Wednesday, November 26, 2014

And the Plot Hid from the Author.

And now, in contrast to last week's entry, I get to write about something I'm plotting that's not going so well.

I think most writers, if not all of us, have been asked where they get their ideas.  (I always say "the shower."  It's true, and it throws people off.)  Ideas can come from anywhere, and most of the stories I've told and plots I've worked with have come from combining several different ideas and seeing what works well when put together.

Since May or June or thereabouts, I've been attempting to plot something that's really different from what I usually write.  And ye gods, it will not play nice and let me figure out what the hell it's actually supposed to be.

The story's origins come from hearing this song on the radio.  Roses are important to me, so I scribbled down notes based on what came to mind when I listened to the song's lyrics.  When I got home from work, I watched the video, and found it inspiring in unexpected ways.  I noted all the weird phrases that appear in the video, and started to get some story ideas from thinking about what all those things could mean.  I wrote everything down, of course, and my notes showed the first hints of forming a story.

That might be the last coherent bit of plotting I managed for this thing.

Since then, trying to figure out anything about this story has been like trying to pick up enormous spheres of Jell-o without damaging them while wearing Hulk Hands.  I know that dream logic will be a significant factor in the story, as it's entirely possible that the whole thing takes place in someone or something's dream or in a dream realm.  I know that the setting is supposed to be a school that's not a school, though exactly what it is fluctuates several times in the 2.5 pages' worth of story notes.  And I know that things are going to get progressively weirder.

This is the kind of thing that makes me wish I could draw worth a damn, because most of what I can think of for this story is visuals, and I don't know how to fit them into words.

This is the sort of thing that scares me.  I've planted the seeds of a story that I quite literally do not know how to tell.  How do you show that a character has been completely forgotten, to the point where the remaining characters would never mention that person again because to them, the person never existed?  Can you create a workable system of dream logic when dream logic only makes sense because you're dreaming, and would seem wildly inconsistent in text?  And what does "The ways themselves may be asleep or awake" mean?

I wrote that in my notes - it came out of my head - and I have no idea what it means.

I know that I could be overthinking this; there's a reason some of my characters think about things too much, they get it from me.  In most cases, I would just sit down and tell myself I was going to work on this particular plot, and that would be that.  Most of the time, I can hash out where the story's supposed to go and what it's supposed to be with time and focus.  But everything about this story eludes me.  And that's why it bothers me so much.

I know I can't be the only one who's dealt with ideas like this.  Commiseration time, anyone?  :P

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

And the Plot Ran Away with the Author.

I was going to try to come up with a parody of the nursery rhyme for this entry's title, but it seemed like a bit of a stretch, and I couldn't think of a truly suitable rhyme for "author".  Aside from "bother", I mean.  And I'll leave calling authors that for agents and publishers.

So!  With the last book done, I'm back in the plotting trenches, tugging scenes and ideas and characters and locations out of my head and doing my damnedest to form them into something resembling a coherent story.  I'm happy to report that it's going very well so far.

...yes, I'm writing this after today's plotting session, so as not to jinx myself.

I'm working on the plot for another Shiloh & Alexi novel, as I've talked about before.  It's a new tale*, which means some re-imagining of both the characters and the world. I've been writing these two for a very long time, and setting stories in the world of Abraxas since 2007, but I always do the same character work for them as I would for new people.  It's been interesting - developing new backstories for characters I've known for so long leads to discovering new aspects of their characters, and it's like meeting someone you haven't spoken to for several years and finding out that so much in their life has changed.

 Very tempted to go into detail, but considering how much has changed already, it really wouldn't serve much purpose.

The plot itself, though, has changed a great deal from how I first conceived it.  I'd originally thought of it as more of a continent-spanning adventure, something with a real Indiana Jones vibe, involving hunting down ancient artifacts.  But as I worked out the backstories for the cast, familiar faces and new people alike, I started to see where they would all be at the start of the story.  And that meant a very different kind of story.

There are times when I'm plotting when the tale itself seems less like something I'm making up and more like something that already exists, something I'm discovering along the way.  It seems less like the plot's not going where I want it to and more like my original ideas of it were mistakes, so now I'm seeing what's really supposed to be there.  I know how weird it sounds to have something I'm creating surprise me, because it's coming out of my head, isn't it?  But that's how it goes.

And this is right up there with "compatible parts and fluids" in terms of how difficult it is to explain to people who aren't writers.

I did explain some of this to a non-writer a while ago, about how it can be difficult to know what's supposed to happen in a story and yet not know how it's all supposed to fit together.  When the key elements include ancient artifacts, high society social events, dealings between merchant houses including both blackmail and an arranged marriage, and several different kinds of airship-based trouble, it gets difficult.  But seeing it all fit together, and figuring out how to make it work?  That's worth it all, every time.

The plot might be running away with me, but I'm not letting go of it until the story's told.

*For the curious, I did try to re-plot TAW with a better antagonist.  I really did.  But I realized that it wasn't what I wanted to do, right in the middle of a paragraph, and deleted those notes.  I hope to return to the book's concepts of the warlock and all that someday, but I've shelved that specific story.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Little too Crazy.

As promised, this is an entry about the book I wrote last month.  Said book doesn't have a title, which is oddly appropriate, since one of the characters is the one whose name took me forever to find.

