Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Combined Problem

This one stems from my last two entries.  It's about something I think I'd like to write but don't know if I really want to, and it's theoretically about romance - okay, it'll be about romance if I write it, but it doesn't have to be.

I'm talking about arranged marriages.  (In fiction.  In real life it's something I have trouble with, but that's neither here nor there.)

This is a trope I've worked with before, in two different books.  I wanted to make it part of the main characters' pasts in a way that would get them to realize they wanted it to happen, despite the issues it had caused way back when.  It was . . . kind of awkward in both stories, and looking back, it seems out of place.  When I started to consider an idea I dug out of my file that also has this element, I gave it some heavy thought and wondered:

Is this really something I want to do?

I don't like the idea of forcing characters together.  Despite joking about the idea in my last entry, I think that sort of thing is both bad for the story and has far too many unfortunate implications.  But at the same time, an arranged marriage is a remarkable plot device for all kinds of shenanigans, romantic and otherwise.  There's a lot you can do with it.  As I write this, I'm considering using it to fuel an escape plot.  So, like most story tropes, it's not something we writers should dismiss out of hand.

One of the main issues I'm having with the arranged marriage thing is that it can come off as contrived.  I realized this when I was trying to see how the story idea could form a plot - everything I came up with, there were ways to make it happen without the arranged marriage, and those ways often made more sense and were less likely to make the people involved seem like enormous jerks.  To make it work, I think it would need to be a cultural or legal thing, something with precedence, rather than just a clause someone puts into a contract to fuel later romantic tension.

Of course, someone could throw it into the contract just because they're manipulative and/or evil.  I did think of that.  I don't know if I'd go with it, unless the main antagonist was in for some serious mustache-twirling.

I think the main thing to ensure with this trope is that the characters involved in the potential marriage are the ones who determine how things play out.  Whether they find a way to break the arrangement, decide that they'll go through with it for one good reason or another, or find a third option, the result should come from them.  A favorite line of mine from Writing Excuses is "your protagonist must protag", and that's especially true with this trope.  If there's an arranged marriage involved, no one who's part of it should go passively along with it.

Unless it's part of their own greater and more devious plot.  I'm okay with that.

Next week: A Combined Problem, Part 2.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

NOW KISS

When I first get an idea, it's most often a Character doing a Thing.  Said Character will also usually be in a Situation where they can Do That Thing, and said Situation usually involves a Place for the story to happen.  Once I have those crucial elements set in my head, I can start building on them (and often end up with something completely different), but there's something that always comes up in these early stages:

Who is the Character going to Kiss?

Gratuitous Capitalization aside, this is something that comes up in nearly everything I try to write.  It's rare for me to come up with a cast of characters without wondering who should end up together, if they'll have chemistry, and what will or won't develop between them.  I'd love to say that I let this happen organically as the characters develop, but I can't even type that with a straight face.  Most often I'm shipping my own half-formed characters together before I even know how the story ends.

...that's not entirely true.  Most often, I know that the story ends with them together in some way, because I can't stand tragic romances.  Anyway.

For me, a lot of this probably comes from writing the same couple over and over again.  When it's inevitable that two characters will get together, it gets easy to make that part of the planning process for every story.  In one of my plots-in-progress, I realized that there was no romance, and immediately started wondering if the main character should get together with someone.  When I determined there was no one suitable, I thought about changing one of the other significant characters to make them a better romantic foil.

I don't think that's how it's supposed to work.  The characters should define the romance, not the other way around.  Otherwise it ends up feeling forced or problematic.  And I'd really like to avoid that kind of thing.

Realizing that this is how I approach romance has me reconsidering a lot of things.  I had some romantic threads to pull in another plot-in-progress, but as I (struggle to) develop that one, the more I work on it the more I wonder if that's how it's actually going to turn out.  What seemed natural for the characters now seems contrived, and I can't tell if it'll turn out the way I imagined.  I'm a little disappointed, as losing this romance means I wouldn't get to write a sex scene that's both very touching and rather unconventional, but I've sent enough of this story to the cutting room floor, what's one more bit.

