Category Archives: creativity

And now, on a completely different note, a few words about “The Horseman”

In case there’s anyone out there who cares, I missed last week’s installment of The Horseman, and I will probably miss this week’s.  The reason has to do with how I do first drafts.

I keep hearing about writers who outline everything about a story ahead of time, who know what’s going to happen to each character, who understand where each beat and turn of the the story will fall.  People for whom– allegedly– the writing of a story is merely a process of fleshing out the action.

That ain’t me.

My process is, quite simply, discovery of the story by writing it.  Usually, I have a general idea of the story’s action, some of the characters, and almost always how the story ends, but writing to get to that ending is typically a long process, often involving many doubts, much second-guessing, detours, re-routes and reboots.  Writer’s block is a familiar, if unwelcome, companion.  This is a major reason Princess of Stars has not progressed; I have been essentially stuck at one point in the narrative for about a year, until recently unable to understand how Kathy gets to a particular, but essential, change in attitude.  I may– may— have figured out in the last few days a way to finesse the problem.  We’ll see.

This is, frankly, not a particularly rational process.  I feel my way through an unlit cavern to discover the shape of my story, and wrong turns are common.  I have at times gone five thousand, ten thousand, fifteen thousand words down a path, only to realize it’s not working– the action is wrong for the character, or it doesn’t make sense, or it negates something else I’ve already written, or intend to write and which feels essential.  I have novels for which I have thrown away nearly as much as I have kept.

This is where I am at with The Horseman.  In attempting to push on past Part Eight I realized that how I handled Parts Seven and Eight did not ring true.  If I were doing this first draft properly, in private far from the tender eyes of readers, I could quietly eighty-six the failed passages and redirect the narrative.  Since I am committing the sin of presenting raw story, the uglier aspects of the process are, of necessity, laid bare as well.  Basically, Parts Seven and Eight must be retconned.  I am working on the changes at this moment.  But it will be a little while before I can re-post the parts and resume my forward progress.  For the time-being, The Horseman is on hold.

The silver-lining on this, of course, is that out of all the problems facing the world at the moment, the delay of this story is just about Number 178,289,129,367.  It’s good to keep things in perspective.

Later.

 

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Time to shed the purple funkies….

Since I’ve published Princess of Fire, I’ve kinda felt like Bill the Cat on a bad day–

bill-the-cat2

I’ve doodled away on four or five different projects, none of which have much prospect of seeing the light of day anytime soon, when I haven’t been collapsed in a purple funk. I was briefly cheered by an small uptick in my book sales on Amazon, but the warm fuzzies didn’t last (said uptick shows every sign of being over).

In the wake of my struggles with Princess of Fire, I have been afflicted with the certainty that I am a useless putz and a complete hack, enjoying a well-deserved obscurity. My mood has not been lightened by the fact that, in my unemployed state, I have slipped down to the only rung on the ladder of personal despair lower than yard work.

Yes. I have started to clean out the garage. Pray for me.

In the end, though, self-pity palls. You either have to yield to a final dissolution into a puddle of primordial slime, or stand up, buckle on your harness once more, and face the storm– i.e., knock off the whining and get back to writing, dork.

Because, if I’m a miserable hack, at least it’s my miserable hackness…hackiness…hacknicity…whatever. It’s my duty, or doom, to write my stories, and nobody else’s– and, conversely, no one else can write stories that belong to me. I need to tell them, and that’s all there is to it. Whether they ever get read is quite a separate issue.

As I do, I console myself with the thought that at least my stuff is better than Fifty Shades of Grey. It ain’t much, but it’s something.

So–

MY IMPORTANT WRITING PLANS–

1. Set up the Createspace print-on-demand version of Princess of Fire. This shouldn’t be particularly arduous, so a week or two should be sufficient to check this item off. No one has yet bought any of my POD editions (which means the three copies I own are completely unique and exist nowhere else in this universe, which is kind of freaky when you think about it), but you never know when some librarian in Ottumwa might decide to give you a shot.

