Don’t you just love those writing life blogs and e-zines that ask whether you’re a planner or a pantser when it comes to planning stories? A planner is someone who outlines their plot point by point and writes character profiles and color codes schemata showing character placement and timelines, etc. A pantser is a writer who just feels her way through the first draft, waiting for the characters or the writing gods to tell her what the story is about. She’s basically flying by the seat of her pants. Get it?
What do you call yourself if you basically played with a vision for a novel until you had 50 or so pages of material, then you sat down and tried to outline the mess because characters were spinning off on adventures in every direction? At one point I could describe the chapters from start to finish–a proud moment indeed. Then I started to actually write those chapters with intent and things happened. Mysterious things.
Some characters cooperated. Others did not. Plot hitches raised their ugly heads like a massive nest of disturbed sea snakes. New episodes that could not be ignored had to be worked into the plot. Lots of great stuff had to be snuffed out. I couldn’t tell you what the hell my style is, but I hold onto my tattered outline and mark all over it so it makes no sense. And sometimes I just have to write a lot of stuff to get from A to B. I refuse to allow myself two versions of the whole WIP, but I will save a few scenes that I just don’t have the heart to delete even though they don’t fit anymore.
I’m half way through the third draft and I am feeling better about the first half, but I’m in that saggy middle, and man, it’s a mess. Just trying to keep faith chapter by chapter now. I have so much more sympathy for those writers who I felt failed me in the second half of their novels. The odds of me joining their ranks have never been better.
The three core elements of any short story that must satisfy this reader are 1) intriguing characters, 2) a believable world, and 3) a plot. That’s it. It seems so elemental, but plenty of stories that try to lure my reading eye fall short in one or more of those categories, and failure creates a cascading reading crisis here. When a story fails to deliver, I stop reading.
We reader/writers don’t want that. You writer/readers don’t want that. Editors of online magazines, publishers of novels, publishers and editors of print anthologies–none of you want this. So let me spread a little ray of sunshine, a little high, a joy, a hope, a satisfaction by sharing a brief review of the best short story I’ve read since the summer.
An unnamed narrator, a man in his later years, is writing to his dead wife in “A Catalogue of Sunlight at the End of the World” by A.C. Wise. He’s at a crossroads of a sort. His wife is gone and his children are going. If you are of a certain age, these bare facts will have given you ample motivation to continue reading, but the payoff is not some melodramatic family drama. The drama is both much quieter and much larger. The earth is dying, and his children are fleeing to space to find a new home, leaving him behind. Continue reading
I should be working on the WIP, but this is had to get on paper. Let me know what you think.
When people talk about the purge now they mostly fall in one of two camps. Some worship at the altar of mysterious holy-or-unholy retribution. We got it ‘cause we deserved it or, flip side, we got it because some badass demon decided to visit it upon us and we were just simple little sheep led to slaughter mainly due to poor demon-identification skills. The other camp, those who persist in hoping that rational thought will save us, talk it out by trying to knit pieces of science together like a lifeline. We can trace the “vector” back to “case 1” and then science the hell out of it and then stop it. Stop it! Stop it!!!
Problem is god is a cagey son-of-a-bitch, demons are immortal and science is so damn slow.
So you could see how this was going to go down. God’s men would put your mind at ease about the end, demon fighters and demon deputies ate up all the media time trying to figure out how who was doing the demon’s work for him or why his work was good for the country, and the science types had to fall back on prayer that somebody with real skills and knowledge was working on a solution somewhere.
Those of us who clearly understood this scenario, regardless of our natural biases, had only one true option. Stay or go. Not fight or flight, mind you, because we do both all too often. The option was and is stay or go. Stay where you are, fortify your walls and yourself and deal with what comes, or go where you want to be to fortify your walls and yourself and deal with what comes.
I thought I was a stay, but now I’m a go. That’s how Clare and I, and the dog, ended driving hard across the southwest toward the rising sun and home.
Note: Next week I’ll talk about choosing between future fiction that is inwardly oriented vs. outwardly oriented.
One of the issues that bedevils me when I start writing a new story (and there are many) is determining the right timeline. Stories set in the past are easier than those in the future because, whatever point in time the story resides in, the setting is understood and accepted. One need merely to figure out where on that timeline one wants to tether the story in question and then ensure the settings and other elements are credible according to the historic record. But the future…well. There is no line. One must select a point in the ether and color outside the lines because there are no lines, and this is really fun, but creating a credible story in any future is tricky business. Continue reading