The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Posts Tagged ‘doc savage’

Need A Bit Of Assistance With The Story, Huh?

Posted by BigWords on August 8, 2009

There’s as many ways to write a book as there are writers, possibly more. I’m not the kind of person who slavishly devotes time to following How To books, mostly because there is often as much bullshit as there is good advice tucked in the pages of that “best-selling author who want YOU to achieve the same success” and who has outlined their methods in painstaking detail. It always strikes me as fanciful that a person picked off the street at random could be turned into a chart-topping success after reading one of those books.

But that is the belief which How To books exploit, in the hope you will part with your money. Put the cash back in your pocket, and wait a minute before you give your credit card details to the webpage which promises to get you millions of sales. I’ll point you in the direction of a few places which are distilled and undiluted help for the ideas rattling around your brain. They aren’t pretty, and they aren’t particularly long, but they work for me. That’s the important thing, right?

If you have read The Da Vinci Code and thought “How the fuck did that piece of shit get so many readers,” then The Da Vinci Formula: The Da Vinci Code’s Formula For Success is what you need to check out. It was originally published in a writing magazine, but the webpage is easier to find than a back-issue, so I’m directing your attention there.

Please, for the love of Cthulhu, don’t write like Dan Brown, even if you’re just in it for the money… It is more of a brief outline of how it managed to break through popular consciousness than a step-by-step guide to the process of writing such a book. Some parts of the article have been useful in figuring out what I should avoid, rather than copy, but take from it what you will. You could tell that I hated The Dumb Venetian Crud from what I’ve just written, right?

I’ve been a big fan of old pulp magazines for as long as I can remember, possibly due to seeing the Doc Savage movie at an impressionable age, but I digress… The Lester Dent technique for writing pulp stories is a fine tool for short stories and novellas. It is an excellent resource, and one which should be savored for the brevity and intelligence of advice.

An Effective Writing Formula For Unsure Writers is useful, and Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Emmons, Jr., the author of the piece, has a good grasp of the requirements of a riveting story. The numbered outline idea has plenty of followers, but I can’t honestly say that it has ever worked entirely well for me. Things get moved around too much, and I like twisting the story to fill in the blanks when I come to natural pauses, though it might give your story shape.

There’s a special world of How To devoted to getting kids to write, such as Formula Writing originated by Jan Cosner, and anyone wanting to get back to basics should thing about using this to decide if every word is working properly in their stories. I got irritated with the tone after a few minutes, but more patient writers will probably receive some good advice from the work tools. While I’m on the subject of “back to basics” writing, I’ll explain where fairy tales come into the equation:

Most genre fiction (I’m using ‘genre’ even  though it is a moronic word) has a tendency to structure itself around some very basic and intuitive ideas which can be traced back to fairy tale and myth. Substitute magic cloaks of invisibility for chameleon nets, swords for phasers, princesses for diplomats and castles for starships, and that is basically what SF has been using since the creation of the form.

There is a How To article which spells out the writing of fairy tales better than I can, and it should be viewed through a distorted lens of modern ideas to get the most out of the ideas in fairy tales.

I’ve steered clear of some of the better know books on the subject of writing thus far into my meanderings, so it is only fair that I share with you a couple of the titles sitting on my bookshelf which have helped me manage ideas, just to clear up which books are actually useful and which you should take with a grain of salt. I’m starting with Stephen King’s exploration of the horror genre Danse Macabre,which has lots of ideas about the conventions and twists that horror stories use. His tone is, as always, reassuringly chatty, and he never gets too complex for the material he is using.

It might not be of use if you are planning trash like Twilight, but for horror it is one of the few indispensable books out there. On Writing is also up there with some of the best advice you can find.

Most real How To titles are useless for me, but Christopher Kenworthy’s Writing Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror from (ugh…) How To Books is not completely irrelevant. Some of the advice is completely patronizing and redundant, and he has the troublesome knack of finding the most obvious choices in his examples, as if he is trying to show how not to follow an idea through to its’ most interesting angle.

I may come back to this book at a later point for a more detailed reason why I dislike it, but for now I’ll put this post aside for a while.

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Hidden Histories & Secret Wars

Posted by BigWords on August 1, 2009

Time slipped away from me, so this is the belated Saturday blog.

Hidden Histories

In the last post I covered how I pick ‘n’ mix history with story for effect. Here is where I show rather than tell, because that is (a) fun, and (b) hopefully useful.

This is from deep in the creative history pool of backstory, and it may not work for everyone. If I’m playing with ideas centred between the 20th Century and the modern era, it is the ‘shared history’ which affects the characters and stories. I’ll begin with the well-known case of Kaspar Hauser, who fits my fictohistory perfectly. On the 26th May, 1828 he appeared from nowhere, and within five years would be dead.

