Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Wednesday Wanderings

Like many others, I've been sucked into the phenomenon that is Stranger Things.  Not everyone is a fan, and I've heard complaints both from people who find the horror elements dull and would rather just watch the kids interact, and people who are sick of the budding young love and want the plot to get a move on.  For me, it is the intersection of the two that makes the show tick ...

(It's been over a month since S3 aired, so possible spoilers implicit, certainly for the first two seasons.)

The setting certainly isn't particularly unique, a mashup of familiar horror and urban fantasy tropes.  (The psionic children imprisoned and experimented upon is a prime example of the latter.)  The broad strokes are well-worn enough that even I, who doesn't read or even watch horror, recognize them.  Some of the small details are rather clever and intriguing, especially in the visual design arena.  I was charmed by the life cycle of the baby demogorgon in S2.

I'm not even that charmed by the '80s setting.  I think I'm just a bit too young to really remember much of it, and since I was homeschooled, I didn't have a lot of the context the central characters do, anyhow.  (Though there are a few things that I recognize here and there.)  What I do appreciate as a worldbuilder, however, is how immersive this setting is.  It bolsters and strengthens the supernatural aspects. 

As an aside, I was pretty shocked by the newspaper office in S3.  Wait, are you sure this isn't the '50s?

The strength of Stranger Things is the characters, taking familiar stereotypes - the king of high school, the prim older sister, the obnoxious journalist - and turning them on their ear.  Each of these stereotypes has a stereotypical arc, an expected direction, and it's very satisfying to see them turn over, revealing another side.  The reveal about Robin near the end of the season is another great example.

It's that subversion of the expected character which makes the standard setting so effective.  Introduce an unfamiliar or unexpected setting, character and plot all at once, and the viewer / reader becomes unmoored.  There is no context, nothing to compare and contrast.  We all need some grounding in the familiar to appreciate the unfamiliar.

I also appreciate that the series has been able to build genuine suspense without knocking off main characters.  (Game of Thrones, I'm looking at you.)  This is probably much to account for by the decisions in the first season:  if you watched it without any spoilers, you spent most of the season guessing about Will, and they made the good choice *not* to let Barbara off the hook.  If she had come back, we wouldn't have trusted any death.  Not even a certain one in this most recent season ...

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Idea Anatomy

I've had two stories published lately, Traveling By Starlight:  A Journey of Two Ways, and Before Their Time, and I wanted to talk about where the ideas came from.  Since the respective magazines are both for-purchase, and Outposts of Beyond - where the latter story can be found - is in print and it would take a few days to get to you, I'll keep this post spoiler-free.

So Traveling By Starlight:  A Journey of Two Ways was originally written for a fantasy-writers.org monthly challenge.  The prompt was one I suggested, to write a story with alternate endings, so of course I felt obliged to jump in.  Just because I'm me, I always feel obliged to add an additional challenge.  In this case, I wanted to design the endings so they changed elements of the preceding story.  That meant including details which could be interpreted in two different ways ... and led to me Googling "foods aliens eat."  Which wasn't terribly helpful.

Before Their Time was also written from a prompt on a different site, though I no longer remember what it was.  I'm sure, though, that I interpreted it in the most convoluted way possible.  The story follows a time mage and her bodyguard who travel back in time to find the cure for a plague and end up in the wrong era.  I took a bit to mull over what kind of magic her companion specialized in, settling on fire and light.  Flame is perhaps a cliche choice for a battle mage, but the possibilities of light gave me some more unusual options.

I had so much fun with these characters, I went on to write other stories about them.  In grand tradition of time travel, I wrote them out of sequence, everything from the moment they met to later adventures.  I made a point of establishing the two as firm friends with no sexual tension; one or the other is usually in a relationship.  I also set up some of the rules of time travel, including the fact that any time spent in the past is "lost" - a week in the past becomes a week in the future - and that the future can't be changed, or the consequences could unmake the world ... or is that true?

Hopefully, more of these tales will see print.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Wednesday Wanderings

So I've been working on the query and synopsis for Unnatural Causes, which I've asked a few folks to read and critique, and that's made me realize that one of my natural tendencies as a person causes problems when it comes to my writing.

I've mentioned before on this blog that, while some people label with words or visuals - for instance, "my house" or visualizing that building - I tend to store and access information by feel.  My memory hooks are visceral.

