Thursday, November 25, 2010

Joy of Pantsing

One of the benefits of being a pantser is the joy of discovery, that occasional event when you turn around and find something you never thought of but realize you can’t do without. A character waiting to be noticed, or a bit of history that you the author never knew about. I’ve had both happen to me. I remember when I was writing Off the Map, I was up half the night with all the ideas floating around, even the title, but that was a real woman I was writing about, a real life full of raw material.

When I was writing St. Martin’s Moon I discovered many of my characters (actually, I discovered all of them, that’s what I do), but one stands out, the Communications Officer, Candace. I discovered her when Marquand, the hero, just turned around and there she was, shining red hair and alpha as hell. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with her, but that was OK, because she and Marquand both knew what they wanted.

Just yesterday another character, in my WIP Tales of Uncle, also revealed himself to be a member of a religious sect called Upwellers. Further, he brought news that the city of Querd, introduced in my previous novel A Warrior Made, had pretty much self-destructed, while the Upweller sect was in disarray and many believed that the end of the world was near. And it was all the fault of my heroes. Now I have to figure out what they’ll do about it, if they do anything about it.

Then today, as I’m driving down the road, I had some further insights into where the story wants to go. The whole ending scenario was revealed to me, not only the Upweller’s destiny, but the golden throne, the Stone King, the Barren Birth. It’s just the most wonderful feeling in the world when so many little parts suddenly make sense like that.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Back to Backstory

Today’s topic is dream-sequences. It was going to be backstory but I’ve seen a lot of blog posts about backstory lately. Dream-sequences are a great way of handling backstory issues, perhaps my favorite way, which is why I thought of them.

The problem with backstory, of course, is that it’s inert, which is why it’s back and not frontstory. Frontstory is ert. We the authors have two choices, either leave backstory in some little lump somewhere, where it will be a great weight that slows our story down (Boo! Hiss!), or we can throw our backstory ruthlessly and without compunction into the hopper of our imagination and grind it into little tiny bits, so we can mix it in with our front story and no one will notice, but you get extra flavor and nutrition anyway. Yay, flavor and nutrition!

Dream-sequences are the Vita-Mixers of backstory, although Vita-Mixers don’t have hoppers. Mixed (get it? Mixed?) metaphors aside, dream sequences are great ways to include the backstory element, i.e., the content of the dream, into a front-story element, e.g., the dream itself, in such a way that it contributes to the development of the character and thus propels the story. If it’s done right. If not, it’s just dreck.

So, how do I do dream sequences? Since I believe in general that people mostly think in pictures, it follows that in a dream sequence, pictures will be almost the entirety of the content, if not all. If I do put in words, that will almost always be dialog, most likely a memory of something someone already said, and very short. Possibly musical. In St. Martin’s Moon, for example, Joseph Marquand has a dream in which, at one point, he hears someone calling his name down a stairwell, “Jo-ey. Jo-ey.” That sort of thing. The stairwell was current context, but the name was the name his girlfriend who died used to call him, thus bringing the girlfriend (whose name–don’t laugh–is Bing-Bang) and the horrific manner of her death into the present context, where…

I have an idea. Next post will be about flashbacks.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Whatever works

My publisher’s often wondered where I get my ideas from.

In fact, it’s pretty simple. There’s a proof I once read in a popular book about mathematics, that shows that the set of integers is infinite. It basically says to just create a number that is different from every other number in at least one of its digits. You can always do this, therefore the set is infinite, as is the set of mathematicians spinning in their graves at this ridiculous oversimplification.

Stories are the same way. No, I’m not going to tell you how because this isn’t a post about originality but about rules and how not to follow them.

I took a writing class, once. I don’t remember anything about it. My high school English classes had a little more success, at least I have the basics of grammar and stuff down. But I think that’s because I read a lot, so I got a lot of practice. When I started writing, I didn’t model myself on anybody, or follow a book of style. I wrote to please me, and to get the story down on the paper in just the way it was flowing in my head. Dialog, actions, thoughts, all mixed up in a kettle and stirred around a bit because that’s what people do. Well, it’s what the people in my books do. They think while they talk and they move while they think.

So if you’re thinking that at some point I’ll try to give you some rules for writing, don’t. I have some idea of what I’m doing, yes, because I pay attention, but I also know better than to think that what works for me is going to work for anyone who isn’t me. I once wrote a dark and dismal poem using limericks. This was during the writing class I don’t remember.

I do have a rule about writing, more of a guiding principle, really, since rules are usually about doing some thing some way. My guiding principle is about doing the same thing some other way. “If you’ve seen it done before, don’t do it again.” Note that this is directly opposed to almost all rules. It makes editing my books a bit of a trial for my publisher, that’s for sure. Not even my punctuation is safe.

I hope you’ll click on one of those links over there and tell me well you think I did.