Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What do you Fear?

We've all heard it: "Write what you know."  It seems like a lot of people interpret that as you should write about what you do, or what you've learned, as though everyone's life would make good fiction fodder.  That's not what I'm talking about here; there's no chance in hell I'm writing a book about working medical claims.  I don't think anyone would want to read that, and I'm not writing it even if they did.

But writing what you've done, what you've experienced, what you've been through - that, I think, is what "Write what you know" really means.  And today, I'm talking about what we all know whether we want to talk about it or not: fear.

I've talked about my fear of failure before, of knowing that it's possible I'll never make it as a writer and I'll die with dozens of stories that no one ever read and dozens more I never wrote; that's not what this entry is about.  In the sequel to TAW, I'll get to touch on the feeling of waking up lonely and alone, and the cold anxiety that comes with wondering if every single morning will be the same; I've dealt with that my entire life.  But that's not what this entry is about either.

I'm talking about my overwhelming fear of things with way too many legs crawling on me.  *shudder*

It's not that I'm afraid of insects.  At a distance.  If I see a spider or some other large bug in my home, I might freak out a little at first glance, but I'll usually trap it under a glass or something and set it free.  (Unless it's near the bed.  Then it dies as a warning to others.)  But few things put me on edge more than feeling something crawl across my skin, tiny legs pricking with every step, its path wavering back and forth as though it's searching for something--

By this time, I've freaked out and either shaken it off or swatted it so hard I bruise whatever part of myself it landed on.

This reaction is precisely why, for one of my plots in progress, I'm basing the otherworldly antagonists off of insects and their ilk, all the things that crawl and skitter and stare at you with way too many eyes.  I figure that if this stuff creeps me out, it'll creep out my readers as well, and there are all kinds of frightening things you can do with bugs.  Bites, stings, wrapping in webbing, crawling into ears and noses and worse orifices, laying eggs inside so the young have to chew their way out, so on and so forth.  Giant hives.  Hurricanes made of bloodsucking bugs.  Apple spiders.  I could go on, but I suspect I'm losing readers with every word.  ^_^

Oddly enough, I'm looking forward to fleshing out this plot, if only to see just how much I can freak myself out.  Bonus points if I feel something crawling on me while working on it.  How about the rest of you?  Anyone else working a potent fear into their stories?  And if you've done it already, how did it go?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Key Idea.

Yes, I'm here talking about ideas again?  Why?  Two reasons.

One, nobody needs another writer blogging about the trials and tribulations of the query process.  If I wanted to post about that, not only would I wait for IWSG, but I'd just pull up some angsty poetry I wrote in high school and let my 15-year-old self speak for me.  I mean, if I'm going to mutter about how much life sucks, I might as well make it amusing for everyone.

Two, I'm in the editing stage, and blogging about editing is boring.  Seriously, what am I going to say?  "Today, I took out words.  I also added words.  Most importantly, I replaced some words with better words.  And despite my best efforts, I can't get this book under 95,000 words.  Woe."  And then we're right back to angsty poetry.

Anyway, I too often find myself having tons of ideas and not enough actual plot.  I can come up with cool stuff happening and interesting places to have it happen without any trouble, but figuring out why it's happening and who it's happening to and what's going to come of all of it?  Not always easy.  So that moment when I have the key idea, when I find the thing that was missing that's going to turn this pile of people, places, things, and various other oddities into a real story?  That's something special.

I'm writing about this now because I had one of those moments today.  Naturally, I had it when I was at work and due to clock out in less than a minute.  (I'm neurotic about my precise clock-in and -out times at work.  My former supervisor asked if I was okay when I clocked in seven seconds late one morning.)  I wrote it down, and spent most of the drive home figuring out how to make it work.

As a side note, am I the only one who gets their best ideas when they're not trying to think of anything story-related?  This is why I keep a notepad at work.  And I've had more good story ideas while in the shower than I want to count.

But it hit me, right as I scribbled it down, just how important that key idea is to how I work.  I blogged before about how having that one idea took me from a jumble of various ideas into an actual story, and I'm thrilled to have it happen again.  I still need to actually plot the thing, and that will have to wait until editing is done, because I'm horrible at working on more than one project at once. 

All the same, though, it's one more step on the road, one more discovery of my creative process, one more thing to look for on future plots.  And it all leads to one more story to tell.