How that plays into my writing is that I often have a clear sense of character behavior, plot arc, or story mood, and can maintain it consistently throughout.  This serves me in good stead when I'm editing, too, as even if I can't put my finger on why I should change something, I can feel that it's necessary and it works. 

Ask me to describe what I've created, though, and I dissolve into gibbering.  It's not a matter of distilling thousands of words into a few; it's a matter of translating a physical murmur into a completely different language.  It's one of the things, I think, that makes me particularly frustrated by the querying process.  Many of the tools I use for writing stories are useless for queries.  So why should one depend on the other?

Familiar complaints for any writer, of course.  I can take some consolation in knowing a source of difficulty for me personally, though.  ... some.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Traveling By Starlight: A Journey of Two Ways ... now available!

It's out!  The Summer issue of The Colored Lens is now available, containing my "Traveling By Starlight:  A Journey of Two Ways."  Check it out.

This story involves alternate endings.  Watch closely ...

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Wednesday Wanderings

I recently watched the Amazon Prime series Good Omens, an adaptation of the brilliantly funny book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.  I very much enjoyed it, but I felt as if it would be much less enjoyable if I weren't familiar with the book.  It is very faithful, even to the point of sometimes missing some of the advantages of television translation.

For instance, I think the series would have been stronger if they had removed the "God" narration and interwoven scenes to fill in the same information with less voice-over info-dump and more character interaction.  Some of the jokes probably would have been lost, but others could have been placed into the mouths of characters and been the better for timing and facial expression.  This might have required some change in the beats and pacing, but making the series an episode longer wouldn't have outlived its welcome.

I would also have loved to see a bit more of the Four Horsemen, though I know that none of their scenes advanced the plot as such.  It would have strengthened the scene where they faced off with the four children (which could have played out a little longer).  I also feel as if there might have been a way to  better integrate Shadwell's presence.  It was kooky even in the novel, but in the TV series, it feels somewhat off-sides and random, not fully part of the main narrative.

The show also may represent a taxing entry point for a mainstream viewer, someone who doesn't have the suspension of disbelief required by regular SF/F consumption.  That bit, though, I wouldn't change in the slightest.  Good Omens is delightfully wacky, and diluting that craziness would have been a crime.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Wednesday Wanderings

It's no secret that I have problems with brevity.  The sweet spot lengthwise for short stories, for me, is usually between six to eight thousand words, over the word count limit for many markets.  I do well with flash fiction, but that's a different way of thinking.  If anything, I expand one liners into a story.  Jokes where the punchline isn't necessarily funny.

If I want to keep a short story in a more limited word count, I have a specific strategy.  I conceptualize around a single scene:  one point of view, a specific unit of time and either the same setting or a continuous progression - for instance, someone walking around a city.  If I narrow my focus to that range, I find it much easier to kept the story succinct.

Not to say that it always works.  Occasionally, I've formed the broad outlines of a tale, only to find that it spins deeper and wider, even within that snapshot of a moment.  My brain thinks in big tangents and tangles, and I can't always rein them in ... at least not and end up with a complete story.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Wednesday Wanderings

I've been debating if I want to start writing a new short story, to flex those muscles while I'm working up to my next novel project.  From a business standpoint, I'm not sure if it makes sense; I currently have a sizable backlog of unsold stories, and the markets seem to be closed more often, overbooked, on indefinite hiatus, or running brief submissions periods throughout the year.  On the other hand, I'm in a headspace right now where a bit of "play" might be welcome.

So here are some tidbits I've been tossing around:

Two women whose minds are trapped in the same body return to seek revenge on the monarch who banished them.  This whole one-body-many-minds trope is something of an obsession of mine; I've approached it numerous times from different angles.  My retired novel Journal of the Dead used the concept that whenever someone killed another person, the victim's mind leapt into their body.

Listening to the Sophie Ellis-Bextor song "The Walls Keep Saying Your Name," I thought about taking this literally.  There are two ways this could go; they're mutually exclusive, but I could always write both takes.  The first is a woman who can speak to residences, shops, any building, but the walls have no sense of time:  they may speak from the perspective of the present, or the past, or even the distant future.  The second is a city of sentient buildings, bound together in a hive mind.

And not so much a concept as two little sparks bouncing around, courtesy of the stock-needed whiteboard at work:  red dragon and rice wine vinegar.