Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I Can't Tell if this Experiment Failed or Not.

"I think people who create and write, it actually does flow - just flows from into their head, into their hand, and they write it down.  It's simple."  --Paul McCartney

I tried an experiment this weekend.  I have two very different stories I've been working on; both have been in the plotting stages for quite some time.  I don't want to work on the sequel to Skyborne until I actually sell that one, so that left me trying to figure out which story to work on next.

One, whose title abbreviates to OOTA, is this weird sort of urban science fantasy that starts with what seems to be an alien invasion but turns out to be a great deal more.  The other, which has no suitable title but gets abbreviated as GB, can best be described as 'godpunk', a word I'm not sure even exists.

So I decided the best way to figure out what to write next was to write the first chapter of each book.  This took some time to start.  Starting a new book is intimidating enough on its own.  Trying to start two of them at once?  Yeah.  Much worse.  And I'm not quite sure yet how to define the results.

Starting OOTA was difficult and shaky, as I had to describe a city I haven't been to since 2001, and had to deal with a character who's been through several incarnations, this one different in some significant ways.  And of course, I didn't realize until today that the reason it was so difficult was that I'd failed to put on the music I'd already determined would be this book's main CD.  (Yes, I have music specifically for different books.  The entirety of Skyborne's final section was written to U2's "The Joshua Tree" double CD set.)  Editing it to that CD helped smooth out some of the rough patches, and I think I'm close to finding the right voice.

Starting GB, though. . . .  It's been a long time since I wrote and felt like a story was fighting its way out of my head and onto the page.  Things I hadn't defined in the plot just happened as I wrote, and it all made perfect sense.  I spent the entire writing session feeling like I was trying to keep up with the story, and by the time I was done, I was sweaty and exhausted.  (Though I blame the sweat on the fact that I live in a desert and it's 80 degrees at night nowadays.)  I haven't edited it yet partly because I don't want to see if I was wrong about it, and partly because I'm not sure if I want to see if I was right.

The thing is, I'm hesitant to get started on GB because it's plotted as the first part of a trilogy, while OOTA is stand-alone but intended to be part of a much longer series.  If I wrote the first part of GB, I know I'd want to write the rest.  And as a good friend of mine once told me, you know you want to write the story that makes it seem like the Muse has you by the short and curlies.  (This hits closer to home than I care to explain.)  I know that's how it is with GB. But at the same time, damn, now that I've started on OOTA, I really want to work on it as well.

I'm sure I'll figure this out eventually, just had to get this out because I'm not the only one who's had this issue, and I can always use the advice.

I'd flip a coin, but I have this unfortunate tendency to catch flipped coins on their edge.

Monday, June 18, 2012

On Love Triangles, Again. (Sort of.)

"If you love two people at the same time, choose the second one.  Because if you really loved the first one, you wouldn't have fallen for the second."  --Johnny Depp

This post's inspiration, and the quote, come from a post in Juliana Haygert's blog about love triangles.  Reading what she wrote there made me realize I had a few things to say about it myself.  Oddly enough, she has a quote from me in there, so there's some odd circle of inspiration thing going on.  Anyway.

I've never actually written a love triangle, though I've read several; I didn't realize how many until I looked over my bookshelf and started counting.  Of the two that stick out most in my mind, one is a fairly standard "guy must choose between two women he has feelings for", while the other is a bit more interesting, seeing as how one of the guys doesn't realize he's in a love triangle at all.  In both cases, these are complex situations that take fourteen volumes (each) to get set straight, but they lead into the real point:

The love triangle should not be the entire story.

In both of the series, there's a great deal more going on than the person-in-between trying to figure out who they should choose.  Because of that, we get actual stories, not just love triangles.  And seeing as how these are rather long stories, believe me, I would have lost interest long before they finished if they were nothing more than "Who should I choose?  Who do I really love?"

I understand that things don't always go as expected, especially when writing.  I think most, if not all, writers have experienced that weird moment when a character does or thinks or feels something that wasn't in the plan.  Something that makes the writer step back for a second and say "Wait, what just happened?"  And it makes a lot of sense that love triangles in stories can start in this way.  Chemistry between characters is a funny thing, and it can take as little as two characters meeting to change everything.  This happened with earlier incarnations of the two main characters of Skyborne; one's utterly unexpected reaction to the other's flirting made me realize they had to get together by the end, and they've ended up together in every version of them I've written.

But I've heard of stories wherein a character who seemed set to be with one person suddenly finds someone else dancing about in unexpected parts of their mind.  The story is suddenly about that character figuring out their feelings.  Boatloads of angst ensue, and whatever the character was working toward before, it's no longer important.  This would be when I put the book down.  As much as I like a good love story, the book will lose me if I'm waiting for a character to get their head right, pick a person (or both, if that works) and get on with the plot.

