Saturday, 30 October 2010

Infernal Passions

Writing can seem eternal and infernal sometimes... you take out a word, you put it back in. You swap two phrases in a sentence back and forth. You think you've got it right... you go away, come back, and... decide it was better the way you originally had it.

But writing is a passion, it has to be, because there is no instant success (for most people, at least) you have to keep going, keep trying.

I’m going to talk a little about process. When I said last time about the way I intended that story to work (with an easy image, then an intrigue hook, then a narrowing of the plot), I was simplifying. I should clarify: I did not have this in mind when I began. I had an idea, and I wrote. When the first draft was out I saw the shape of the story and I was able to hone it. Much in the way I have heard that sculptors or whittlers say the shape of the final piece is already there within the stone or wood and they are just uncovering it; discovering it, if you like.

This is where the editing comes in. The major stuff like shuffling whole paragraphs or removing whole sentences and the minor tuning, the odd word or two. I've been doing a lot of that this week. Trying to write a couple of pieces for a horror competition.

Ideally, one of your best editing tools is space. Time to step away from the story, step back, and return to it later with fresh eyes. Something I didn't really have time for. However, there is another great tool, which is other people. Whatever it seems like in your head, as a writer you have full access to the intention of the story, which an outsider does not.

So those stories have been despatched... I'll let you know if anything comes of it. Just trying to get my name out there really.

I can’t remember where This Infernal Waiting came from. I’m not convinced the transition from establishing shot to story is thoroughly smooth. I think, again, it is too much tell and not enough show. But I like the opening and in this case I am going to indulge myself and let it slide. Not very professional but then... no one is paying me, so I can allow myself a little indulgence now and then. ;)

Having said that, I do think the story is the strongest so far. You might argue that the set-up seems more of a limbo than an inferno, but that makes for a far less interesting title...

Also, I've thought of a name for this first collection of stories. It is a pleasing metaphor:

Lost and Found

Since it is a collection of Missing Pieces. Since the whole project was born out of me losing my way a little and trying to find my way again. When this initial run is complete I will probably re-order the collection and produce a preferred reading order. The order I would have the pieces in were they ever to see print.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Loving the Madness

*gasp*

A change in title format?!

And so a change in identity, if not purpose. Because this blog is not just about the Missing Pieces commentary, it is about more. Sure, blogging commentaries for my weekly Xeroverse posts is a good excuse to make me post here weekly too, but that's always just been a springboard for me to talk about other aspects of writing. As the subtitle says: Thoughts about stories. Ramblings on writing. Comments about my own fiction.

Which I re-ordered to prioritise the fact that mostly I just want to talk about the greatest passion in my life... stories. Over on Missing Pieces I publish a new story every week. That's 52 stories a year that take 5 minutes (at most) to read. 52 more stories a year in your life for almost no extra effort.

One of the reasons I love comics is that in a minimal amount of time I can cram a whole bunch of new story - new plot, new character, new twists. Books can take longer, more of a commitment, but it's a different experience, it's purer in some ways, for me, the written word. Films are good hits. Computer games can have great story-telling, and can be so immersive with the right gameplay.

Now I don't read a lot of literary fiction, which seems to me as often about astute observation of the human condition as it is about storytelling. I've commented before that I feel sometimes I might enjoy a story more if it was only set on a spaceship. That's both tongue-in-cheek and very serious. I like an element of the fantastical to spark my imagination, I'm not saying I don't like character studies and philosophical conundrums in my reading, but only if they're riding the back of an exciting, bucking plot.

I can even easily forgive weak characterisation if there's a cracking story to go with it, the more imagination slopped over it the better, and the more scope to use my own imagination... better still.

With This Beloved Madness I try and harness your imagination. I start out slowly, obviously. Hopefully in a few lines I set up a fairly clich├ęd image of the character in your mind. You know exactly what I'm describing. Then I throw in this idea of some kind of tragedy, blowing your imagination wide open. Go wild, it could be anything at this point. Then I narrow it down to my idea. But it's still got that degree of ambiguity, that bit of wiggle room for the imagination.

(actually, that's a whole lot of wiggle room. That's a whole story that fits in that gap. In less than five hundred words, I've (hopefully) created a story shape in your head. And one that will be different in different heads.)

I think this is my favourite Missing Piece so far.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Author's Commentary: This Mundane Slavery

This Mundane Slavery

What's in a title?

