Aspiring Voices is going on a short hiatus through the end of the year, but we’re stepping out on a high note with the spirited and unique Alexander Chantal. I spoke with Alexander about his unique take on forms, the scientific perspective he brings to crafting a narrative, and the eclectic array of authors that have influenced him.
Paul: Tell me a little bit about how you got started writing. Was it something you always enjoyed, or did you come into it at a later point in time?
Alexander: When I was young, I enjoyed writing little bits and pieces here and there. My mother got me a “My First 500 Words” book when I was very little. I read it all in little or no time, it was fun. Then I was given eights volumes of an encyclopedia, at that point in time I realized three things: I wanted to write small stories with the stuff I already knew, I loved science and reading was like alcohol, once you’re addicted, there is no way out.
I didn’t start off writing like most people, writing small stories on a notebook, but rather making board games with ridiculously elaborate stories and rules. It was crazy, but then and there I realized I loved Sci-Fi. What really got me writing was the Left Behind series. I was’t much of a religious person, but the story was so interesting, then my love for anime grew in intensity.
Initially, I started writing poetry. Didn’t think for a second I’d try and become a writer. A poet, that’s what ran through my mind. Seven years ago, I started writing my first story, I never gave it a name, and then my recent work-in-progress: Adagio for Canon.
Paul: So do you still write poetry or have you transitioned more toward fiction writing? What have you noticed about the differences in craft between writing poetry and prose?
Alexander: I have transitioned towards fiction writing. To me, poetry was something that “blossomed” from deep within. It was that form of art that required strong emotions, a pen/pencil and paper. Somehow, I feel that I’ve diverted from that path but gained something new–fiction. Life kills a few things so that others may be made anew.
I’ve noticed something about prose and poetry. While in prose, the importance runs grammar-and-plot deep, in poetry it’s all about rhythm and flow. Prose is like playing chess: you strategize way before you even play the game, you analyze what’s before you and move accordingly; poetry is like dancing: it moves to a rhythm, it has flow, it can tell a story just as deep as prose writing but it must moves in sync with the rhythm.
Paul: Do you find that rhythmic nature to poetry restricting? Or do you find you’re simply able to connect better with the stories when you approach them with a more strategic mindset?
Alexander: Well, actually, I wanted more complexity. I’m not saying that poetry isn’t complex enough, but I wanted a structured story with plenty of space to add development and realism. Basically, I wanted to tell a story. I found poetry to be very beautiful, rhythmic, and very soothing to hear but it wasn’t the method by which I wanted to tell a story.
Of course, if you look at Divina Commedia by Dante Alighieri, you’ll find that it’s a massive and very complex poem, painting a very vivid portrait of the ideas running around in his head. But, a poem doesn’t allow for character development to be “deep” enough for your readers to follow.
I really enjoyed the themes and ideas behind a poem but I wanted to know more about the character, be it a tree, a cat, a child or an adult. If you could tell me that the character enjoyed long walks at the beach, preferred oranges to lemons and is a perfectionist, then I’d have someone to cheer on or dislike.
Either way, that made me stick around for more. I opted for a medium to provide a story with a solid character development.
Paul: Do you feel your writing is particularly character-driven? When you develop an idea for a story, do you think of the characters first and then build the plot around them, or are their origins more in constructs to move a narrative along and they get fleshed out later?
Alexander: Yes, the development of my story is always character-driven. From the first idea that pops into my head, there is always a face to go with it. My basic plotting method is imagining the characters and their personalities, even if I’m still unsure as to what their physical characteristics will be. The characters are my pillars by which I construct a story which is most of the time dialogue driven. I love character interactions, they’re simple communication methods that can make a big difference in the plot just as they do with real-life humans and their ability to socialize through speech.
Paul: How do you construct your dialogue? Do you aim for a natural approach? Is there some intentional stylization going on? Do you ever borrow elements from actual conversations you’ve had or overheard? How do you think a writer can improve their dialogue in general?
Alexander: My dialogue is really something that my mind creates in various steps. First, I assume the personality of one of the characters involved in the dialogue (most of them being guys but sometimes I’ll take on the point of view of a female character), then I start the whole talking process (it all happens inside my mind). As the process continues, I start building a world around it, the time, the atmospheric conditions, who were all there, what I was wearing or the other person was wearing, how it started, and how it ends.
