In Which I Freak Out a Bit

Writing a Book is CrazyI’ve written a lot about writing on here. And I’ve written a lot about the dangers of holding too fast to one type of writing. Now, in general, I do think that a slow and steady stream of words is the best way to go. Writing every day, for a moderate amount of words, is vastly superior than trying to force out a huge amount of words when you possibly have time later.

This is just a plain psychological truth. It’s very easy to say, “Ah, I have to write 500 words today, but I’ll do that on Saturday.” In your head you’ve mentally checked that box off; it’s done as you’ve allocated it to a forward date. But then Saturday rolls around and suddenly all of the words you’ve postponed are due and you have 5,000 words to get through. You fail, and the negating of all of that week’s work is crushing. Very few minds would come out of that experience thinking, “Well, I wrote X number of words on Saturday, and that is good.” Most would say, “I owed 5,000 words and I only wrote X. I have failed.” And frankly that sucks.

So, yeah, writing a bit every day is usually for the best. Plus, a lot of stories will come out like that. You won’t know exactly what to write every day. Not at all. But a few days, maybe a couple of weeks of floundering will occur, and then suddenly you understand what you’re trying to say. You can see the story there, you’ve been writing the wrong scenes or focusing on the wrong place, but you get it, and you get it because you pushed through for those days when you had no real idea what you were writing.

But you know what? Some stories DO NOT come out like that. They come out in pieces and chips and you only see shadows of what you need and instead of characters you hear theme songs and its a complete clusterfuck. Shit starts popping up at random intervals and you have zero idea how it fits together and it’s just…woah.

My current book is like that, and I’ve been trying to be a good little writer and get my words in every day. But I’m at a point where, frankly, I’m willing to say fuck that shit.

There’s a piece of advice that is always floating around along the lines of: “A writer writes…always.”

Or: “A writer writes every day.”

I hate that advice. I hate hearing it and I hate when people say it to me like it means something. And keep in mind that I just went over the undeniable value of keeping to a disciplined writing schedule.

But ugh.

You know who writes every day? Sociopaths.

I mean Jesus. Who the fuck writes stories every day? And why would you want to be one of those people? After awhile, I mean after a few decades of writing every day, doesn’t it start to look less like diligent writing and more like a pathological need to make up stories so that you can impose your will on some part of the world?

Plus what is “writing?”

I text lots of people every day. Is that writing? I journal most days and I always scribble some story idea down somewhere. Is that writing? I do that every day. Do I have to have an internal impulse to shut out the world on a daily basis and visit my fantasies or else it doesn’t count?

So fuck it.

I’m writing this book however this book needs to be written. I’m writing with music on really really loudly and in pen for some parts and I’ll write the beginning six times because who cares and this thing isn’t following any maps.

We’re going all the way to eleven.

I hate rules.

I hate guidelines.

Sometimes structure is a platform to build upon, but sometimes it’s just a cage.

Amen and hallelujah.

That is all.

Writing Urban Fantasy: Making Weird Seem Normal

Horsehead Nebula by Trey Ratcliff from FlickrI don’t always write Urban Fantasy books. I’ve written in a few different genres, most of them trending far more towards real life as we know it. But this current series I’m working on is most definitely Urban Fantasy, and one of the things I’ve come to realize about writing in this genre is that none of this stuff makes any damn sense.

The very definition of Urban Fantasy means that you will have otherworldly elements running around in the present day. Maybe some vampires are involved, or zombies, or ghosts, or whatever. They’re going to be there. That’s the whole point. And these things are inherently nonsensical.

They can’t possibly exist in our world. A body cannot become reanimated simply because the brain begins functioning again on some level, as most zombies are described. A vampire would snap its own neck due to the forces it would encounter while travelling across rooms in the blink of an eye. And, I don’t know, you can’t go riding off into space on a pony…or something. The entire genre is built on a foundation of things that are inherently silly, and yet the genre contains some of the greatest works of fiction out there as well as some of the most moving moments in literature.

So how does one add gravitas to a world where lunacy is the foundation?

