The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

Pick A Genre, Any Genre…

Posted by BigWords on October 16, 2009

NaNo is approaching fast, and I still haven’t even decided which genre I’ll be using for my entry. That’s right, I’m completely and totally out in the wind on this. I should decide soon, but there are so many crazy things that seem like they would be fun to try. If November rolls around and I still haven’t decided on a specific genre I’ll be forced to sit down and type the first thing that comes in to my head, which won’t be pretty…

The options are endless, though somehow intimidatingly small. A western? Nope. Still tinkering with the mess I’ve got the last one into. A thriller? Too plot-heavy to wing it, and there wouldn’t be enough time to come up with an amazing twist or three. A detective story? Maybe. I like the work-backwards’s way (mangling the English language here, bear with me) in which they work, but the one month rule is a bit tight to do one justice.

Fantasy? Very possibly the genre which will save my ass. I like the strangeness I’ll be able to play with. SF? Tied with fantasy, though perhaps too much to deal with in one month. Horror, then? Oooh, yeah, a very real possibility, but it won’t be zombies. The zombie novel I dusted off and checked through looks too good to waste energy on aping, and I will be coming back to it after November.

So I’m left with… Erotica? Sheesh, trying one for the first time with the whole pressure of NaNo would be insanity, and I’m not sure what new insight I would be able to offer that genre. Comedy, possibly? Aaah, yes, my old friend comedy. Though my taste in humor is very, very dark, the prospect of trying to remain in a funny mood for a whole month will probably result in one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever written. Parody might be do-able.

Maybe autobiography would be too self-indulgent, unless I decided to drag up a lot of old shit that is unresolved. I’ve been witness to some incredible, and some very illegal, things over the years, so settling old scores by telling the world where the bodies are buried (metaphorically) would also be therapeutic. It might get me greenlit by an unhappy reader, but at least it would be interesting and a unique angle.

And I have yet to work out if it will even be a novel. I’ve always wanted to write a musical along the lines of the Morrison-era Doom Patrol comic. A giant ball of light in the middle of a stage singing how having sex with one’s self is so grand… Heh heh, that’ll probably be my Christmas pantomime idea, so I better leave it till later. A comic-book script will be tough to hit 50k with, unless I come over all Alan Moore with the descriptions.

A computer game? Which brings up an interesting question I hadn’t thought of until now… Does computer code count towards the final word count? Hell, I could hit 500k (maybe more) if I was allowed to go wild with code, and I could turn in an actual finished (if kinda small) game if I was left alone for a month. Maybe I’ll bolt myself away and unplug the ‘phone so I have no distractions…

Wow. So much choice, and so little time left to make up my mind.

I want to keep clear of anything anyone else is doing as well, just to add to my problems. That’s one of the reasons I’m so picky about my work – I can see so many similarities to the works of others. I’ll check the SYW area of Absolute Write every now and again, and nearly every time I do so – or closer to every time – I end up scrapping a handful of ideas because they have been covered so well by others.

Nathan Bransford said that originality was impossible over in his blog, but I still want to strive for something that feels unique. Something that rings with a sensibility that could not have come from the mind of any other writer. I want, to put it bluntly, to be so fucking original that it hurts. Yeah, that’s the ranting of a spoiled child, but I’m not gonna apologize. I’m in crisis mode here.

Two weeks and counting. This is probably gonna be a very long two weeks, filled with possible storylines emerging, bad ideas being mocked and an unhealthy amount of liquor being drank. Two weeks of worrying – because worry is good – and frantic scribbles to see if I’m able to come up with a unique idea, told in a unique way, with unique characters. Hell, I might as well give up right now…

Maybe nobody will notice if I just re-write my favorite myths as extended superheroes-by-way-of-horror film mash. A drunken, mean Heracles bitch-slapping people for no real reason. I could even write it so it reads exactly like early Image comics. Hmmm… There’s an idea.

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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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Business As Normal

Posted by BigWords on July 25, 2009

The last couple of posts were kinda lazy, pulling up stuff from disk and fobbing you guys off (which sucks – I know), but the course, my writing and a commitment for the end of next month have eaten into my already-tight schedule. So it’s back to business as normal…

Which means that I’m off on another tangent, and thinking strange thoughts.

