Two Days In One

So I really did think I’d posted yesterday. But when I looked today, I found a little untitled draft reading thusly:

I have got to start writing my blog-post ideas down. I keep having them and thinking ‘oh, I’ll write about that tomorrow’…. and then when tomorrow comes, I got nothing. And I’m too sleepy to work up a good rant. So

Apparently something shiny flitted across my vision at that point and I forgot to finish.

Have you noticed that you can get ideas from other books or movies, but the idea often doesn’t resemble that book or movie at all?

On the international flight home, I was watching Prince Caspian and thinking about skewed gender representation in fantasy, you know, as you do, and I got hit by the Idea Fairy. As best I recall, it went something like this.

Ooh, pretty.

I don’t like the plot coupons though.

Looking for missing people.

Evil magic.

Plot coupons.

What if they weren’t plot coupons? What if the series of tasks was actually, you know, not cumulative but they were just doing all different things to try to achieve an end?

And then somehow I was imagining this city, right, which is being invaded, and our Plucky Heroes have to resurrect the city’s old magical defenses but nobody knows where they are any more or how they worked and it turns out the seven ancient protective spells are curses enacted by mages killed in battle, and their spirits are in buildings and books and statues and shit and they have to get woken up so they can curse the invaders again but it’s hard and takes sacrifices  and they don’t actually need to find all of them or anything it’s just ‘let’s find as many as we can before they get here’ and there’s a couple they can’t find but the ones they do find turn out to be enough except at least one of the heroes actually dies because that mage demands blood sacrifice so they die for the city or something.

I got all of this out of ‘let’s find the magic swords’ and ‘ooh, pretty scenery’. I mean, you guys remember the Rise of the Guardians thing, where watching RotG made me think about a story featuring a ghost who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, right? I swear, I wonder how my brain makes these connections sometimes.

I like it, though. I like the idea of a story where the Plucky Young Heroes have to Find The Things and they don’t have to find them all, and they don’t find them all, because it’s not a game it’s just a matter of finding all the weapons you can because there’s a war going and you just want to save your home. When a plot coupon is not a plot coupon. I like it.

What are your feelings on plot coupons?

All The Ideas In The World

Do you ever feel like you have too many ideas? I do. I can never possibly write them all – and what if I don’t pick the right one to *try* to write? What if I forget a good one chasing a bad one?

I what-if myself a lot. I suspect we all do.

But I do wonder how published authors can stick to just one genre. Don’t they get bored? Do they really like sci-fi/romance/Pretentious Lit/fart jokes so much that they never want to branch out? I’ve heard different answers – that agents and publishers put presser on them to do more of the same because that’s what readers expect, or that they get comfortable in a particular genre and just want to stay there for a while, or that they really do just like one. Stephen King made a break for it, Barbara Cartland doesn’t seem to have. Like everything, it seems to depend on the author.

My favourite genre is broadly fantasy – urban, high, shaded with steampunk, I like it all – but the other day I was thinking about the Where Did Everybody Go trope… you know the one, where the town or ship or whatever is suddenly empty and a Rag-Tag Band of Strangers has to unite to find out what happened? And I was thinking about how I would do that one, just idly wondering because the last thing I need right now is a new project, and then next thing I know my brain is merrily depopulating a mining station on a planetoid somewhere and I don’t even usually write sci-fi but sometimes it just hijacks my brain. Especially since I happened to be reading the Honour Harrington series while I was thinking about it. (If you like badass ladies in your sci-fi, Honour Harrington is not half bad)

I’ve written down a few paragraphs of very rough outline, including what actually happened to all the people in case I forget. (If you have an idea that involves a twist, and you make a note of it? INCLUDE THE TWIST. I’ve forgotten one once, halfway through a fanfic I’d already started posting, and it was pretty damn awkward let me tell you) At this point, I’ll let it simmer for a while and then come back. If it still seems interesting and like something I want to write, I’ll take a crack at it.

 

I Don’t Mean That How It Sounds

Any Muggle walking into the monthly meetings of the writer’s group I attend would probably be both lost and frightened.

In the last six months or so, we have:

Spent a whole meeting plotting out a small town that we decided was from Supernatural, so we put in a graveyard and a haunted meat-packing plant and an occult shop and the school was right across the road from the graveyard which was across the road from the meat-packing plant and we were making production-line jokes.