Well reality helps. Yes, in one sense reality gets abandoned near-instantly when writing in any fantasy genre. As I said above, none of this stuff can possibly exist. But there is another reality to consider, the reality of your characters’ point of view. Their reactions, or lack thereof, can do a lot to paint your world in the right hue. Take the off-the-cuff example from above of someone riding away on a space pony. If we write this in a surprising manner it won’t make a damn bit of sense. If the characters are as confused as everyone else about how a pony can ride in space, it just won’t work. Unless what we’re going for is humorous absurdity. That can be fun too. But take a look at the following:

Ranger Ramone looked over his deputies, the now-safe galaxy swirling on the comm screen behind them. “It’s time for me to go,” he said.

He turned to his pony, and rested a hand on the saddle pommel. Trying not to show any of the sadness he felt at departing, he set a foot in a stirrup and swung a leg up to sit astride his horse. With a twitch of the reigns he walked the horse towards the airlock.

Most of his deputies scattered in front of him. One was trapped, unable to move or react, only staring at the horse clopping along through the space station.

“We told you that your horse is against all safety protocols!” one woman screamed in vain.

Ranger Ramone reached the airlock. “Adios,” he said, giving one last look back at his now-former crew before extending a leg and reaching a booted toe towards the “Open Air Lock” button.

Wait what are you do-” one of his deputies tried to shout before the air lock opened, and with a ruffle of everyone’s clothing, all the air in the station emptied into the vacuum of space.

That was…well that was idiotic. Even for a passage about how idiotic something can seem. And that isn’t really Urban Fantasy seeing as how we’re in space. It’s Sci-Fi of some sort. And I don’t know why the airlock button would just open a door instead of a chamber where the atmosphere first gets regulatohwhocares whatever that’s not the point.

The point is this notion is inherently silly.

Why?

Because the reality for our characters has no room for this horse-in-space. They clearly don’t know what to do with it, have no idea why it’s there, and are generally scared of any repercussions it might bring about.

How can we fix this?

Easy. We make it normal. We make it common-place. We make it not an anomaly. A few quick fixes come to mind.

First, we make horse-space travel commonplace, which means that there will be others docking (stabling?) their horses and departing on horseback and most likely there will be a structure to facilitate this.

Second, I’ve already mentioned how our characters’ reactions can impact things. Well, they should react pretty much the same way I would react to someone driving a car out of a garage…which is not much at all. Maybe it’s an especially nice car but otherwise this is everyday stuff.

And, third, I always like to add a bit of lingo. If something happens every day, people tend to apply their own phrases to the various components of it: abbreviations, running jokes, wording that rolls off the tongue better than whatever the manual says.

So lets try that again:

Ranger Ramone looked over his deputies, the now-safe galaxy swirling on the comm screen behind them. “It’s time for me to go,” he said.

“Sir,” one man said, standing stoic at attention, unable to relax for fear of what his emotions might do to him. “Requesting permission to escort you to the Horse Docking Bay.”

Ranger Ramone eyed the deputy, a sad look drifting over his eyes as he slowly nodded.

“Me as well,” another deputy said.

“Might run into danger heading to the Ho-Dock,” another said. “You could use an escort.”

One by one all the men and women chimed in with the request.

Ranger Ramone closed his eyes as a smile, just briefly, played over his face. “Request granted,” he said softly.

He turned and walked to the HDB, his team spread out in an echelon behind him, every one of them beaming as all eyes in the space station turned towards them. The line of ponies leading off into space was sparse at this time of day and Ranger Ramone reached the Pony Request Desk quickly. He didn’t have to say anything, his pinto Lazerquark was waiting, the clerk on duty having spotted his approach from across the bay.

Ramone hooked one foot in his stirrup, Lazerquark whinnying in barely controlled fury, only calming down as Ramone patted his mane. Then with silken movement Ranger Ramone climbed into the saddle. Lazerquark stepped onto the inertia stabilizing walkway, her hooves syncing to the moving conveyor belt with no break in stride.

