1. The Elder One
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    The Elder One Member

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    Help me! What to do when you write yourself into a corner?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by The Elder One, Sep 23, 2016.

    I have a problem now, my novel is completely dead in the water because of it. Let me explain carefully:

    The main character of my novel is a NCS (CIA) spy investigating subversive activities in the middle east in the 60s. His main goal in the story is to use the cash he earns in this dangerous job to get back the Staten Island mansion his father lost gambling years ago, while living as a bon-vivant in the exotic locations he is sent to.

    That's all fine for me. However, the story took an unexpected turn, I wanted to explore the more personal side of him, so I introduced a supporting character, a Turkish-American businessman with ties to the Turkish MÍT that helps him go after the main villain of the story in the later arcs, during the Cyprus crisis and the prelude to the Lebanese Civil war.

    At some point, the critical choice of the protagonist is cutting a deal with the businessman, where he marries his daughter, who he fell in love for, leaving the CIA and getting his mansion and fortune back, while losing his snobbery and pride by converting to Islam, with the opposite choice being retaining his pride, breaking her heart and losing the chance to recover his fortune in the process.

    I am not certain however that this last subplot ties in nicely with the theme of the rest of the novel, particularly the religious themes I'd have to explore. (Jet-set era of luxury and glamour espionage in the 1960s.)

    Should I continue with this premise or rewrite some of the already written pages to alter it? Not a natice english speaker, so pardon me for any spelling blunders.
     
  2. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    No, sounds like she's coming along nicely - all the glitz of Lebanon, Tel Aviv, Tehran '69...presses my buttons.. Stay strong author.
     
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  3. SethLoki
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    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    A critical decision needn't change the inner persona of your MC just their circumstances—especially with your story being themed along the lines espionage (the bluff, then deceit). Couldn't he stay on the payroll of the CIA and pursue his mission in a stealthier capacity while ostensibly getting on with the charade of his new life?
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2016
  4. The Elder One
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    The Elder One Member

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    What I originally meant to ask is, aren't the religious themes concerning his decision a bit out of place on a spy thriller?
     
  5. SethLoki
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    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    Yes, to be frank, I did think it out of place but I've only read your synopsis. I imagined his love interest and her father subscribed to the Islamic faith and that's why he converted (in order to marry). It was that particular bit that seeded the idea his commitment to such a path might not be true.
     
  6. Michelle Angelo
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    Michelle Angelo New Member

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    Based on my personal experience direct religious themes easily alienate readers who don't subscribe to the religion presented, especially if the book is generally very skewed towards this religion/worldview.

    I used to always write my main characters as atheists, but much of the feedback said that its alienating theist readers, so nowadays I never mention it, unless being an atheist/Christian/whatever is very very important for the character development and a defining trait of the character. In my head my main characters are still atheists.

    I know for sure if I was reading a spy thriller and main character converted to Islam the book would fly to rubbish bin faster than James Bond draws his gun. Then again, I am just one reader, and you are obiviously free to write about whatever you want. Just be aware that it is really easy to alienate a lot of readers by making your book sound "preachy" (and it might come over preachy even if it was very subtle preachy).
     
  7. The Elder One
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    The Elder One Member

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    Thank you for your valuable insight. I want to make a few points clear:
    I am NOT trying to be preachy, in any way by writing.

    I am not even a Muslim myself, I am Catholic, the dilemma happens because the characters in question are turkish and I can't write around their religion without warping the story,making it historically inaccurate or making it far-fetched.

    Also, directed to SethLoki:
    That is the desired effect, the MC is supposed to be a very western-centric person from the USA, making him really think about the decision.

    I am open to ideas on writing my way around this.
     
  8. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    Ultimately you have to make a choice. Whether the choice is from the options you have presented or involves several other options you haven't identified yet, you try to look at your work from inside and out as a whole and decide what kind of story it is going to be and what message you want to send.

    It sounds really interesting and don't be worried about alienating readers with religious themes. There are plenty of people from all faiths and religions desperate for positive representations of Islam.

    Don't avoid something because you're worried some people won't like it. So what? They can read something else. You can't be thinking about casting a wide net with art. It's too subjective. You will attracted the kind of open minded readers who will have a better chance of connecting with your style of writing if you just write what interests you. So long as you do it thoughtfully.
     
  9. Shnette
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    Shnette Member

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    It doesn't sound like your novel is dead in the water. Maybe you need to rethink your timeline and shift the events. If I were writing it, I would probably move the marriage to the past. Also you mentioned more research. That would help too.
     
  10. Michelle Angelo
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    Michelle Angelo New Member

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    Well, based on your second message I think its going to be alright, althou I still feel this whole marriage and religion thing is a bit out of place for a spy thriller, it sounds more like (psychological) drama. There is obiviously nothing wrong on writing psychological drama, but do think how you market your book then. If readers expect a thriller they won't be too thrilled about getting something else.
     
  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Without tackling the story problem directly, because this is one you (the author) needs to solve on your own, may I suggest that you take a writing break and spend some time just thinking about the story instead?

    Don't feel you need to force it in any direction at the moment. Think about all the possibilities your new situation creates. You've had a bit of a breakthrough, in that you've envisioned something that wasn't there when you began the story. So back off for a bit and think about it. Thinking IS writing time. Sometimes new ideas need a bit of time to gel.

