Two years ago I wrote a short fantasy story. It had a first-person narrator, in the person of a slackerish teenaged boy in a strange family. It started off with an almost-funny premise, and I tried to create pop-culture-weird family members, but I couldn’t maintain the light tone. The story was okay, and it had cool things, but the plot was predictable, and there just wasn’t enough there to make it compelling. Everything worked all right, but it wasn’t good.
Part of the problem was backstory. I had Ty, the narrator, tell us a story about his father and uncle, in 1970s California, and how they found a magical artifact. I used storyteller-third person, and it was a fun section of the story. It was the most fun section. It also made the father much more interesting than Ty.
I sent it out a couple of times, got it back, and that was that.
Now I’m working on it again, making it longer, letting myself explore the father’s and uncle’s adventures. This changes the story to a multi-generational saga. And, again, while Ty has his problems and could be the main character… it’s Dad who is driving the family minivan.
Just whose story is this, anyway?
Ty is a character who is acted upon, in the story and by the story; he always has been. Dad has agency.
I was talking with a writing friend the other day, telling her my dilemma, and she said, “It sure sounds like it’s the dad’s story.”
If it is, it changes the whole story. Not the plot, not the string of events. It changes what the story is about. It also dramatically changes the role of the sister. In the first version, the sister was kind of a “stealth” agent, and that worked okay. In the new version, she exists primarily as the ignored voice of sanity, as an object. The family doesn’t treat her like an object; the story does. She doesn’t have anything useful to do.
If the story belongs to the son, who is twenty, it becomes a story of self-exploration and, basically, in some ways a coming-of-age story. There’s nothing wrong with that.
If it belongs to the father, it becomes more tragic, because it’s about a man who tries to keep his family together, and in doing so, does everything wrong. It’s also about a man who uses/abuses power, gains fortune and loses everything. And if it’s the dad’s story, the sister has a chance to take steps to get what she wants.
As I read that over, it still doesn’t seem very original, but I realize that’s what I’m interested in.
To rewrite it will not be that big a deal, actually. The same things will happen; the emphasis will change. A lovely first-person flashback that I wrote for Ty yesterday will have to be changed to third person, from the father’s POV. That will be interesting.
When I’m done, I’ll have about 13,000 words, a story that will basically be un-saleable even it’s good otherwise at that word-length… but maybe I’ll like it better. And that would be a good outcome.