Assumptions, I Has ‘Em

And, no, don’t go all business-school on me and talk about “making an ass of you and me”. Just don’t. I can happily make an ass of myself without any assumptions whatsoever, thank you very much.

Anyway, I’m not talking about those kinds of assumptions. I’m talking about the kind of assumptions you have to have when you start writing a story. Call them predefined variables if you like, they amount to the same thing. X=whatever the story requires, and I don’t want to have to redefine that every single time.

Things like elves being immortal in Lord of the Rings, Jedis being space wizards (if you so much as whisper “midichlorians” I’ll have you destroyed!), stormtroopers not being able to hit shit in spite of years of training…you get the idea. These are all assumptions made before the stories were ever even created, and they quickly become clear to the audience.

As I’m working on the behind-the-scenes stuff for this next book, I have to make clear to myself the assumptions and rules that will hold sway throughout. Connor will drink a lot, yes, and cuss a lot more, also yes….but those aren’t assumptions, they’re just inherent to the character*.

*Note – I did once try an experiment with a “clean” version of Connor…it was an utter failure. He is who he is, and who he has to be.

What I’m talking about is key stuff that is implied, and is fundamental to a story’s true purpose, but is never really explicitly described (at least not in so many words). For Connor’s stories, those are:

1) Everyone is broken and fucked up in some way…anyone who says/thinks they’re perfect is either nuts, or deluding themselves
2) There are no good guys or bad guys, there are only shades of grey and the choices people make (yes, I know there’s nothing original about basic philosophy, but it’s important to remind myself anyway)
3) There is always a price to pay (okay, that one got laid out pretty damned explicitly in Wrath & Tears)

There are others, but you get the idea. These are things I have to keep in mind as I plan and as I write. Things that underlie everything I’m trying to create, and to say.

When you create a story, you have to understand what are your base assumptions. They don’t necessarily have to reflect who you are as a person in real life (although they often will), but they do have to be internally consistent throughout whatever it is you are trying to create.

Sometimes things like this will be clear in your mind long before the first word gets written, but other times your characters and world will demand something you hadn’t thought about before. The assumption about there being no good or bad guys was not something I had originally planned. Hell, it wasn’t something I had even thought about in this context. But Connor and Oz forced that assumption on me pretty early in the process, and it helped to clarify some of the truth and authenticity of their lives and their world.

So what assumptions are you making about your world and your characters? What happens if you change one of those? Are things better, or worse? Especially for stuff like this, I always keep in the back of my mind one of the Steven King’s bits of writing advice: “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, kill your darlings.”

Assumptions can be your darlings just as much as favored characters, plot devices, or even entire scenes…

The Ramblings of a Diseased Mind

I know I should probably be a bit on the sad side that I’m not writing the conspiracy story, but…well… Committing to writing Connor’s sequel feels good. It shouldn’t: this universe focuses on the darkest and most painful aspects of people and the universe. I shouldn’t enjoy writing that. But, God help me, I do.

Maybe I’ll add a new title to a business card: “Tormentor of Worlds”. Has a nice ring, doesn’t it?

Besides, the conspiracy story has been waiting for better than fifteen years…what’s another year or so between friends?

Actually, I very much doubt that story is my friend. In fact, I think it probably hates me by now and would happily see me dead. It just happens to be far too much of a slacker to actually do anything about the problem.

Committing to this story is freaking satisfying. I didn’t expect that. I expected to waver and question. But nope, not a bit. I’ve been sitting at the coffee shop today working on background stuff and figuring out just how I’m going to torture Connor* and a thought for this post came into my head.

*Hey, it’s his own fault – he’s the one who demanded this story!

I started thinking about the underpinnings of the story itself, and the question of tone and intent. Now, Wrath & Tears was intentionally melancholy and sad. Not quietly bittersweet, but full-on, punch-you-in-the-face sad. If the reader doesn’t shed at least a tear or two at the end, I failed. Completely. But the sequel? The sequel can’t share that same dynamic. Oh, it will still be dark and bitter – it is IS Connor’s story, after all – but Connor has learned and grown, and his outlook and perceptions are different.

Plus…Wrath & Tears was written in great part from my own thoughts and memories of suicide, and I am not dipping into that particular well again. I have more than enough personal demons to fight, who needs to double-dip?

There will still be a sense of angry resentment, yes. Hell, the story starts with Connor in prison…of course anger and resentment are part of it! But there’s also a certain tone of bittersweet recovery on the agenda. And, yes, finally there will be an element of hope, and an answer to the question I wrote at the top of the page when I was first working through the details of Connor’s character…the question that kept him alive before he met Oz: yes, there IS more to life than this.