Other writers have used him as a metaphor for everything from the pointlessness of the human condition to the savagery of mankind, but I like to use him as an early example of an engineered person. His garbled accounts form a record of some sort of early social conditioning experiment, and I love the way he ties in to many other ideas which crop up throughout the fringe history of the era. It is almost as if he was born specifically to inspire writers for centuries to come.

So, if I begin with barbaric social engineering experiments, who can take the blame? Using the Knights Templar is annoying and lazy. They’re so overused as to be completely impotent as a threat, and I like to strike fresh ground when I think of evil organizations. Remember the tiny little fragment I used in the last post? Here’s a sample of the excerpt, because the bit I used yesterday wasn’t small enough:

Time was running out. Too much was already known, and The Architects were aware of his creation.

It’s a throwaway name, but deserves some expansion. Anything I use needs to have ties, just so the idea doesn’t feel orphaned. The name is cool, but not intimidating or dark enough on its’ own. It needs a full name, because the common use would be shortened, and it sure feels like shortened version on its’ own. Lets try – The Architects of the Future. Better. The concept of a group ‘engineering’ the path of humanity has shades of eugenics and totalitarian psychology, so it is fit for purpose right now. Anything can change at a moments notice.

With the need to understand the mentality of the people they will be governing, they would certainly have experimented on the development of the mind, tying in to Casper Hauser. It needs more links to the wider world, so I have to think of links. Henry More Smith‘s life story seems like a forerunner of the do-anything Doc Savage type, so I’ll enfold him in the timeline as another ‘experiment’, though one which has had more success.

The timeline is messy now, because he was born slightly before Hauser. I’ll fudge the problem of linear improvements in the process now, because no two people are the same. Using Hauser doesn’t negate the technique of mental and physical tempering, because one failure does not make an experiment nonviable. We haven’t seen the hands behind the string-pulling, so it is time to consider who would want to control the future. Time-travellers? No. Cheapening the idea with one single SF component amid the near-reality will be an irritating and irrelevant distraction.

Everything flows from psychology. If a character wouldn’t normally think of trying to prevent certain events, or to make some events come to pass, then they shouldn’t be forced into the position for dramatic effect. The only group who has the pull to organize social engineering on a large scale, yet remain a covert force, would be one with the complicit approval of a larger organization.The architectural theme might suggest freemasonry, but a group whose initiations are so ridiculous cannot be taken seriously as a threat to society.

In truth it doesn’t really matter if the real origin is pinned down or not, because the beauty of conspiracy theories is the contradictory and elusive nature of their existence. Real conspiracies are complex and muddled so a fictional one should exhibit just as many inconsistencies.

I can’t just announce them in the middle of the plot as a deus ex machina, or it will really jump out. It’ll be so blatant that you’ll want to scream and throw the book across the room. We need to see the effects of their actions across history, shaping events and making the rules up as they go. They can’t be moustache-twiddling neer-do-wells, ’cause real people don’t see themselves as villains. Everyone believes they are the hero, even as they are twisting the knife deeper.

More background…

Secret Wars

I’m stealing the phrase from a couple of comic-series by Marvel, because they hit the nail on the head with this idea. I need to introduce an ongoing battle between the forces of good and evil… Sorry, between the forces of the organization and those whose ideological viewpoint is diametrically opposed. So I’ll start big and get bigger, because thinking small never got a person anywhere.

Jack the Ripper was an agent cleaning up loose ends, maybe because the women knew about the children being taken by the society.

Not big enough? Then I’ll say that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated because he opposed the Architects. Bigger? A group of scientists, engineers, philosophers and other leading minds kidnapped in the early part of the twentieth century as a arms-race in information as they plan the second world war. Big enough yet? I can keep adding to the back-story as I go, and with a fictional group I am free to create enmities with both sides of the political landscape.

So now there is an existing history, violent confrontation and a possibly unstoppable group.

There needs to be an end-game planned out, or at least some idea of where they will be taking their plans. That is escalation in action, as the events become more obvious and people are drawn in to their machinations. I’ll get around to the finer points soon, but there ‘s the matter of a man kidnapped from a boat in 1913 to take care of…

As the soldiers entered, clearing the rooms as they went, they noticed the old man. Skeletal, hunch-backed and straining to see in the light, he spoke in soft German tones.

“Is the war over?”

Gunfire filled the air.

Okay, so he made it to the end of WWII. He didn’t get out, ’cause that would have fucked up the actual history we have, but he did make it to the end of the war.

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