When suddenly, it all makes sense

My writing has been on hold while I try to untangle the vast reserves of ideas I have. I needed to put everything in place for this story, because it’s been years since I worked on it, and despite knowing the general plot, I never came up with too many specifics. Ahh, the days of literally making it up as I went.

I have been sorting and compiling ideas for a couple of weeks now. It feels like forever, and I’m an impatient sort. I’d prefer to be writing than planning and plotting, but I can recognise that one must come before the other. Little ideas, big ideas, strange notions that don’t seem to fit into this story have all been running through my head. For a while there, I intentionally avoided even thinking of any of it, because I was getting so frustrated at how none of it was slotting together nicely.

Then yesterday, it clicked. The parts fell into place. Even the weird things that I didn’t think were relevant to this story had a specific and important role to play.

I don’t know how any of this works. It’s some kind of function my brain has had for as long as I can remember. I could attribute it to a wild imagination or half a lifetime of practice in writing, but that doesn’t encompass the fullness of how stories sometimes just “work”. After all that struggling with ideas, after all those days of just giving up trying to put the crazy jigsaw together myself, I can finally see the full picture and why those ideas were connected at all.

Does this mean I’m back into writing immediately? Not quite. I can see it all, but I still need a little time to percolate this as a whole. I’ll probably start by putting down a plot outline with all the major and minor events I’ve already decided on. From there, I think I will be able to fashion something like a story out of it. I have a pretty great feeling about this work. This is going to be fun.

~A

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Family influences

Something I came across recently had the opinion that people get a lot of their passions in life from family influences. For instance, if you attend sports games as a child with a parent, you will associate fond memories and excitement with that sport. The love for that game is passed down to the next generation, and then when that person has children, they will repeat the process: take the kids to the ballgame, because they have great memories, and they want to share those experiences with their own offspring.

As with most subjects, I immediately twisted the concept and wondered just how much our family impacts our writing. I know that I got a lot of my love for reading from my parents and other extended family members. I have those kinds of great memories of my grandparents taking me to the library and being allowed to choose any book I wanted to borrow. Of reading the same story every night with my mother. Of my father taking me to buy books from the second hand bookstore every time I ran out of new things to read in his house. Those are important parts of my childhood, and if I had children, I would want to do those things with them as well.

Some people didn’t have the same exposure to books and reading through their family as I did. There are plenty of folks out there who came across their love of literature from a friend, a teacher, or just happenstance as they went through their lives.

And then I wonder if the genre we write is an extension of these influences. I can definitely say that I was exposed pretty early to horror (dad-approved reading of Stephen King before I was a teen), and I was raised on fantasy in ways I can’t even begin to describe. Was I set up to become exactly what I am, or did my taste and talent coincide from such an early age? There’s no definite answer to that, but it sure makes me curious about the experiences of other writers and how much correlation they can see between their upbringing and their stories.

A final note: I’m sorry this is a couple of days late! I’ve been busy with jewellery stuff over at The Dragon’s Hoard.

~A

Changes over time

The more you practice, the better you get, right? I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, not in such simple terms. Certainly, you get more practiced the longer you are doing something, but does it really result in improvements?

Even with the knowledge that personal taste is a huge part of any judgement, I know of artists who have a career that spans many years and shows some kind of decline the longer they work in their field. With some graphic artists, the changes often show they have fallen into a simple, easy-to-repeat style. They simplify so they can keep producing their work. This is a kind of improvement; they are now more streamlined and capable of fulfilling their obligation to draw frequently. But it doesn’t make it better, artistically.

In that vein, some authors are so prevalent with their writing, you can see when they fall into a rhythm, a method to continue putting forth their creations with such astounding frequency. They work for years and keep writing, and even if you’re still entertained by their work, they have found ways to simplify and streamline, perhaps sacrificing something important along the way.

Maybe it’s the compulsive, habitual nature of humans that makes even artists fall back on something that’s almost uncreative in its repetition. Or perhaps some people just fixate on a specific style and consciously aim to recreate that, as their “tried and true” method. Or, heaven forbid, maybe we’re all only capable of producing our work in a limited number of ways, and it’s just when you’re able to see a large collection that it becomes evident.

These people are all very well practiced, and I’m sure they are very happy with the progression of their skill, but it doesn’t always work out better, as far as I can see. I have even noted in my own writing, new things might be put together with better skill, yet lack in some kind of special soul that an older work captured. At least I can put that down to most of it being unfinished, still in the process of becoming something better, becoming the attractive finished product.

I don’t like the idea of stagnation. I see patterns in my work, certainly, but I can only hope that there’s no decline in the quality just because I find ways to “improve” over time.

~A

A line between fiction and reality

Before I threw myself headlong into other projects, I strongly considered going back and finishing my romance novel, known as FiA. But I have a rather significant concern surrounding that story, and haven’t quite been able to work on it.

In its simplest form, the setting for FiA is natural disaster stranding the two main characters together, where they fall into some kind of love (romance, after all!). In the time between birthing the full plot, and when I was going to return to working on FiA, a very similar event actually occurred in the location my book is set in.

It almost feels insensitive for me to write my novel about this location, and about this kind of disaster, when in somewhat recent times that place has gone through such a terrible experience. My feeling is borderline irrational; the location has seen other such disasters over time (as with many places on this fine planet, you get hot-spots for natural disasters, like Tornado Alley). It’s part of why I chose that location. The setting is realistic, the events plausible.

