For months I have been slogging…and I mean slogging…through a YA utopian/dystopian novel. I don’t mean reading one. I mean writing one. It is my first attempt at long form fiction and it has just about killed me.
I’ll describe to you the plot and you can see the potential…and the difficulty. The novel is set in a near future society where all physical ailments have been cured. A mere 15 years after the cure citizens have to face the reality that their world is screaming towards overpopulation. A ministry is formed to help address the problem and they come up with the simple solution of one life for another. If you are going to have a baby you need to find someone to die for it to be born.
The story is told from the perspective of a 16 year old boy who is going to be an orphan in 40 weeks. His mother is giving her life for his sister to have a baby. His father was the first to do this, giving his life for his other sister to have a baby. Their world celebrates this sacrifice. It is considered the highest honor to die for another to be born. The book open in his classroom where his entire class is watching a replay of the ceremony of his father’s death and cheering. Meanwhile Juneau is hiding his tears.
In the midst of this loss he meets a 16 year old girl. Despite receiving the same treatment at the clinic as all of the other citizens she seems immune to the cure. One slice of her iris is a different color than the others. Yet no one seems to see the evidence of her resistance. When they meet they recognize in each other a rare distrust of the cure and what it means. Beyond their personal suffering they uncover an even darker impact of the cure. Mere miles away from their sunny spacious homes lies a holding camp where the upper class is farming lower class “donors” so ministry families can have babies without having to sacrifice themselves.
The novel is written in trimesters where the first brings the two protagonists together, the second reveals the dark underside of their world and the third helps them overturn the medical reality by going on a quest to find the elder who created immortality, a woman who watched her own daughter die a painful death and wanted to spare other from her suffering. When they find her they realize that she has been shielded from the impacts of her benevolence. Revealing the reality she decides to shut down the mitochondrial clinics and allow the natural balance of life and death to resume.
As I describe the plot of the book currently title “I for an I” it is hard to ignore that I am writing in the passive tense. “The novel is written…” I am writing this novel. Except maybe I am not. Every single minute has been misery. The dialogue is stilted. The plot is even more complicated than I described.
Last night I woke up at three in the morning with someone talking to me. It was a woman. She lived in the present time, she had regular sized problems. She was not battling classism or environmental issues or the ethics of genetic changes. She did not have to go on a quest or solve a planet’s problem. She just needed to water her flower pots, convince herself she could stand on her own and then when she was confident meet a guy. She had the help of a sassy best friend and bizarre controlling parents. She is a trope. She is what I know. She was already talking to me.
So here I am, 30,000 words into a book that is killing me slowly, feeling drawn to the fluffiest of tales. It is confusing. Perhaps like the characters in “I for an I” maybe there needs to be death to make room for more life.
Can anyone relate to this? Has anyone shelved a long project? How do you decide which stories to tell? Seeking advice…
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