Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Aspect

One of the main themes in The Way of The Kresh is how the Kresh species is forced to adapt its common response toward Kresh that are maimed or disabled. Whereas before these 'imperfect' Kresh would be euthenased, this isn't really a sensible option after the Hegemony mutilates so many of them. My main protagonist, Jeldon, is - of course - a key figure in changing this, but to show such a change you have to demonstrate it in various ways. It can't be just a one off event where every Kresh turns to the other and says, 'you know, I think we may have been wrong all these years.'
 
That means I have to show Jeldon being challenged and then accepted by his own on several occasions. Which could be boring and repetitive. That's where aspect comes in. While the underlying effect of each scene will be the same (and reinforcing), and may contain some of the same actions e.g. the challenge, the counter and the acceptance, each scene can be made fresh and still - hopefully - exciting by picking out a particular aspect to look at the action differently. So in the latest challenge scene I showed it from the point of view of my secondary human protagonist, Rhys. As he hadn't seen this before, and knows little of Kresh society, he was able to bring something fresh to the events as they unfolded.

That got me thinking about focussing and pulling out aspects in other scenes. There are some scenes that just have to be shown. You may have scene A, the set up, which is going to lead to a really awesome scene C. But to get there and for it to make sense to the reader, you really have to show them scene B, which is actually quite static and boring but necessary. But scene B can be brought to life if you choose to tweak or magnify a particular aspect. One obvious way is to set scene B in some setting that is jawdroppingly awesome, so even if the action is pedestrian the reader can look at the pretty pictures. That's okay but gets a bit wearing if repeated again and again. The poor reader gets 'shiny bauble' fatigue. But there's other ways to polish, e.g. by showing the scene through a character that may have some emotional baggage attached to events or setting or the other characters involved. That's a good one because you're also deepening reader understanding for your character and making them richer and more real. It's always good if a scene can be doing at least two things for the reader, like progressing the plot and explaining a character's motivations.

It may take a little more thought and maybe even some back tracking and rewriting, but if you can freshen the repetitive or the mundane in your writing, it's certainly worth it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

String

I'm thinking about string in relation to the novel. As in 'how long is a piece of'. While I have the general shape of the plot that's been mapped out for yonks, I'm down in the nitty gritty of events at present, not all of which I'd thought out in detail. But present circumstances require things to occur just out of logic and I have to write them (and keep the story interesting). Part of this is due to the fact that at the beginning of this draft (which will be the first full draft) I decided that I would stay with my protagonist Jeldon every step of the way and not 'jump' at a chapter end to, for example, a few days later when the next chapter starts. I'd done a lot of that when I was writing the series of Kresh short stories, because that is what short stories do, they cut to the chase. But novels are more expansive and when I really started writing the novel and I came to those short story gaps, I had to think about what populated them and this often lead to some really nice discoveries and broadening and deepening of the story, setting and characters. It has become one of the more enjoyable creative aspects of the current draft. The flipside is that while I know where I'm going, I don't necessarily know how long it's going to take me to get there. I thought I was on the home run, but now - as a result of the situation Jeldon finds himself in - I realise I have to write a whole other adventurous episode before we get to the final part. I'm not sure how long that's going to take or how long it's going to end up. Hence the string.

The other thing about writing so fully this way is that I know a lot of this stuff is going to end up on the cutting room floor. But that's fine too, because what remains will be informed by a fuller understanding on my part about just what's gone in to making the story what it finally is. The nice part about not having a particular deadline is that I can take that time and discover the unfolding of the story as it comes. So I'm in a good place right now.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Break and spruik

Last week, I had a break from the novel, due to a few things that disrupted my ability to write early in the morning. That and feeling the need for a lie in until 6.30. I don't particularly like breaking off in the middle of writing. There's always the worry that you will lose momentum of forget where you're up to. But as I have more than 170,000 words behind me, there's already a lot of stuff I've written that I've forgotten about, so as long as I know where I'm going, which I certainly do, it's not much of a worry.

It was also nice to have a rest. But I'm back into it now with renewed verve. Not just because of the rest but because on Saturday I attended the annual picnic organised by Cat Sparks. It was a convivial gathering mainly of spec fic writers both large and small all talking about their work - sales and disasters, what they're working on, who's reading who - and so on. While it's nice to catch up with others, this kind of gathering always reawakens my competitive edge and while I wouldn't say it within anyone's earshot it makes me want to write better, bigger and more successfully than those around me. I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit to these feelings but competitiveness has to be a good thing if it gives me renewed energy for my project.

On the coeur de lion publishing side of things, X6 got a nice plug from Max Barry on the First Tuesday Book Club. I could listen to this all day -

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Characters

Jonathan Franzen was recently interviewed by Leigh Sales on ABC's Lateline:
LEIGH SALES: I recently read an interview with Vladimir Nabokov from 1967 in which he's told that E.M. Forster says his characters often take over and dictate the course of a novel. And after a scathing critique of Forster, Nabokov says "my characters are like galley slaves". Are yours galley slaves?

JONATHAN FRANZEN: I'm with Nabokov on being intensely irritated by that remark of E.M. Forster's. It's as if to say, you know, "I'm such a special genius that my creations have such enormous vividness, such passionate life that I really have no control over them".

That's a weird thing for a fiction writer to say because it first of all can't possibly be true. But also it would seem to suggest that that kind of writer is abdicating a responsibility for meaning, because what the characters do has everything to do with what the story means and if it's like you're letting the characters say "well no, sorry, I don't like the story you're trying to tell".

You've somehow - if you could do it, which I don't think you can - you would be abdicating the primary responsibility of the story teller which is to create something that means something.
Franzen makes some good points, and I am a huge Nabokov fan. I'm guilty of saying I'm just 'doing what the voices tell me.' There's a certain amount of romanticism in believing there's some external muse talking to you. But if you want to be harsh, yes, I agree with Franzen, it is a w*nk. Although there are some elements of writing in general and characterisation in particular that lead to the kind of distancing that can be mistaken for - or identified as - an external muse.

Firstly a lot of creative invention springs seemingly fully formed from our subconscious, or certainly that's the way it works for me. I know my mind is working on story points and questions at a level below my awareness of it, and sometimes it will throw up one of those 'aha' moments that seems like it came out of nowhere when in fact it really came from deep inside.

Next, when creating a character, and in order for it to be believable, it has to have a consistent operating mode. It's entirely valid for a writer to say, 'my character wouldn't say that', or 'my character would never do a thing like that.' Inconsistent characters lead to bad and confused writing, but thinking about characters as fully formed individuals who have a 'vote' in how the story will unfold implies that they exist externally to the writer when in fact they're simply aspects of the writer's own personality. Again, it's easy to fall into Forster's of thinking.

Finally (though I'm sure there are other elements in play that lead to this type of dissociative thinking), and to paraphrase Ibsen, conflict is the essence of all fiction. If I have a number of characters in my head, then the writing really becomes interesting when they are in conflict. That involves a bit of doublethink to enable the author to argue both (or even more) sides of an argument through the mouths of opposing characters, which again can lead to a feeling that these voices are in some way distinct, external and not originating from the same place.

EM Forster is clearly wrong, but it's easy to see why he might think that way. Maybe Nabokov should have given the guy a break.