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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Let’s play “guess that story!”

While I’m on tour, I’m taking a crack at drafting something new. I’m pretty sure it’ll be either a novelette or a novella, but if this piece works, it might also be a launching-point for something bigger. And I figure, to keep you all entertained while I bounce from city to city, I’ll give you a chance to guess at what it is!

Here’s your first hint:

Ignore the visuals; it’s the song itself that’s the clue. It rather perfectly encapsulates the character this story is about. Mind you, it’s a bit of a long shot that anybody might guess this one; you kind of need insider knowledge to put it together with things I’ve said before and realize there’s a connection. But don’t worry; if nobody guesses it from this, I’ll provide another hint to make it easier.

(If you’re one of the people I’ve talked to in person about wanting to do this story, then you are disqualified from guessing, for obvious reasons.)

Less Is More

I just sent the first draft off to my editor; that makes the fourth Memoir a Real Thing now, ’cause other people are going to be reading it.

Doing the final polishes before kicking it out the door, I came upon one scene where I felt like I needed to amp up the emotional force a bit. So I went to the middle of the scene, stuck in a few line breaks, and started typing a new paragraph that would take what was going on and foreground it a bit more overtly. I wrote a sentence . . . started another one . . . deleted it . . . wrote a second sentence . . . started a third . . . deleted that and the second sentence . . . and after a lot of fiddling, I had a new paragraph, which I joined up to the following text. I looked it over, polished it a bit, tweaked some words — and then deleted the whole paragraph.

Because I was trying to play the wrong game.

These aren’t the sorts of books in which the narrator lays out her emotional state for the reader to marinate in. Those lines I had so much trouble writing? They were too overt. They were modern in style, rather than the buttoned-up Victorian tone I’ve been aiming for this whole time. I don’t pretend this will work for every reader, but: as far as I’m concerned, that scene has more impact, or at least more the kind of impact I’m going for, when I keep it simple. Less is more.

This is on my mind right now because my husband and I just finished watching Agent Carter, and we’re also nearing the end of the first season of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I realized tonight that I’m starting to crave passionate, operatic, heart-on-sleeve declarations of love, because both of those shows feature a lot of very proper characters having All the Feels but never talking about it openly. I said before that I ship Peggy Carter and Edmund Jarvis in a totally platonic way, and I stand by that — but it doesn’t mean I wasn’t flailing during one of the last scenes of this last episode, with the two of them being so very Britishly reserved at one another. And my god, if Jack Robinson and Phryne Fisher don’t kiss by the end of this season, I might throw things at the TV. (A real kiss, I mean. Not a “no I only did that to keep the murderer from noticing you I swear that’s all it was” kiss.)

My reaction means the writers are doing their jobs correctly, of course. And this is the thing romance and horror have in common: they both carry more impact if they tease you for a while first, hinting at stuff and building it slowly before finally delivering the emotional payoff. If you rush the process, it doesn’t work as well. But if you play the tension right, if you see only hints of the monster or the occasional Meaningful Gaze between the characters . . . then you don’t need an enormous payoff to get a lot of energy out of it. One kiss can work as well as — or better than — the characters falling into bed; one brief shot of the monster’s face can horrify you more than seeing the entire thing.

When it’s done well, I adore this sort of thing. Too steady of a diet, though, and I start feeling like I need some characters with a bit less self-control. But tell me: what are your favorite “oh my god this tiny thing was so incredibly meaningful” emotional payoffs in a story, or your favorite “and then we pulled out all of the stops and fired up the jet engines and went so far over the top we couldn’t even see it with binoculars” moments?

Draft!

Ladies, gentlemen, and those who for reasons of gender or misbehavior count themselves as neither, I am exceedingly pleased to announce that I have a finished draft of the fourth Memoir of Lady Trent, at 88,748 words.

(What’s the title? You’ll have to wait to find that out until after Voyage of the Basilisk has been released. Because I’m mean that way.)

Undermining the Unreliable Narrator

In my recent discussion of The Name of the Wind, one of the things that has come up is the way in which Kvothe is an unreliable narrator, and the text does or does not separate the character’s sexism out from the sexism of the story as a whole. This isn’t solely a problem that crops up with unreliable narrators — it can happen any time the protagonist holds objectionable views, or lives in a society with objectionable attitudes but you don’t want to make the protagonist a mouthpiece for modern opinions — but it’s especially key there. And since I brought it up in that discussion, I thought it might be worth making an additional post to talk about how one goes about differentiating between What the Protagonist Thinks (on the topic of gender, race, or any other problematic issue) and What the Author Thinks.

