Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Combined Problem, Part 2: Love, Suddenly

So this is building on what I talked about in last week's entry, which was based on the two entries before it.  Next week's entry will be about the entirety of five and a half years of blogging here.

No, probably not.

Today I'm talking about what seems like the next level up from arranged marriages: plot devices that give two (or more) characters some sort of unbreakable bond, including but not limited to them falling in love with each other.  This can be instant or build over time, it can be subtle or ridiculously blatant, so on and so forth - there are dozens of variations I can think of right now and I'm sure the rest of you could come up with hundreds more.  This sort of thing has been around since the early days of storytelling and anyone who's heard more than a few fairy tales is surely familiar with it.

And, like arranged marriages, it's a trope I like but have no idea if I actually want to work with it.  Some of my reasoning is the same, largely the part about not forcing characters together.  Yet this concept can lead to so much conflict, meaning it can fuel a great many stories.

It also can make things ridiculously uncomfortable, especially if the bond involves attraction and/or love.  I can see it being played for laughs, but being attracted to someone not because you want to be, but because you're somehow compelled to be?  Up to and including being in love with that person?  Something about that just rubs me wrong.

It should come as no surprise, then, that my last attempt at this didn't go well.  Last year, in an attempt to make one of the too-damn-many things I was working on actually work, I decided to spend a month on one story idea.  The basic idea was that people in that world who bonded with familiars (magical animals) gained additional abilities, so it was a desirable thing.  The plot started with three characters accidentally bonding with each other as familiars.  There are a lot of reasons why it didn't work out, and one of them was that I started feeling more than a little iffy about the relationship between the three main characters.

I thought that bringing the three of them together would lead to interesting conflict and character development, ultimately ending with something fulfilling for them that made their lives better.  Instead, it felt like a glorified plot device that only made them all mad and uncomfortable.

So, yeah.  I'm still not sold on this one, and I doubt I'll use it again, at least not as a driving thing.  But Tonja brought up a good point on last week's entry: if something's important to the story, then it needs to be in the story.  It's one of those things that seems so simple, but it's easy to forget.  While there are things I won't write, just being iffy about an idea shouldn't be why I decide not to put it into a story, especially if the story absolutely needs to have that thing.

This has been a bit more of a ramble than I expected, and I'm not sure if I actually made the point I was hoping for, so I'll cut this off here.  See y'all next week for IWSG.

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


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.