2. Spend a month writing a detailed synopsis for Princess of Stars. I’ve already blogged about my deep and abiding desire to avoid another pantsing disaster, although I have not experienced a sudden conversion to detailed, anal-retentive plotting, and still less outlining (this is writing, people, not engineering). I know where Princess of Stars begins and I know where it ends, but I need to have a clear picture of what happens in-between.

3. Sometime in October-November launch into the first draft of Princess of Stars. God alone knows how long it will take to complete the first pass– I’m planning on allocating at least a year. How some people write full novels in three months puzzles the crap out of me.

4. Pick up the pace of my blogging– who knows, maybe even establish an actual schedule, although I don’t want to go off the deep end. Among other things, there are books and movies out there just waiting to be reviewed, which obviously need my particularly ignorant and completely biased opinion to find their correct place in the artistic inventory of Western civilization. That’s another aspect of my writing only I can commit…um, write.

Note: I previously blogged that I would be spending time on Horse Tamer between Princess of Fire and Princess of Stars. Unfortunately, I have laid it aside. My previous experiment yielded 60,000 words that went nowhere, and I think I finally have to admit that this story-line needs to go back on the shelf, probably permanently. It makes me sad, but I have only so many years left on this Earth, and I can’t spin my wheels forever.

So– once more into the fray, chilluns….

“Ring the alarum-bell!—Blow, wind! Come, wrack!
At least we’ll die with harness on our back.”

Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5, Page 3

Some Words of Encouragement….

IMG_20150831_133250019

Years and years and years ago, when I could still be considered a young man, my wife and I moved from California to Washington State so I could go to graduate school. One of my good friends in California gave me a going-away present. She was also an aspiring writer, and we briefly collaborated on some stories. Her gift was a handmade poster with encouraging quotes from notable authors about writing– frankly, one of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received. It was entitled “Some Words of Encouragement”, and it hung on the wall of most of my work-areas for the next decade. Eventually, however, we moved into a house with severe space issues, so it was stored away.

This weekend I started clearing our garage, possibly in preparation to sell that same space-challenged house, and I found the poster. It brought back good memories, but more than that, the quotes were still pertinent to my writing process, and I suppose they would be to anyone else’s, too. It seemed a good idea to share them, and here they are.

Note– since I received these quotes second-hand, I cannot wholly vouch for their accuracy. But my friend was pretty careful and precise in most of her dealings, so I have no reason to think they are wildly off the mark. Also, the advice dates from the Dinosaurian Age, when there was only Traditional Publishing (and typewriters!), and self-publishing meant handing out mimeographed copies of your work on street corners. Because of that, some of the quotes should be taken with a grain of salt– but they’re still fun.

Lastly, I’ve tried to keep transcription errors to a minimum.

*********************************
SOME WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT

“Tell the readers a STORY! Because without a story, you are merely using words to prove you can string them together in logical sentences.”

— Anne McCaffrey

“You are not your writing. That is, people can love you and hate your work. Never assume that a rejection of your stuff is also a rejection of you as a person. Unless it’s accompanied by a punch in the nose.”

— Ron Goulart

“Be persistent. Editors change; editorial tastes change; markets change. Too many beginning writers give up too easily.”

— John Jakes

“Study the writers magazines and pound the hell out of the typewriter.”

— Erle Stanley Gardner

Any advice, ideas or suggestions about writing from people not in the creative world should be staunchly ignored and the damaging mental vibrations quelled with a good hot fudge sundae.”

— Nancy Winslow Parker

“Always make sure you get paid.”

— Ron Goulart

“Ray Bradbury told me to put a sign on my typewriter: DON’T THINK! It works miracles. I suggest one above that: HAVE FUN.”

— Richard Bach

“Preserve time each day for absolute quiet and privacy, whether you’re writing or not. It is, after all, the inner life that alone nourishes the writer’s real senses.”

— Donald Spoto

“The ideas that at first seem most outrageous, even ludicrous, are often our best and/or most creative ones – they just seem strange because we have gotten beneath the level of cliche in reaching them.”

— Rosemary Daniell

“You are your own person. You do not have to see things the way others do– in fact it will probably bode better for your writing if you do not.”

— Valerie Sherwood

“Write it and send it in. The most crucial thing a writer does is produce.”