It all happens before I even create a massive unifying plot. You could think of it as small islands of dialogue, created from time to time within my head (sometimes out of personal experiences or stuff I’d like to experience but haven’t had the opportunity to do so) and it goes on till I’m satisfied. Then, I’ll unite everything with their respective plot “islands” and create the main plot.
As you can see, it goes on a par with the development of my characters. I imagine a character, place him/her in some situation, then build the world around him/her. Dialogue is very important to me and it’s second only to the respective characters and their descriptions.
Improving upon the dialogue would come out by simply taking on the role of your character. If she’s a strong spirited young lady, then what would happen if another girl slaps her? They’d have to see through her eyes the different possibilities and judge which one is truest to the character.
Paul: So your stories grow out of a series of characters and interactions with the plot woven between after the fact? Have you ever had one of these islands that just wouldn’t mesh with the rest? Are you able to reuse those scenes later or do they not exist independent of the characters involved?
Alexander: Yeah! I’d describe it as a molecule (I’m a chemistry student) where all the atoms are interconnected, creating something bigger that can be used as a building block for something even grander. Each atom has its own characteristics but when they work together, they create something pretty impressive. That’s how my characters and their interactions work in my story.
I have a small note book where I write down all my ideas. In that notebook, there are many characters that did no make it into the Adagio for Canon story. I haven’t abandoned them, they’re just waiting to be used in another story or to be modified later on. Adagio is going to be a long one, and so, the characters will soon find their place in the story. It’s all just a matter of time.
Paul: Interesting, I’ve never heard of writing described as a chemical process. Alchemy, maybe [laughs]. So when you’ve developing your stories with this organic approach to plot based on characters and scenes of dialogue, do you find it difficult to determine where to insert the climax and the denouement or do those emerge from the process naturally? What does that decision-making sequence look like?
Alexander: Yeah, I work like that. I relate most of the things to scientific stuff, mostly chemical or biological structures.
Climax is probably the first thing I think of in my proto-plot, if I can name it that. There are three things I write down, after having created my characters, and those are: the initial impulse, or the “thing” that’ll move everything towards the climax I desire; the climax, that heightened state of plot movement; and the cut, the moment I have the events all figured out and proceed on to the next series of events.
Like a domino effect. Characters interact, something happens, they all head towards the climax, and after that’s done, I eliminate some “plot-helping” characters followed by the typical, rinse and repeat.
Paul: Who would you say either most influences your work or whose work do you most try to emulate?
Alexander: My biggest influences are: Alexandre Dumas, the theme in The Count of Monte Cristo is quite evident in most of my works and the friendship, loyalty and growth themes from The Three Musketeers is also very evident in my writing; Ayn Rand, her sociopolitical themes in Atlas Shrugged and We The Living left a lasting impact in my writing method; Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, even though I’m not religious, the Left Behind series influenced by multiple-character POV based stories; Ben-Hur like V for Vendetta (a graphic novel) added to the same revenge theme, but I enjoyed how in Ben-Hur, the main character rises to glory and humbles himself before the reality of it all just like V did but in a totally different way; and finally, but definitely not least, Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, which was the first piece of literature that I had grown so attached to when I was little, next only to Little Women. That was my first taste at a story with multiple main characters (Little Women) and an adventure story, though it was a fictional novel based on the real mutiny (The Mutiny on the Bounty).
Paul: What about in terms of tone and style? Do you have any literary heroes whose writing ability you particularly admire or envy?
Alexander: Well, that is a pretty easy answer… All of those authors I named above, they are my heroes. I admire them equally, even though they are all experts at their own genre. My biggest envy would be J. R. R. Tolkien. He was not just a writer, he was our modern day Dante Alighieri. His writing is magic, and that would be the best way I can describe it.
Paul: Describe the best book you’ve read recently.
Alexander: Wow, that would be a tough one … My work and studies have saturated my evenings with enough to read, leaving me tired and bent out of shape. But, the best book I’ve read recently would have to be Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. It was very interesting, even if I was able to touch only a few chapters before work/studies dragged me back to reality.
Alexander Chantal is a 23 year old aspiring author with a unique ability to daydream on the bus, at work and in math classes. Born and raised in Benque Viejo del Carmen, in the little Central American country of Belize, he basked in the presence of his three greatest passions: technology, science and writing. Writing bits and pieces since the age of 17, he is currently making way for a future release. Besides writing, he studies Pharmaceutical Chemistry, German, loves anime, playing video games and catching up on his favorite novels. You can find him online at: http://youradagiox.wordpress.com/.