Vince's example: Exile to home? or vice versa?

Vince asked:
I have a 120,000 word paranormal called "Characters in a Romance" in which there is a cosmic black moment (explosion) and all the romance characters are blown out of their novels to all corners of the universe and they spend the rest of the book, like Dorothy in the "Wizard of Oz", trying to get back to their own novels. 

They have many adventures along the way with their biggest problem being their inability to prove if they are real or fictional. Neither the real people, who were also blown up, nor the fictional characters are able to come up with a proof for determining who is real and who is fictional. Try to prove you're real.

What a great plot! I’m getting all sorts of resonances here from post-modern themes about authorship and the uncertainty of “reality,” as in Calvino, Ionesco, and more recently, Jasper Fforde in the Thursday Next novels! I can see how this juxtaposition of “fiction” and “real” (especially WITHIN a fiction!) will call into doubt the reliability of many philosophical verities. I think the "proving you're real" is a great theme, but I better just deal with the basic journey today, as that's complex enough.

So to the journey question! I think the significant challenge here is that you have several characters, and they probably each have an individual journey (you know, from distrust to trust). So keep that in mind—each probably has some individual journey to make within the overall journey of everyone getting back to where they belong.  (This might well come into play at the end of the book, where perhaps some characters do make it back to their novels, but others don’t—the individual journey might be a determiner of whether they make it back or not. Possible example later down the page. J)

 So you've set up that as a group, they have this common journey of getting back to their rightful places. I’m going to call that “home,” but I do need to point out that where they started (in that book or on that world or whatever) might not be where they belong.  That is, “home” isn’t always home. Some characters might find another along the way.

 A few thoughts:

1. When in the book does the explosion take place? What I'm wondering is... when does their common journey start? That is, is the actual start:
Journey starts before the explosion: Knowing who you are and your place in reality
Journey starts AFTER the explosion: Not knowing who you are or where you belong in the great scheme of things

The actual placement of the explosion will make a big difference here. If you think in terms of turning points (I’m linking to an article I wrote laying out my schema of turning points, but other analysts will have a different order and terminology), the explosion could take place at the "Inciting Incident", which is usually at the end of the first scene or first chapter-- the first event to set in motion the overall plot.
But you might want to spend 3-4 chapters establishing them in their ordinary worlds, and have the explosion happen as the second turning point (External Conflict Emerges). In that case, the journey would start back in the ordinary world, and so you might need to think more about what would make the ordinary world different as a starting point than it will be as the endpoint. That is, if the journey really starts “where I belong,” and then ends “where I belong,” has it really been a journey? How can you make it more than a circle?
You mentioned Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, and she does end up right back where she started? What’s changed? Her attitude towards home, right? She started out feeling that she didn’t belong at home, and ended up knowing that’s where she belonged.
If you have the explosion take place later, so that the journey starting point is clearly “home,” then you might consider that there’s a journey in subtext under that “geographical” one. What’s that underlying journey—which have to do with how they feel about home, and how home feels about them! Think about those quest novels where the young protagonist starts out as a loser in his hometown, leaves on the quest, and comes back a hero because he’s brought back the Holy Grail or killed the dragon or whatever. That’s a journey from “home” to “home,” but there’s been a marked change.

2. Does everyone make it back to where they started? Think about using that question as a way to hint at the individual journeys within the common journey. Some alternative answers:
a. Denny doesn’t get back home because he failed at some essential task on the way.
b. Sandy gets back home, but finds it no longer fits her, and she leaves again.
c. Leo almost makes it home, but sacrifices that goal so that another can make it back.
d. Charlotte almost gets back home, but when she’s on the brink of returning, realizes she never did belong there, and decides not to go.
e. Paul fell in love with an outsider along the way, and decides to stay with her rather than go home.
f. Rorie got sidetracked halfway through, ending up somewhere else, and stayed to help them battle some evildoer, and loves it there now and doesn’t want to leave to go back home.
g. Louie, unbeknownst to the others, is a bad guy and in trying to sabotage everyone else getting back, ends up destroying himself.
In those cases, each of them has some other individual journey, and that journey’s destination isn’t back to home. Even if “home” is where they belong and they get back there, they might need to learn/do/accomplish something else to finally reach the destination.

Anyway, I think you might just keep in mind that there is a common journey (everyone getting back “home”), but each might have his/her own journey, and that individual journey could determine who actually does get home, and what alternatives the others might find.