— Robert B. Parker

“Life is a short run – milk it. Write what you really want to.”

— Ralph G. Martin

“The beginning writer needs talent, application and aspirin. If he wants to write just to make money, he is not a writer.”

— James Thurber

“The reader has certain rights. He bought your story. Think of this as an implicit contract. He’s entitled to be entertained, instructed, amused; maybe all three. If he quits in the middle, or puts the book down feeling his time has been wasted, you’re in violation.”

— Larry Niven

“Don’t think and then write it down. Think on paper.”

— Harry Kamelman

“It takes most of us writers a long time to learn our craft. So keep at it. Don’t give up.”

— Jacqueline Briskin

“Don’t write what you know – what you know may bore you, and thus your readers. Write about what interests you – and interests you deeply – and your readers will catch fire at your words.”

— Valerie Sherwood

A Writer’s Doldrums, or the Poison of Doubt

It’s probably some sort of literary postpartum depression thingie, but since publishing Princess of Fire I haven’t had much energy for writing. At most I’ve doodled a few hundred words here and there on different projects, none of which have yet gelled. Somewhere in the distance looms Princess of Stars, for which I absolutely have no energy at the moment. On top of that, real-life has been handing me a few tasks of an urgent nature, which means even less time and energy for scribbling.

Publishing always causes me to reflect on my writing, i.e., it engenders doubts about whether I know what the hell I’m doing. With Princess of Fire the self-doubt was especially sharp and bitter– I stumbled through the book’s four drafts and had to finish with a extra-hard push to redeem a host of lingering crimes. Then typically, in my exhaustion, I make the mistake of reading really good writers, like Hilary Mantel or Patrick O’Brian, and the distance between my feeble efforts and the prose of those who are real writers wraps itself around me and threatens to squeeze the life out of me like some anaconda of inadequacy. Cognitively I know that comparing yourself to other writers is one of the worst things you can do; nevertheless, I do it a lot.

Somehow, though, my sense of inadequacy never quite quashes my need to write. There are those who view the need to write as an addiction, and I can see some truth in the idea. Fortunately, it is generally a positive addiction, if there can be such a thing. So, eventually, I am sure I will once more crank up the narrative machine and feed my need.

And maybe– just maybe– I will someday write something decent.

Later.

Mondays Finish the Story – July 13th, 2015– Climbing

Flash fiction challenge for July 13th, 2015– 150 words around this image–

© 2015, Barbara W. Beacham
© 2015, Barbara W. Beacham

and this initial sentence–

“Delphine always wanted to pilot her father’s plane and when he forgot his keys on her tenth birthday, she knew that taking off would be easy.”

This is an utter bit of fluff….

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel

****************************************************

Delphine always wanted to pilot her father’s plane, and when he forgot his keys on her tenth birthday, she knew that taking off would be easy.

Nobody told her landing an airplane is the hard part.

“Landing is the hard part, honey,” her father told her over the radio.

“Now you tell me!” Delphine said, as the plane climbed.

“You’ll exceed the plane’s ceiling soon if you keep climbing,” Traffic Control said.

“What happens then?” Delphine said.

“The plane will stall and crash,” Traffic Control said.

“Oh,” Delphine said.

“Honey, you have to push the control column forward to level out,” her father said.

Delphine, who was always directionally challenged, pulled the column back. The plane climbed higher.

“Goodbye, Daddy,” she cried.

On the ground they saw the plane dwindling in the heights. Then the giant alien spaceship zoomed into view. A beam enveloped the plane.

“Such a brave child– what an intrepid climb,” the aliens said over the radio. “Come, join us.”

And that is how Delphine Eloise Novotny became humanity’s first interstellar ambassador.

A not-so-short note re: Princess of Fire– a milestone passed….

I have finally, finally, finally finished inputting the hard-copy changes for Princess of Fire. This should not have taken three weeks, but it is done. In the process I re-wrote a major piece of action from scratch, and substantially tightened another section. Net word count didn’t change much– about 134,000 to 133,000– but the end-product is, I think, a good deal tighter. The book is now, essentially, in its final form.

