First lines!

It seems to be that time of year (or whatever cycle this is on), when writers on my flist do the “first lines” meme. As in, we post the opening lines of our various unfinished stories, sometimes with commentary, in the hopes of maybe prodding one of them forward. In celebration of the new short story, let me go over the stuff I’ve got sitting around. (Counting only stuff that has at least a fragment written down. If we included things that consist of titles and vague ideas, or vague ideas without titles, or titles without vague ideas, we’d be here all month.)

[untitled fairy tale story]

“Two crowns says he doesn’t make it past the blackberries.”

AKA “the ghost princes story.” The problem with this one is that it’s tried to grow Significance, only I can’t figure out where it wants to go with that. I’m beginning to think that maybe I need to just write the damned thing, and if it wants to Mean Something it can, and if it doesn’t that’s okay, too.

[untitled quasi-superhero story]

They didn’t call John in until the bullets had finished flying, until everyone who was going to surrender had surrendered and everyone who was going to die had died.

One of two being held back by a lack of confidence in my ability to write a story about psychiatry.

“Mad Maudlin” [ballad-based]

Peter found her slippers just inside the room.

The other one. These two, I may need to do hack drafts of — write something that will pin down the story I want to tell, then run them by people who know the field to get practical corrections, then figure out how to fit my story around those restrictions.

“The Unquiet Grave” [ballad-based]

Fever took my love from me.

You know, I may just try to write this one. There’s a set of stories on this list where the thing keeping them unfinished is my worry that they aren’t meaty enough, I’m not really pushing myself to do anything new with them — but that means they end up hanging around my neck like a lovely set of albatrosses, so maybe I just need to knock them out and maybe they’ll turn out cool and maybe they’ll turn out mediocre but at least they’ll turn out done.

[untitled Tam Lin story]

Faerie trouble never really goes away.

This is another one, except that it’s also somewhat lacking in a plot, which hampers the “just write the damn thing” plan. All I know is that I want to write about Janet and Tam’s kid. (Huh. Having said that, all of a sudden my brain crossed a wire and started thinking about the speculation feyangel and I did back in the day, about what shapeshifting while pregnant would do to my D&D character — or more to the point, to her unborn children. Granted, Janet isn’t the one shifting shape, but I think I may finally have an angle of sorts. Maybe.)

[untitled JB story, ballad-based]

Let me tell a tale of my father’s kin, for his blood runs in me, and so to me falls this duty: to keep the knowledge, the past-thought, the shape of how it began, as my father gave it to me.

Needs research into pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon England. And then it needs an outline. Because this is the story that wants to be written in Anglish, and I can’t concentrate on that and invent the story at the same time. (Fortunately, it being ballad-based, it comes with something of a pre-generated outline. No, I’m not going to tell you which ballad; that would be a spoiler.)

[untitled Xochitlicacan story, same setting as “A Mask of Flesh”]

The tap of the workmen’s chisels was a distant, dreamlike thing to Tlacuilo’s ears, as if it came from another world.

I have about a thousand words written on this one. It’s kind of a Pygmalion story, but I’m not happy with the angle I originally tried to take. aliettedb, I don’t suppose you know of any fascinating tidbits on the carving of religious imagery in Mesoamerica that could help me figure out what to do with this one?

“How They Fall”

He runs as fast as he can, until his lungs feel like lava and the impact of each step jolts him to his skull, until he is blind with exhaustion and terrified hope, but still he is too late.

This idea wants to be all literary and meta. I have a sneaking suspicion it doesn’t actually belong to me; somebody else’s story wound up in my hopper by accident. I’m not at all sure I can write a draft of it I will actually like.

“Xie Meng Lu Goes on Pilgrimage”

Treasured wife — By now you will have heard the sorry tale of my disgrace at court.

Another story bogged down by its research requirements (the other major hurdle that stops half these things from seeing completion). In this case, China. Kind of a large topic, I know, but I’m not even sure whether this wants to be historical or set in not!China or what. Or, for that matter, whether it wants to be a webcomic, god help me. (No, really. I want it to be first in a series of linked short stories, and if I could just find a suitable artist and, y’know, figure out just what I’m doing with this thing, it might be very well suited indeed for that kind of serialized format.)

[Varoslin’s untitled Nine Lands story]

Having ink on your skin was an offense punishable by death.

Varoslin gets on this list only by courtesy, since if there’s a short story here, it will almost certainly double as the first chapter of the novel I’d like to write someday.

[untitled Onyx Court story]

His mother was the one who kept the demons away.

I’ve written 604 words of the wrong beginning to this one, and I’m not sure if I remember what the right beginning is. Takes place circa 1720, and gives backstory to a character who appears in A Star Shall Fall. Ideally I will get it written in time to submit places, and try to have it see print around the time of the novel’s release.

[untitled Mahabharata story]

They say that when Prince Shikhandi faced Grandfather Bhishma on the field of battle, he wept.

This one mugged me in India, while I was reading the abridged Mahabharata. It’s bogged down by research twice over: being me, of course I have to decide I want to tackle transsexualism in the context of Hindu mythology. >_<

And now a separate listing for things I’m probably surrendering on, for one reason or another.

“Ink, Like Blood” [same setting as “A Mask of Flesh”]

I’ve seen the look on your face, when your granny starts telling the old stories.