What do you think? It’s a great story, I can tell already!

And because I’ve been spending too much time on Youtube, a few “home” songs:


  1. Hi Alicia:

    I lost yesterday at the eye doctor's and the follow up treatment. I still have headaches today. But I really wanted to get back to you.

    I'm amazed. You really have my hero down! At the start of the story he is very much a hermit. He was wounded in the war where he was a battlefield doctor. He has since lost hope in humans. He gave up his medical practice moving into a little office in his home. He faces his nightmares about combat by working in the ER. His answer for stress is more stress. ER work is the most impersonal medical practice. He calls it his 'gun and knife club' play time. He does not want to get to know his patients nor see them after they leave the ER.

    He does not want children which is why he was such a big donor to the sperm bank in medical school. Pretty much all he wants in life at this point is to be left alone.

    As for his 'monsters': when the heroine's child tells him there are monsters in the bushes, he tends to believe the child because he 'really' has his own monsters.

    I did not have time to emphasize his odd way of dealing with his PTSD in the opening pages before the explosion but from what you have suggested that would be very important.

    To the hero the world deserved to be blown up. He has no nostalgia for the lost past but he comes to love the heroine and her child. He wishes the child was his while his twenty biological children mean nothing to him.

    As he enters all the different worlds with each new chapter, each of which employs strange logic in order to make sense, he begins to think that no world is much more sensible or reasonable than any other world.

    In the end the hero just wants the journey to end! He does not really care where it ends. He'd almost settle for any world as long as it stayed the same. In a way, his end goal of the journey is just having the journey to come to an end. He's probably a nihilist.

    I think it is absolutely brilliant to walk back my secondary characters to see where they started their individual journeys. In the first draft I've been happy to just have entertaining satire events happen in each chapter; for example, I have a character called "The Wicked Witch of the Eastern Establishment". She is a famous liberal and the head of a top women's college. She gives great commencement speeches, which I give an example of in the text, in which she shows why romance novels are bad for women. However, under her pen name she is a best selling romance writer. Her great pleasure in life is being a hypocrite.

    It didn't occur to me to work these characters backwards and see why they became what they are at the end of their part in the story. Doing that will add a new dimension to the story.

    Thanks so much. You've given me a great deal to think about which can give the story much more gravitas.

    BTW: I'm a big fan of Italo Calvino, I just read his "If on a winter's night a traveler...". I lived in Italy for three years and I try Calvino in Italian at times. I have also enjoyed reading Eugène Ionesco since the early 1960's. My favorite is Rhinoceros. This turned me on to many new plays like "Waiting for Godot".

    However, I have no idea who Jasper Fforde is. At least I don't think I've read him. I've read and studied Gottlob Frege. That's as close as I have come. I'll have to check Fforde out.


  2. Vince, I hope you're feeling better. I've been having minor eye issues because-- as soon as spring came-- the allergies came too. I can only imagine how hard it must be for you to try to write when it hurts your eyes.

    Jasper Fforde has a series called Thursday Next (the heroine's name). It's sort of impossible to explain, but it's kind of an alternative UK where literature is as real as reality, sort of, and fictional characters are like rockstars-- you have Charles Dickens impersonators like Elvis impersonators. The first is The Eyre Affair, which shows that a novel can be changed by the manuscript being changed (so Jane Eyre ends up with St. John, not Rochester). There's one whole book where Thursday gets stuck in "The Well of Abandoned Plots,"= well, anyway, it's impossible to explain. It's brilliant and controlled crazy. It's sort of post-modern, but in a comic way. You might enjoy it. In every book, there's something I thought was such fun, like they manage to clone extinct animals, including mastodons, and they didn't realize migration patterns were coded in the DNA and the mastodons thunder through modern Britain. And they clone Neanderthals, who turn out to be more honest and kind than homo sapiens. I think there are about 10 novels in the series.

    Your story sounds interesting at every point! Here, I was struck by how comprehensive his ennui is-- he really is in an existential crisis: >>In the end the hero just wants the journey to end! He does not really care where it ends. He'd almost settle for any world as long as it stayed the same. In a way, his end goal of the journey is just having the journey to come to an end. He's probably a nihilist.>>
    So why does he end up going home? I wonder if "love" is the answer-- the heroine and her son want to go back, and, you know, home is where the heart is?

    Sounds intriguing!


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