There are a few formatting issues I need to deal with before going to the next step, chief among them removing all hard-returns I inserted as breaks between sections. Such extraneous hard-returns cause problems with Kindle formatting, so I have to go through and remove them, and use after-paragraph spacing instead. It’s a tedious task, but it has to be done.

(Why didn’t you do it while you wrote the story, Mr. Daniel? Because when I’m writing I’m flying too low and fast to worry about precise formatting issues. Besides, I generally don’t know exactly where section breaks are going to fall before the red-pen changes are done. So there.)

Once that’s done, I will create a paginated PDF via Createspace that will allow me to pin down lingering issues (“eek, a soft-return!!!”). From the PDF I create a punch-list of errata for correction. There may also be a couple of small additional scenes– a couple of hundred words each, at most– that I may want to insert, if I decide they enhance the story. This phase will essentially constitute my third complete read-through of the novel. As far as I’m concerned, reading your own work until you can’t stand to look at it anymore is essential to getting it right. Easy? No. The life of a writer is never easy. Give up that delusion right now.

Once the punch-list is complete, the novel will go to my beta-readers. Assuming they are not completely revolted and demand massive changes, it will be a few short steps from inputting the beta-corrections to publication. One lingering task that will need to be completed before-hand is for me to write an excerpt from Princess of Stars for inclusion in Princess of Fire. I’m in the process of pulling that together right now. Once it’s done, I may post it on WordPress for feedback.

Whew. To sum up, I am probably more than eighty percent through a long, painful process. There are a few more miles to go, but considering that there were points last summer when I thought I would never finish this novel, I’m feeling pretty good. If the Lord tarries and aliens don’t invade, Princess of Fire should be online on Amazon sometime before September.

Hopefully….

***************

PS– already found a soft-return in the process of removing extra hard returns–

Softreturn06122015

These hidden little disasters play merry hob with e-book formatting, as they insert a generally unwanted line-break. They must die….

Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge– OBERON IS HERE

A flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig, 1000 words based on an image.

I went with the one Chuck provided–

chuckoberon1

My usual mediocrity….

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel
************************
OBERON IS HERE

Finally, fighting the traffic was just too much. I gave up— there was no chance of getting home today. I pulled off into the driveway of a little honky-town bar and restaurant, just shy of the I-20/S-208 interchange. I could see the cars on the interstate were at a complete stand-still. I just didn’t have enough energy left to brave it.

The signboard outside the bar read “OBERON IS HERE” in big, black letters. I mean, state the obvious.

I went in. The air conditioning inside gave me a pleasant shiver. Driving two hundred miles in the Texas heat will take it out of you, even if your AC was working, which mine wasn’t.

The bar portion of the place was quiet, empty, dark. The TV behind the bar was showing the same talking heads who had dominated the air waves for the last week; mercifully, the sound was muted. The only other person in the bar was the bartender. He leaned on the polished counter; when I stepped up, I saw he was working a newspaper cross-word puzzle.

“I hate those puzzles,” I said, planting myself on a stool.

The barkeep looked up. Older, heavy, with eyes that had seen more than his fair share of trouble– but he smiled. “Keeps my mind off things,” he said. “Especially since it takes me a while to finish one.” He put down his pencil. “What’s your pleasure?”

“Heineken?”

“Not a problem.”

He pulled a bottle out of the ice, plopped it on the counter, uncapped it for me. I took a sip. The beer was as good, or better, than the cool air of the bar.

“I’m surprised you’re not hip-deep in customers,” I said.

The barkeep shook his head. “Nobody wants to give up their place in the lemming parade. Not that they’re going much of anywhere.”

I snorted. “I wonder where they think they’re going. It’s not like running away is really a solution.”

The barkeep eyed me curiously. “You’re not a lemming, then?”

“Nope– trying to get back to Dallas from a job in San Angelo. Problem is, seems like every major road is jammed with people going the other direction, on both sides. I get around one flood and I hit another.”

The barkeeper nodded. “Yeah, the government panicked, and passed it on to everyone else. Glad I don’t have to go more than a quarter-mile to get home.” He picked the newspaper and the pencil, put them away. “What’s your business?”

