Gin & Tonic & Writing Thoughts…

A day-off, a nice (if far too short) hike, and a gin & tonic at my elbow…

Ahh, it’s the little things that define a good life!

Just a few random thoughts for this post, mostly because I haven’t developed any of them enough to flesh out into a full post of their own.

I once mentioned, a couple of years back, that it took a certain mindset and focus for me to write consistently and well.  I had, I mentioned way back in that old post, finally become “good” at putting myself into that proper frame of mind.

Err…umm…well…

That doesn’t always apply, as it turns out.

Oh, everything works great when I am in a regular rhythm of writing; when I’m living & working a life that is predictable and even.  It doesn’t work so great, on the other hand, when I’m up here in Yellowstone.  I never know what the heck I’m going to do from day to day, so how can I get into a regular writing rhythm?

That particular problem sucks, and I’m pissed at myself for low productivity, but would I change anything?  Would I give up the things I get to see and do up here?

Oh hell no.

This blog started life as my attempt to “live blog” the process of conceiving and writing a novel.  That concept, of course, didn’t last more than the first few weeks.  I 1B634BD3-C987-46FB-9C24-801F46481272have just far too many squirrel-moments when I’m working on these (stream of consciousness) posts to stick to any kind of plan.  That doesn’t stop me from talking about writing, however.

Kinda like now…

I’ve been working — a bit — on trying to create the background and basis for a new story series.  I mention this because a friend up here asked me about writing.  “How do you,” he asked, “start writing a story?”  He wants to try his hand at it, you see, and he was hoping there was some secret, easy-to-use, insert-tab-A-into-slot-B answer…

Here’s news: there ain’t.

I tried to explain to him just how I do things, but I didn’t get it across very well.  My attempted explanation didn’t succeed because, well, I don’t usually think about the process intellectually enough to actually explain it.  So, after that conversation, I tried to think about it…and not for the first time, I might add.  I had to step back and think not about Connor & Oz and how I write their stories — not only am I too close to them, but they are also too well defined in my mind — but rather about this (potential) new series…

Now, David Eddings came up with the Belgariad and that universe based on a map he drew as a kid…

Raymond Feist came up with the Magician series and universe based on a role-playing game he had written and DMed in college…

Tolkien came up with The Hobbit in the trenches of WW One…

Jordan came up with the original idea for the Wheel of Time based on his return from Vietnam and re-acclimating to “normal” society…

So, for my friend Cody, here’s an attempt to clean up the (poor) answer I gave:

For me it’s the characters that drive the creation.  It’s always about the characters.

There are always characters floating around in the back of my mind, by the way.  There’s a huge cast in there, more than enough to fill several series…but they don’t always work and play well together.  Hell, they usually fight and scream and cause all sorts of havoc with each other…

But when they come clear…

When they start to crystallize as “people”…

Yeah, that’s when I start to move them from the back of my mind to the front.

I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: the ideas for Somewhere Peaceful, Silence and Flicker didn’t come first, the characters of Connor and Oz did…and they drove the stories.  Even before they had names, even before they “existed” in character sketches and background notes, they told me their stories…

The same thing is happening now.  I have two (main) characters who are becoming real to me, who are ready to tell their own stories.  They aren’t quite clear yet, I should add.  They’re still blurred and fuzzy, like they’re deep in the fog, but they’re moving towards me and becoming clearer with each step.  Only when the characters are clear, only when they are real, can I so much as start thinking about the plot that ties them together.

I know what these two are, and quite a bit about who, but that’s not enough.  Not by a long shot.  Oh, it’s enough to dream and imagine, but not enough to actually write a story.

This is where the…ahem…work starts.  I have to take these two characters — who have nothing really to do with each other — and bring them together into a compelling story.*  This is where the 3-4 months of planning and thinking, of writing and re-writing background pieces that will never see the light of day, comes in.  This is where the piles of discarded notes, and reams of deleted files, come in.

*It’s easier with Connor and Oz, by the way, since they were always conceived together…

This is also, unfortunately, where “feature creep” — or “plot creep,” in writing terms — begins to rear its ugly head.

“Hey, why not try and squeeze in this other story idea, too?”

Yeah, that generally doesn’t work out too well.  That’s where you start going off the rails and deep into the weeds.  That’s where you waste weeks of effort and time on crap that just doesn’t belong.

Not that I’ve ever done that.  No, sir, not me…

*sigh*

This conception process is also when you have to define yourself as a writer.  Is your story based on history, or something similarly extrinsic?  Or is it based on you, and what makes you you?  Are you a David Eddings and Raymond Feist?  Or a Robert Jordan and JRR Tolkien?  Do you want to write an admonitory fable, a la Haldeman’s The Forever War, or do you want to create something aspirational and hopeful, like Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama?  Hell, do you want to go completely off the reservation and write a philosophical/theological treatise like Herbert’s Jesus Incident?

I know where I come down, but I can only answer that question for myself.  Every writer — published or not, aspiring neophyte or best-seller — has to define for themselves just who they are as a creator, and why they write…

A final piece of this puzzle for me — a very, very personal, internal piece — is to find the right soundtrack.  Before I sit down to create the actual plot, I have to know the story’s feeling…and that means I have to have the right soundtrack and mood.  It means, when you get right down to it — as I’ve mentioned before — that I have to find that one song that defines the whole damned thing.

Once I have that song, I write the final scene…then it’s off to the races for the rest of the whole damned thing…

 

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