This week’s WIP is still The Scarred Utopian Takes a Wife, which I posted a bit of last week. It’s close to being done, so here’s a little more of it. It feels like a fable; something particular is being talked about in a very particular way. I’m not yet sure if that’s good or bad. Hopefully I’ll have a better idea by the time it’s done.
So Muse Monday is Muse Wednesday today. Again, not much of an excuse for the lateness. Just one of those things.
But I do have something I want to talk about, and somewhat paradoxically for a series of blog posts that discuss the writing of fiction – I want to talk about telling the truth.
One of my favorite – perhaps my favorite, period – long-running series of blog posts is Fred Clark’s dissection of the Left Behind series over at Slacktivist (older archives starting with the earliest posts are here, newer stuff is here). Now, regardless of what you think about the theology involved, I think it must be said that these are very bad books in the most essential sense – for the most part, they are shockingly poorly written, and the ways in which they are poorly written provide some useful examples for any writer of what not to do.
Note: This post is a week late because I suck. As a consolation prize, there are many more words in it.
[Part I: Introductory blithering]
[Part II: Personal history and adventure games]
It might seem like a hard leap from adventure gaming to first-person shooters, but for me it actually felt like a fairly natural progression. I was still new enough to games at that point that I had the advantage of being open to everything, and mostly unhampered by preconceived notions about what I liked and didn’t like – I knew I wasn’t fond of the 2D sidescrollers that my friends had grown up with, but I ate up just about everything else.
I never really stopped playing point-and-click adventure games – I’ve played several of Myst’s sequels and I’ve tracked down old copies of Zork: Grand Inquisitor and Starship Titanic – but as the production of adventure games started to slow down, my focus shifted toward FPSs, which were plentiful. I now think that two things in particular made the shift easy:
This wasn’t actually a WIP until yesterday afternoon, when the idea for it popped into my head very suddenly while I was writing something else with a friend – which at least partially inspired it. The rest of it came very quickly after, and now it’s the rare short story of mine where the actual plot is very fully formed before most of it’s been written. Now I just need to get that last part done.
The “Scarred Utopian” comes from the title of a paper that I wrote in my first year of graduate school. It wasn’t a very good paper, but the idea has stuck with me; the contradictory coexistence of the perfect and imperfect. Of course, such a thing seems illogical – does that also mean it can’t be real?
I know I’ve posted a lot in the last few weeks about how it feels when things get difficult and/or unpleasant. I think it’s also important to emphasize that things aren’t that way all the time, at least not for me.
I’ve been posting a lot of whiny stuff because I’ve been feeling very whiny, but as I’ve alluded to a couple of times, what keeps me going through the rough bits is knowing that there’s light somewhere at the end of that long, long tunnel. And the light isn’t just being finished. It’s the moments when things actually get fun – which is still more than 50% of the time, on balance. Which happened today: I’m working on the Mars novel, and it’s been a really rough time, but a few things have fallen into place, I’ve introduced a new character who I’m really liking, and I’m excited about writing the next few bits. Which is a feeling I’ve been plodding after for a while, trusting that it was up there somewhere.
If anyone ever asked me for advice on writing, I think I could probably boil it down to two crucial points:
A) Be tough enough to keep going even when it’s miserable and all you want to do is quit. Sometimes misery is actually an indication that you need to stop and do something else, and that’s fine. But if you want to complete anything big, if you want to publish, some of it is going to be miserable and some of the time you are going to want to quit. And if you want those things, you can’t do that. However:
B) When it’s miserable and you want to quit, if goals aren’t enough motivation, remember: ideally you’re doing this because you find joy in it. And if you stick with it, you’ll find the joy again. It really will come back. It ducks in and out; like fantastic weather, you can’t make it come. But the weather can’t be awful forever.
It seems a bit trite to condense it down to “the sun’ll come out tomorrow (bet your bottom dollar)”, but it’s also true, and I think keeping it in mind can save good stories that might otherwise be abandoned. Don’t give up on your stories: they need you to tell them. And if you do, they’ll reward you for it.
This one is also not properly a WIP–it’s been sold to Three-Lobed Burning Eye, for release at some unknown point in the future. But their round of edits hasn’t yet come through, so I suppose it sort of counts.
This story was inspired by numbers stations. What can I say: they’re cool. Numbers and screams and secret voices in the night, coming from unknown places and meant for unknown ears. Great material right there. I ended up, as I often do, with a story about memory and lost love and how both have a way of haunting people–and, indeed, the world.
So here’s a small piece.
Yes, we’re a day late again. I don’t even have America’s birthday and drunken Scattergories as an excuse this time.
“The Horse Latitudes” is done for the moment and I’ve gone back to work on the Mars novel. By my best estimate, I’m a little over halfway through–I’m at about 43k words of an estimated 80k. But it’s not just about wordcount–feeling my way through the (very) rough plot I have in my head, it feels like I’m about halfway through. When I get my hands around this story, I feel like I’m at the bulge in the middle. To put it another way, if the story is a dark tunnel that I’m feeling my way through, this is where things open up and calm down for a moment before we start the narrower, downhill progression toward the end.
To plot or not to plot? I’m honestly still not sure where I stand on this, and if I were forced to come down on one side or the other, I think I’d probably have to cheat and say that it depends on what you’re writing, and that plotting, far from being an all-or-nothing proposition, happens by degrees. I know some people who work extensively with index cards and notes, and plan every scene out before they write. I know some people who do nothing of the kind. If I ever wrote a mystery, I’d probably have to do a lot of detailed plotting in advance–I just don’t see how one couldn’t, though I’m sure that some people manage it just fine. But the one novel I’ve co-written was only very roughly plotted out beforehand, and the same goes for this solo effort. I really do feel like I’m fumbling along in the dark, feeling out the shape of the thing as I’m writing. Maybe a while back I glanced at a map of the whole thing, but it was some time ago, and I can’t remember every twist and turn, and in any case, the map is unreliable because the terrain is always shifting (I guess that means I fall into the category of writers who feel as though they are “uncovering” as opposed to “building”).