I’ve been revising chapter five in my novel for about two months now. On the second draft and I was moving along quite nicely until I hit chapter five. There was something about the chapter that wasn’t gelling. The previous four ran smooth and there was a dynamic quality that forced the chapters to more or less revise themselves. The plot and the character development coincided well with each other. Then chapter five hit me like owl shit hitting a windshield.
So the latter happened to me when I was driving back from Santa Fe, New Mexico. I had picked up my sons from the Santa Fe Indian School. We’re driving to Tahlequah, Oklahoma and it was late. There I am driving down I-40 with my sons asleep (one in the passenger seat and the other in the back seat) and a large blob of bird feces lands on my windshield. It’s almost midnight. It could only be an owl taking a dump on my windshield. I’m Native American (Cherokee and Kiowa) and my Kiowa blood started pumping (my Cherokee blood relegated itself to indifference). What was that supposed to mean, I thought. Culturally, I know what it means if an owl landed on my hood and looked me directly in the eyes, or even worse: said my name. I better start calling relatives. But if an owl shits on your windshield? I’ve never had a cultural directive on that one.
But I digress. Chapter five hit me like owl shit on a windshield. I’ve been stuck on revising this chapter for a good two months, and it’s frustrating. Or it was. Maybe it still is. I don’t know, but there was something missing from this chapter. The main character wasn’t heavily involved in this chapter and it was at a pivotal point when everything needed to be directly affected by the main character. You can get away with things “happening to the character” for the first few chapters because you’re setting up the plot and characters are building momentum. But by chapter five, the main character has to be the driving force behind the plot. Yes, I know the antagonist is the one driving the action, true. But the main character at this point should be the one making the moves to counter the antagonist. There I was with a chapter five where the main character was a voyeur to the plot. Death for a novel!
Then I realized it was the main character’s fault. It was his fault one of the supporting characters quits her job (metaphoric death) and disappears from the novel (just for a little while, don’t worry she returns with a fury to throw in some magnificent twists toward the end of the novel, we must remember this is my revision of the novel, I’ve already written the novel). But he is the reason she leaves. It is his fault.
But the bigger and better and juicer aspect of this dynamic is that he doesn’t acknowledge it. Why? Because a social coward is the worst type of coward. He’s a coward. But you’ll never get him to admit that. It’s the subconscious, below the surface modalities that drives the main character. He’s a champion for Native communities, or tries to place himself as one, but when he aids in the destruction of his own community member he can’t admit that he did anything wrong. If he did, then he would have to reason he is not a champion, but a colonizer, or an extension of a colonizer. Something that would destroy his current constructed identity. He continues on with his social stratification as though nothing has happened, and all the other supporting characters are shocked at how disassociated he is. The reader as well. You don’t get a sense of how deeply entrenched he is in this psyche until he further positions himself in league with the antagonist, who is systematically destroying Native staff.
I’ll save the crescendo of the storyline for another post as I continue to work through my revision process. I’m interested in a lot of issues that relate to Native identity formation and cultural malleability in its dynamism. But what strikes me most interesting right now, especially as I work through revisions on this novel, is how love destroys the same way hate destroys. I’m interested in characters who believe themselves to be heroes but then are faced with their own demonic reflections. These characters are especially intriguing to me because they are driven by something we all consider and hope to be pure: love.
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