I have always wanted to write a novel that starts in the middle of everything.
I’m not just talking in media res, where you start in the middle of an action sequence. Where you open the book and the first line is somebody taking a swing at your character’s head or the firing squad is taking aim or there’s a car chase and the reader has no idea how we got here, but they now very badly want to know how our main character got to that position, because come on, firing squads and car chases!
No, I like in media res just fine, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a book dumps us in the heart of someone’s complicated, messy life and then don’t go back to trace the details of ‘how I got here and why’ but instead moves forward with the complicated and the messy with a plot that doesn’t lean backwards on the things we don’t know, but builds on a future that contains the mess without being ruled by it.
This is an impulse I blame entirely on Dragon Ball Z. I was in high school when this monolith of anime started playing on Toonami. Anyone familiar with the anime knows that it had a predecessor, Dragon Ball, which was a lot sillier and based on Journey to the West. It centered on a boy, Goku, striving to become the world’s best fighter. Dragon Ball Z was the continuation, which had less people being turned into giant carrots, fewer poop jokes, and more long, gratuitous fight scenes.
But when Dragon Ball Z came on Toonami, I didn’t know about Dragon Ball. For me, the story started with these weird spiky haired guys landing on earth and a group of fighters coming forward to face them. And this group of fighters had an obviously complicated and convoluted history with one another, friends and allies and even enemies, all of whom were coming together to deal with a much bigger problem that had reared its head. And from that, everything else unwound.
Really, if you want the summation of what watching Dragon Ball Z was like, Team Four Star summed it up beautifully in Dragon Ball Z Abridged. Goku turns to Piccolo and asks, “Weren’t we enemies or something?” and Piccolo replies “Nobody watched Dragon Ball.”
And it was true. We hadn’t watched Dragon Ball. Hell, we didn’t even know that Dragon Ball was thing! For American watchers, it first only existed with the Z at the end. And so, for me, and for many others watching Dragon Ball Z, it started in the middle. We didn’t know what any of these characters had to do with each other, only the history we could glean from watching them interact, the things they said or they didn’t say. It was immensely attractive to me and still is.
It is also, however, not without its problems. Watching only Dragon Ball Z, I never cared as much about many of the characters as the show seemed to think I should. This Goku guy dies in the first three episodes? Well, obviously he’s not that important, right? …What do you mean he’s the central character even while dead? Oh, the creepy doll guy sacrificed himself? I am sure this is very sad, but it’s not like I ever cared about this character. And, come on. Creepy and doll like. We’re all happier without him, right? Are you sure we have to wish him back?
To be fair, Dragon Ball Z wasn’t trying to make us care about these characters. It assumed we had already seen Dragon Ball and already cared. Because for its original audience, that’s how it happened. It wasn’t the creators’ fault that America decided DBZ would be way more appealing to their audiences (and not without reason) and thus we got it in an odd order and therefore gave WAY more of a shit about Gohan than the Japanese ever did.
Still, that style, this idea of picking up in the middle, it has always lingered for me as something I want to try.
I picked up Sacrificed in Shadows by S. M. Reine on a whim, as I do many of my books. It is, as far as supernatural novels and self published novels go, not at all bad. If you like demons and werewolves and women kicking the butts of the above, give her a shot. It’s not even terribly problematic, in terms of gender roles and subtler messages, as many supernatural books are. Well, Sacrificed in Shadows isn’t, I can’t promise about the rest of her books. But I enjoyed this book as good, chewy junk food reading.
It also starts in the middle.
The novel’s main protagonist, Elise Kavanagh, is a demon. She has an awful lot of history, things that happened to her that gave her awesome demon powers and a great deal of emotional baggage. Much of this history impacts the story, but we get told it in cliff notes version, the details that matter for the moment and without gloss or drama. It’s fascinating to slowly have this character revealed, one incident after another. And she’s not the only character we see this happening with.
I later figured out that this was because the book is much like Dragon Ball Z. There’s a seven book series that proceeds Sacrificed in Shadows, documenting in detail how Elise got where she is. Sacrificed in Shadows begins a whole new series with Elise as the central character, while also drawing in characters from other series of Reine’s.
I doubt I’ll pick up the books that come before Sacrificed in Shadows. The things that happen to Elise are… well, ridiculously drama and treachery filled and rather rape-tastic at points. I am dubious on how much I’ll enjoy these books. I am, however, probably going to pick up her Six Moon Summer series. Because it’s winter and winter is the time for me to read about werewolves. Why, I don’t know, though it’s probably Patricia Briggs’ fault. But I like some good (and bad) werewolf lit, so we’ll give it a shot.
And I did enjoy reading Sacrificed in Shadows. I’m not in love with it, the way I was with Kyle Murchison Booth, but my time spent with Elise was fun and entertaining. And I really liked starting in the middle of her life. I enjoyed getting the cliff note version and watching her, the new demonic her which is the only one I’ve met, getting sucked into a new kind of trouble.
As for my own writing, well. On writing this blog, I realized that the vast majority of my stories do exactly what I’m describing. Especially, in many ways, the novel that I’m planning to edit this winter. I know, in detail, a lot of what happens to my main character before the novel begins. And maybe some day I’ll write those stories too, but I’m starting in the middle of her long, complicated history, with the ghosts of her past occasionally popping up, but mostly staying in the closet as much as she can keep them.
So I should probably stop blogging and just go work on that story, huh?