At any given time, I have multiple story ideas ping-ponging around in my brain. Usually, if I am patient, one rises closest to the surface screaming “Choose me! Choose me!” At that point, the other story ideas recede into the depths of my unconscious, waiting for another opportunity to surface in the future. I settle in and start padding flesh onto the skeleton of the winning idea.
My dilemma is this time there are two story lines duking it out. One, we’ll call “A 21st Century Romeo and Juliet” (R&J for short). I alluded to this in my resolutions in an earlier post, when I resolved not to be cowed by a complex story line just because I lack confidence (as opposed to competence) to tackle it. I thought my choice was made. I would immerse myself in the more difficult story. But – and here’s where I need reader help – the other story, which in its early incarnation was named “Lilies of the Valley,” hasn’t cooperated by receding. And external remarks, seemingly innocent, have confused my choice. You see, at some point I promised faithful readers that I would complete the “Lilies” an intro of which was “Hope’s Illusion”, a story-within-the story in my novel, In Her Mother’s Shoes. It seems that was a surprisingly good marketing technique, because readers of Shoes keep asking me when I’m going to bring the rest of that story into the light.
Developing “Lilies” would be easier in many ways than the competing “R & J”. But in the four years since the parent novel of “Lilies” was published, I’ve avoided it. In some ways it would be more challenging than R & J. It’s based on a seed of truth, in a nearby town. When it was just a story-within-a story, many of the characters were recognizable, and all likeable in their own ways. But that would make for a godawful boring novel, wouldn’t it? So things would have to be stirred up – a lot – and people who know people from the original piece might be offended. Being a people-pleaser at my core, that would not make me feel good. But neither would writing a godawful boring novel. So what’s the big deal, you ask? Just make it obviously fiction. If you’re worried about hurting people’s feelings, just make it clear that the story had to take a turn from real life in order to be appropriate for a novel.
Of course there’s also that pesky emotional connection, too. I’m close (or was, when they were alive) to many of the characters.
So this is my tale of two stories. On the one hand, should I challenge my ability to write a very complex story that reflects societal issues and inevitably would trigger negative reactions to however I handle those sensitive societal issues? On the other, should I challenge my identity as a novelist by turning seeds of a real story into a novel that may trigger negative reactions from people I know, no matter how I handle the story?
Of course, I could always turn out another multi-tissue quick-read story. But wasn’t my New Year’s resolution about embracing something more difficult?
Readers, what would you do?