This is the second post in my Writing Right Out In Public public novel project. Read the introduction for full details.
In my introductory post to this public novel writing project, I made note of the story seed I settled on for this tale: “A young boy living in the forest seeks revenge on the relics of an ancient city.” That seed, of course, raises a whole host of questions, such as:
Who is the young boy living the forest and what is his back story?
Why does he live in the forest? Does he live with others, within a community? If so, what does that community look like?
Why is he seeking revenge?
How exactly does one seek revenge on the relics of an ancient city and how do such relics earn this boy’s wrath?
Will the boy be successful in seeking revenge? If so, what will that look like? If not, what will that look like? Will he do this on his own or with others?
Of course, there are plenty more questions than just those, and as I mulled over them all, some of the answers began to come to me, characters began to step out of the shadows, and some of the basic structure of the story made itself known. Granted, much of this might change in the coming weeks and months as I actually write the story, and there is still plenty that is little more than the vaguest outline in the shadows, if even that. But let’s take a look at some of the initial idea I’ve come up with.
The boy in question is Ren, short for Rendell, and I have him pegged at about twelve or thirteen years old—which is, admittedly, a bit older than one might typically think of as a “young boy,” but I don’t want to write about an eight or nine year old. I initially intended to write from third person subjective single viewpoint, but then started mulling first person. After further thought, I am back to third person subjective single, but that may yet change again. I also am considering alternating between Ren’s viewpoint and Lillian’s, but am leaning against that.
Who’s Lillian, you ask? She’s Ren’s older sister, and a possible secret of this story is that it’s as much or more about her than it is about Ren. Their relationship will play a central role in the novel as Lillian accompanies Ren on his adventures in search of revenge. She is about seventeen or eighteen, entering adulthood and all that entails, including gaining a handle on her own sexuality and how it both impacts her and others. This is likely to only complicate her relationship with Ren, which is already complicated due to a raft of factors, including the fact that Lillian functions well in their small agricultural community while Ren does not; Lillian is in part playing the role of mother to Ren due to their actual mother’s death by drowing in the not-too-distant path; and Ren’s dead set focus on gaining revenge for the death of his mother threatens to upend and tear apart the modest life Lillian has begun to make for herself.
Which brings us back to a central element of the story seed: the revenge that Ren is seeking. As it happens, this story is firmly within the deindustrial science fiction genre, and it’s set some number of centuries in the future, in the rubble and remnants of today’s industrial civilization. The story takes place in America, though I am not yet sure exactly where; likely in the Pacific Northwest, as it may be easiest for me to stick with my own home. Ren and his community have a sense of the past, but it comes to them more from folk legends and religious tenants than through written and well-documented history. They speak of the ancients as filled with hubris, driven by ego, destructive and thoughtless, and to this day responsible in part for some of the misfortune that befalls communities such as theirs from time to time. They also see them as remaining presences in the world, existing normally outside their physical plane but able to sometimes manifest themselves in natural disasters and thus touch the world of the living, even at times claiming their souls in death.
Why claim the souls? Well, that’s something I want to hold for the story. But Ren’s revenge is rooted in his mother’s death and his belief that the ancients are responsible for it. As it so happens, off in the far distance from his village, through forests and mountain passes and human settlements and a number of other dangers, lies the ruins of one of the great cities of the ancients, partially drowned and muldering, crumbling and torn apart by generations of salvagers. Within that city—or so the stories say in Ren’s village—are where many of the ancients live in an ethereal otherworld, clinging to the grandeur of their former civilization in the hopes that they may one day resurrect it back into the world and finally establish the complete dominance over the non-human world they once so desperately sought.
It is there, in that city, where Ren intends to seek his revenge on the ancients for his mother’s death.
So how to get Ren and Lillian from his village to there, what and who they encounter on their way, and what happens once they arrive is the story’s central path. However, the adventure tale is only part of the story; the relationship between Ren and Lillian is critical, as well, as is the now-severed relationship between both of them and their mother, the relationship between them and a woman they call “Donya,” who sees them almost as her own children, and other characters who have started to emerge in my mind—as well as, no doubt, many who have yet to make themselves known.
That feels to me like a good foundation to build upon. No doubt some of the above will change as the story unfolds, and quite a bit more will be added to it, but this is enough to excite me for the tale. Now it’s just the small matter of writing it. With luck, I’ll have the first scene for you all in the next week or so. Stay tuned!
(April 11, 2018: Important addendum! Elements of the above have changed, including the story’s point of view and Lillian’s name. See this post in the series for additional details.)