I am starting to regret my decision to be a novelist. The more I learn about the necessary moving parts of a novel, the more obvious my lack of skill becomes. Hell, I was a computer science major in college. There’s a big difference between fiction and discreet math. I know that movies follow formulas. They are needed. After all, you can’t tell a story including subtleties of character in just two hours unless there are some communication shortcuts.
For example, a rom-com follows a strict formula: Establish the main characters. Watch them find one another and see a promising romance begin. Something happens to push them apart. Something else makes it worse. Another misery befalls them. Finally, in the fourth act, they overcome the problems and live happily ever after. We subconsciously know this before the movie starts. The pattern is familiar and comfortable.
All stories follow ONCE UPON A TIME __THEN__AND THEN__AND THEN__AND THEN__FINALLY. The problem for a novelist is that the author has to fill in what actors in a movie show the audience. There are genre-specific formulae for novels. It won’t surprise you that I don’t know them. I know how to tell a story. That’s not the problem.
Literary agents read a lot. They are solidly wedded to the formulae for the genres their authors write. That means if I want to attract an agent, I have to provide a story in the form she expects. It doesn’t matter how good my story is. If the agent doesn’t “fall in love” with my protagonist in the first few pages, she rejects me. Worse, if my heroine doesn’t face a life-changing decision, bye-bye, lion.
I prefer my characters to make obvious or trivial decisions and then discover they get into a world of trouble because of them. That’s a surprise for the reader. I hate soap operas, and I have no interest in writing one. My problem is marketing. I have to sell fate as an antagonist. I have to show the consequences of taking the clear path.
OK, why do I think you should care about my problems as a writer? It’s because my literary dilemma is identical to the sexual challenges I’ve faced. My first challenge was spanking. Long before I met Mrs. Lion, I asked my ex-wife to spank me. I really did. At the time, I had no idea about any of the nuances. I just felt a very strong need. Unsurprisingly, she said no. That may have been the precipitating incident that made me want a divorce.
Sounds like a plot for my kind of novel. Yup, I just said, “Will you spank me?” Four words that crashed a 15-year marriage. Small things can cause big consequences. I’m sure she didn’t give my question a second thought. Those four words started me on a quest to find what I wanted so badly. Months later, everything blew up.
I guess you could call it lighting the fuse. Many stories start with a small event that will eventually change everything. I had no idea that my request would change my life. Hmm, maybe I’ll write that story. It’s too kinky for a first novel, but still, it’s a good story.
After over a decade of bad relationships, I met Mrs. Lion. Soon after we met, I asked her the same four-word question. She answered, “Yes.” I’m pretty sure that she didn’t know how important that answer was. See? Fate. At the time, before I asked her, I resolved not to make her answer change anything. I knew that I wanted to be spanked. I knew that I liked BDSM. But, I also knew how difficult my experiences were with women focused on BDSM. I decided that a peaceful and loving vanilla relationship was more valuable than a red bottom.
Mrs. Lion knew better. I think she understood that I needed her to say yes if we were to be happy. She also realized that there wasn’t a downside for her if she spanked me. You know the rest of the story. We tried more and more kinky things. We liked some, disliked others. We both knew that those things weren’t the point. We grew closer and closer.
Guess what? Life also follows the formula. We are now in the “AND THEN” part of our story. We lived happily ever after.