(No, I'm not going into detail on the sex scene.  It comes purely from the characters, and without knowing them and what they've had to deal with, it would just seem strange.)

Anyway.  I am absolutely certain that I'm not the only one here who's dealt with this sort of thing.  So how do you deal with it?  Do you ship your characters before you've even written them?  And have your characters ever refused to get together?

Next week: problematic plot elements.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

What Aren't You Writing?

No, this isn't just a cheap excuse for me to say "EVERYTHING" and have another really short blog entry.  :P  This is something I've been thinking about for a while.

I do a lot of plotting, when things are going well.  (When they're not, well... look back over about 70% of this year's entries.)  There are common threads that show up in a lot of my plots, mostly in the form of a few favorite tropes - things and themes I like to return to, whether I've really worked with them or not.  Sometimes they work with what I have planned for the story, while other times, I have to either strip them out or not add them in the first place.

After seeing this pattern, I asked myself: these themes are clearly what I want to write, yet I keep putting them in as part of the background.  Why am I not writing a story that focuses on them?

Since I'll need an example for this, a big one for me is the Cosmic Horror Story.  There's something about the overwhelming darkness of the universe and the horrors that dwell within it that appeals to me, and I've never been sure why.  Themes from that show up in a lot of my plots, but I haven't put any real work into a story that makes them the focus.  The closest I've come was way back in my second book, which dealt with a dark, corruptive god as the big bad behind the actual antagonists.

I've never gone back to that story because I pantsed that book and ye gods, it was a mess.  But something about that darkness has stuck with me ever since.

I know that "write what you want to write" is one of the big pieces of advice we writers get; I think we've all been hearing it for years.  But when I started thinking about this, it struck me as interesting to have something that I clearly want to write but never have.  There are, of course, bits and pieces in my idea file that could count as this type of story.  One is a seriously warped take on an old fairy tale that is entirely Loni's fault.  :P  And yet, I never do much work on these ideas, even the ones that intrigue me the most.

After spending some time thinking on it, I think I figured it out: I like happy endings.  And stories like this are largely meant to end in pain, despair, insanity, and/or death.  Most cosmic horror stories I've read are like that, and while it works for the genre, it's hard for me to think of stories that don't end without at least a little happiness.  So I suppose it's easier for me to work with some of the themes and ideas from the trope, rather than going full doom and gloom.

Though I might have to try that someday, just to see if I can do it.

So, what about the rest of you?  Are there themes that pop up in a significant amount of what you write?  Is there a genre or something like that in which you'd like to write but don't?  And do you know why there are things that you aren't writing?

Next week: NOW KISS

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

IWSG: One Good Thing


I had one good thing happen this week:
Naturally, it didn't last; I haven't done a thing since then.  But it's the one thing I've got, and I'm sticking to it, since everything else lately has been the same shit as the rest of this year.  I'm overworked and exhausted and I feel like hell when I don't get any writing done but I damn sure don't feel like doing anything after yet another ten-hour workday.

Hope everyone else out there is doing better than me.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Short Fiction: Princess, take 2

The last one of these didn't quite work for me, and I couldn't figure out why.  So over the past few weeks, when I've felt like working on anything, I spent some time working on the character, and I think I've got a better hold of her.  I had to throw out a big chunk of her background, but I think she's a lot better for it.  I mean, what makes for a more interesting character - one who was locked away for millennia, or one who spent all that time fighting to stay alive?

So, without further ado, here's the second take on writing for Princess, or as I call it, "The Right Side of a Conversation":

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Attachment to Detail

"I got a lot of good ideas!  Trouble is, most of 'em suck."  --George Carlin

For once, I'm actually not being down on myself with that line.  (Mark your calendars.)  But it's the first quote that came to mind when I started thinking about this.  I do have a lot of good ideas, and the problem isn't that most of them suck.

The problem is that I want to keep all of them.