I don’t pretend to be a master of this particular craft. That kind of separation is tricky to pull off, and depends heavily on the reader to complete the process. The issue is one that’s been on my mind, though, because of the Lady Trent novels: Isabella is the product of a Victorianish society, and while my approach to the -isms there hasn’t been identical to that of real history, I’ve tried not to scrub them out entirely. Since the entire story is filtered through her perspective (which, while progressive for her time, is not always admirable by twenty-first century standards), I’ve had to put a lot of thought into ways I can divide her opinions from my own.

There are a variety of tactics. Because I think things go better with concrete data rather than vague generalities, I’m going to continue to use The Name of the Wind as an illustrative example.

(more…)

An Invocation for Beginnings

There’s a lot of inspirational dreck out there — well, I shouldn’t call it dreck. No doubt it inspires somebody. Generally not me, though, because the sentiment is too saccharine, too happy-fuzzy-warm to have any real impact on me. And yet, things like the demotivators are too cynical: they’re good for a brief laugh, but when you need something to get you going, they probably aren’t going to help. (Unless they do. Brains are weird things, and each one works in a different way.)

Which is why, when I found an inspirational thing that worked on me, I ran out and bought a poster of it. (Mine is green. The color is unfortunate either way: oh well.) The inspirational thing is a video by ze frank, An Invocation for Beginnings:

It works for me because it’s not happy-fuzzy-warm. It’s funny and it’s random and every so often it hits the point right on the nose. If I tried to quote my favorite bits at you, I’d end up quoting half the speech, but I’m especially fond of “Perfectionism may look good in his shiny shoes but he’s a little bit of an asshole and nobody invites him to their pool parties” and the whole part about the pencils. And then the last bit: “And god let me enjoy this. Life isn’t just a sequence of waiting for things to be done.”

Sometimes when I sit down to write, I don’t feel like doing it. I don’t want to be working on that bit of the story, or I don’t want to be working on that story, or I don’t want to be working at all. The Invocation helps me remember to enjoy that night’s work for what it is, to sink myself down into it and have fun. Maybe this isn’t the big thrilling climax to anything . . . but I can still get a cool turn of phrase or add in a detail that wasn’t there before. I’m not just waiting for this book to be done.

Let’s start this shit up.

tonight’s writing lesson

Do not end your day’s work with a line like this:

Lord Rossmere was not speaking to inform us, though; all that was prelude to his next statement.

Because when you come back to the text, you will not remember what that next statement was supposed to be. (Possibly I never knew, and that was just me reminding myself to justify the “as you know, Bob” dialogue that precedes it. I haven’t worked on this bit since before my NY/DC trip, so I really don’t recall.)

On the other hand, I am pleased with this line:

I did not say to him that I had kept the information secret precisely to avoid our current situation. First, because it was only true in part; and second, because Tom was stepping firmly on my foot.

Would you believe that Tom was originally a throwaway character invented solely because somebody like Lord Hilford wouldn’t travel alone? The stuff about his working-class origins came later, so that he and Isabella wouldn’t be nonentities to one another. And then I decided, almost on a whim, to have him become an actual colleague, at least to the extent of going to Bayembe with Isabella. Next thing I knew, he was a fixture of the story, and one of my favorite characters in the entire series.

It only looks like we plan this stuff. Half of it happens by accident.

What a difference an empty seat makes

On the way home from World Fantasy tonight, I had the entire row to myself, all three seats, with my husband in the aisle seat across from me. I took advantage of this space not only to sprawl out and read a sizable chunk of Wolf Hall, but also to get some work done: 1500 words on a proposal for a Sekrit Projekt, and another 2300 on “The Unquiet Grave,” whose title has been hacked down to “Unquiet” for the time being. The only reason I didn’t finish was because my computer was almost out of battery and we were about to land anyway; after I got home and ate dinner, I parked my jet-lagged butt in the chair and knocked out the last 200 words.

So that’s a draft! Not necessarily a good one, but it’s easier to fix a story that exists than one that doesn’t. And it’s nice to write something for which I don’t have to do any research whatsoever: things like that are pretty rare for me these days. I’ll let it sit for a bit and then have some friends pull it to pieces, and then — wonder of wonders — I’ll have something new to send out!

Probably couldn’t have done it without those empty seats, though. It’s amazing, what a difference some elbow room makes.

Number sixteen

It’s a short draft, and I already know what needs to be added in, both to fill it out to a better length and to mend a kind of gaping lack in the story. But that is what revision is for.

Right now, at 84,223 words, Chains and Memory is finished.

indicted on two charges of negligent authorial cruelty

You would think I’d notice when I’m doing something horrible to my characters — but sometimes the penny drops quite late.

