Or sometimes your temporary title is your best title.

It was May 2020… and it looked like we were gonna be in this quarantine situation for the long haul.

Silence & Vanity was my second story and the only one other than The Bonesaw Case where I had ANY semblance of a plan for before the month of its writing. Iris and Amber were the first characters that I conceived in this world that I’ve since built. I had this little idea back during my PhD training for a couple of badass ladies with superpowers that ultimately needed to kill Mickey Mouse in an act of cosmic deicide (PhD training is stressful, okay?). That story would eventually be written – albeit, in a very different form – the following March. However, the very first ‘story excerpt’ I ever wrote on my downtime in the world of Solbalim was called “Iris and Amber Meet”. This excerpt dealt with a contract killer named Iris attempting to assassinate a powerful, axe-wielding woman named Amber, told from Iris’ perspective.

The awake reader will recognize this as the very beginning of Silence & Vanity.

I had a mixed bag of thoughts going into the self-reflection on Silence & Vanity. For one thing, I knew I was going to have to brace myself even more than I had for re-reading The Bonesaw Case. The complexity of the story was doubled by its design – what with the two different narrators – yet I was working with only one more day than I had in April. Additionally, I do not recall going into this story with the same unwarrantedly high self-confidence that I had when writing The Bonesaw Case. At the top of this mixed bag – however – was the most important: my knowledge from the initial feedback I received almost a year ago that Silence & Vanity was just a decidedly weaker story than The Bonesaw Case. The pacing was comparatively inconsistent, the central conflict was much more vague, and the action was far messier.

The first point – the pacing – is a particular issue in the first 7 or 8 pages. I found the beginning of S&V to be particularly clunky to read. It’s not that things weren’t happening, but it just took me longer to read the same number of words than the middle section of the story. That section is – in a word – clunky. The same problem exists at the beginning of The Bonesaw Case as well, but it only lasts until Reina goes full ‘Corinthian’ – about 3 pages in – where it becomes a far easier read. This problem picks back up for the final heist in S&V and leads into the third point from above: The messy action of their frantic escape from the Oswell Estate. In this particular case, it’s a difficult read simply in that the action was quite unclear. This was a problem I ran into frequently during the first half of this challenge: my action scenes were just not straight forward enough for anyone except me to visualize!

The central conflict problem is not one I think many people other than myself thought of or mentioned to me. This calls back to my previous blog post about my not realizing how big of a deal Evelynn was going to be. I found myself in the familiar trap of trying to create a more specific villain that could measure up impact-wise to Evelynn Vandree. Obviously this did not work and I quickly stopped wasting time on the endeavor (read: three days of brainstorming). This was a lesson that – in retrospect – I’m very glad I figured out early on. It really is kind of amazing how many times the existence of Evelynn made me question most of what I was writing.

Ultimately, there was simply not enough anchoring detail about Iris in the first few pages for you to give a shit about who she is or what she’s doing. If you were to look at my character notes for Iris and Amber, you will find them to be extremely detailed in regards to their PsyEn Abilities and fighting techniques… and disappointingly light on actual character details like personality, manners-of-speech, habits, quirks, style, interests… etc. I do think that disparity of detail very much shows in Silence & Vanity. It isn’t that nothing of note is happening in those first few pages, but it reads slowly because there isn’t anything to drive the eyes forward. I did find that once her and Amber get into a rhythm of interacting a few pages later… it becomes a much easier, much more pleasant read.

One of the really fun things about Iris and Amber (why does that read so much better to me than Amber and Iris?) is how much they could – with a very slight shift in perspective – be the villains in any other story. They are both unrepentant killers who act rather selfishly in regards to almost everything except one another. They are the implacable villains in the life stories of most who encounter them and they both know it AND it doesn’t really bother them. In general I wanted to avoid that sort of dithering in their personalities… at least in regards to what they do. I kept the why’s and how’s of them getting into their respective fields of work out of Silence & Vanity because honestly… you have no reason to give a shit yet. Or more specifically… they have no reason to give a shit on that topic about each other.

I think that is the most fun part about writing from the first-person perspective. That I can be sparing with details and have the reader get to know the characters more organically as they open up to one another. There is a time and a place for an exposition dump, but I don’t think that it should be used to teach you about who a character is. I’m all about drip-feeding character and world details over time… it just feels so much more satisfying to me that way. There is – however – a balance that needs to be struck between trusting the readers to pick up what I’m putting down and being clear about what I’m saying to begin with. One thing I think I can be proud of as I moved forward with the project is that I got a little bit easier to understand with each story I wrote!

All of the mechanical issues with S&V aside… Looking back at that month and especially my notes for the story, it is pretty hilarious that I was so insistent for the entire month of May that Silence & Vanity was simply a working, temporary title. Obviously, these are simply the names of Iris and Amber’s respective PsyEn Abilities… and for awhile I couldn’t really look at them as anything other than that. It would be until I was putting the finishing touches on the story at 11:55 PM on May 31st that I realized, “Wait. Silence & Vanity… That’s actually kinda badass and mysterious sounding!” So rather than tying myself in knots trying to come up with something ‘better’ or ‘more official’ I just decided to roll with it. Off the top of my head I remember brain storming such lame titles as, “The Spencer Estate,” “The Oswell Book Heist,” “Paper Trail”, “Something-Else-Equally-Unmemorable”.

So yeah. Silence & Vanity it is!

-JT

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