Story before genre

My husband really irritated me yesterday. I was trying to talk to my kids about my science fiction mystery when he walked into the room. He wasn’t around the last time I’d talked to my kids about this story, so he knew nothing about where the story was going now, but yet he felt compelled to interrupt me and poke holes in my plan…which really bugged me because 1) I hate being interrupted! And 2) everything he said was absolutely right. Sigh.

Then my younger son started poking holes in my story, too…and the whole thing started to sound really stupid.

I was really bummed because I was so sure I was on the right track this time…I had addressed absolutely every issue my boys had brought up the last time we talked about it. But apparently not well enough.

I started to think I should just give up on this book. It’s so different from anything else I’ve ever written…maybe I should go back to what I know???

Then my older son said he thought I was approaching this story all wrong. He said I was looking at it from the top down (which, once he pointed it out, I realized was true…I’d been going from flaw to flaw, trying to fix each one individually). He wanted to know why I wasn’t building this particular story from the foundation up, like I do with any other story I write?

What’s different about THIS story? Well…it’s science fiction. Science fiction is not my normal genre…and yes, I’m a little nervous about that. But the fact that it’s science fiction shouldn’t change anything…it certainly shouldn’t change the basic way I approach novel writing.

Then he said something that actually gave me goose bumps. He said, “time travel is a vehicle, not a theme.” He’s absolutely right…it’s NOT a theme…and I was trying to turn it into one. That’s exactly why I’ve been having so much trouble with this new draft. That, and the fact that my protagonist wasn’t “protagging” (to which my son replied, “maybe she’s not protagging because your antagonist isn’t “antagging???” A good point!)

So I took a step back today. My son asked me what I want to write about…what is it about this story that excites me? I thought about that all last night. And when I met with my writer friends this morning, I opened a brand new document, typed the words TIME TRAVEL IS A VEHICLE, NOT A THEME at the top…and then I started fresh. Again.

I asked myself, what is the basic premise of this story. Then I started building…from the bottom up…the way I would a contemporary novel. I let go of absolutely everything I’ve ever thought about or written on this story so that I would be free to explore new ideas…and something strange happened. A STORY emerged…a story that is more than its genre….a story with a protagonist who must “protag” because the antagonist is “antagging.” We’ll see if it still looks as good to me at the end of the week…


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