So, does this sort of thing happen to anyone else?  Do your ideas come to you fully-formed, or do they take some digging to fully unearth?  And, though it's perhaps less important than where they finish, where do they start?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hey, That was My Idea...

So, this happened:

A few days ago, I saw a tweet about a new book, with a plot summary that sounded remarkably like the base idea behind my current plot-in-progress.  I checked it out, and sure enough, this book uses one of the same ideas I'm using.  It kind of threw me, because I'm the type to think ahead and plan ahead to ridiculous levels.  (It's one of the few ways I'm like Batman.)  I found myself wondering what would happen in the future if the thing I'm working on becomes an actual book and gets published and people wonder if I ripped off this other person.  Mentally, I was caught between "Hey, they stole my idea!" which is ludicrous, and "Oh great, now I have to come up with a new idea!" which is much the same.

Before anyone asks: no, I'm not saying what the book was.  I know if I name the book or the author, and my book-to-be eventually gets published, someone will find this entry and spin it to make it sound like I'm accusing someone of stealing an idea that I had for a book I was still plotting when the other author's book was soon to be published.  I know how some people on the internet work, and I'm not giving them any help.


I know it's just plain stupid to think someone stole my idea.  I don't think you can steal an idea, only mimic the execution of that idea.  And from what I can tell, the ways we're handling the idea differ quite a lot, and will result in very different stories.  So assuming my plot eventually becomes a book, I'm not worried about being accused of ripping anyone off.

But it still threw me for a loop.  Here's something I've been developing since last year, something I only came up with an actual plot for last month, something that's been slowly pulling itself out of my head ever since I came up with an antagonist and characters and a real plot.  And then boom, I read about someone else doing something very similar.

I've never actually been hit with a watermelon, but that's what I imagine this feels like.  A heavy shock from something completely unexpected.

I know it's all in the execution.  And I plan to keep going with my plot, because the story I'm working on is nothing like the one that inspired this entry.  But some small part of me, the part I don't usually let write anything on the internet, is standing with its hands on its hips and saying "Heeeeyyyyy......."

So, has this ever happened to any of y'all?  Did you end up changing what you were working on because of it?  Or did you go straight for the petty and ultimately doomed lawsuit?  ^_^

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

IWSG: Tales I Once Wanted to Tell

There's a file on my computer called "ideas in progress", and it's full of stories I haven't told.

Some of them are ideas I had years ago, going back to reworkings of things I wrote in high school and/or college.  Some of them are just ideas with nothing more than a few sentences detailing what a story about them could be.  Some of them are multi-page entries, summaries of plots and characters, waiting to be moved into a separate file for fleshing out.  A few are nothing but titles.  And for the most part, they all share one thing:

They're stories I once wanted to write, things I look at now and say "Meh."

This probably bothers me more than it should.  I think most writers, if not all, have more ideas than they could ever turn into stories, not even if they had several more lifetimes.  More lifetimes only means more ideas, after all.  But what bothers me is not having these half-formed stories, but looking at ideas that once excited me and now seem dull.

For example, earlier this year, I was plotting a dark fantasy novel.  It had a bunch of things I really wanted to put into a story - ancient evils from beyond the stars, long-lost mind-warping magic, disturbing signs of the way the world once was, horrible secrets unleashed by the unwary and unwitting, so on and so forth.  I went through two different plots with it, as per usual, then started working on a third when I realized I wanted to tell the origin of the story's status quo, not what happens when that status quo breaks.

Somewhere along the way, after I'd put together a basic plot, I lost interest, and I haven't touched that plotting document since March.  And this isn't the first time.  I have a full set of world notes in search of a story, and I had an awesome idea for how the way magic works there affects another race . . . back in 2012.  I added that to my notes, and haven't done any significant work on it since.

I've written down so many ideas that I might never get to use, that I might never want to use.  And that gets to me.  Whenever I pull those older documents up, they just seem boring or ridiculous or convoluted to me, and I have no desire to work on them again.  I wonder if I ever will.  It makes me a little sad to think about this, because it feels like a waste.  And yet, I know nothing good comes of forcing myself to work on something I don't want to do.

The one positive note I can bring to this is that I created Abraxas, the world THE ACCIDENTAL WARLOCK takes place in, back in 2003-04.  And I set those dozen documents aside for many years before writing the book that brought me back to that world, which led to TAW's predecessor SKYBORNE, which led to TAW.  So there's always hope.  Ideas are never wasted, I suppose; they're just waiting.