Saturday, December 26, 2009

It's a Plot!

I love characters. Not just my own, I love all the good characters I've read about or seen in the movies and even sometimes on TV (in between the explosions). And I'm not alone in this. Lots of my fellow story-holics in blogs,, and elsewhere on the web, also insist that the character is the heart of a good story. When I started writing Unbinding the Stone a character was all I had, Tarkas, standing in a path with a stick in his hand. I don't know to this day where the name came from. I had the first sentence in my head, and one day I wrote it down. Then I stopped and said (well, thought, really), 'What do I do now?'

Because I had never written anything like this before, never taken classes, no writing groups or crit partners. I was writing a story because the story wanted to be written. So I had to figure something out, because one first line does not a story make. Tarkas paused in that damned forest path for a reason!* So I gave him a reason, a small one, and it justified him in pausing. But of course that wasn't enough.

I invented a plot. Step by step, one foot after another. Question leads to answer which leads to the next question. Where was he going that he needed to pause? If you've given the right answers, you've got lots of next questions to choose from. Not that the whole story is going to be a sries of answered questions, otherwise you've got a logic problem on your hands instead of a novel. The answers came when I needed them, too, never the expected reason, always something from left field. Tarkas appeared from the ether, and when I needed them so did a lot of other characters, doing other things for their own reasons, and my stories are about these characters and how their purposes mesh, or clash, or walk side-by-side. Some characters literally appeared when some other character turned around. None were invented.

This makes it hard to write. I can't tell you what my book is about because I don't know what my book is about. I think the first story I wrote where I knew what the story was about was my short story 'Off the Map'. This is because it was written for someone, Sandi von Pier, who had won a contest and my story, featuring a character based on her was the prize. I doubt it was what she expected. She gave me details about herself and I built a story based on them. So many ideas I stayed up for two hours plotting the story. Even the name, Off the Map. Plotting was fun. Plotting I wish I could do more of it.

On purpose, that is. I'm actually reading up on it, in a book called (ahem) 'Plot'. Original title, eh? I figure it may not be enough to tell me what I'm doing, but it may help me figure out what I've done.

*"Tarkas paused in the forest trail as he became aware of the sound of voices raised in Song."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

White Christmas

No, not the movie, real life.
Although I did try to get the movie, yesterday at the library. Two copies, both overdue. Bastids.
So I got some other movies. The Get Smart movie, which I watched yesterday and very much enjoyed. Maxwell Smart was much more intelligent in this one, which made the screw-ups and other funny stuff much funnier. I kept expecting the usual slapstick and was pleasantly surprised to find none of it. The villain's villainy was made even more villainous by an early appreciation of his character. Betrayal! AAAgghh! Lots of cameos from the original series, too, and the gadgets. Mel Brooks and Buck Henry consulting. Just couldn't get any better. I also found a movie version of the Man from UNCLE that I'd never heard of. And I got a set of Wolfman movies to watch, including one I've never seen, She-Wolf of London.
Today the big show is outdoors, snow mounding up everywhere. I hope it'll last until Christmas, but I understand there's a rainstorm predicted for then so it may not. Hard to get rid of 2 feet of snow that easily, though. And it will be there for our birthday, in a couple of days. Yes, 'our' birthday. My wife and I have the same day. Makes it easy to remember.
Did a little bit of rushing about, yesterday, not as much as lots of other people were doing, but some. More strands of lights, a present or two, if I can figure out who to give them to. But I don't have to go out anymore so I can enjoy with a clean conscience.
We made two batches of cookies yesterday, too. I made oatmeal and my daughter made a batch of chocolate chip. We're stocked.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas music and query letters

Odd combo, huh?

Well, it's stuff I'm doing today. A lot of driving around taking my various kids to various places, which of course means that I'm listening at least some times to Christmas music. I generally don't listen to the radio any other time. I'm usually not listening to the radio this time either, because basically most of the Christmas music on the radio is pretty poor. I get the impression that a lot of it was made so the artist in question would have some income at least part of the year, long after his fifteen minutes were over.

And how many remakes of classic Christmas songs do we need when thet've been pretty definitively covered already? Can anyone top Bing Crosby's version of White Christmas? Nat King Cole's Christmas Song, or Josh Grobin's version of O Holy Night? (Well, that last one there is challenged pretty well by Celine Dion, but I think his is better for being lower pitched.) I wish it were possible to permanently remove some songs from the list of remake-able items, and some movies, too, but then what would the entertainment industry do, produce something original? There's no love for originality in the world of business, however much the Universe in general may love it, and even depend upon it. Production means expense, expense requires justification, justification uses metrics, and metrics need a baseline. None of which is available for the truly original. Which argues, perhaps, for the absence of business in the world of originality.

Which brings us, somehow, to the subject of query letters. For some time now I've been reading blogs about them and trying to write one. I finally decided that both the blogs' complaints and my own were the same, that a new model of querying was needed. Being the brilliant, innovative writer that I am, I wrote one. It was a dialog, two of the characters from my latest manuscript discussing how best to present it as a query letter. What can I say, I like meta-literary. This allowed me to present the 'synopsis' of the novel in a non-synoptic way, which was important because my novels' -opses don't tend to syn- very well. If I ever wrote one that did I'd probably consider it defective and fix it. Anyway, I sent my little brainchild out into the cold harsh world of agentry to see what the reaction would be, and so far it doesn't look too terribly bad. One agent requested a partial, but passed. One agent treated it like a regular query and rejected it. Another also rejected it, based on certain items of content, but not the form. Only one has suggested that the form should be made regular, so the pros would know how to evaluate it. So it's only 4 responses so far, but three of the four are non-negative.

That's good, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


I finally got around to seeing this, when my son's girlfriend gave it to him for his birthday and he insisted on watching it with us. Both he and I enjoy these sorts of movies, but even my wife, who doesn't like these sorts of movies, got sucked in. I have read the graphic novel several times and found the movie to be a good translation, for the most part, although in one crucial aspect I was disappointed.

I have always understood the story to be about Nite Owl and Silk Specter 2, the two normal humans among the group of superheroes known as the Watchmen. Making them into kick-ass super-fighters, as demonstrated in the alley sequence as well as during the prison break, was perhaps a little too much, and I could have lived without the violence. The feeling the GN gave was people out of their depth, literal watch-men, trying to live their lives in a world filled with powers far more powerful and capable, even willing, of destroying everything. The main importance of the pair was that she was the one who convinced the godlike Dr. Manhattan of the value of life. It was something of an improvement that they weren't forced to adopt new identities after they broke Rorschach out of prison. Since no one knew their secret identities why would they have had to give them up?

Rorschach also was a human, but his uncompromising 'moral' stance, and preference for destruction over a world in which evil was allowed to go unpunished, put him on a different level. His role was quite well-played, and I've always preferred his character over all the others. I wonder why they had Rorschach kill the dog-owner with the cleaver rather than burn the house down around him, as he did in the GN. Budget, most likely. I'd also rather have had the space-squid, but that was part of a plot that would have taken far too much time to explain.

One scene I particularly missed was the final scene with Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan. The deliberate sinner looking for justification, if not absolution, from the closest thing to God he knows, and being denied even that. The scene they did show, leaving Ozymandias standing in the ruins of his palace, was evocative, but probably only to someone who'd read the book. Putting Dr. Manhattan's final words in the mouth of a different character in a different scene was no substitute. Especially since the movie also lacked the Black Ship, a metaphor that ran through the entire GN, describing Ozymandias' own self-ruination.

Over all, a good flick that I'd watch again.