The context for this post is the scene I wrote for Chains and Memory last night. There’s a detail I put into Lies and Prophecy that seemed like an interesting twist, an additional layer to an aspect of the world that the characters hadn’t realized was there. When I started planning out this book, I knew I was going to add another component to that detail; the adding happened a few days ago. And then last night, writing a follow-on scene, I finally realized what I’d done to Julian, by tossing in that little detail so many years ago.

I can’t get more specific than that without massively spoiling things, but I can give a different example of what I mean: Nicholas Merriman, an NPC in my game Memento, which is the campaign that ultimately gave rise to the Onyx Court series. Nicholas is nowhere in the novels, so there will be no spoilers for the Onyx Court if I tell you I may have been more cruel to him than any other member of the Merriman family save Francis. (Who did appear in the novels, so if I tell you his role in the game was pretty much the same except it ended a little bit worse, you’ll have some scale for comparison.)

Memento was a Changeling game about a group of faeries reincarnating in mortal hosts over a period of centuries, trying to create the Philosopher’s Stone. They were assisted in this process by a faerie-blooded human family, the Merrimans, who passed down the knowledge of their quest through the generations . . . but lost bits of it along the way, because seven hundred years is a long time to keep that kind of thing alive. Nicholas, living in the modern day, had only the fragments he’d gleaned from his Alzheimer-afflicted grandfather, and almost no connection to the faerie world whatsoever.

Under the mechanics for fae blood in that game, Nicholas was permitted one single “fae gift,” i.e. an ability inherited from his changeling ancestor. It could be a powerful ability, but he could only have one. I chose Parted Mists. In Changeling, the Mists are a metaphysical force that causes human beings to forget about magical things: to come up with “rational” explanations for them or dismiss them as mere fancy or just forget them entirely. Parted Mists allowed Nicholas to actually remember his interactions with the PC changelings, which was pretty necessary to make the plot go; ergo, my decision seemed like simple common sense.

So they meet Nicholas and realize they were doing something important and go through a process that causes them to remember their past lives, which takes up the bulk of the campaign, with them flashing back to previous centuries (and previous Merriman helpers) before finally snapping back to the present day and finishing what they started.

By which point I had realized that I had been horrifically, unthinkingly cruel to Nicholas.

Because he remembered.

Here’s the thing about Changeling: in that setting, there is a magical layer to the world that we can’t generally see. Changelings can see it; children can see it, but lose the ability as they grow up; adults can be temporarily enchanted to see it, but the Mists make them forget after the enchantment fades.

Nicholas did not forget.

After he met the PCs, Nicholas knew that he was living in grey, dreary Kansas. He knew Oz was right there, all around him: a fantastical world filled with color and magic and wonder. He knew the PCs lived in that world, and he’d been permitted to visit it a few times. But every time, the magic ended, and he was back in black-and-white Kansas — remembering precisely what he had lost.

I did not mean to be so cruel to him. But I was, and it took me months to realize I had been.

And that’s more or less what I’ve done to Julian. Not the same flavor of cruelty, but the same failure to notice until an embarrassingly long time later. The good news is, I have noticed, and that means I can make story out of it; that’s what I was doing last night. Not only that, but in writing up the problem, I realized it had a whole second layer to it, so that he’s asking Kim the question she hears, and also a second question she won’t hear until it’s almost too late.

If I’m lucky, readers will hit this part of the story and think “oh, wow, that’s a really awesome thing Marie Brennan set up there.” They won’t realize how much of it was an accident, that I only just caught at the last second. ๐Ÿ™‚

Building a Better World

Some of you may have seen this excellent set of posts on the blog Generation Anthropocene, using details from George R.R. Martin’s novels to try and build a geological history of Westeros and Essos. It’s a fantabulous bit of geekery, marrying serious scientific know-how to one of the big challenges of writing speculative fiction, that task we refer to as “worldbuilding.”

I read those posts, grinned at the geekery — and then paused.

And clicked around a bit.

And sent an email.

A couple of months later, I am the proud owner of a tectonic map of Lady Trent’s world, along with extensive notes on the geology and climate of her planet. Mike Osborne and Miles Traer of Generation Anthropocene were kind enough to read through the first two Memoirs and take my description of the places that show up in #3, then help me work out the underpinnings of that world in greater detail than I had already. I’m pleased to say that my efforts on the climate front pretty much held up to their scrutiny; I don’t have any howling errors there. Figuring out the tectonics, though, gave me information I need for future maps, and provided a number of new considerations I’ll definitely be trying to work into the last two books.

I want to thank these guys publicly, because they have done yeoman work on my behalf. If this kind of nerdiness is your catnip, you should definitely check out the Generation Anthropocene site.