His deputies remained at attention as the horse rode towards the HDP portal.

“Deputies,” Ramone said, his voice gravelly, his eyes looking straight ahead, unwilling to look back, “dismissed.”

And with that he was out the portal and into space. As one, the deputies all broke stance and rushed to the comm screen. At first Lazerquark was easy to pick out in the horse-traffic moving to and from the space station. But as Ranger Ramone drew further away the horse’s characteristic gait became harder to pick out, Ramone’s sheriff’s jacket harder to see. And eventually he became just another speck on the main horse trail out of the station, lost in the blackness of space.

Now that?

Well that was still pretty dumb. I’m not saying you can cram anything anywhere and make it fit. And I don’t know why a sheriff was using military language…

But still, you can get away with a whole lot more if you approach your weird moments through the eyes of your characters and make those moments seem boring and mundane.

Remember if it’s weird for them, it’ll be weird for your audience.

And maybe that’s what you want.

But if weirdness is constantly crowding out your characters, it’s difficult to let them have any real emotional weight.

Sometimes it’s best to let your characters be bored by your strangest inventions.

Your Relationship with Your Book

The Curve of Your Spine by estonia76 from FlickrLast week I slipped a disc in my neck.

This is a recurring injury that happens whenever I get sloppy with my stretches and let my posture at my desk go. Though, actually, the slipped disk isn’t the problem. See, if you were to give 10 random people on the street an MRI, about 8 of them would have a slipped disc, but only 2 of them would be feeling anything.

Which is to say that discs, the gelatinous sacs that live between your vertebrae, slip out of place all the time.

My problem is that when this particular disc slips out it hits a nerve, causing pain and numbness and general awful feelings.

So it was impossible for me to sit down at my desk for awhile.

Thus, I had an unplanned break from writing.

And when I came back, I was terrified about how I was going to get figure out my bearings in my book again. Look at an outline? Reread the last few pages? Pray?

It occurred to me that writing a book isn’t about ordering your story to do what you want and pouring words into a pre-built mold.

Writing is more about building a relationship…a relationship with said book.

It’s about sitting down each day and having a chat with your story. It’s about listening as much as talking. It’s about asking the right questions of your characters and your scenes and taking an interest in what’s going on that day. Is the lighting interesting? How does the air smell? If you sit for awhile and everyone agrees to be quiet, what ambient noises will you hear in the background?

Of course then your characters begin to get restless, they have actions and conversations that they were working on yesterday to get back to. They were just fighting with each other, remember? Or someone just fell in love. It’s time to clock in for the day and get back to that. Maybe some of the raw power of the scene isn’t there anymore because, well, you had a better handle on it a few days ago and now it’s slipping away from you. But that’s okay. Because that day you had a handle on it you were able to write it really well, and that will carry through the scene. And when you go back to rewriting you’ll have a clear and colorful batch of words from that day to evenly spread across things so that the entire scene has that feeling you wanted.

A relationship is as much give as it is take. So it’s okay that you don’t quite feel it today. Your characters will be fine with that. See they want to get back to work, they have things to do and emotions to express and you had them all riled up not twenty-four hours ago and they’d very much like to continue that conversation. And they’d prefer to continue it, even if your attention is somewhat wavering, rather than have you not show up for work a bunch of days in a row because you can’t see them clearly enough.

And it’s nice that earlier in the week you were really able to smell the mold in the bathroom in that one building, but the mold isn’t going to mind that you can’t smell it so well anymore. It’s just happy to have been noticed in the first place. It doesn’t need center stage.

Writing a book is relationship; it needs communication every day.

That’s why coming back after a break can be so difficult.

Oddly the difficulty comes about because it isn’t all about you.

There is another entity involved, here: your book.

It’s hard to get back to that place where you listen instead of force.

It’s uncomfortable, when coming back, to let your book carry the conversation when you feel lost.

You feel like, as the author, you should be running the show.

But your book?

It’s got it’s own shit it wants to do.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is to keep yourself out of its way.