“IT networking,” I said, taking a sip. “I was finishing up installing a system for a little mom-and-pop in San Angelo when this whole thing started.”

“Really.” The barkeep pursed his lips. “Maybe you can explain something, then.” He jerked a thumb at the silenced TV. At the moment a really attractive blond newsreader was talking to a scientist from MIT, wearing an expression that told me she was trying to look serious while not understanding a word the scientist was saying. “All of these assholes, they just confuse me. How come they didn’t see this coming?”

“Well, that’s the confusing part,” I said. “They should have seen this coming, years ago. Instead, it just…appears. There’s nothing in science that should allow that to happen.”

“And is that why they can’t say for sure what’s going to happen?” the barkeep asked.

“Mostly,” I said. “I mean, they’ve only had a few days of information to work on. Makes all the mathematics kind of speculative.”

“I guess so.” The barkeeper glanced back up at the TV, thoughtful. “Makes you wonder if it’s intentional.”

“It does,” I said. I took a big hit off the bottle. “Problem is, we may never know. Even if we make it through.”

“I guess not.” The barkeep reached up, turned off the TV. “You trying to get home to family?”

“I’ve got a dog,” I said, smiling. “All the family I have at the moment.”

“Ah. Well, maybe you’re lucky– I got two grand-kids. Worse comes to worse, it’ll be hard, but at least we’ll be together.”

“True enough.” I finished the beer. “How much?”

“Forget it,” the barkeeper said. “Considering everything….”

“No, I should pay for it,” I said. “If we do make it through, the mathematics indicates you’ll still have to pay rent on this place.”

The barkeeper laughed. “Fair enough. Make it a dollar fifty– a discount for your future business.”

“All right.” I fished out two bucks, he gave me back two quarters. I slid off the stool. “Is there a place around here I can park and camp for the night?” I asked. “I’m going to call it quits for the day, see if it’s better tomorrow.”

“Leave her right where she is,” the barkeeper said. “Nobody will bother you. Besides, I’ve got your license plate number.”

I grinned. “Thank you. Pleasure meeting you.”

“Likewise.” He stuck his hand out, and we shook.

I stepped back out into the parking lot. The traffic was still at a dead stop. Yeah, my back seat would be about as good as it would get tonight.

I looked up. Still three million miles away, and the planet covered half the sky. Green, yellow and orange cloud bands striped its atmosphere. Storms circulated here, there, and yonder in those clouds. Quite a sight.

Oberon. King of the Fairies. Capricious, powerful, vengeful. “Well, maybe it fits,” I murmured.

Princess of Fire– A light has dawned, a weight has been lifted….

The second draft of Princess of Fire, both Pass One and Pass Two, is finished. It is now a complete story, without major gaps or substantial narrative inconsistencies. One or two minor timeline issues remain, a couple of small pieces of business need to be added, and the location of a particular minor character in the narrative needs to be resolved. But this is the point at which (I think) a reader could go through the whole story and not be thrown out of the narrative by gaps or incongruities. To put it another way, I would not terribly shy about letting an editor see it in this state. That is, if I had an editor. All I’ve really got is me.

Is the story ready for publication? Not on your dog-eared copy of Strunk and White (at least, I hope you have a dog-eared copy of Strunk and White). Now comes the very close and intensive line edit, which I do with a hard copy. This is where I cut the extraneous and resolve the little consistencies and stupidities– for example, the fact that a character is named George in Chapter 2 and Fred in Chapter 5. The hard copy line edit is where I screw down my prose those last few millimeters. It’s where I will catch those pesky “felt”‘s and other bits of vague language, as well as sentence structures that would leave a Byzantine confused.

Will Princess of Fire be ready when the line edit is complete? Negatory. I have a couple of more filters to run the novel through, including my beta-readers, before I call it finalized. But I’m a long step closer now.

Now that I can see the definite outline of the book’s final form, a question comes to mind– is the novel any good? After all this long, long struggle, is it readable, enjoyable, decent?

Beats the crap out of me.

Writers are generally not the best critics of their own work. We understand the gap between what was in our head and what is on the page. Sometimes that gap is considerable. Hardly anyone ever gets 100% of their original concept on paper.

