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”).
[Part I: Introductory blithering]
Believe it or not, I came relatively late to video games. For the first two thirds of my childhood, my family had no television, and even after we got one — in my teens — we never got a game console. When I came to gaming I came through PCs, and again — I came late.
A lot of the kids I knew growing up had Super Nintendos and Sega Genesises(eseses), and of course when I went over to their houses I would watch them play some of their games. I have especially vivid memories of hanging out in a friend’s basement and watching, with mild bemusement, as she blew vigorously into the end of her game cartridge in order to get it to play. But though I enjoyed watching others play, I never played any of the games myself. Some of it was not knowing how and being a little embarrassed about that — again, I was basically That Weird Kid With No TV — but even given that, I really had no desire to learn how. The side-scrolling platformers that my friends played just didn’t interest me on anything but a very surface level. I didn’t look at them and feel any desire for immersion. They were interesting toys, but I didn’t really want one of my own.
I’ve thought back to that and tried to figure out why this was. I desperately wanted many other things that kids that age are supposed to be willing to trade non-essential organs for. Some of it, I think, was just that I was That Weird Kid. But more specifically, I now think it was that none of those games had any clear story for me to invest myself in.
So a little while ago, my erotic dystopian Torquere Sip “We Are Such Stuff” went out of print and the rights reverted to me. It’s definitely not the best story I’ve ever written, but I have a certain fondness for it, so I went back through it, did a little editing and made a few minor changes, and I’m re-releasing it through Smashwords.
It originally sold for $1.99 but now you can have your very own spiffy DRM-free Smashwords edition in a wide variety of formats for only $.99.
Reyes is bored. A young man in a bleak future city of endless rain, he finds his entertainment in packed clubs, one-night stands, and the occasional drug. But when a mysterious young man catches his eye, he is led on a chase through a nighttime world of dreams and dreamers, a chase that could end in frustration… or a new kind of pleasure.
[HEY WHY DON’T YOU BUY ME]
And have an excerpt.
This is almost cheating, since the WIP I’m posting a snippet of is very nearly no longer a WIP. I’ve finished at least a draft of “The Horse Latitudes”, the short story that I posted a bit of last week. It’s since gotten not so short, and will probably need a good bit of carving and reshaping before it’s ready to send out. Nevertheless, for a story that I waited a year to write I think it’s not all that shabby.
Here’s a little bit of the last third: