A good friend of this blog and an intellect I really respect put these questions to me based on my "writing about writing" and the new novel I'm writing now and writing about (sorry, run-on). I'll answer the questions using italics.
"Enjoyed your writing workshop; greatly. Will follow your progress, as you can make time for the story.
Before asking about themes in your new book,I have a few Q's to ask. If you're willing, please explain your primary motive for writing:
1. Desire to explore/record significant event or experience?
2. Desire for sharing experience/in sight with an interested group?
3. Desire for free individual expression which contributes to mental and physical health.
4. Desire for creating a production novel vs a work of art...ie, recognition, fame or fortune?
5. Any combination of above.. which, ranked?
This is a great question and the answer is relatively simple. The first is I love to write, and I love to tell a good story. Put the two together and you hopefully get a great novel. This is obviously too simple an answer because even if you love to tell stories, your motives, as an adult, are much deeper than that. The longer answer is that I want to entertain and at the same time present material that when the reader gets to the end, they don't say, "That was a great story, but I didn't take anything away intellectually." I seek to write novels on multiple levels that present information by multiple means. (The end of this is that I need to spend at least a short series on my motive for writing.) The direct answer to the question above is 6. To create a piece of art in words. I want my novels to be enjoyed and enjoyed and enjoyed. I want the readers to love the story so much that they go back to find all the tiny details I lovingly put within it.
When starting a new novel: how much time/detail & physical documentation do you put into your story's outline (framework)concerning the story's primary & secondary themes, primary & secondary narratives, plots, main/secondary characters, character's physical vs emotional vs intellectual world. How carefully, and rigorously, do you look at the way reality is (going to be created) in the works of fiction?
I'll answer this by example, and you will see it unfold as I write Daemon (working title). For this novel, I already have spent at least 3 or 4 years of research. I'll talk about that a little below. I chose the period and the country for a couple of reasons. The first is I know a lot about Russia and the Russian revolution of 1917. The second is I needed a backdrop for the theme I am creating. The theme is one of redemption and I needed a plot that supported it. The events of the Russian Revolution provided that backdrop. The basis of research for the novel was complete before I had the idea to write it. I had the idea for the theme first and wrapped it in the plot I started to describe. Within my imagination, I have been building the details for a few weeks. Before I set ink to paper (electrons to virtual paper), I already had an idea what the characters looked like and their personalities. I knew what the world was like because of my reading and research. The trick from that point was to actually put it to paper. So the exact answer is there is 3-4 years of research, an idea for a theme, wrapping the theme in a plot, thinking about the plot long enough to generate the characters, notes on the first scenes, and finally, beginning to write. Since the storyline falls out of the plot which falls out of the theme, the work only needs to be fleshed out. I do that by scene and I'll give more details as I move forward. By the way, the details and the secondary characters usually get researched as needed. For example, I need a name for Aksinya's servant. I have some sites I have used for other novels about Russian names. I'll use them to pick an appropriate name.
Do you give much thought & outline, up front, to primary & secondary character development, ie, the specific characteristics of characters or events that shape them or character studies along the way. Stated another way, do you have a good idea of all their strengths, weaknesses & flaws up front, or does it develop, along the way.
For the primary characters, they must be different than any of my other primary characters. I think I achieve this as well as any author has. Each of the characters in my books are significantly different than the others--especially the primary characters. In general, I develop the theme around that character's differences. That's the point. The theme drives the entire work. The character must fit in the theme, plot, and storyline in their own way, otherwise the writing, but not the novel or work is not different than another you might have written. So about the primary characters, I know them well before they make it to paper, but on paper, they grow from the incipient ideas that formed them. The secondary characters are similar, but obviously not as carefully formed. Generally, they all may be formed but not developed along the way.
Do you have a very general or specific targeted audience in mind when you're writing...ie, demographic, age, education, interest, etc.? Or, do you strive to target two or three overlaid or overlapping audiences...say, like a CS Lewis..Narnia chronicle. Child story, adult story, deep theological examination. etc.
Since my only consideration is the theme, plot, and storyline, I don't want my ideas to interfere with any of them. I don't write for an audience other than I do write stories for adults. What I mean by that is I write works that have adult themes and contain adult concepts. That doesn't mean they are salicious, but it means they are for adults. In my terms, I create art for adults to appreciate. A child or young adult can read them, but they might not understand or appreciate them (plus, I've been told my vocabulary is relatively large--kids might have a problem with that).