    The main focus of your thinking should probably be on how to work the religious angles into your main story without derailing it. Can you connect any of the religious events or aspects of the story to your main spy theme? Try to do that, if you can. Don't allow the religious aspect of the story detract from the spy theme. See what you can do to make the religious material strengthen the spy theme instead.
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2016
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  12. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    @The Elder One--- Questions to ask yourself: How does this subplot tie into the main plot? Does the hero get the girl in the end as a plot reward for being such a good CIA agent and foiling the plans of the subversives? That is, do these life-changing events happen at the end of the story, after he's gone through a lot of challenges, thinking, and changes? Or does all this bubble up someplace in the middle? How does the young woman fit in with the spy plot? Do the subversives ever threaten her or her father? Does he finish his assignment, or does he just chuck it all?

    I doubt you meant it this way, but your description gave me the impression of two different stories that had little to do with each other--- especially as his goals (get Dad's mansion and fortune back) remain the same as before the marriage and the conversion. It also made it sound as if him marrying the girl and converting to her religion is what magically gets him his mansion and fortune back. If you go down that road, yeah, it's going to be preachy. And fake. Sure, go ahead and have him convert, if it's best for the plot, but show the problems he adds to his life because of that decision and make him overcome them.

    The other thing I was wondering about is this: How is converting to Islam automatically going to make him lose his snobbery and pride? Sure, Islam means "submission," but a person can be awfully proud of how well he's submitting to the required round of prayers, etc. You mean there are no snobbish or proud Muslims? If your book suggests that conversion to Islam makes one instantly humble and egalitarian, it's going to be as difficult to believe as those Christian romances where a character suddenly loses all his besetting sins the minute he invites Jesus into his heart.

    All that said, it's always nice to hear that someone around here is tackling something besides science fiction and fantasy. And dealing with religion and its impact is a good thing, very real-world. Just make sure your character experiences all the effects of it, not just the pleasant ones, and make sure your subplot and main plot mesh together.
     
  13. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    In other words, if you feel you've written yourself into a corner, turn around, sit down, and have a good think while waiting for the paint to dry. :superthink:
     
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  14. The Elder One
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    The Elder One Member

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    To Catrin Lewis: I apologize for being so vague. In fact, this subplot is very tied to the main plot, as the turkish character that's tied to turkish intelligence and his daughter prove instrumental in aiding the MC resolve the main plot and defeat the subversive elements in key sections of the plot that take place in Lebanon, Turkey and then Germany. Him losing his pride by conversion is because during the whole novel, the MC loves his drinks, his gambling, and sins overall.

    As of his subplot, the MC wants to earn get father's fortune and Mansion back with the huge salary he receives from being a spy , and by the end of the story, he wants out of the espionage job as his handler dies and a new, more controlling and harsh one takes his place. (this happens around the middle). Marrying the girl would get him access to the riches of the Turkish businessman, giving him the means to get it all back.

    I thought this whole plot very thoroughly, it's just that the religious parts of it raised a red flag in my head and I even thought of omitting it entirely, but maybe that'd be worse?

    Hell, an alternative would be the controversial bitter ending, he refuses to convert, doesn't get the girl, doesn't get the mansion back. Ends up just as he were at the start, with blood on his hands from all the killing and dirty things he'd done.
     
  15. ashurbanipal
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    ashurbanipal Member

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    If you don't want religion to become a main focus and just need something to justify this plot twist, you could always have the Turkish character be from a secular wealthy elite family who pay 'lip service' to Islam (which is fairly common in Turkey as far as I know), or have them be from a not-so-religious Turkish-Jewish or Christian family as there are sizeable Jewish and Christian populations in Turkey.
     
  16. big soft moose
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    big soft moose Active Member

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    A few points that occur are

    a) how is he earning the money to recover his fortune doing this dangerous work - CIA is a govt agency it doesnt pay that well (better if he steals it in the course of his work)

    b) Turkey in '69 was pretty secular as was lebanon, so conversion to islam wouldn't necessaril y preclude drinking, gambling etc so long as he didnt flaunt it

    c) an Iman once told me that conversion to Islam cannot be coerced, it must be freely chosen ... after significant study and time spent discussing the holy books etc , its not something that yu'd be able to do just to marry the girl of your choice.

    d) "leaving the CIA" will not be as easy as resigning for someone with a security clearance etc, especially if they see him forging links with the MIT, that kind of thing gets you dead
     
  17. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    This was my thought as I read through this. I like the entire concept of your story but it seems by adding this you are beginning to get bogged down in the minutiae of examining every bit of the cultures involved. I would read a spy thriller like yours, set in a country I know little about, and not even consider whether or not the two characters had diverse religions...or even if they had any religion.

    Write only that which is necessary to advance the story.
     
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  18. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    What to do when you write yourself into a corner? I Curse and scream then I throw the pad of paper I was writing on into the trash and I start over.
     
  19. SethLoki
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    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    Not the whole pad @mg357 ! Crumpled bits of paper (filled with imperfect thoughts)* yes. But blank pages to the trash...nooo. Travesty—think of the trees that were pulped in vain (for naught more than being bowled into a bin). I don't even chuck envelopes out till their backs have been daubed with my prattle.



    * stolen lyric
     

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