The story is, essentially, a godpunk portal fantasy.  The world is littered with dead gods, most trapped in stone or similar.  People from all across the multiverse fall into the world, and there's no way back, so it's a bizarre place filled with all kinds of beings.  The story starts with one of the main characters, a guy from Earth, having his surfboard disappear from under him.  He then realizes that he's in a different ocean, one that actively hates him.  He's quickly captured by the Evil Empire, who finds people as soon as they show up and forces them to bond with the dead gods so they can serve as power sources.

Much of the rest of the book is spent freeing people from the Evil Empire and gathering them together, leading up to a final conflict at an ancient elven city, complete with one of the ancient elves newly awakened by the presence of people bonded to the dead gods.  It was fun to write, quite crazy at times, and deliberately over the top - one of my goals on this one was to turn everything Up To Eleven as much as I could.  In some ways I succeeded, as shown by the flying motorcycle, fifty-vs-three battle, and the aforementioned character who showed up in the ocean that hates everyone deciding that the best course of action against the thing trying to capture him is to kick it in what he thinks is its crotch.

I'm sure I could make things more ridiculous in editing.  But I'm not sure if I ever will.

Here's the thing: the world I've created for this book is bizarre, but in a more subtle way than this story conveys.  There's more to it than anyone in this story suspects, a greater purpose behind the place that could take half a dozen books to truly explore and figure out.  Granted, most of this is in my notes in extremely vague terms, but I know I can get a lot more out of it.

In other words, I'd be better off with a story that's not deliberately crazy.  The empire's machinations have to be more subtle and hidden for it to truly work - less Borg, more 1984.  A story about people within the empire figuring out the secrets behind both the empire itself and the world could work very well, as there's a lot of room for espionage and trickery in a setting where no one but those at the very top truly know how things work.

Also, I'd like to see some dark reflections of the characters.  A character who can exist as three of herself would make an incredibly good spy and infiltrator.  A man bonded with a god of the hunt would make an impossibly good sniper.  The sheer amount of personal manipulation you can do with someone bonded to a goddess of love is ridiculous.  And while brainwashing someone to use them as a weapon is cliched, I really think I need to do that with the raging berserker elven princess.

As I said last entry, I don't hate this book after finishing it, which is a minor miracle.  I had fun writing it.  I needed to clear my head by working on other things, and it did the trick.  But I don't think I'll go back to this specific tale.  This world is worthy of so much more than a fun, violent romp that ends with our heroes triumphant.

Besides, writing someone with a god-granted power based on Cupcake Ipsum was just a little too silly.  Though clearing a hallway of guards with a wave of marshmallow creme was fun.

I've already begun taking down notes on how to make a new story work.  Part of that will involve better-defining the parts of the world where the story takes place, so that I know all the wheres and whys and hows of it right from the start.  There's a great deal more I can do with this, and it's time to figure all that out.

...eventually.  I'll add it to the other dozen plots-in-progress.  I really need to win the lottery or something so I can do this full-time...

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

IWSG: Keep it Secret, Keep it Safe.

"...I need it to be mine alone while I carve it... When I'm finished, then the world can have it, but when I work on it, it is to be my vision and mine alone."
--from Terry Goodkind's Faith of the Fallen

As writers, I think it's in our nature to talk about our work.  Especially with each other.  If nothing else, fellow writers understand.  You can talk to them about the problems you're having, and they won't look at you funny when you talk about characters running away with the plot or how you had to go back and change things since you blew up the wrong half of a city or the troubles with writing an interspecies romance when the beings involved don't have compatible parts and fluids.

This is the part where I look back at what I just wrote and understand why I often don't talk to people who aren't writers about these things.

I'm not saying talking to other writers about your work isn't a good idea.  It's an excellent idea.  I've had talks with friends where they helped me close plot holes and the like before I ever started, and riffing ideas back and forth is great fun.  Talking with others has led to some great stories.  But there can be a downside to it as well.

If you talk about your stories with other writers, odds are good they'll ask if the story goes how they think it should go, or they'll tell you what they've done before and how it worked for them, or they'll talk about things they've read that sound similar.  And if you ask for advice, well, get comfortable.  Because I think it's safe to say most if not all of us love talking about our craft.

While this all seems like a good thing, if you have a bunch of other people's words in your head when you're actually writing your story, it's easy to feel like it's not your story anymore.  And if you feel like the story's getting away from you and realize it's because now you have someone else's idea in your head and can't get it out . . . it sucks, to say the absolute least.  As much as I've tried, you can't unthink things.  You can't unhear someone saying "Well, what if you do this?", no matter how well-meaning their advice was.

This is especially bad if someone tells you, "That sounds a lot like this other thing I read."  It might just be me, but it's so hard to stick with an idea if I think it's too similar to a published story.

So, with deliberate irony, here's my advice on this: when it comes time to write the story, keep it to yourself.  Keep it your own, and only your own; Stephen King referred to this sort of thing as writing with the door closed.  I've seen many different writers say to write the story that you want to write, and I think the best way to do that is to make sure that when you're writing it, you're the only one telling the story.  Once you've finished it, then yes, get a bunch of people to read it and take their advice (or don't) as you see fit.  But make sure the heart of the story, what makes it what it is, comes only from you.

I'm writing about this for November's IWSG because on October 3rd, I started writing a book and didn't tell anyone.  Thirty-one days and 94000+ words later, I finished it.  And I don't hate it, which is nice.  Now that the first draft is done, I'll talk about it next week.

And if anyone's wondering, no, I'm not going to do NaNoWriMo, seeing as how I just did.  :P