Regarding your new novel;you briefly said:
1. Circa 1917, child of aristocracy.
2. Father Russian Count,mother Princess. Young (inexperienced) girl delving into the spiritual world, seeking demon to protect her family...wow!
3. What's your primary focus... desire to examine the turbulence of the era? The Russian aristocracy, or the Feb 1916 Rev from perspective of someone in Russian Aristocracy? Or does it have many layers, say, a historic examination, a character study of the girl & an oblique examination at spiritualism, or more specifically, demonology, or the occult?
The era is simply the best setting for this theme. I intend to include all the details mentioned above to make the world of the novel real. I'll talk about the specific theme and plot below.
Or, is the use of a 'supernatural' figure, a literary device? Say, simply intended to confront the main character w/ something beyond her normal, physical control or influence?
The use of the supernatural is to set the theme in motion. Very similar to Faust, but this isn't Faust. The plot in Faust has been a mainstay of many works. This is a radical departure from that plot and potentially a new theme from it.
Or, if the demon isn't simply a literary device, but rather a more detailed study on spiritualism, demonology or the occult, will you present/examine demons from a Christian point of view..ie Orthodox Russian Christian? Or another?
I am not a student of the occult except to understand it. I am grounded in Frazier's Golden Bough and in P.E.I. Bonewitz as well as many other basic sources of ideas of magic in Western Civ. I have used these ideas in various ways in my works. It isn't Harry Potter. By the way, in this world and novel, the demon is real. He is a real demon, Asmodeus, with a real pedigree (Tobit in the Apocrypha).
Aksinya is conjuring a demon to protect her family from the Bolsheviks. She succeeds in calling up the demon Asmodeus and contracting him, but she is too late to save her family.
You didnt' say, she contacted him, you say she 'contracted' him...big difference, spelling error, or the proverbial 'deal' with the devil?
She contracted with him. That is the problem for her that drives the plot and the theme.
Also, you mention, her Mom is from the House of Romanov..last imperial dynasty over Russia from 1613 until the Feb 1917 Revolution...big hint, there.
Through dialogue w/ her mother, or her exploring her mother's family history, are you going to explore slavic aristocracy & patriotism, cultural revival, and panslavist ideas, or examine the tight commitment to (Russian) orthodox faith that was required of Romanovs..to make them 'more Russian?'
Generally all that will be covered in many ways. The Orthodox faith of Aksinya and her family is an important part of the plot and theme. From the beginning, her mother is dead, but I might have a flashback or two to flesh out their relationship.
FYI: Go check the background of the 'Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov dynasty and you'll see the Holstein-Gottorps of Russia retained the Romanov surname, sought to emphasize their matrilineal descent from Peter the Great, through Anna Petrovna (Peter I's elder daughter by his second wife. )
And, what about her father...a Russian Count..hum, alot of potential there. He's obviously titled nobility; was it proprietary (actually based on land ownership?) or titular (endowed with the title)? Presume, the former, if he managed to marry a Rom.
Presume, you know, Romanov hereditary nobility was transferred to wife, children, and further direct legal descendants along the male line. In exceptional cases, the emperor could transfer nobility along indirect or female lines, e.g., to preserve a notable family name.
Personal nobility was transferable only to the wife and was of much lower prestige. Unpropertied nobility was nobility gained by state service, but which was not entitled to land ownership.
In addition, the ancient nobility (Древнее дворянство) was recognized, descendants of historical boyars and knyazes.
Anyway...seems like a fascinating start to the story... alot of directions you could take this novel. Those were just some of the different things that came to my mind; when I read your blog today.
Will be interesting, to see how it unfolds."
Good information. Much of this has been folded already into the plot as I will reveal in later posts.
Ultimately the theme and plot is driven by the fact that the demon's goal is to tempt Aksinya to do evil (in the most simple terms, to sin) so she will lose her soul. Aksinya's desire is to break the contract and not lose her soul. The overall point is that she has contracted with a demon though not for her soul. I want the theme to be redemptive and successful. Those are the details I'm working out now.