Too much (or too little) of a good thing

Tallulah revision is – well, it’s going about as well as it’s ever gone, honestly, I just haven’t been thinking about it as much as I usually have so it feels like I’m slipping. I’ll do some more of it tonight. I have resigned myself, at this exact moment because of the particular mood I’m in, that I won’t be in a place to judge whether I’ve succeeded with this revision or not until it’s actually finished. I would say that this is a very good way to look at things. I also think I’ve already started off on the wrong foot and deviated from my plan to inject more humour into some of the darker parts of the story, but I’m only up to chapter 2 as it is. I also have to admit, I don’t like the start of Tallulah, how it opens – it feels very un-story-like. It certainly doesn’t fit the mold of a more humorous story, so is my idea to make it funnier a good one, or is it dismantling its integrity and muddying its identity for the sake of freshness? I dunno. I just know I don’t like it right now. And I feel it could be better regardless of whether it’s humourous or not, and that therefore it should be better. I just don’t know if that’s something I should be worrying about now. But I am, and that’s the way it generally goes.

There are other things I’m worrying about as well, though perhaps “worry” is the wrong word. “Worry” suggests that there’s something in motion, something happening to elicit said worry, like a storm warning, or a friend telling you about some impulsive online purchase they’ve made, or hearing that a Republican presidential candidate is getting a lot of support. What I’m feeling is not so much worry as … indecision.

Hello darkness my old friend …

The Nanowrimo project I started and have yet to finish is the subject of this afternoon’s angst. This project arose out of another project, the 13-year procrastination-fest that I called Realm of the Myth because I was 14 and needed a fantasy-sounding title for my epic fantasy saga, and the words “realm” and “myth” seemed pretty appropriate for my purposes so I just dumped them in there. Once it got Nanowrimofied I changed the title to Main Character Syndrome and have been having fun times plotting out a trajectory for it, while also feeling apprehensive about actually trying to write it because of all the narrative conventions, tropes and cliches I’m using the story to deconstruct, critique and, in a lot of cases, celebrate. It’s a lot to bear in mind.

The main difference between the two actually wasn’t the change in title and the specifics of the plot: it was changing the main character. Said main character, Sajen, was originally a blatant author self-insert character, because the original premise of Realm of the Myth was imagining what it would be like if myself and my at-the-time-best-friend Wickham happened to be wizards, wizards who also commanded powerful spirit beasts (read: Pokemon/Final Fantasy summons), did martial arts (read: Dragon Ball Z) and went to a magic school (read: I don’t really have to explain that one do I). As time went on and I became more and more withdrawn and self-loathing, Sajen became a more hysterical – in the pejorative sense of the word – character to match my inner turmoil. Once I hit 20-ish and ejected from the me-Wickham cohort, Sajen’s mood cleared up a bit in-sync with my own, but as a result ROTM lost a lot of its identity (which had already been turned into a postmodern nightmare landscape by that point as more and more new creative influences were inconsiderately dumped into it). And, as I’ve mentioned before, in 2012 I officially “killed” ROTM, and immediately experienced a significant boost in creativity that lasted for a good few months. Then Nanowrimo 2014 rolled around, I felt that since I already had all of these ideas it would be a shame not to use them, and MCS was born, taking the fragments of ROTM that I still liked – loved in some cases – and repurposing them, spearheaded by one crucial yet, in a lot of ways, quite shallow decision: I made Sajen a girl.

I stand by this decision, because Sajen as a boy is fucking insufferable, mostly because I have yet to find a way to extract myself from his personality, possibly because I’m really shallow (or just human) in finding that it really is just easier to relate to characters who share my gender identity. It’s easier with girl-Sajen because, well, she’s a girl, and there is the barrier of lived experience of gender (which I totally know all about and am able to portray credibly in my writing you guys don’t even worry about it) to prevent me from self-inserting to the same degree – or, at least, it forces me to be more creative about it, and creativity is good. The end result is more of a character who parallels my emotional history rather than re-lives a fictionalised account of it, and that is what I wish I could have had with boy-Sajen.

