Thursday, September 16, 2010

Where do I even begin…?

Nothing is more daunting to a writer than a blank page. But before you start writing, you need to know what you want to write about. So I was thinking about how I conceptualize my stories.

Most of the time I work in this order: character, setting, plot, theme. I should mention, however, that these are not entirely discrete units. The act of creation is actually very messy.

I start with character because it provides the most points of interest to me. Character, as I think of it, implies a lot of the other points. If I contemplate a dragonslayer who wants to retire and become a ballerina, for example, what does that tell me about setting, plot, and theme?

Well, to start with, we have a setting that has both dragons and ballet. Dragon stories are often set in medieval times, but ballet began sometime in the Renaissance, giving me some interesting dissonance to work with.

For plot, I immediately begin looking for conflicts to my characters stated goal. What are the impediments to retiring from a dangerous and necessary job? What are the challenges in convincing people to accept someone as a dancer?

I usually discover thematic elements as I work. It feels a little like uncovering what was already there. In this case, I suspect I’d be exploring questions of identity and the freedom to choose what to do with one’s life.  Possibly contrast the values of violence and art and parallel the discipline required to do either well.

Your mileage may vary. Perhaps contemplating what the world of dance might be like in a setting with dragons would be your starting inspiration. Or perhaps you have a theme you want to explore.

Writing, like most arts, is judged on the finished product, rather than the process. So whatever works to start your story.  Just be sure you do actually start.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Few Practical Concerns

My computer’s power supply fried itself. It was nice and dramatic – there were sparks and smoke. It’s in the shop and I don’t yet know if I still have that D&D-style movie script that I started last April.

So today’s lesson is create back-ups.  Back things up on disk, or on servers, or network them to other computers. The hard drive is not enough.

More of a practical lesson, I admit, than my usual ruminations. But clearly one worth mentioning. Something I did regularly when I was working, but obviously I got complacent at home.

On another practical note, it looks like I will be returning to the  daily grind of regular employment. This may impact the scheduling of my blog posts, but I promise to work something out.

As with the hard drive, we’ll know more next week.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Taming Ideas

I’ve been to a lot of writing conventions and read a number of books on writing. One question that always seems to come up eventually is – Where do you get your ideas?

And usually the answer is a bit sarcastic. Writers claim to get their ideas from inside cereal boxes or from a certain post office box in Schenectady. The reason for the sarcasm is because it’s the wrong question. (And, I suspect, because there isn’t an answer. Does anyone really know how our minds work?)

The right question, they’ll happily tell you, is what do you do with your ideas? The work comes in taking an idea and turning it into a story.

I have lots of ideas. Everyone does. I may have ideas about water-breathing people helping clean up a flooded city, or two clever librarians meeting and falling in love, or a quaint little post-apocalyptic coffee shop – but what do I need to sell any of these ideas to a reader?

I need these ideas, and the world’s they suggest, to to be explored by characters. Good characters with motivations and conflicts. And there should probably be a plot or two involving the characters dealing with the conflicts.

Think of a fictional character that you like. Captain Kirk, Indiana Jones, Sam Seaborn, Superman, George Smiley, Gregory House, Captain Ahab, King Lear, The Little Mermaid, Gilgamesh, Silver John, Doc Savage, anybody. You could easily write an interesting paragraph, maybe two, describing the qualities of your chosen character.

But I doubt anyone who read that paragraph would ask for more. We remember these heroes because of their stories. So I guess the real question is: How do you craft your stories?

And that, at least, we can discuss sensibly.