It’s theoretically a Xochitlicacan story, but I think this is the one case where me porting the Mesoamerican stuff I designed for Changeling over into short fiction just doesn’t work. “Tinta Como Sangre” (to give it its proper name) is too firmly tied to the modern world — starting with the fact that the title really needs to be in Spanish to work right, and Spanish is a language that doesn’t exist in the fiction setting. (Other problems, too, involving printing presses and the situation of indigenous peoples in Guatemala.) The only way to make it functional would be to detach it from the rest of the Xochitlicacan material and write it as its own thing, but then it loses the justification for some of the otherwise odd elements it contains. So, probably not going to happen.

[untitled story, same setting as “Such as Dreams Are Made Of”]

By day their scales glitter in the sun, winding sinuously through the cities of the world.

Look, it has no plot. Seriously. All it has is an image. I set out to write it because I wanted a set of stories with “Such as Dreams are Made Of,” but nobody’s bought “The City’s Bones” and I still, after five and a half years, have not revised “The Memories Rise to Hunt,” so until such time as there’s an actual set for it to join, I think I need to acknowledge that it’s not likely to go anywhere. If the situation changes, I can always come back to it.

“Even in Decline”

The boar charged along the forest floor, feet pounding out a furious beat, tusks slicing at the air.

I still want to work in this setting, but I’m not at all sure the concept at the heart of this story is one I actually want to use. So it goes on the shelf unless and until I sort out my worldbuilding ducks. (The other existing story in this setting is “Sciatha Reborn,” which has been sitting around needing a rewrite since — I kid you not — July 2002. I may do another iteration of this meme for unrevised stories, actually.)

[Alefan’s untitled Nine Lands story]

For the longest time, Alefan’s mother refused to believe that he was just looking for words.

[Ennike’s untitled Nine Lands story]

As a child she was not remarkable.

These both date back to college, and aren’t proper stories. They’re the result of me trying to generate short fiction ideas by producing backstories for characters in a series of novels I still haven’t written, nearly a decade later. If the time should come that I do write that series, I will be perfectly happy to tackle any short fiction that might suggest itself, but it will not be these stories. (Ennike actually appears in “Lost Soul,” along with her brother Andris, who is also intended for the novels. I don’t recall anymore why I decided to put them in there — whether it was because I’d already decided on Tirean’s Moment of Awesomeness in the series, or whether I put her into the series and invented the MoA to justify connecting her with those two in the first place.)

[untitled Driftwood story, same setting as “A Heretic by Degrees”]

Only idiots bother trying to make maps of Driftwood.

[untitled Driftwood story, same setting as “A Heretic by Degrees”]

Time’s one of the most untrustworthy and useless concepts in all of Driftwood.

Fear not, ninja_turbo and other fans of Driftwood — I’m not backing away from real ideas, here. I’m just acknowledging that these two little snippets — a couple hundred words apiece, tops — aren’t actually stories, they’re just Last pontificating on some point in my head. My attempt to grow the time one into a story produced “Remembering Light,” which isn’t at all about the thing I started with, but that’s okay; I can always slot it in elsewhere if a suitable tale comes along. Either way, I’m ready to drop these off the list, and start looking for proper plots instead.

Here’s the sad thing: I cut-and-pasted the list from the last time I did this meme, and added commentary. Only one thing got deleted, that being “Chrysalis” (which I wrote last year) — two if you count “Princes of the Stone,” which I didn’t have on hand to quote when I posted before. (That turned into Deeds of Men.) And I’ve added two in their place — four if you count the Alefan and Ennike fragments, but I omitted those last time because I’d already decided I wasn’t going to write them. I’m not even managing to keep status quo; if you could see the full list, including things that don’t have fragments written, you’d see that it just keeps getting longer and longer.

So what’s the takeaway? That I need to bull my way past the problems slowing my short story production. The “thin” ones I can just write, and see if they’re worth anything when I’m done. The research-intensive ones . . . <sigh> My best plan there is to get to a point where I’m not writing hugely research-intensive novels, too. Then maybe I can spare some processing cycles for the short fiction.

One way or another, I want to thin out this list.

0 Responses to “First lines!”

  1. la_marquise_de_

    I’m not a natural short story writer, but I do suffer from neat images. They end up on post-its whihc litter my desk while I try and work out where on earth they belong.

  2. aliettedb

    Off the top of my hand, the only fascinating tidbit I know about stone carvings is that we have evidence of periods where the Mesoamericans (the Olmecs I think in this case) would go around smashing and defacing all the religious imagery and making a new set. I think it has something to do with ending a cycle and making sure the icons of the previous cycle didn’t have any power and couldn’t wreck any damage anymore. Not 100% sure, but I might be able to find the reference again if you’re interested…

    (the more “classic” tidbit I know is that to conquer a city, the Aztecs toppled and broke its temple, and brought its idol back into a special Tenochtitlan temple where they kept a collection of the gods of all the defeated people).

    • Marie Brennan

      I was originally trying to borrow something I vaguely remembered from my Hinduism class, about the moment at which a religious icon becomes inhabited by the presence of the god. But I don’t think this setting is the right place for me to be playing that kind of cross-cultural game.

      The defacing of old statues at the end of a cycle is interesting — if you do find the reference, let me know!

      • aliettedb

        Ah-ah, found it!
        It’s mentioned in Karl Taube’s and Mary Miller’s “An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya” as a termination ritual, which is that when the Mesoamericans came to the end of a cycle or the end of the use of a building, they would ritually deface it, destroying the more powerful manifestations. An example given is of Olmecs who groud down to dust the colossal heads and the altar-stones (leaving a hole in the central platform), before burying the whole structure under layers of specially prepared sand.
        (a similar Aztec custom on a smaller scale was the breaking of all household crockery at the end of the 52-year cycle)

        (got your email about Chinese folklore, will probably answer it tomorrow as it requires some diving into my archives)

Comments are closed.