However, and perhaps as a result of reaching this point in my journey with girl-Sajen, the idea of revisiting boy-Sajen and applying what I’ve learnt has started to pull at me. While I really do adore the concept of Main Character Syndrome (which you can probably guess at from the title), I also really like the ideas that I came up with in the months that followed my execution of ROTM in 2012, the energy that was released when the bubble burst and the ideas that formed in that glorious imaginative malestrom. I even had a name for this project: Magician Boogaloo, which is a slightly more grammatically sound name than Realm of the Myth but equally amorphous, not to mention a blatant ripoff of Cowboy Bebop, which was a big inspiration for the new project, specifically the idea of making it a collection of connected yet self-contained episodes with an overarching plot linking them together, even if only tangentially. While at first it starred a different character from a D&D campaign setting that I never got around to using, a lot of ROTM’s supporting cast found their way into it as well, and eventually even Sajen returned to hog the spotlight. He had changed, mercifully, but while I liked the new episodic setup, freedom from the toxic, historically clouded and vestigial restrictions that had plagued my creative process with ROTM and was genuinely excited to see it through to fruition, there was still something missing. At least until last night, when I started thinking about it again and got excited about it and, if you’ve been following this blog for long enough, that’s at least enough impetus for me to write a huge rambling blog post about, if not necessarily enough to also actually follow through with in practice. I really do love the creative process, but I can’t deny it’s a bit, y’know, fucking stupid.

Which brings me to my dilemma: on the one hand, I love the ideas of both Main Character Syndrome and Magician Boogaloo, and they are each projects that I would like to work on. On the other hand, they share so many of the same ideas – and when I say “ideas”, I mean “characters and world-building”, which is a very specific and also huge problem – that it kind of entirely, completely ruins any chance of my actually writing both of them. Basically, I like both of these stories, but they’re just iterations on the same bundle of ideas, and I’m worried that the only way I could tell both stories would result in stretching those ideas too thin (and seeming ridiculous to anybody who read both stories, due to the huge amount of repeated characters, plots, world-building, etc).

And before you ask: yes, I have in fact thought about the possibility of letting them share the same universe, setting one of them after the other – and changing one of the Sajen’s names – and the fact of the matter is that I just do not want to do that. Like, at all. It would be ambitious as fuck, but it would also dilute certain aspects of the plot – the significance of Main Character Syndrome, for instance – to the point of irrelevance. So the alternatives I’ve left for myself is to either designate certain characters and sub-plots to one story or the other and live with the consequence of not being able to do exactly what I want – or to move all of my characters and sub-plots to one story or the other, etc.

The thing is, I’m sure that I could come up with some way to do the “shared universe” thing in a way that I was happy with, if I took the time to do so. And these days I’m feeling more creatively-inclined than usual, so I may in fact do just that. Equally, because I’m feeling more creative these days I also feel that I could find a happy compromise in splitting my intellectual property between these two projects. MCS started off as an attempt to reconnect with the zaniness that I liked in ROTM (not the original ROTM, but the first time I rebooted it – ROTM is like my own personal Spider-Man film franchise), but it fairly swiftly became quite dark. Perhaps the simple act of denying that – at least more than I have – and instead being insistent on retaining the madcap, vibrant, irreverent and self-reflexive energy that inspired me to revisit that material in the first place will be enough to alleviate my doubts. Not to the point where there’s no darkness, just to the point where it’s not entirely overwhelming. And by the same token, Magician Boogaloo was an experiment in serial, episodic storytelling, something I have only rarely tried. Perhaps following through with that, detaching from the Cowboy Bebop homage and finding my own spin to put on it will give it the vigour it needs to get started.

I do still feel torn; I still want to find some way to make it work, to have my cake and eat it too. The problem is that I don’t think I have enough ingredients to make two, but enough to make one bloated super-cake. But perhaps I have enough for two after all.

And if not, I’m sure I can find some lying around somewhere. I mean hey, I destroyed and resurrected/recycled one long-standing creative project of mine, I’m sure I have a few more lying around that want a crack at reincarnation …

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