Deconstructing the Novel, Part 4 – Fearful Symmetry
“So, where do we go from here?”
That was what Chris and I said to each other, probably at the same time, probably at a bar, when we sat down to talk about Fearful Symmetry, book 2 of the “Shattered World” series. Okay, it was very likely we said it at the same time, because the person who asks the question first doesn’t have to bear the burden of answering it, and we were most definitely at a bar, because that’s where we do our best thinking. Yes, I said thinking. The good news is we already had a bit of a blue print going into this. Believe it or not, we planned ahead while we were working on book 1, The Shattered Visage Lies.
Chris and I knew we wanted this to be a book series. Waking up with super powers is something that should be explored in depth. Comic books have been exploring super powers for over eight decades now, and we wanted to spend more time than just one book looking at what regular people would do if they were gifted these extraordinary abilities. Book 1 was a journey of discovery where we looked at a diverse group of people with different backgrounds at various stages in their lives. We wanted to factor in different religious beliefs and socioeconomic lifestyles and how those forces would impact an individual’s motivations. Without creating too many spoilers, we came to the conclusion that people would use these abilities to be self-serving. We’re not saying that everyone would be selfish, and we certainly know that there are many selfless people willing to risk their lives for others on a regular basis, but we believe there are very few people who would immediately change their morality or emotional status quo if they were suddenly bequeathed with superhuman abilities. Yes, people change, but that usually happens at a much slower pace, and that was how we wanted to handle things with book 2.
All too often, stories rush to get to a certain point and sometimes that point gets lost along the way. I’ve discussed how this happens in comic books “back in the day” when there was a new villain every month, one whose origin story takes place within one page. The hero didn’t care about the villain’s motivations, because they were never really fleshed out. Instead, it was just a different super power that the hero had to overcome. The hero was the focus of the story and the villain was just a conduit to get to the hero. The downside to that is desensitization. The hero experiences the same two-dimensional villain over and over again. We wanted to make sure that didn’t happen in “The Shattered World” series. Some of the super powers our characters have may be powers that other characters from comic books, television, and movies have, but we wanted to make sure we explored how our characters perceive these abilities, what they do with them, and how their lives change as a result.
With Fearful Symmetry, we wanted to take our time to really examine the toll these abilities would take on people. Not just the powers, but the experiences the characters had to go through. In The Shattered Visage Lies, we sent our characters on some pretty wild adventures to gain the knowledge of how they got these abilities. Many of them kept secrets, some even had to lie, and a few had to make substantial sacrifices. In Fearful Symmetry we wanted to explore the consequences of those secrets and lies, especially when those characters unravel the secrets of others. Don’t forget, if you’re keeping secrets and telling lies to other, then others are probably keeping secrets and telling lies to you.
In an effort to really maintain the “start small and then expand” idea throughout the series, we set book 1 in Pennsylvania. Even if the reader doesn’t know that it’s 5-6 hours of driving time from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, they will at least recognize that all of the settings are within the same state and, relatively speaking, close to each other. In book 2, we start to expand from that, taking our characters out of state, having them question how truly big of an area is affected by what’s happening, and wonder how many people have these new, powerful abilities. Another way we wanted to tackle the idea of growing from a single point is with our “big bad” of book 2, Ethan. With him we … You know what? Let’s talk about him later….
One of the things that Brian and I agreed on early in the planning stages of the book was that we wanted this to book to be a horror novel. From that starting point we began to truly delve into the realm of horror and examine some of the key elements of the genre, some of which are rather subjective, so we both sat and thought about what horror really meant to both of us. While my mind often touches on Lovecraftian ideas at times like these, I was reminded of something far more unsettling than fantastic places and alien forces – reality. In college I read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and have often thought of a singular phrase from that book: man’s inhumanity to man. Over the years I have revisited that phrase many times and it has led me to explore works by Robert Burns and Samuel von Pufendorf. The more that Brian and I discussed the notes that I had written about these pieces the more excited we got about trying to incorporate them into the novel.
Man’s inhumanity to man infests every period in history and manifests itself in so many ways and we wanted to try to incorporate the notion in several ways. The easiest and most recognizable form is violence. I’m not much of one for spoilers, but I don’t think there is any damage done by me saying that this is a book of violence. And why not? It’s easy to work with. It’s as real as every day. It’s identifiable. And quite frankly, when people want to be seen as powerful it seems to come quite naturally.
Greed and obsession also come to mind. Manipulation and control. Excess and denial. All of these can be exploited for the background that Brian and I were looking to create. And all of them followed with our desire to create horror through man’s inhumanity to man, sometimes these kinds of thoughts don’t even start out as intentionally cruel, but observation of the cause and effect leads one to realize just how devastating the effects can be. Perfectly horrory.
And then there’s fear – always unreasonable and irrational, a voice whispering words of doubt and insecurity. For instance, there’s the fear of change. Sometimes it’s mild and we simply ignore any possible benefits that might come our way, because we are secure in doing what we know. Sometimes it’s much more self-destructive. And the fear of losing comfort. We take for granted our convenience and our technology. But how irritating and unnerving it is to go back to doing things the old fashioned way or the absolute umbrage of being denied comfortable shoes, running water, premade meals … things that are small and inconsequential, perhaps, but things that we have enjoyed for so long that we take for granted their availability. Now perhaps neither of those two fears lead directly to doling out misery upon others, but fear is a powerful motivator and it often leads to anger – the key ingredients to brew up a powerfully horrific concoction. Until next time…