Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Seven Plots Enter, One Book Leaves

Doing something a little bit different for this entry.  Over at Crystal Collier's blog, she recently talked about the 777 challenge.  The challenge is to take your current work in progress, go to the seventh page, count down seven lines, then share the next seven lines and talk about them.  I thought it could be interesting and was worth trying.

However, my current WIP is a mysterious beast that's affecting me in unexpected ways, so I'm not going to mess with it by quoting any of it before it's done.

So instead, I'm delving into my plots-in-progress, because gods know I've got enough of those.  I'll sample something from a significant seventh page of those, with a little surprise at the end.  Let's see what happens, shall we?

From a magical army training sort of thing:
     "[He] is already moving into a leadership role, while [she] is artillery and loves it."
This is one I'm actually in the middle of reworking, but the brother and sister described here will still fit with these roles.  The new version of this is my current shiny new idea, just waiting until I'm no longer writing a book so it can fully take over my brain.  >_<

From the working-titled Dragon Saga, part of one of many revisions:
     "The council declares a trial by artifact – she must descend into the ruins beneath the city and retrieve something from the draconic days."
Ye gods.  This story is currently on its fifth revision, and I think I've finally got it right, but I've said that twice already and it didn't work.  I really do like the plot I have now and I think I can make it work, but only time will tell.

From one of the three books I plotted for this year:
     "Volcanic craters that blaze with bursts of brilliant yellow light pour smoke into the sky.  It’s a hostile environment to say the very least."
I really want this one to work out.  Part 'The Amazing Race', part 'Guardians of the Galaxy', it's an interplanar journey heavily inspired by both GoTG and 'Firefly'.  It still needs some character work, but once I figure that out, I think it'll be ready.

From a story inspired by a comment on a WoW site:
     "This would mean altering the states of being of the gods themselves, but the humans believed it was the only way to make their world livable.  Stupid humans."
Most of this is world work, with no character stuff at all yet.  That's nothing new for me - sometimes I need to shape the world before I figure out who lives there and what their stories are.

From a sort-of fairy tale reworking:
     "There are more kinds of magic than the mirrors my mother and all the queens before her favored.  There are things that can be done with fresh blood."
Really not sure about this one.  I was more interested in it before I wrote the antagonist's story from her point of view, as she became a great deal more sympathetic.  I haven't worked on this since last year, so I'm not sure what will come of it.

From my original notes for my current WIP:
     "When she’s freed, she’ll pull out [the sword] herself, turning back into flesh with a hole right through her chest."
My original notes were batshit crazy.  This is one of the plot points that makes the most sense.

From page seven of The Book of Lost Runes:
     "Shiloh bit back a gasp.  The Lady of Chains.  Just as Edwin said."
Not much I can say here without giving things away.  I just wanted to post something from it, since I plan to start the editing process next week.  ^_^

Which, coincidentally enough, will be my IWSG post for next week.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Character Matters.

Well yes, of course it does, but that's not exactly what I'm talking about today.

I saw Jurassic World on Friday, and this post comes from that.  The movie itself is good enough - I went to see dinosaurs eat people and got that - but there were some serious character issues that I spotted while watching the movie.  And trust me, if I can spot problems with a story while I'm experiencing said story, they're significant problems.

I'm going to be talking freely about the movie here, and there will be spoilers, so if you haven't seen it or don't want it spoiled, you might want to come back to this entry afterward.

Still here?  Cool.

So the movie starts off with two brothers.  One's at most nine or ten, the other's a stereotypically surly teenager, probably about sixteen.  These kids deal with some of the story's important characters, get lost when everything goes wrong and have to be rescued, and in general do all the things you expect kids to do in an action movie.

They also add nothing to the over-arching plot and could have been removed with no effect on the real events of the story.

This is not something I should be able to say about any characters in any story.  If a character serves as more than just part of the background, they should matter to the tale, they should be undeniably significant, they should change what happens in a way that ensures the story could not have turned out the same without them.

Not everyone has to be the hero, but if you're going to put a kindly shopkeeper into the story, make sure the shopkeeper provides the hero with an item that later becomes vitally important.  Don't just put them there to show that the hero shops local.

This goes along with the Law of Conversation of Detail.  We assume that if someone is in the story, they're there for a reason.  So if a character is in the story, if they appear in multiple scenes and get character development and come out changed in the end, their presence needs to have an effect on the plot.  The movie's actual plot - genetic engineering has re-created dinosaurs, genetically-created uber-saurus gets loose, other dinosaurs escape, chaos ensues, Our Heroes bring uber-saurus down - would have turned out the exact same way without the kids.  Hell, without them, it would have been a tighter plot with more time for development of the actual protagonists who do things that make the plot move.  And some of that screen time could have been used to make the lead woman character's development less of a blatant stereotype.  -_-

The exception to this is Chris Pratt's character, who I'm pretty sure knew he was the hero in an action movie and acted accordingly.  He didn't get any development, because he was a badass who cared about the dinosaurs from the start, and that was all he needed to be.  But I digress.

Part of why I'm talking about this is because I've dealt with it in my own work.  Years ago, I cut a character from a plot the day before I started writing the book, because I realized she was unnecessary.  A current plot-in-progress has a similar issue, which is why I decided not to write it yet - I'm not sure if I need to expand a character's role or delete it completely.  So it's an issue I understand, which is why it stuck out to me so much while I watched the movie.