When I wrote this it was called 'This Peaceful Slavery'. What I had in mind was a gentleness of life, with the ultimate threat of death keeping us trapped in a mundane existence. I didn't really think the title worked once the piece was finished. I wanted more of an interesting contrast.

This Mundane Slavery is a more interesting title, but runs the danger that it also contains the word mundane. Who wants to read something that proclaims itself mundane? Hopefully, knowing it's micro-fiction, people will be interested enough to at least try it (and this story runs at under 500 words, which is a good length for it). I'm also looking forward to starting to run pieces that don't have 'this' (or some variation of) in the title. It was my opening gambit, and it was a useful device, but it is definitely limited.

I think 'This is Micro-Fiction' as the title under which to collect these first few is maybe a little pretentious... they do show some range and scope with what is possible within micro-fiction, but they are all genre-based, and there is little that really pushes the envelope. So, a new umbrella is needed to gather all these mixed metaphors to the same bosom. These Missing Pieces would seem a little obvious, so I'll keep it stewing in the back of my brain for a little while. And since I have just about enough 'this' pieces to run me to the end of the year, we'll see what I have by then.

You may also noticed that the blog's design has changed. It's nothing mind-blowing, but I like it and the previous layout was kind of thrown up just so that there was something there. I seem to prefer a darker look, I tried a few lighter backgrounds, with dark text, but none of them really worked for me...

I also launched Metamorphosis which is, if you like, my kind of art. It symbolises both the permanence and impermanence of the internet. Some things will be there forever, never read, other things will disappear. We are creating our own archaeology, wherein future peoples, or now peoples, will learn to dig through layers of archives and cached sites in order to excavate old data.

Wow, I'm quite chatty this week. =)

But wait... there's more! I was actually going to talk about the story itself... So I actually wrote this story twice. Normally, my editing process is to go through the story and tweak as I go. Whether that be a few words, a sentence or rearranging/ rewriting whole paragraphs. In fact, paragraph breaks are pretty important and I switch those around a fair bit, this is where the poetry comparison comes up again, with looking at the effect each 'verse' is meant to achieve.

That's beside the point though. I was looking at This Mundane Slavery and I decided that it was too much show and not enough tell. It was more like a voice-over than a person thinking. That's what I was going to mention in the commentary. The creative writer's mantra:

Show, don't tell.

And I was going to point out what I was doing wrong. Then I realised that I should just try to do it right... it was a bit of a rush job, so it's still got a little of the voice-over to it, but it's more personal than it was before. To do this, instead of attempting to edit, I pulled up a crisp new blank page and just wrote it all again. Well, I did copy and paste and edit a few bits, the ending is almost the same, but the first line I wrote from scratch, with just the idea of the old opening in mind.

The addition of the chair and window, I think, makes all the difference. Instead of starting in a head, inside a thought process we start in a room, something we can relate to. Furniture, the mundane, makes the story that much more real, that much more identifiable. (you know, as real as giant robots get...)

Monday, 4 October 2010

Author's Commentary: This Bright Lie

This Bright Lie

Names are always a strange thing when you're writing fiction. Sometimes the right name just pops into your head as you type; when you reach that point in the sentence it's there, waiting to fall into place. Other times it just won't come, every name you think of seems too mundane, too common or just wrong. I like the name Billy, I don't know why, I think I've used it more than once (if not yet on Xeroverse, then probably soon). That's probably a cardinal sin for a writer, to use the same name again.

I say that tongue in cheek, of course; there are only so many names, and especially if you write a lot of shorter fiction you will keep needing to come up with new characters. All of whose names need to be right...

This Bright Lie is about angels. It says so, right there in the third paragraph. I could have described them and not named them and people would have worked it out, but why make it harder on myself? I am kind of obsessed with winged things, specifically supernatural winged things, and angels are one of the big ones. There are so many interpretations, from a biblical warrior or messenger to a modern day spiritual guardian/ caretaker. They have so much resonance, human-like but different, winged, powerful, bright and yet when they fall they become the darkest of the dark, Lucifer himself was once one of the greatest of their kind.

They have such scope as a fictional thing. They come loaded with meaning but recontextualise them and you can play with that meaning, take it new places.

This Bright Lie really fulfils the mandate I set with the Xeroverse. All you need is there. That's the story. But it makes me wonder, I hope it makes you wonder too.