Writing a Snowball in Hell

Melting by AP&F from FlickrAt the moment it is, roughly, forty-kajillion degrees outside. With the air conditioner on in my apartment I manage to cool things off to the point where water only reaches a slow boil while sitting on my desk. Around one o’clock I can actually feel the heat beating in through the rather imposing blinds which cover my windows. Shirts are worn primarily as devices to move sweat around so you don’t feel too sticky. Upon stepping outside, one’s first reaction is to squint from the sun, one’s second reaction is to grimace and turn your face away from the street where the blacktop is radiating heat like a blast furnace.

And, yet, amidst all of this, I have to create ice. I have to create snow. I have to create cold.

Why?

Because the current sequence of scenes that I’m writing takes place during winter, and winter is cold.

Sounds like a simple enough concept, but it contains every aspect of this weird task called “writing” thing that I love. Or maybe every aspect that I love to ponder.

Here it is, swelteringly hot, and I’m trying to make my reader feel cold. How is this done?

Is it enough to just say that it’s winter and move on? I doubt that.

Will the correct adjectives sprinkled in give enough of a tone to the scenes? Instead of someone “smelling the air,” if they, “smell the cold air,” will winter become present?

What about the characters? Don’t their very actions help dictate that it’s cold? Being in a cold environment produces an effect on the human body. Thus, humans standing in the cold should experience those effects. Having someone shiver, or someone wince when their ears start to freeze can accomplish quite a lot.

And what if we mix all of these? What if we have someone “wince as the cold wind bites at their uncovered ears?” Adjectives and physiology can be a powerful combination.

But what does this accomplish? Does this actually convey cold weather to the reader? Or does it only remind the reader of the times they themselves have been cold?

Is it possible to write a paragraph that will let someone who has only lived in the hottest regions of earth experience what I know as cold?

Can I actually transmit thoughts to other people by putting the right combination of words together?

What exactly occurs between me having a thought then writing it down, and you reading my words and forming a thought? This is some very mystical stuff.

It is hot outside. It is cold in my story.

And sometimes I get giddy about what I do.

It May Be Time to Push

Under Duck by Geoffery Kehrig from FlickrWriting a book is a strange affair. It is partly an attempt to psychically jam your thoughts into the skulls of other human beings using a system of lines and loops. It is partly a roller-coaster ride through your own subconscious with fears and loves and jokes purging out of you with no warning whatsoever. And it is partly typing and typing, always knowing that what you’re writing sucks.

I’ve mentioned a few times this year how I’m making an effort to avoid that last bit. Not the typing and typing, but the part where I roll my eyes while I’m typing because I feel like I’m writing crap. I’m making a concerted effort to not to pit myself against myself anymore.

The thing is, I’m also pretty sure that this aspect is kind of needed.

It’s just impossible to maintain the level of freshness and excitement that you get at the beginning of a book all the way through to the end. You go over and over and over scenes so many freaking times in your head that you trample all fertile, lush, imagery into the ground with your endless stomping.

It’s like a magician who no longer sees a woman being sawn in half or a penguin disappearing, but only sees trapdoors and wires and trick boxes with hidden compartments because they’ve been working with the equipment for so long.

Even the most exciting scenes seem like routine nothingness by the time I get around to typing them, and it all seems so dull. Imagine taking a bite of the most delicious food, only instead of registering it as food, you are so familiar with everything involved that you only register individual molecules interacting with your tongue, you only think about it as nerves being triggered and sending impulses to your brain. You don’t taste a perfectly ripe mango and feel its flesh and lick the juice off your lips, you just register “molecular compound #287” or something. Were you to produce molecular compound #287 for someone else they’d enjoy a delicious mango, but for you its just not going to happen with that vividness anymore.

That’s what large chunks of my books are like for me. I know, if I have all of my details arranged and my story flowing properly, that a scene should generate something in my readers, and maybe once and a while when things are much further developed I’m capable of taking a somewhat fresh-eyed look, but for the most part I just know that I’m shoving molecular compound #287 in your face and therefore you will taste a mango.

