It’s not always clear which will come first in writing a novel—the plot or the characters. What is clear is that, of the two, compelling characters are a must.
From the beginning, I knew I wanted Small Moving Parts to deal with the complexities of life as seen through the eyes of two primary characters in a simpler time and place (rural Texas in 1958). Because the story would deal with a number of universal themes, some of which are relative to age, I knew one would be an old man, the other a young boy.
Next came what they refer to in the screenwriting business as the inciting incident. In this case it was an old man and a boy setting out to commit suicide at the same time.
The Premise for the Story
Small Moving Parts is the exploration of an existential world in which two people—complete opposites in many ways—are largely rejected by society. One a discarded old man, the other a 15-year old misfit.
The old man (Harley) and the kid (Dodger) each conclude that the control of his destiny lies in the choosing of the time and place of his death. The where and how of suicide is, for each of them, the easy part.
Looming over Harley is the uncertainty of whether or not he can pull the trigger. Dodger’s solution is much simpler and includes no philosophical considerations. They are at the end of their rope. Harley has nothing to gain. Dodger has nothing to lose. What neither sees coming is an unlikely friendship of such stark beauty that it eclipses everything else in the story.
A principal universal theme is the nature of duality and how mankind deals with it. Good and evil, young and old, life and death, and despair and benevolence. One of the priorities with Harley and Dodger was to show how they had to contend with the dichotomy of who they really are.
Finally, Small Moving Parts asks but does not answer the question: Is suicide ever an acceptable option?
The inspiration for Harley and Dodger
In 1919, Hermann Hesse’s book, Demian, explored duality and spiritual enlightenment. He interwove both as his protagonist, Emil Sinclair, an old man recounting his life as a boy from a good middle class home, sees the injustice of life outside his protected environment and goes in search of answers.
In Hesse’s book, Sinclair seeks out the wisdom and perspective of his intellectually stimulating and worldly mentor, Demian, as he suffers the elusive and fickle nature of the search for understanding.
The idea that we are all on a similar journey travelling different roads is a metaphor for the vision I had for Harley and Dodger. Two guys done with life—one whose age and bad health are closing in on him, the other who ran out of options at 15 before he ever got started.
Harley and Dodger were born out of that idea and the concept of duality. Their lives fit nicely into Carl Jung’s theories of conscious and subconscious behavior. It was the Jungian perspective on ego and man’s inner personal struggles that helped shape the idea of an old man and a kid leading each other back from the brink of suicide.
From their first exchange when Harley asks Dodger, “You okay?” and Dodger replies, “I ain’t sure,” it was clear this was their story.