Had a half-hour conversation on the quality of leather and vellum produced from human skin, including places human skin can be obtained.

Discussed at length good hiding places for bodies and varying means of disposal.

Debated the linear nature of time and the narrative.

More stuff I can’t remember right now but probably just as weird.

If you’ve talked about writing in public, you’ve probably gotten that look. The ‘oh God, what are you SAYING’ look, after which you realize you were just talking about summoning demons and why Dean and Cas should do it at their wedding while you were standing in line at Starbucks. (I have not actually done this, but only because I’m behind on Supernatural and haven’t met Cas yet) I have, however, gotten the Are You A Serial Killer look after the following:

1) Pointing out of the window on a train and announcing excitedly that that’s my favourite place for potentially hiding a body.

2) Shouting into the phone that I will murder my spouse like I murdered (fictional character whose name escapes me) in the middle of the Queen Street Mall.

3) Discussing the relative ethics of forcing Sansa to marry a man twice her age on the bus.

4) Probably lots of other times, look, you know about me and my memory.

At least when discussing Sansa there was a slim hope that some of the people on the bus would realize that I was talking about a fictional character, not the little girl in the pram beside me. When you’re talking about your own work – especially hiding the bodies – it’s tempting to just walk around holding up a Road-Runner style sign that says ‘not a murderer, just a writer’ or some such thing. Because you want to share your brilliant idea about the gravel piles with your writer friends, but if the rail-cops hear you extolling the virtues of Roma St Station as a body-hiding spot they may have some stern questions.

 

 

Narrativizing The Random

Yep, narrativizing. I’m pretty sure I just invented that word. Inventing words! I’m just that kind of edgy creative type.

I couldn’t think of an existing word for it, though. You know that thing you do when things happen and you connect them in your head even though they’re not apparently causally linked and it makes a story? That thing! Narrativizing the random.

It’s a vital skill in playing D&D. The dice act as randomizers, but then you have to work the random effects into the story, right? For example, I used to play a half-orc warrior who loved a fight, right? First into every fray, that kind of thing. I was always out in front in my eagerness to kill anything that moved. Except that for some reason, I couldn’t win an initiative roll to save my freaking life. I almost *always* wound up last in the round, despite the fact that I was the one standing in the doorway, and I had to explain that. So my half-orc became a wild enthusiast who tended to get over-excited and charge right past the target, or miss her first swing in the excitement.

I’ve had some good luck with ‘it’s a sign’! More often than not, when I decide that I have been given a sign to go shopping, I will find a sale or something I really want. Of course, I never ever get a sign to suggest that I should not go out in bad weather, so I’ve been caught in many a severe weather outbreak. Signs are iffy things. But it can be fun to roll with them and see where they lead you.

Sometimes reality positively connives at this. Every time my husband and I have a major fight, something happens to him. He’ll get injured somehow, or knock something over onto himself, or a coconut will fall on his head (really, this has happened twice!) or our daughter will strike him a mighty blow to the testicles apparently by accident (about twelve times and counting), or he’ll in some other way be struck down by seeming chance. It happens every single time. At this point, I’m honestly not certain if it’s an increasingly unlikely set of coincidences,  if he’s being punished by the household gods for doubting me, or if someone up there just likes messing with his skepticism.

Nothing ever happens to me when we fight. He thinks this is very unfair. I think it’s because I’m always right.

I’ve used it for writing, too. When I’m really stuck, I’ll turn to anything for inspiration. Tarot cards are often very helpful – every card has its own little story event thingie, so drawing one at random and then throwing the indicated plot twist in there can really get a stuck story moving. Putting on the television and using the first plot idea you see can also work. I’ve flipped coins when I couldn’t decide which character to kill off, I’ve consulted my horoscope for suggestions, and if I’m really having trouble I create copies of my characters in The Sims and see what they do. (This is actually really helpful sometimes. The way the characters interact can give you a ton of new information, like ‘hey, these two are attracted to each other? that makes so much sense!’ and ‘wow, this guy whose sexual orientation I hadn’t decided yet is the gayest Simling I have EVER SEEN, good to know’.)