Princess of Fire, at the moment, feels to be about 55 to 60% of what I originally had in mind. There do seem to be some pretty good bits here, but I can’t judge how engaging it will be to a reader who isn’t me. Maybe I can tweak this puppy up another 5 to 10%. But it’s a truism that even successful novels are, to some degree, imperfect.

One thing that I will not try to do, however, is attempt to leverage the story toward perfection. That way lies bankruptcy and madness. Just one example– George Lucas came close to destroying the original Star Wars trilogy with his special and super-special editions, which basically boiled down to him second-guessing himself. The end result was weaker, not stronger, than the original.

At some point, a writer has to call a halt. Someone (and I’ve seen this attributed to several different individuals) said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned”. At some point I will stop tweaking Princess of Fire and publish, and then move on to another imperfect project. This is just the way it is.

Not yet, however– there’s lots of work left to do. But this book is definitely, by the grace of God, coming together.

Later.

Suspension of disbelief and its limits

My recent post on The Guardians of the Galaxy got me to thinking about a part of story-telling that gets mentioned every now and then, but which (it occurs to me) is actually extremely critical, in any genre, anywhere, anytime. I’m talking about the reader/viewer/listener’s suspension of disbelief.

I’m not sure this is talked about a lot in writing classes, and I hardly ever heard about it in the various writing groups I’ve been associated with over the years- at least, by its full name. Many times, however, readers would say to me, “That just threw me right out of the story.” In other words, something about the narrative prevented the reader from suspending their disbelief in the fictional world I presented to them.

Suspension of disbelief– the ability to say “I am going to temporarily accept the baseline premises of a fictional universe in order to enter into that world and enjoy the sensation that the world is real and happening now.” That’s a little long-winded, but I think it covers all the bases.

Here’s the point– suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader/viewer/listener is essential to the story’s success. Without it, without the implicit agreement between the story-teller and the recipient of the story that they are going to pretend, for just this moment, that this fictional universe is real, the recipient of the story cannot enter into the tale, and cannot enjoy it. Period.

And this is true for all fictional endeavors. Science-fiction and fantasy have to work harder than some other genres to achieve suspension of disbelief, but SoD is in operation in every sort of narrative story, because it permeates every critical aspect of a story– world, characterization, action. If Jane Austen had written Lizzie Benet in Pride and Prejudice as her independent self in one chapter and a compliant mouse in the next, her readers would have said, “This threw me out of the story” (or early 19th Century words to that effect)– in other words, they would have been unable to suspend disbelief.

In an important sense, this was what I was complaining about in my review of Guardians of the Galaxy— there were moments (thankfully not that many) that threatened my suspension of disbelief. That giant head, for instance, for me just doesn’t work as an object in a science-fiction story– my brain starts gnawing away at questions like how is it possible to have a giant organism in space, and how are the bodily components of a giant space alien valuable? etc., all of which immediately interfere with my enjoyment of the story. The head violates what I assumed were the basic premises of the story.

Failure to maintain SoD is a threat to the very success of a story. Do it too often, or to too great a degree, and the audience turns off the television, walks out of the theater, throws the book across the room. Worse, the disappointed are likely to spread poisonous word of mouth– Yeah, that book/movie/show sucked, it made no sense. Not making sense to a reader or viewer is the kiss of death.

Or it should be. However, suspension of disbelief is actually a personal thing. Elements of a story that might absolutely destroy the experience for me might go completely unnoticed by others. It is, in fact, a factor of personal taste.

Which brings me to this–

In ordinary circumstances, the thought of a new Mad Max/Road Warrior movie would leave this particular fan-boy gibbering with delighted anticipation. Watching this trailer, however, fills me with dread. The original Road Warrior had a simple, gritty sensibility, which was actually enhanced by its low-low-low budget. Among other things, its effects and stunts had to be practical and guaranteed not to kill anybody. This gave it more verisimilitude than you would have expected from a stark description of the film (post-apocalyptic survivors fight over gasoline).