I spent a while yesterday afternoon looking at my western-not-a-western and trying to decide when to drop the bomb. The story has taken a leap into deep mythology without me even trying to be smart, and there are now references to Aztek curses, angry spirits and ‘ghost lights’ alongside the usual shootouts. There was a half-second when I considered using a little bit of Cthulhu mythos in there as well, but I don’t want to over-egg the weirdness factor. And I took out the zombies, ’cause that would be too much even for me.

This all built itself up from a couple of completely disconnected scenes which I couldn’t figure out. Now there is a couple of thousand years of back-story, two time frames and a massive monologue which (hopefully) ties everything together. I’m still patchworking in some facts, strange characters, references and sly call-backs, but at least it looks like something that I am not completely dissatisfied with.

It was only when I got to the beginning of the mid-section (a long and convoluted trek through the middle of nowhere to find lost gold) did I realize that I have managed to link it in to some of my other stories. This is where I should explain that my stories were never intended to share a single universe, but the cumulative effect of simultaneously writing different eras, genres and formats (short stories and novels) has manifested a few common points of reference:

  1. The Native American whose skeleton is discovered in a thriller short story is of the same tribe who appear in The Reverend. Might even be a character from the novel…
  2. There’s some loose threads from Faerwither which get tied up in the monologue, though it is presented as a myth in this instance. I may leave it as it is, but the coincidental use of a common legend is slightly jarring when surrounded by other elements.
  3. A similarly-described charm to the one the MC wears turns up (chronologically) a hundred or so years later in Ghost Bureau, and has an important plot surrounding it.

It isn’t as if I am deliberately creating a cohesive universe across my work, but it seems to be happening regardless.

I’ve also noticed that there are a lot of whathefuck moments passed by completely, when something extraordinary happens and none of the characters seems too put out. The tidying up of the absurdisms will get done soon, when I have time to edit properly. There are many people who use anything they like in a story, but I have always had a hard time censoring my own thoughts – That goes some way to explain one of the stranger concepts (which has been shunted to one side now), but was originally going to be my first novel…

The novel in question began life when I was probably six or seven years old. Yes, six or seven years old, because you’re never too young to start. I didn’t write anything, but that is when the idea came to me for a fantasy story which, looking back on it, is probably no sillier than many ideas which have made it into print.

The basic concept came to me – and stuck in my brain for the better part of a decade – when I was playing on the floor, my toys laid out in front of me. I remember sorting the action figures into ranks, standing them in rows according to how large they were. The giant Voltron robot (which may have been a Hong Kong knock-off come to think of it) was at the back, with all of the Action Man figures. In front of them were the slightly smaller figures from Super Powers, He-Man, ThunderCats and other mid-sized toys.

In front of those stood the Action Force, Star Wars and tiny little toys. I seem to recall a handful which had shiny silver 3D stickers for faces, or maybe on their chests… The very smallest toys stood in the front, little 5mm tall yellow figures (I have no idea of their origin, so they remain a question mark) and some Dinky cars. The basic thought which kept interrupting my already-logical little mind was one of scale, and I struggled to put them all in a single story. When I think about it, most of the other kids had no problem whatsoever accepting the varying sizes of their playthings…

The story unfolded itself over the course of my school days, when I discovered lots of little facts that could help me orchestrate the idea of a planet with characters ranging in height from a few inches to dozens of feet tall. I also came up with a massive cast of characters at this point – somewhere in the region of two thousand main characters and many, many secondary ones. I threw everything and the kitchen sink into the epic, with werepeople, robots, the ghosts of dinosaurs, talking monkeys (just because) and other strangeness.

The original story now exists as a series of tales (300-500 pages handwritten) in the bottom left hand drawer of my desk. I’ll eventually look through them to see what I can salvage, but I have a feeling that I will be disappointed. So there you have it… The roots of my writing addiction, and a disturbing glimpse into the mind of a child who was plotting out an epic when he should have been playing in the sun.

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