If you’re really stuck, don’t be afraid to consult the oracles. Your random card or coin toss won’t always help, but sometimes putting your plot in the hands of fate can really get things moving. And if your horoscope says today is a bad day for creative endeavours, well, fate clearly intends for you to put word-count on hold for the day and play Dragon Age instead. For inspiration. And in day to day life, narrativizing the random can really add interest… and sometimes paranoia.

 

My Dreams Judge Me

I’ve always had quite vivid, often peculiar dreams. An enduring favourite remains the one in which I was attending Hogwarts, which was located in Brisbane’s Myer Centre (a shopping mall, for foreigners), and was berating Professor Xavier for reading my email. Really, I swear I actually dreamed this.

The most recent one of note – aside from the one in which I married James Bond, and when I woke up couldn’t think why because there are SO MANY FICTIONAL CHARACTERS I WOULD RATHER MARRY, but as far as I recall I was doing it to spite my actual husband who *does* like James Bond – is the one I believe I have previously mentioned, in which I attended a writing seminar with my friend Miranda on the art of writing Choose Your Own Adventure stories, which was going very well until the zombies attacked. (Wow, that was quite a run-on sentence. I considered fixing it, but it’s so magnificently long that I thought I should preserve it as an example to future generations.)

Anyway, I dreamed about attending a writing seminar, which was nice of my brain, since I can’t afford to go to real ones just now, but given that I’ve never had any desire to write a choose-your-own-adventure story I’m puzzled as to why that was the subject. I actually learned some things, too, which only goes to show that my subconscious doesn’t skimp when it comes to suspiciously brawny writing instructors who also fight zombies. I wrote down what I had learned, which mostly boiled down to ‘how you can plan the structure of one of these suckers so it won’t fry your brain’ and passed it on to Cult-Leader Kess who runs our writing group. It got used last night, which made me happy!

And I finally figured out why my brain had done this to me. I’m a pantser, not a planner, and I often fall foul of the Pantser’s Bane – a floppy middle section and lost plot direction. So my subconscious dragged me to a seminar on the one genre  that has to be planned. That I can’t just blithely assume will work out as I go along.

My dreams judge me. And now I kind of want to write a choose-your-own-adventure story.

Inspiration (Where DO you get your ideas?)

Ideas come all over the place. I’ve gotten them on the bus, in the shower, listening to music, lying in bed trying to go to sleep, everywhere. Most writers do, from the answers I’ve heard to the question above.

And from watching movies and TV, of course. It happened just yesterday, actually, when I took my kid to see ‘Rise of the Guardians’, because a two-year-old is a brilliant excuse to go to kid’s movies two or three times. Had a plot-bunny come and start nibbling on my brain, which is still there this morning. And did it have anything to do with holidays or guardians of childhood?

Heck, no. That would make sense. My brain doesn’t hold with that.

No, somehow *my* brain went from ‘Rise of the Guardians’ to the original ‘Little Mermaid’ to a bitter, sardonic mentor-figure in soot-stained clothes, perpetually holding a cigarette that she never smokes, working off her karmic debts so she can go to Heaven, because that’s an entirely logical progression, right?

I have always loathed the ending of The Little Mermaid, because the mermaid is offered a chance to earn a soul of her own not by her own actions, but by passively observing humanity. So I went from there to earning your way into Heaven through *action* and then I started wondering who has to earn their way in. The good get in automatically, the wicked proverbially do not, so who gets the penalty round?

Accidental killers, my brain said. Drunk-drivers, bullies who drive someone to suicide, idiots who got careless with a gun, that sort of thing. Murder through carelessness or willful cruelty is still murder, and if you caused someone’s death then you’re going down – but if you did it without meaning to, you get one shot at working it off. Earning forgiveness by becoming a Penitent, a ghost of sorts, balancing the cosmic scales with life and joy for the pain and sorrow you caused.

I’m still working on the story that goes with it, but it’s got potential. I’ve always liked stories about Death and the Afterlife that are heavier on the justice than the treacly sentiment. Forget coming to terms with your death, forgiving those who hurt your feelings, etc – I want to see someone dragged before Anubis or St Peter or whoever’s handling the dead in that ‘verse, and brought to account for their own actions.

As for Giulia, the woman with the cigarette? Well, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire was started by a carelessly discarded cigarette. 146 people died. That’s a lot to work off.

Does anyone else’s brain go off on wacky tangents when inspired, or is it just mine?