Which is why I think that mind-numbing typing, forced and painful and always feeling like sub-par work, is an integral part of crafting a book. It is bound to seem like crap at some point because at some point you aren’t going to feel the magic anymore, and therefore what you feel you are creating seems lesser than the grand idea you once had in your head.

I’m pretty sure at that point that it is time to stop worrying about how “good” your work seems to you and, instead, to start typing out a whole hell of a lot of words.

I feel like I may have arrived at that point.

Actually, considering the stuff that’s happening in my story right now that I consider to be “boring,” it’s almost a definite that I have arrived there.

Time to type.

Writing in the Past Sucks

Full Moon by @Doug88888 from FlickrOne of the interesting things about writing an Urban Fantasy novel is the number of doors that are open to you as an author. Of course, this is also one of the more annoying aspects of the genre as well.

For example, some part of my brain decided that it would be fun to set large chunks of Book Three at various points in the past.

Now, when writing a book where your characters’ pasts are examined, it makes a big difference if those characters are human or if those characters are nearly immortal beings of somewhat indeterminate age, such as you might find in Urban Fantasy. If I’m flashing back for a character, and they’re human, then maybe I have to go back a few decades. I’d have to remove cell phones and make TVs bulky again and change who is president and so on and so forth. Which is challenging, but not very daunting…to me…at the moment…considering.

Because currently what I’m doing is flashing back to completely and utterly different historic periods and geographic areas. And I know nothing about history. I’ve done research, a lot of research, but research can’t really get you the “man on the street” sort of perspective. I mean I’m panicking because I’m pretty sure that I’m calling the local political big-wig the wrong word. But, there’s no real way to know if I’m being accurate because details are sketchy for the area and time I’m writing about. Plus a lot of history books will throw out a title that sounds foreign and exotic, but really it’s just the word “lord” in the region’s language. Which means that the average peasant would just use the word “lord.” Right? Or they would use their word for “lord,” except I’m writing their dialogue in English so do I use their word for “lord” or just write “lord?”

Sometimes my head hurts.

Also, you know what? There’s a lot of history. And you can always dig deeper. It’s like a fractal picture or something where if you zoom in enough you just get the same picture. Your brain just rests at whatever scope it is comfortable at. So I have, sort of, an idea of what European history was all about, and I kind of have it in my head that England was a big deal? But England, in its prime, was actually a bunch of different parties and leaders vying for control and input. And those parties were a bunch of individuals vying for input. And those individuals were a constant churning of emotion and reaction vying for input…so at what level to I paint my history?

And then you start telescoping into the past. If you keep going back England fades and the Netherlands rises, and then Spain, and then France, and then the Hapsburg dynasty, and does any of this matter in Romania? Of course it does because policies effect neighboring states which then effect neighboring states which then effect neighboring states…and Europe was just one giant intersecting mish-mash with like a billion different eras. But does any of that matter to my story? Sort of. I need some of  in there but, again, what level of history do I want to include?

Then on the opposite end of things, it’s possible to write something that is historically accurate and have it come across as fake. People back then chilled out and ate lunch and built buildings and made fun of friends just like people always have. But if you slip in too much of that stuff, readers will actually reject it because it’s not all historical sounding.

In Probability Angels I had Isaac Newton living in an apartment at Trinity college. This is because all of the books I read about Newton, when discussing his Trinity years, referred to his living space as an apartment.

And yet I’ve had readers complain that that word, “apartment,” seems far too modern and that coming across it jarred them out of the story.

But it’s the freaking word they used!

I don’t know.

I guess you just use that “art of storytelling” thing and find your fine line to walk.

But damn does it suck sometimes.

Charles Manson is Ruining My Life

Adrift by Jens Auer from FlickrAs I mentioned last week, I am currently reading Helter Skelter, the definitive work on the Manson Family Murders co-authored by the DA who prosecuted the case.

It is a wealth of detail and insight concerning the crimes, the motive, the trial, and the people involved.

And, as I mentioned last week, it is absolutely fucking with my head.

