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Vague 01 Retrospective

Part of the reason I wrote Vague is that I like romances and I want other people to like romances so I wanted to write a good romance for them to like. But with writing especially and romance especially it's hard to understand what's happening if you don't understand what is trying to be said. So I'm writing little retrospectives after each episode that I publish to talk about what I was trying to say, and also just talk about writing, and also just talk, because I like talking. This is the first one, for Vague 01: “Beginnings”.

Vague 01 was really really hard

My vain hope is that it wasn't obvious while reading how hard it was to write. But it was really difficult. Here are some reasons why:

It is the introduction to a romance…

Which means that the main ship (Violet & Jordan) has to be sold by the time it closes. Of course, Vague 02 and successive issues will complicate this relationship and throw it into question, but they can only do that if the reader already believes it to be a viable option. When Violet says something in my heart began to move, the reader had better go Yeah, okay, I'll bite, I wanna see where this goes or else when the drama gets thick we'll really be in trouble.

This is made more difficult by the fact that neither Violet nor Jordan are necessarily the most likeable characters at first. Violet is unsociable and pretentious, with a depressingly neoliberal mindset that leaves her with no friends. Jordan is frustratingly self-assured, dismissive of others and the consequences of his actions until after they have already had their impact, utterly incapable of thinking things through. If we were writing in any other genre, this wouldn't be a problem, but in a romance you have to like the characters enough to see them falling in love and care about their future happiness. You have to look at Violet and see a little bit of yourself; you have to look at Jordan and see the sort of person you wouldn't mind falling asleep next to.

So we show cracks in Violet's frosty exterior. We let her get flustered and caught unprepared. We play to Jordan's strengths. We show how he can listen, and hold a conversation, and be insightful, and attempt to make up after something has gone wrong. We gloss over their flaws for the most part—after all, that's what the remaining 11 issues are for.

We also cheat, and tell the reader right off the bat what the principal ship is. …Jordan Ruskin. The boy who stole my heart. Yep. No question where this story is going. Lol.

…that takes place almost entirely in its protagonist's head…

Because this is the first issue and Violet doesn't have any friends, our cast of characters is incredibly small. We have Violet, we have Addison, and we have Jordan. And we sort-of have the classroom as a whole.

This means that most of the chapter is obsessed with Violet and what she's doing and what she's thinking. We don't hear her voice until her first conversation with Jordan a third of the way through the story, and the first thing she says is Jordan's name.

That means we have to somehow get the reader there without them getting bored. Again, this is made more difficult by the fact that Violet is kinda boring. She eats, sleeps, and studies, and that's about it. We pull this off through engaging descriptions, a few handy tricks (like splitting Addison's request in three parts), and a lot of ironic humor at Violet's expense.

Violet says that she is smart, top-of-her-class, well-respected, but she has no friends, eats alone, is the concern of her teachers and the butt of her peers' jokes, and is readily ignored by others. We clever and intelligent readers understand that there is more to life than just a grade (if you haven't figured this out yet I promise you will by the end luv), and so we can laugh at Violet's obliviousness to her situation and naïve interpretation of the world.

Opposing this, awkward round tables had been placed, ostensibly, for better group seating; due to their location and inconvenience, however, they were instead frequented by the opposite: introverts and social outcasts who weren't welcome in or chose to distance themselves from the main crowd. Naturally, as this positioning allowed me to pursue my studies mostly uninterrupted, it was here I sat.

Violet thinks that she's somehow better or different than every other social outcast out there. We know she's not. That's called irony, and Vague practically runs on the stuff.

…in a literate, highly-academic setting.

Vague is a college romance story, but not every reader is going to have gone to college, and even those who have may not have ever taken a comparative literature course like Cultural Encounters or read texts like Plato's Symposium. Obviously, not every book will be accessible to every reader, but it's important for us to do the subject matter justice without needlessly boring folks.

That's why, generally, I gloss over what actually is discussed, I mention Socrates' arguments but not what they are, etc. I can get a little more in-depth with Genesis because that's a more familiar text, although I have to be careful not to step on any toes there as well.

That said, I sure as heck am not going to resist poking fun at Socrates when I get the chance.

Jordan, for his part, seemed completely unaffected. Certainly it must be the case, then, he conceded, that I know nothing at all.

Socrates is a pompous doof lol.

Breaking the rules

Aside from being a compelling romance, Vague hopes to establish a new formalistic English literary tradition, which, ironically, meant breaking a number of rules. Here are a few:

Show, don't tell.

We tell. No beating around the bush about it. That's what the entire introductory section is. First, Violet rattles off a list of facts about herself. Then, she describes for you her situation. Then, she tells you that she is in love. Then, she names every major character in the story in quick succession. Then, she tells you the name of the boy she is in love with.

We do this for a number of reasons, only a couple of which I am going to spoil here:

  1. It lets our readers know this is a romance story. If you're writing a romance story, and your readers can't tell that it's a romance story, you're really in trouble. It is incredibly important to establish a reader's expectations from the getgo, especially when (as in our case) things take a little while to pick up. Saying Hey, this is about love will help carry the reader through the paragraphs of Here let me talk about what class discussion was like though.

  2. It sets up the character. Violet is bad with feelings but good at describing what's in front of her. So we do that.

  3. It sets the focus. As a romance story, Vague is character-driven, and that's what our descriptions emphasize. Violet gives us a list of names because those names are what matter. Not that we can necessarily tell after just this issue, though.

“No pointless descriptions.”

Generally, from what I hear, editors don't like it when you waste their time with long descriptions of the scenery that don't ever go anywhere. We waste their time. We waste all kinds of time.

This is the concept of whitespace. A picture with something going on all the time is a cluttered picture. A story where every word matters is a cluttered story. Romance doesn't do well with clutter. It takes space to come to terms with your feelings, to process, to reflect. It demands openness. In Vague, we do that through scenic description.

Jordan's room was south-facing, and the afternoon sun shone through the trees and filled the space with light. His window was cracked slightly, just enough to make audible the soft chirping of birds and the gentle, whispering breeze. A van drove by, its windows rolled down, upbeat rap blasting through the speakers; then it faded in the distance, and all was quiet. A pair of students, presumably returning from lunch, could be heard chattering joyfully as they walked up the front steps of the building, their voices cutting off abruptly as the door behind them closed.

At long last, I spoke.

Scenic description exists outside of temporal space, so we can use it to show the passage of time and moments of reflection. If you've ever watched anime, you already know this. Anime does this all the time.

Its joke

Vague is a romance story where I make fun of Violet, Jordan, and Socrates for being pompous asses, but in reality the true pompous ass is me. That's part of the humor of the thing.

Its joke
Its joke

Vague is an incredibly conceited story and if you can learn to recognize the humor in that then you'll go far in life. It's just a goofy pulp love story lol.