This film, on the other hand, looks like a badly-made video game– overblown, filled with explosions, hurtling cars, hurtling bodies, and pieces of action that either seem to violate basic Newtonian physics or just not make any sense (people on poles? Why?). It looks as if George Miller, now that he’s George Freakin’ Miller, is bathing in money, and has thrown most of it at this production. But to me, it is the apparently nonsensical and over-the-top action that has already set my SoD to trembling. To my eyes, the action doesn’t look plausible– and, as a consequence, I will hesitate to dive into this particular film experience without at least seeing a goodly number of reviews. Lots of reviews. And I sure as taxes will not be camping out at the Cineplex waiting for opening day.

Of course, judging a movie by its trailer is probably even more problematic than judging a book by its cover. This movie may yet redeem itself to me. But here’s where the part about SoD being an expression of personal taste comes into play. This movie will doubtless make buckets of money, because, quite simply, there seem to be an incredible number of people nowadays who, in my opinion, are undiscriminating action junkies who will watch anything with a sufficient number of very large explosions and/or fast moving objects. Think Fast and Furious or Transformers. We’re talking about people for whom, apparently, no explosion is too big, no piece of action too outlandish. People whose SoD, it seems, has acquired a nearly infinite elasticity. As a consequence, classics like The Road Warrior are betrayed by junk sequels, and movies (and story-telling in general) are left all the poorer.

I seem to have slipped over into a rant. I will therefore stop here, leave poor Max alone, and just come to my point. Suspension of disbelief is one of the absolutely critical elements of the story-telling art. Not pushing your readers or viewers into disbelief, not breaking that implicit contract with them to create a plausible world, is essential. Every creator of a narrative needs to pay attention to it.

Unless you want your story to feel like an overblown cartoon.

‘Nuff said. Later.

A few changes in the works, and a thought on literary time-bombs

I am in the process of changing a few things about my blog, mainly in terms of appearance, starting with the title. “Doug Daniel’s Writing Blog” is what I slapped on this thing two years ago, for lack of anything more creative, when I wasn’t sure what blogging involved or what I wanted to do with it. Well, now I’ve got a much better idea what I’m doing, and the old title is pretty, well, blah. “On Writing, and other forms of suffering” seems a much more appropriate title, although I may try some others on for size. I may work on the themes and other items as well. But it will still be me, worrying and whining about something.

Meanwhile, some of you may recall that in my last post I implied that I might occasionally doodle away at my epic fantasy while focusing on Princess of Fire. Well, Sunday I doodled, and doodled, and doodled, to the tune of more than 2000 words. I finally had to force myself to stop. I really enjoy writing the main character. Mankin is morose, suffering, meaner than a tax auditor on April 16th (when he’s riled), but also smart, compassionate, funny, and humble. And he is a deadly, deadly swordsman. Anyone who is part of the Three Musketeers/Captain Blood demographic would get this character.

But doodling this much on the epic reminded me quite pointedly of one of the main problems with the story line I created for him– there isn’t much there. Mankin has always been something of a character in search of a plot. In his earliest incarnations, he really did little more than wander around and have adventures, like Conan the Barbarian with musical talent (oh, did I mention that?). Even now, after years of noodling about him, I realize that he would be under-motivated for the story I have created. Most especially, there is no sense of a ticking time-bomb– the urgent danger that necessitates him, and others, risking life and limb, and even more, to stop the bomb from going off.

In most dramatic literature, you need that time-bomb, ticking away in the background. In Lord of the Rings the time-bomb is will Frodo and Sam make it to Mount Doom (without getting caught) before Sauron conquers everything and/or Gollum stabs them in the back? Even realistic fiction has versions of this– in Hamlet the time-bomb is will Hamlet freaking make up his mind before his uncle knocks him off first? In most drama, you need some impetus against which the protagonist has to struggle to his utmost. There’s a reason why stories involving literal ticking bombs are usually so dramatic.

So my little diversion with this story did have one benefit– when I do return to it in a serious way, I will need to thoroughly rethink the story, so that Mankin is given something real and important to strive against, as well something good to achieve. In the meantime, bud, sorry, but it’s back in the drawer with you. I have to go help Kathy out. Who, by the way, does have a serious time-bomb on her hands. Simply mountainous….