The horror of the crimes committed by these people…I don’t necessarily want to go into too many details, but a pregnant woman was among the victims. Another victim was stabbed fifty-one times. These murders are just…again I find myself wanting to use the word “grisly” to describe them, but I also in no way want to use a term so associated with fictional writing when speaking of an event which very much happened in reality.

The violence, though, is only part of the general mind-fuck that comes along with these murders. The victims, and the location, also add to the horror. While the DA was able to find evidence that Charles Manson and one other family member had, long before the night of the murders, been on the grounds of the house where the Tate murders were committed, and next door to where the LaBianca murders were committed, they found no other link connecting the choice of victims and Charles Manson.

Plus, the people who Charles Manson knew that had brought him to either location originally, hadn’t lived in those locations for some time.

Which is all to say that the victims were pretty much chosen at random. Someone had a party next door to one of the houses, and so those people were chosen to die.

It’s unsettling to say the least.

And, of course, the victims were killed in their own homes and the sole purpose of the visits by The Family was to commit murder. There was no robbery taking place, there was no revenge being enacted, the victims’ houses were broken into with the sole object of murdering everyone inside.

This crosses so many difficult-to-digest lines that I get sick at times thinking about it. If you’re in a store that gets robbed and happen to catch a bullet, or you’re driving on a highway and happen to get hit by a drunk driver…these things are random, yes, but there’s a, I don’t know, at least some sense of propriety. There are other actions, illegal and despicable actions, but other actions nonetheless that led up to your death.

In these cases there was nothing. These people were killed, violently, in their homes, for no reason. One of the victims had actually stopped by to see if someone he had met earlier that week was interested in buying a clock radio he wanted to sell. As he was driving away from the house he was stopped in the driveway and shot four times.

Random and chaotic acts striking in the home, striking everyone in a home…it doesn’t sit right. I find myself, while reading, thinking quite often that what I’m reading isn’t fair. That someone has to get this guy, dammit.

Which they do.

But still.

I guess in my head there’s the notion that some semblance of forethought will keep one safe in life: wear a seat belt; if approached by a robber just hand over what they want; don’t play with matches.

And if the worst does happen, I guess I believe that there will be some string of events that I can grasp onto for explanation. It might not be much, but it will be explainable in a way which will fit the world I believe I am living in.

These murders do not. They just do not. And this has disturbed me.

And not just me, my writing as well.

I’m currently working in a vaguely horror-ish genre. I wouldn’t say that horror is my main point, but I try and let my bad guys hit hard, and have viable motives that are very separate from how the “good guys” generally think. I feel like this is the best approach to creating a bad guy that has an impact on the reader.

Only…why the fuck do I want to have that sort of impact on my reader?

What is served by me playing make-believe and attempting to rattle or scare you? What is gained if I manage to create a character that you find evil?

If you want evil, go read about Charles Manson. There are literally pages and pages of confessions and then corroboration of those confessions to be had.

There. That’s it. There’s your monster. Ta-da.

Is there something to be said for me creating a fake villain and containing him within a book? What is the point of this? Why do I put my main characters in harm’s way?

Do we as humans need to frame chaos in some way, confine it to a story, in order to live in this world without being consumed by fear?

Scares and thrills used to seem interesting. They used to seem like something that was worth bringing out in my readers. But currently?

I don’t want to make people feel bad any more. Not in the way this book is making me feel bad.

And if I’m holding back and not writing what I know to be really bad guys…then what the hell am I doing?

Writing Isn’t Always About Writing

Me too by alles-schlumpf from FlickrYesterday I started a new scene in Book 3. It wasn’t a natural continuation of any scene before it, it was an abrupt shift introducing a new character in a new setting who will, in a few more scenes, be engulfed by the main story line.

I managed to write this new character’s name down, then a sentence or two after that. Then I became completely and totally stuck. I knew nothing about this character. I knew nothing about her average day, or the color of her hair, or whether she likes to laugh or enjoys torturing puppies.

All I knew yesterday was that she existed.