Most of my early creative process consists of throwing a whole lot of stuff against the metaphorical wall, then trying to sift through everything that's on the wall until I can figure out what's going to stick and what's not.  (It also consists of abusing the hell out of the wall metaphor.)  But no matter how many times I do this, or how many things I come up with while I'm trying to figure out what a story's really about, the same thing always happens: I have stuff that I really want to keep, but it doesn't work with the rest of the story.

Too much of the time, that moment is the one really cool idea that started the whole thing.  So once I've figured out what the story is really about, I still want that thing to happen, but odds are good I've bent some part of the plot into a pretzel trying to accommodate it.

Everything would work better if I didn't need that scene.  Or that aspect of that character.  Or that bit of world-building that's going to be much fun to work with.

I found the phrase 'attachment to detail' in an update for a game I've supported on Kickstarter, and it stuck with me, because I realized it's something I'm stuck on.  It is really hard for me to leave story stuff behind.  And I can see how this has caused me problems in the past - book #13, The Book of Lost Runes, ended up feeling like I mashed two stories together because it changed so much in development but I couldn't give up the original concept.  As much as I once liked it (clearly I must have, as I sent out nearly a hundred query letters), I can now see that I should have reworked it to go with one major concept instead of trying to blend the two together.

As proof that knowing a problem doesn't means solving a problem, this is giving me trouble even now.  The main plot-in-progress that I'm trying to get to work has hit a wall and I think a lot of it is because my original concept for one of the three main characters just doesn't work.  So I'm trying to figure out how to re-conceptualize her and seeing how the story's going to change, and . . . and I don't know what to do with it anymore.  And it just starts to fall apart.

So in not knowing what to throw away, or sometimes how to throw it away, I can end up losing everything.  This is nothing new, but still.

As usual, I now ask: what about the rest of you?  How much do you stick to your original ideas?  Are you good at getting rid of what doesn't work?  And how much do your stories change from your first concepts to the final piece?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Comfort Writing

Once in a while, someone asks me why I don't have dessert foods in my house.  My answer is a simple one - "I'd eat them."  Sweets are a major comfort food for me, and a big part of the reason my weight has stayed largely the same for years is that I don't keep that sort of food around and I only bake when it's for others.

Which is kind of a shame sometimes, because I make some damn good pies.

Anyway, the idea of comfort food fits with something I discovered when I was looking through my idea file.  I found a story idea I'd largely forgotten about (yes, I wrote it down so I wouldn't have to remember it), partly inspired by a song and set in a place I thought up long ago.  I started wondering if I could make something of this, and then I ran into something that made me stop, blink, and sigh.

I'd noted that this idea could be yet another attempt to write two characters I've written as the lead couple of seven different books.  They've been through multiple names and incarnations, many of which I've talked about here, and I set them aside about two years ago, figuring I needed to write some other people.

This made me wonder if trying to write something with them, yet again, might actually be a good thing.

As anyone who's read this blog over the past few months can tell, I'm not in a good place with my writing.  I've gone from not being able to make plots-in-progress work, to getting frustrated with everything and closing my documents after less than five minutes, to not even trying to write or plot anything.  So the idea of writing some characters I know well, in a world that's been in my head since 2003, has a certain appeal.

This, I think, is a kind of comfort writing.  When everything else is too damn difficult, fall back on something that I know works, something I can hash out without getting frustrated.  Because it's better to work on something than nothing, right?

Granted, I still don't know if I'm going to pursue this; I looked over the notes when I was tired and frustrated and I know better than to make decisions when I feel like that.  And the story notes are a rough collection of vague ideas that I'd need to filter down to a single concept to make a story out of it.  But there's potential there, and it's been a long time since I wrote in an academic setting.  Also, a possible title for this thing was "Thesis Papers and Magic Vapors", which is kind of funny but suggests entirely wrong things about the story.  I probably won't use it, but I had to share it.

To be fair to myself, this might be a non-issue.  I've managed to take down some notes on other projects recently and I feel like my enthusiasm and desire to get to work is slowly coming back.  So we'll see how it goes.

So, what about the rest of you?  Do you have things in your writing that you fall back on when it gets difficult?  What would your comfort writing be?  And is it Thanksgiving yet?  Because I kind of want to make a pie.