Dare I mention that Connor is growing up, and the wistful nostalgia of passing youth? Not that he had much of a youth…

Do I have to lock these things down just yet? Actually, no. Not yet. But once the background and basic structures are in place, then I DO have to know. How all that background material gets fleshed out into an outline of chapters and scenes is very, very dependent on the tone.

And the characters? They’re even more dependent because they have to be able to respond to that tone, and have their own opinions and reactions. They can’t just slavishly serve as foils for the plot, or for the protagonist’s perceptions and needs. They have to have their own reality, and their own needs.

Okay…enough rambling. That is the price of not planning (in any way) what I’m posting. If you haven’t noticed yet, pretty much everything is pure stream of consciousness. I should probably look at fixing that, but…

img_0011…I slack, therefore I am.

For now, I think I will try to use this space for its original purpose: namely tracking and posting about the process of writing a story as I actually go through that process. The original idea still has something resembling merit (I think). That idea was to create a space where someone just getting into writing long-form fiction could see someone else’s firsthand experiences and lessons without having to do all that inconvenient joining of writing groups and sitting around talking.

It might even work. Hey, you never know…”even a blind squirrel”, and all that!

Of course, this all may change…hell, probably will change. Boredom and the need for change tend to set in, uhh, somewhat quickly in my world. Shit, if you think I’m bad here, you should see my last few relationships…

I Can’t Hear Anything But the Ghost

Oh crap, I think I give up.

I’ve been pushing myself to do the conspiracy story. Friends have been pushing me to do the conspiracy story. Hell, even random passing strangers lean over and whisper, “Do the conspiracy story!”

But Connor’s rattling chains drown them all out.

The little son-of-a-bitch (err, not so little now: he’s been working out in prison, and he’s 6’1″ and 180ish nowadays) has me by the…neck, and he knows it.

I was trying to work on the two potential next stories on alternate days, but over the last week the only thing I’ve really touched is Connor’s sequel. Dammit. I don’t even have a clear plot for it yet! Basic idea, yes, but plot? Not even close. Not yet, anyway.

What I do have is a character I like, a character who has a lot more to give. I also have a universe I am enjoying (now that I turned it all dark and bitter and angry), and a ton of shit to explore.

Besides, I’ve already dealt with suicide; it can’t get any worse than that…can it?

Abandonment issues…family issues…survivor’s guilt…and, of course, the bullshit of the elites and their exploitation of the “little guy”. Yup, still got some stuff to work with. Besides, everyone needs a teen-aged thief who appreciates good booze and good music, and can scam the shit out of anyone he meets!

The fact that he’s an emotional cripple with serious anger and resentment issues is, umm, secondary. Ish.

Fine. The ghost wins. He gets to tell his next story. But I am gonna make him suffer for this!

What are the odds he gets a happy ending this time?

C’mon, it’s Connor…

Sure, and “Waiting for Godot” Really IS Just About Waiting…

Harrumph!

There are many tasks in this world that suck. Taxes…mowing the lawn…writing a “brief summary” of a novel. Hell, I’d rather go back and do my taxes again. But not mow the lawn. Never that.

No matter how hard you try, however, you’ll get stuck writing a summary of your story. Well, putting a few books on the bestseller list can probably get you out of it, but for the rest of the writer-ish universe that task hangs over every story.

I hate doing summaries, almost as much as I hate doing a synopsis. Oh, I know they’re necessary…actually, I don’t know that, it’s just that people I trust have told me they’re necessary. Personally I think it’s just the universe fucking with me.

Remember when I mentioned Little Red Riding Hood isn’t necessarily about a little girl in a red hood?

Grr.

On one level Wrath & Tears is the story of a teenager out for revenge…and if I’m doing a short plot-based summary, that’s what I’m supposed to talk about. Nothing about Oz’s unrequited love for his straight friend. Nothing about fear and loss, or the suffering, despair and inequities society has heaped on the boys. Nothing about a story of love and betrayal and suicide. Nothing about what the book is really about.

Nope. It’s “this happened, then that happened.” This task does not make me happy…this task makes me go for the single-malt, as a matter of fact.

Trust me on this: drinking scotch does not make the process any easier! It does, however, tempt me to throw in the story’s final image (quoting from an older post) of “one broken kid holding the body of another, far more broken, kid” just to see what kind of reaction I’d get.

Yeah, that’d work great.

Wrath & Tears is Oz’s book as much as Connor’s, but good luck getting that across in five hundred words or less…

Okay, the pity-party is over.

Oh, I’m still irritated…but half the reason I’m irritated is because I’m doing shit like summaries and the like. I’m working, but I’m not writing. Nothing will change until I fix that particular problem. But I still haven’t made up my mind…

imageRemember: no good can come of a writer without a story to write.

“Sad and pathetic, you are,” Yoda said to me.

Actually, what he said was, “Get over it” but I heard what I wanted to hear. Welcome to my life.