That’s about as tiny an opening into a character’s world as you can get. You are aware of their presence, but that’s it. Usually you get a little more than that. You get flashes of what someone looks like, or you have an ear for their dialogue, or you know how their appearance effects the mood of a story. In those cases when you bring a character in for the first time it’s not too bad.

But every once and awhile you just know that a body with a conscious mind inside of it exists somewhere in the world of your story…and that’s all you get.

This is a terrifying situation to be in.

The amount of laboring that something like this presents is, I think, where the fear comes from. Every sentence has to be thought and rethought. Dialogue has to be held up to constant scrutiny (and generally during a first draft, anything held up to scrutiny gets pooped on). Since this character is appearing in a totally new setting that means that you’re going to have to come up with a bunch of new names and secondary characters, because odds are this character doesn’t sit around by herself until she enters into the main story line.

The entire life of a human has to be crafted out of nothing, and I mean nothing, simply because your brain tells you that it is time to switch to a new character.

Terrifying.

And so I wrote a few sentences and then I stopped, because I had absolutely no freaking idea where to go with this person.

But then I had a thought. A very simple one. I thought, “Meh, I’ll be going back over this plenty and I’ll be thinking about it constantly. In a week I’ll know more about this character’s world than I ever thought possible.”

It’s important to remember that all of the stories that you’ve written right up to this very moment have been exercises in a craft. Because writing isn’t really about typing. Not always. Typing is the edge of the forest. Writing is what you’ve trained your brain to do. Writing is constantly sucking up information, throwing it together, filing away what you think works, and then doing it again and again and again. Writing is knowing how to approach a subject you know nothing about, and in a day be able to act like an expert at it.

Writing is creating a world as an additive process, so that even if you are terrified as you lay it down brick by brick, you will still be able to look back after a period of time and see that a structure has formed. Maybe it will still need a lot more work, but it will be there.

Her hair. What she eats. Who lives with her. What she’s doing when we first meet her.

These simple things are what I worked out over the course of last night while I was watching TV. I wasn’t trying to think about them, but I was writing even though I wasn’t typing, my brain was at work, and some decisions were made. And as I made those choices, they stuck, and they combined, and when I sat down to write her today I had an opening scene.

Never forget that you are always doing two things while you write. You are, obviously, creating whatever your work in progress is.

But you are also honing a craft. You are strengthening a muscle. You are training your brain to do tricks that you’ll be able to pull on for your next work.

You are always growing.

What’s in a Flashback

Sneaky super moon by theqspeaks from FlickrI am currently writing the story of Gregor. This tale contains nothing about when he was a human; it focuses on the hinted-at-story of how he tried to strike out on his own in the world of testers. This is touched on here and there in the first two books, something about how his work became such an integral part of the world that people such as Bram Stoker were able to make use of it.

But whatever could that mean?

And, it is also mentioned that Gregor’s work brought down the only official punishment ever meted out by The Council.

But whatever could that mean?

I also have a large story-line taking place in the present day.

And I have Epp as a human, which seems like a large section. Plus I have brief hints of Matthew, Madeline, Mary, and Bartleby as humans, which seem like brief little flashes of sections.

The thing is I have no idea how to fit any of this together. I keep moving forward with Gregor, and I keep coming up with things that make me laugh like an insane person, and those usually translate into really good scenes. But I have no idea why I’m telling Gregor’s story. It doesn’t want to dovetail with the present-day story.

And the present-day story is also shaping up to be really good. But it doesn’t want to be tied to Gregor’s story.

And then I start thinking really weird thoughts. The Gregor section is getting to be as big as the rest of what I have written so far. That’s part of what has me worried, Gregor’s section seems to be taking over and I’m not even sure I understand the point of it. But, and here’s where it gets weird to me, isn’t the point of writing a good story just just to write a good story? Isn’t that why I do this? Can’t I just have a few disparate story lines that are all interesting on their own? If they’re good they’re good, right?