My handling of the event in FiA is befittingly serious. I don’t make light of suffering, but it’s also not the direct focus of the story, since it’s pretty much just the catalyst for the characters to be together. I hope that, given enough time, I’ll feel comfortable in writing this book again. I was really enjoying the experience, and the little that I got through taught me a lot.

I have the capacity to over-think my work to a degree I hadn’t realised beforehand. Writing FiA made me see that I could get just as caught up in my version of the real world as I can in fantasy (writing descriptions of a place I’ve only seen in photographs is wondrous!). I know I haven’t finished with this story, but I don’t know when I’ll go back to it, either.

~A

Most obvious observation ever

There isn’t actually a “right” way to write. Even spelling, grammar and punctuation can be massacred for the appropriate reasons. Half of the characters in the Redwall series speak with an accent so heavy, Brian Jacques just made up his own spelling. Stephen King has a short story in Nightmares and Dreamscapes where the mental and physical capacity of a character degenerates to the point that his retelling of events becomes indecipherable gibberish. It’s my favourite story in the collection and never fails to make me cry.

Then there is slang and invented language, which doesn’t have any fair rules to break. It’s true that using slang or modern language will “date” a story, but so does proper terminology. I have been accused far too many times of writing, and also speaking, with archaic words, like they can somehow lose their meaning given enough time? I suppose so, but communication is all shaky ground anyway.

Things like this are the reason why so many people say rules were made to be broken. Because there’s always at least one instance of where a cardinal rule has been so completely disregarded with such amazing skill that you can’t imagine that work being written any other way. If there’s no clearly defined “right” way to throw words at a page, how do we know when we’re doing a good job?

Different people want different things from their reading. Some people like ongoing description that tells you every last thing about a place. I once counted twelve consecutive pages in a book solely of description regarding the landscape and farming in the locale, and absolutely nothing happened in all that time except a lot of info-dumping. This was in a very popular and successful author’s book, too. So some people like it when you’re wordy and droning. Others like sharp, fast-paced writing, where the sentences are short and punchy and there’s no real downtime in the story.

Each genre also has quirks that make a story “suit” the general target audience. Where you might be able to get away with a rushed description of a character in one genre because other things are more important to the story, you could find another genre that practically requires lengthy, gushing language about the people in the book.

So I come back to the question, how do we know when we’re doing it right? Take a look at any top selling books list and you’ll find titles such as The Lord of the Rings, The Da Vinci Code, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Gone With the Wind, The Chronicles of Narnia, And Then There Were None, Black Beauty, Twilight, Harry Potter, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Wheel of Time, Lolita, Discworld, it goes on and on. What do these stories have in common, beside being written works? They are vastly different books with varying degrees of appeal to every individual. They all did something right, but that right thing for each story (or series) was almost unique to itself.

~A

Dinner, and the weather

I guess some people have a problem with writers including observations of the weather in their stories? I don’t understand that. I love weather, and it’s always something I’m aware of. My favourite weather is the cold and rainy days that dim the sun and make me just want to curl up beside a fire, favourite book in hand and a tidy selection of Royal Gala apples available to eat throughout the day.

For me, including a small note about the weather or the season in my writing is just a natural thing. I don’t do it constantly, and I definitely don’t have any preconceptions about “dark and stormy nights”, because all my dark and stormy nights have been perfectly normal, or simply thrilling in the way lightning has filled the sky with wild blue and white bolts. Sure, it’s not essential, but there’s that degree of normalcy for me, and it can go a long way towards explaining character behaviours or putting additional conflicts in their path (the need for shelter from the elements, for a start).

On a vaguely unrelated note, I notice that fantasy works often discuss foods. Not only that, but the foods are frequently all of the “hunted a boar, roasting it now” variety, complete with mead, ale, or some wine or other. There might even be trenchers of bread! Dark bread, and rich gravy, and hard cheese. If you’ve read any more than a handful of fantasy novels, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

I am personally a big fan of eating. Food is awesome, sharing meals with loved ones is a special thing, and it’s just damn tasty. So I have a similar preoccupation with food as I do with the weather, but I’m not as driven to write about banquets, feasts and other such typical meals. I lean toward just include foods as a part of another scene; maybe the characters are preparing a meal as they talk, or they are interrupted eating to attend to other matters.

I think my take on weather and food is part of my “style”, as it is intrinsic to me. Without those little additions, I don’t think my stories would have the same sense of life to them.

~A

Full moon darkness

I notice that we get to see the moon a lot during the day around here. There is something haunting and beautiful about it sitting in the sky, the pale grey of clouds, but round and still where it waits for the planetary kind of spin that pushes it to other skies. And of course, when night falls, the brightness! How it reflects the sunlight lets the darkness become its own kind of beauty. The contrast is all it takes to change the moon from a gentle addition, to the centre of your attention.

I think that most feelings, emotions, are at their peak when something is there to contrast them. When writing horror, the scary bits need to fall inside reassuring moments. Romance comes with a helping of distrust and heartache. Dark fantasy is contrasted when there is a bright, vivid moon shining down upon it, the beautiful moments that show you just how twisted everything else really is.

Even in shorter fiction, there has to be particular contrast, so the readers, and indeed even the writer can see just how poignant the central theme is. And sometimes that theme can blend into its surroundings first, waiting for the moment of contrast to truly show how important it is.

These thoughts come to me when I feel like I’ve perhaps deviated too far from course. When the scene runs on into characters sharing love and laughter in the lead-up to a challenging moment, I stop and realise that without these moments of brightness, the dark would not seem so expansive.

~A