish I’d had when I was Sarah’s age. I can feel that this book has a potential to be something and I want that, but I just don’t know how to tell the story. I don’t know what to fill it with; I don’t know what happens. It’s not like one of my fantasies where I can just throw in some magic or a few demons when things are getting slow. The story is real and it has to be real. I don’t read much plain fiction. I think it’s boring. I read to escape ordinary life, not to watch someone else doing the same things I do everyday. I’ve never seriously considered writing straight fiction; I’ve always focused on Speculative Fiction in many of its forms, though mostly fantasy (because it’s easier to write than science fiction, takes less research). When I came into the program, I wanted to write SF and said I would probably focus on fantasy, though I wasn’t committed to it yet. I pride myself on writing SF and that’s how I want to establish myself as a writer. I’m afraid that by choosing a straight fiction topic for my thesis I will miss out on that label and on the chance to really study the genres I love—If I’m writing straight fiction, I will have little reason to read science fiction etc.
Aside from the Potential, the biggest draw of writing Sarah is that it’s small. Sarah is one book, one story. No series, no need for prologue or epilogue, prequel or sequel. It is what it is. It is also likely to be a rather short novel, which is perfectly fine for YA (though there are many YA books that are quite long, most of them are reasonably short, which is one of the things I like about YA).
The biggest challenge is that I just don’t know what happens. I don’t know how it will end. I don’t know what events will need to take place in her life and in this story, though some are beginning to coalesce. I don’t know the character all that well either. I’m still struggling with her motivations and hopes and dreams and fears. I don’t know what her day to day life is like, especially the high school part of it since I opted out of that experience (the only time I feel the slightest tinge of regret for that decision is when I’m trying to write about modern high school students and all I have to go on are cliched teen movies).
It will also be very emotionally challenging. Sarah and Will both have very dark stories, but Will’s darkness is turned outward while Sarah’s is turned inward. There’s a difference in processing and writing harm to others versus harm to oneself. The stories come from different places. William’s story is about power; Sarah’s is about vulnerability. Sarah’s story is much more raw.
At this point, as much as I adore William and long to write his story, I’m leaning towards Sarah, both because it is shorter and because it is harder. I want something small enough to swallow in the brief time I’m going through this program. I want a relatively simple project that I can pump out and wrap my head around in the coming 3 semesters. I also want to take full advantage of the support, guidance, and instruction I’ll have while I’m in the program and the best way to do that is to choose a project that I know will be challenging. (It’s something I’ve always done when possible. When I studied clothing design for my undergrad, I was afraid to work with knits. I’d never had much experience with them before school and we avoided them in the basic classes because they are so challenging. To overcome my fears, I designed a 4 credit class and worked with an advisor to learn and practice everything I could about knits. Similarly, in my favorite English class, we were assigned to write an essay about the classic film The Day the Earth Stood Still. Rather than taking some variation on the topic everyone else was doing—that violence is bad and that we would end up in big trouble if we kept on the way we’ve been—I chose to write about it as a commentary on women in the 1950s and how the “perfect housewife” image fit in with the Rosie Riveter of the 40s and the coming era of women’s rights. My professor was thoroughly impressed.) Because I’m dedicating so much time and money to this degree and to this project, it makes sense to me to choose a project I know will bring a challenge and with it, a great deal of growth.
My advisor said I don’t have to decide before the new semester starts, so I do still have some time to settle into a decision, but I can feel the pressing need within myself now, more than I felt the pressure from the program and its deadlines. The moment is coming to decide my fate, which will determine my path through this program and my entrance into the professional world of writing.
Wish me luck.