Have any of you experienced this, in your reading or watching?  I realize it's a stretch to call a character useless, but I know it when I see it, and I doubt I'm the only one.  Or have you seen this in your own writing, and had to excise a character who didn't matter from your work?  'Murder your darlings' is not supposed to be literal, but it happens.  Thoughts?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Characters Without Filters

I knew this book was going to drive me crazy.  I didn't know precisely how.

The general gist of the book I'm writing is that it takes place in a dream.  The arc words would be "It's a dream, but you're not dreaming."  Figuring out how the dream works and why the various odd events are happening is one of the main sources of conflict in the story.  It's also one of the main sources of my usual over-writing as the characters reflect, over and over, that they're dealing with some very strange stuff.

I love knowing that I'll be cutting out massive chunks of dialogue and internal monologue when it comes time to edit, really I do.  >_<

But knowing that the world itself is a dream has led to some interesting character issues.  Part of being in the dream is that, whether the characters realize it or not, they act without filters or deception, showing who they truly are inside.  It's not something that's said outright, but I've been working on this thing for about a week and a half and it's clear that's what's happening.

It's been a very strange way to look at characters.  Most of the time, when I do character work, I write about two pages of notes per person, really getting into who they are and figuring out as much of their past that I need to, leaving room for surprises that come up over the course of the story.  For this book, I have two to three paragraphs per character, nothing more.  That struck me as odd when I was plotting, but at the same time, I didn't feel like I needed to add anything more.

The dream world captures them as their purest essence, as exactly who they want to be.

I realized this when I was writing the first antagonist, who's greatly antagonistic because they think they're the greatest being who ever drew breath and everyone should recognize their perfection and bow down before them.  They're the sort of person who, in the real world, would hide behind false smiles and little lies, the type who would flatter people to their faces and mock them behind their backs.

Not a nice person at all, to be sure.  But there's something interesting about writing someone like that when they can't hide it, when it's out in the open, and when they find it incredibly hard to deal with the fact that not everyone sees them the same way they do.  It's also interesting when the world crashes down around them and they realize that everything they've had is just a dream, and they have to face the real world again.

I admit, writing that scene was more than a little satisfying.

The real challenge of this is going to be at the end, though, when the main character has to deal with a sudden and significant change, and only then will they realize that they've been acting as how they truly want to be, not the way they usually are when awake.  I still don't know how they're going to deal with that.  I really don't know how I'm going to get it across without getting all wordy and explanation-heavy.

Then again, not knowing how to deal with it pretty much describes my entire time working on this book since I first had the idea.  And it's coming along pretty well so far, surprising me all the while.  So I'm looking forward to seeing how things end up going.

Even if I still just say "It's insane" when people ask me what the book is about.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

IWSG: The Comfort Zone is not Your Friend.

If you want the short version of this entry, here you go.  There are dozens of variants on this image, but I went with this one because it's pretty.

Like most things in life, however, it's not that simple, which is why it gets a blog entry.

I wondered if writing an entry about getting out of your comfort zone would be hypocritical on my part.  Didn't I just finish a book starring two characters I've had in my head since 2002?  Am I not really, really used to writing the two of them by now?  Aren't they my writerly equivalent of a pair of boots so well-worn that I don't even need to undo the laces to pull them on?

The answers to those questions are Yes, Mostly, and No.  Because while I've written Shiloh and Alexi a great deal, I'm not always writing them as the same people.

All the previous S&A stories have dealt with the two of them growing closer over the book's course, with them together at the end.  In the new book, the two of them get their Relationship Upgrade very early on, due to knowing each other years before.  The story itself also deals with merchant house politics and policies, something that's new to me, as well as with Alexi enforcing the word of her peoples' goddess, which brought about a side of her I've never seen before.

I had to step away from who I've known these characters to be, and find out who they were under the new circumstances, to write this book.  And they'll only grow more when I start editing.  It was very strange at times, because I didn't go into the book knowing they would be so different.

But I had to go with it, I had to step out of that comfort zone, if I wanted to tell the story.  And it's a better story for that.

Then there's the book I started writing two days ago, which is already insane and has characters questioning what's going on and features several different impossibilities in the first chapter and will only get weirder as it goes.  The entire thing is an homage to two of my favorite pieces of fiction, but it's an enormous mind screw that will only make sense at the end (if ever!), taking place in an entirely new setting with characters I've never written before who didn't even exist in my head until I plotted this particular book.

As much as I know I shouldn't even be thinking about this right now, odds are good that this is a book that will never, ever sell.  (Even if I already know what I want the cover to look like.)  But I'm writing it because it's something completely different, because I want to, and because I know if I don't, I'll regret it.

And I would much rather spend months writing and editing a book that goes nowhere than sit back and wonder if it could have been something magical.

So that's my advice this month, fellow IWSGers.  Kick your way out of your comfort zone, as it does you no good.  Pull up that project that seemed too crazy.  You know the one - I'm guessing you came up with it either late at night or when you were supposed to be doing your day job.  Figure out how to make it work, and get to it.

You won't find magic doing the same old thing.