And now it’s official. First day of (for real this time!) rewrites! I’m using exclamation points because I totally don’t feel the buzz!! For real, though: ugh. What do I even…
So I just finished reading Brenna Yovanoff’s Places No One Knows. Which is pretty much everything I hoped I could do in a story, but apparently can’t. Seriously, go read it. All her stuff is amazing; beautifully written and realized, honest, incisive, imaginative, just spectacular. And there are other YA authors creating beautiful, deep, artistic yet entertaining work, just like there are hundreds of YA and genre fiction writers churning out fast-paced, light reads. I just can’t stop seeing it as an either/or. Follow the rules and create an easy-to-like fast read, or dig deep and craft something beautiful, controversial and difficult.
I tried to start the first, ended up aiming for the second, and pretty much missed the mark on both. But back to Brenna’s genius. Dual POV narrative. Complex characters who are painfully recognizable, should be unlikeable but aren’t, who expose the core of humanity without wallowing in venality… And who move through the story without clear goals. Or maybe they have too many goals? Waverley and Marshall. Waverley is the perfect socialite with hidden depths. Marshall is the stereotypical stoner deadbeat trying to drown out his conscience.
On the surface, Waverley gives the impression of wanting, what? Everything? Social acceptance, social currency and power, a peer group, a place, a bright future? But, since we’re in her head for the story, we know that she doesn’t really care for any of it, or at least, she questions the value of it. She’s painfully, adolescently aware of the dark underbelly of the social world, the scheming, conniving power plays, the elaborate, deniable attacks. Which, wow. Props to Brenna for articulating this subtlety! But back to Brenna. She is conscious of herself as separate from it, conscious that her obsessive desire to run and her insomnia point to underlying issues, but she’s also ignoring these warning signs, not wanting to address their root causes, not wanting to upset the balance. She talks about needing to win, to be first, but happily plays Beta to her best friend’s Alpha. So she doesn’t really want to win, to be first, even to play the social game. She doesn’t want to deal with her problems, to understand and acknowledge them. What’s her goal? To be accepted? And then it shifts to wanting to be loved for herself? Not really (spoiler) - she seems to come to understand this by the end - but it wasn’t her motivating force. If anything, her goal is to stay safe, to maintain the balance, to stay where she is… but wait, isn’t that a terrible way to set up a book? Why does it work?
And then there’s Marshall. Marshall who is hurt and hurting, and wanting to drive it all away. Marshall who wants to protect and love and be loved, to be real. But that’s not his ‘story goal’, or rather, we don’t understand that that’s his underlying motivation until the very end. So it doesn’t count as a way to move things forward.
But it’s real, and it’s complex and interesting. I read the book over four days instead of the usual 1-2, but it didn’t feel slow or painful (much) to get through. It gets mixed reviews and elicits a response, but overall ratings are in keeping with Brenna’s more traditional books (nearly a full four stars - pretty excellent). Why does it work? What keeps the story moving forward; what gets you invested in the characters and their journey?
Is it the honesty, the realness and freshness of Waverley’s perspective? Is it the unexplained magic of dream walking - which, wow again; to just not dive into the mechanics at all! - that keeps you reading, the pure strangeness of all of it, the mystery of the unexplained? Because that’s another questionable tactic, if you read the editing books and blogs…
And how can I make it work for me?
I created or discovered a world where motivation, where goals of any kind, are explicitly forbidden. They’re both outlawed and literally deadly. Oops. But that world had to exist to explain Cole, who is totally comfortable not wanting anything. Or maybe more to the point, never knows what she wants at any given time. Which is pretty human. To moderate that effect, Cadence showed up. Cole’s motivation, personified. Except, once she’s a person, she has all the motivation and goals, and becomes the primary way to move the story forward. But to tell the story from her perspective loses the point, which was to take an unlikeable, unmotivated, confused and confusing girl and bring readers into her world. It’s not a story about Cole learning to become Cadence, or Cadence saving Cole, it’s a story about Cole learning to be Cole.
Maybe I’ve been writing the premise wrong all this time. I’ve been saying things about the world, how it’s oppressive, how it’s limiting, how it limits choices, and that’s all true, but it’s just setting. The premise is, Cole’s world kept her from learning how or what to want, and when her world got bigger than the rules, she had to learn what it was to respond, to want or not want, to choose on her own. All of the sudden, she had choices between keeping or breaking the rules, following, staying, or creating her own path. And as her world expands, the voices influencing her do too. She starts with Cadence and the Tower. The Tower says obey, Cadence says rebel. Then Ravel shows up, doubling the call to rebel, and the scales are tipped. Cole follows. But the paths diverge again. Cadence says escape, Ravel says join, immerse, and the Tower’s still there, offering safety in return for obedience. The choices are too big and too divided; Cole won’t commit. Cole wants someone else to be responsible for making the choices. Maybe that’s the key. Cole doesn’t want to be responsible. So when Victoire arises, tipping the scales toward Ravel, it’s not her fault that things are getting scary, getting out of hand. She can explore things without the consequences being her fault, because it’s either Cadence or Victoire at fault.
Spoiler! Potential backstory: Cole was sent on a mission to infiltrate the Tower and the city. She was supposed to just act programmed, but something went wrong. She was actually programmed, but because she was on a mission, it didn’t quite take. Cadence is the part of her that remembers the mission, and remembers that Itri is meant to meet up with her. She’s trying to move Cole to the meeting point. Cole is resisting, following her programming, broken and starting anew, a different person now, and one who only wants to not be responsible. Maybe it’s older trauma, a reaction against who she used to be. Maybe she had regrets as Cadence. Maybe she feared getting in over her head. Whatever. Cole starts as a blank slate and develops into the opposite of who she was a Cadence, but Cadence is still around, pushing her. And it kind of works, because Cole can use Cadence as a crutch to blame failures on, and later, Victoire (who, spoiler again, is just imaginary).
Start time: 10:30 am
Abbotsford, BC - home/couch
Drinking: cold rooibos tea