I don’t know, but I feel like for a third book that would sort of be crap. If this story has nothing to do with anything at all, then it isn’t really a part of the series. So I’m obsessed with finding a common thread through all of this. I have some decent ideas for tying Gregor in. But why on earth we’d go back to hear Epp’s story is a bit beyond me. Unless…again…don’t we just tell stories for the sake of telling stories?

Why am I telling any of this story?

I mean, there are tons of episodes of shows or movies in a series that are heavy on the past just because that’s the story they’re telling.

Maybe I just feel inadequate. Like who am I to tell you that these characters are so interesting that you’ll want to know their past? Or, maybe if it’s written well enough, and I find enough of my mojo in these stories, and I cackle like a madman enough times, I’ll be able to say to myself, “Yes. This is worth handing on to my readers simply because it’s worth handing on  to my readers.”

Or maybe there’s more than three books.

Ugh.

FGCU and Writing an Underdog Story

Attila by filin ilia from FlickrI love it when the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament hits every March. Mainly because I love filling out brackets.  Generally speaking, I am quite awful at filling them out. I know nothing at all about college basketball and I tend to base my picks on a mixture of whether or not I like the mascot and how funny I think a team’s name is. But I make my choices, lock them in, and then get to watch my choices live and die as the games progress.

Last Friday night a school I had never heard of, Florida Gulf Coast University, beat a school I once applied to, Georgetown, in the first round of the tournament. FGCU was a number 15 seed, Georgetown was a number 2 seed. This was supposed to be a rout, a massacre, Georgetown was supposed to walk through the game, win, and  move on.

But FGCU won, and it was awesome. While watching the game on Friday night I found myself caught up in the story being played out. The underdog against the sure thing. The unknown versus the dominant. The tiny versus the giant. It’s a common story theme, and Friday night’s game played out as the best of stories (unless you’re a Georgetown fan) with this out-of-nowhere school shocking everyone and beating a  team that was a landslide favorite.

I always marvel, when something like that happens in real life, how difficult it is to pull that off in fiction, how hard it is to create a character, or group of characters, that really seem unable to win and then have them go on to victory.

It’s made doubly hard in fiction because the reader knows, in the back of their head, that the people you’ve been following for the whole book are probably going to win. Whatever the struggle, whatever the tale, unless you’re reading some dystopian nightmare story, odds are that the downtrodden good guys will triumph. Maybe they won’t win fully, and maybe not with every single piece of their story coming together, but somehow they will win; certainly they will overcome the obstacles in their way.

The reader already knows what’s going to happen. Watching FGCU play Georgetown, I knew in the back of my head that the outcome probably wouldn’t be interesting. That Georgetown would probably come back. And that made the surprise so much larger and the story so much better. Real life isn’t scripted, so I wasn’t primed to expect anything.

But how do you accomplish this in fiction?

How do you create real worry about the outcome?

As far as I can tell there are two main point to focus on: a well structured story to fit the conflict into, and mastery of craft during the actual conflict.

A good story can cause the reader to let go of the notion that what they’re reading is a construct. They can sink in and forget that someone else is in charge and treat the story as an account of actual events. Even if you’re writing about a space war 10,000 years from now or a love story 2,000 years ago, if the characters are engaging and the story is tightly told, then the reader will submit and the veil will be lowered and you can sneak surprises in that much easier.

And good technique? Forget about it. Good technique can make anything happen. I’ve read plenty of books which have contained one or two masterful scenes that have had me on board with what was going on entirely. Even if everything else is lousy, when a good scene comes along it reaches out and grabs a hold of you.

Knowing how to pace your beats? Knowing how to describe a room so that the reader can see, feel, hear, and smell it? Knowing how to get the reader’s adrenaline flowing with a villain being an asshole or a hero stumbling in a pain? Knowing how not to linger too long so that we start to disengage from the scene? You can craft real emotion with words if you take the time to write your scene correctly.

So how is real drama created?

It’s easy, just have an overall engaging tale written with flawless craftsmanship from scene to scene.

Oh.

Well no wonder it’s so freaking hard!