Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Finding the story

Letting a story percolate is perhaps one of the most important things a writer can do.  Maybe it's a lesson I've learned on my circuitous journey to what I'll today call (with apologies to Will Smith in The Legend of Bagger Vance) authentic publication, I don't know, but I sometimes sit on stories for years, even decades.

This isn't totally unusual.  A lot of Stephen King's recent output has been work he originally envisioned or tried to tackle early in his career but for one reason or another didn't think he could execute properly at the time.  I don't know if those stories changed for him once he finally wrote them, but that's certainly been the case for me.

The story I was originally going to write about was the final novel (as the complete saga now stands in my outlines) in the Space Corps sequence.  (Mind you, I've only written one of them so far, Seven Thunders, and I happened to get my first rejection for it on my birthday, of all days, a little over a week ago.)  Based off something I'd written that wasn't even originally part of that novel, I realized something that absolutely needed to happen.  As it stands, this element will be the subject of an epilogue.  I love epilogues.  I love flipping the script on something the reader thinks they've previously known pretty well.  I don't believe in one-dimensional characters, for instance.  Someone who's seemed like the villain suddenly turns out to be sympathetic once I've presented their full story.  (Something I developed in my writing during Seven Thunders, and certainly I'm indebted to Lost for fully appreciating as a storytelling technique.)

Then I realized something about what I wanted to do with Belle York, the manuscript I'll be tackling this fall.  As it turns out, I've had to change the title, to The Cement Pond.  Suddenly this has become a much more personal story, a realization I had after a recent viewing of Saving Mr. Banks, the movie about the battle between P.L. Travers and Walt Disney over the making of Mary Poppins.  I'm still working on dotting all the t's in this new vision of the story, but I'm more excited than ever about it.

Finally, I had an epiphany concerning King of the States, a comic book project I developed a few years back, while reading the Salman Rushdie memoir Joseph Anton.  I've been trying to break into comics for years, with mostly miserable luck.  Next year I'll be in the position to spend a little money on artistic collaboration to try and get myself into a position to pitch projects to publishers like Image.  The beauty of States is that it's a long maxi-series split into short arcs, so I can sell it one arc at a time (I realize this approach bit Jack Kirby in the butt when he tackled New Gods) if necessary.  I changed the main character's name, figured out what he ought to be doing, what he did, and what it means for everyone around him.  Suddenly the whole thing seems as vital as I only thought it was originally.

All three are instances of coming up with better versions of stories I thought I already knew, all because I didn't jump on writing them as soon as I came up with the ideas.  I tend to write on spur-of-inspiration, changing the story even as I'm writing it, so this isn't entirely new to me, but having a better idea of what it should be before I begin, I think, is about as good a way to approach a project as there can be.  To have done this with three projects more or less at the same time has certainly made for an interesting couple of weeks.  I'm the kind of writer who thinks most of the art of writing is actually the art of thinking about the story.  The advice of writing every day can help with fundamentals of the form, but I don't know that it necessarily improves the storytelling, unless you're capable of doing both at the same time.  Storytelling, for me, is everything.  You can be an excellent writer, but if your grasp of what you're trying to tell is poor, then you're still, ultimately, failing as a writer.  Some of the worst writing I've read is clearly the result of the writer going full-steam ahead with an idea that was never fleshed out.  They insist on following through with whatever they came up with first when it should have become clear at some point that the story was in fact headed in a different direction.  It's like a writer who thinks description is everything, but they fill a room with nothing but empty space.

Ever realized that about something you were working on?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

IWSG September 2014

It's time once again for everyone to climb about the IWSG ship!  (I doubt anyone will get the reference.  It is probably better that way.)  Click the link this month, because there is exciting Insect Wings Swooping Gracefully information.

I'm sorry, I've just been informed that I've been meeting with the wrong group.  Alas, I will continue all the same!

When I was writing about fan fiction in my last post (not my last Insect Wings post, but the last one I wrote here in general), I kind of glossed over a crucial thing I realized recently:

But before I actually finish that thought, let's rewind a little!

Pocket Books has been publishing Star Trek fiction for years.  At the turn of the millennium it decided to let fans get in on the action with a series of annual Strange New Worlds contests.  I decided I'd like to get in on the action.  Prior to my initial attempt, I'd never written a story outside of a class assignment.  I didn't end up being selected that first year.  I didn't end up being selected the next three times, either (I don't remember if I actually submitted the last one, but go with me anyway).  The second effort remains the most personal of the early stories I wrote.  I'd just begun college, and this was the first time I'd been away from home for an extended period.  I ended up writing about my own experiences about returning home for the first time, using Jake Sisko as a surrogate.  I have no idea if the resulting story was any better than the first effort.  I know my third entry was written very esoterically, and that alone was probably enough to have made it another easy failure, but writing that one helped move me along creatively, and I suppose that was the best I could have gotten from the experience, all considered.

Long story short, I've realized, finally, that these early publishing failures were probably deserved.  The time I lost a chance to write for Top Cow comics (another contest) was probably deserved, too, even though it was another useful learning/creative development experience.  Heck, I would never have learned about Double Steak Day, if I'd won that one.

We tend to consider failures to be, well, failures, and deservedly so, but sometimes (hopefully always) we can take positive things away from them, and maybe even, in time, realize we actually...deserved to fail.  It sucks, but we can't always win.  *cough* Red Sox *cough*  Yeah.  Doesn't mean we always deserve to fail, either.  Sometimes there's just no accounting, except to realize there are a ton of people trying to accomplish the same exact goals, and I guess that idea of being prepared really is relevant to the outcome.  All you can do is try and be the Best Possible You at any given moment.  Maybe that BPY isn't always impressive, even to yourself, but sometimes it really is about the effort.  It's not always what others think of you, but what you think of yourself.  This is not selfish thinking.  An honest person should always be comfortable with themselves, even when rough patches hit.  Trust yourself.  Believe in yourself.  There's always next time.  And in the meantime, enjoy what you're doing.  Do your best.  Strive to improve.  Move along. 
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