The story I'm currently plotting has a ton of possibilities for romantic entanglements between the characters.  Imagining them is a hell of a lot of fun, and responsible for the random fits of giggling my co-workers are used to hearing from me.  But no matter how much I'll enjoy seeing how they all bounce off of each other and who ends up with who, I know that's not the whole story.  Not the real story.  And not the reason I'm telling the story.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Girls and Boys

Music for this entry. Video is possibly NSFW. Video is definitely strange in that way only music videos from the 80s can be.

Like a lot of writers, I get my best ideas when I'm not writing; in my own case, when I'm not sitting in front of a computer. I actually get my best ideas in the shower, which has led to more jokes than I can count, but I digress.  While trying to keep myself distracted during yesterday's workout, I started trying to figure out what the main characters of George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series (and/or "Game of Thrones" on HBO) would be like if they'd been born the opposite gender.

This turned out to be really interesting.  Women and men are treated very, very differently in these books, so I tried to determine the characters' core personality traits and see how those would have worked out under a different set of societal expectations and vastly varied circumstances.  After considering various characters for a good fifteen minutes, I realized that being born a different gender would have changed everyone's situation completely.

And then I started to wonder: for the books I'm working on now, what would they be like if I gender-swapped my own characters?

It's not something I could do with Skyborne; I've been writing the two main characters for ten years and I can't see either of them as men.  But other characters are considerably more malleable.

One book I'm plotting, the aforementioned OOTA, also has characters I've been working with for a while, but I've tried to get their story to work so many ways that switching their genders isn't difficult. For some of them, it would work; their backgrounds and personalities aren't tied to whether they're men or women. The abilities they gain might be seen in drastically different ways, though. I'd be less vague but I haven't nailed down those abilities yet. What's really strange is that, while two characters as they currently are might end up romantically involved in the story, when I switched their genders I couldn't see it happening between them at all. A day later, I'm still trying to figure this out.

After thinking on it further, I remembered this isn't new to me after all.  In a trilogy I've plotted out, I realized partway through that most of the characters were male, and all of the antagonists were men.  So with a quick find-and-replace, Nathan became Nadine, which put a considerably different (and less bearded) face on the empire Our Heroes are working against. While the empire's ruler is still male, having a high-ranking female officer leading attacks and recovering valuable items changed things over the course of plotting.

I have to admit, I'm not sure how to put into words just how it changed things. Gender dynamics is a tricky business, and it's nigh-impossible to discuss such things without walking into a landmine of stereotypes and societal expectations.  But I think it's also nigh-impossible, or at least very difficult, to say a character's gender doesn't matter.  Even more so to write a character so their gender doesn't matter.

Either way, I think this is a really interesting exercise and I'd recommend anyone in a book's plotting stages gives it a shot. I realized some things about my characters I never would have otherwise, who knows what you'll find out?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Let's talk about Sex... Scenes

"You are not writing a sex scene. You are writing intimacy that reveals the character." ... "The reason you take characters into bedroom is because there are things that can't be revealed anywhere else."  --ZA Maxfield

Despite having those quotes ready, I wasn't originally planning on writing an entry about sex scenes today.  Then I realized that, if all goes well with the little story I'm working on tonight, I'll be writing a sex scene tomorrow.  So let's talk.

Part of the reason I like those quotes so much is that they're the best way to approach sex scenes I've ever read.  I don't think such scenes should be gratuitous, done just to titillate the reader or (gods forbid) just to keep them reading.  If your characters are going to have sex, there should be reasons behind it based in their characterization and the plot.  Otherwise, really, what's the point?  There was a time when I thought about including a sex scene in the final part of Skyborne, but I deleted that sentence from the plot not long after writing it, because it didn't serve any real purpose.  I thought it would show how far the main character had come over the course of her story, but as it turned out, a rather intimate conversation did the job just as well.

...my computer's MP3 player is now playing Garbage's "Sleep Together".  I knew this thing had a sick sense of humor.

I think what's most important about a sex scene shouldn't be that the characters are having sex, but why.  It seems obvious, but it's also something I'd never seen discussed or even mentioned until I found the above quotes.  It should be important, not necessarily a pivotal moment but something that leads to a change in the character(s) or the plot itself.  In other words, it should be just like any other part of the story.

Years ago, I was talking about writing with my dad (he's not a writer, but he builds bicycles in his basement with fire and steel, and that's cool too), and he told me about an interview he'd read with a writer.  I don't remember the author now, but what he said stuck with me: everything that happens needs to advance the plot.  Every scene, every conversation, every action.

Even if the conversation is limited to grunts and other assorted noises and the action can't be shown on network TV.

Looking back at my bookshelves, there's only a handful of volumes there that have sex scenes in them, and in most, they serve the purposes I've discussed here.  Those scenes show things about characters that wouldn't appear otherwise.  Those scenes represent changes, turning points, breaking with the old and joining with the new.  Above all, they are essential parts of those stories.  I hadn't really thought it before, but that's definitely part of why those books have their places on my shelves.

A final note: the lead character in Skyborne, Shiloh, floats above whatever solid surface is beneath her and has never touched the ground.  I've been asked what her sex life is like more than anything else about her.  Seriously.