Sunday, April 25, 2010

Still writing

So writing's been going slow. The reason, I think, is I've been taking the unreasonably hard route. This is a common theme for me. I do everything the hard way. It's usually because I need to challenge myself. This is something I do with school projects as well. I tackle really hard problems or issues that sometimes goes over the heads of my professors who give me a B, then someone who does a brain numbingly easy project skates by with an A just because they colored within the lines.

I'm pretty excited about this project. I've been working on it for a really long time now... since 1998. I took a business calculus class then, and while bored out of my mind, I began sketching out notes for this universe. A good vs evil story is too over done. Also, dragons and elves in fantasy is about as fresh and original as a vampire story. Not saying that a story needs to be original to be good. Just saying that I don't like coloring within the lines.

The other thing I really like is hard fantasy. This is a really rare and unusual combination. Some might even say an oxymoron. Basically, it means you still have fantasy elements: be it unicorns, dragons, vampires, or magic, but you give a scientific explanation for it. It's not that fantasy writers are incapable of doing so. It's that few feel the need to do so. Really, what weirdo watched Lord of the Rings and said, "Hold on a second, there's no such things as hobbits," and walked out of the theater? No one cares if it makes sense. The story and the characters is what sells it. But I like hard fantasy anyways. Here's why.

I think giving the reader a feeling like the world you create has more impact if it's plausible. I used to play dungeons and dragons a lot as a kid. I know. You're shocked. But when I was the dungeon master, if I played strictly by the rules, my players would use those rules as a standardized tool kit to solve mysteries in the world. In other words, let's say there's a murder mystery. The victim was killed by lightning, indoors. That means it's not a druid(they can only cast lightning outside). It's not a cleric--they don't cast lightning at all. It's no other spell caster, but a magic user. The Lightning Bolt spell is from the school of Evocation. A Necromancer specialist doesn't have access to Evocation. So the players can use these clues to narrow down their suspects and unravel the mystery. Maybe, if they're really good and one of them knows an awful lot about magic, they can judge the power of the spell by examining clues and find out if the killer is a lackey or something more dangerous.

Now other DMs might think, "The rules are too restricting. They hamper my creativity." And I watch these DMs work, and when they give tasks to their players to solve, the players try a few things then give up. Why do they give up? Because since the DM doesn't play by the rules, they cannot use the rules as a toolkit to narrow down leads, so in a sense, they're wasting their time even trying. The world now has no structure and no meaning. It would be like an episode of CSI where DNA evidence, finger prints, etc, are never completely reliable. After a while, you'd just give up.

So, I've tried to make a world that's physically plausible. The "planet" itself is a flat world where the sun rises and sets in the same place. Ok, so that's a challenge. A number of things wrong here. If the earth was flat, gravity would cause us to all slide towards the middle, just as our round earth pulls us to the center now. But a flat planet is plausible if the people live on one side, and on the other, a distance away, is an object of incredible mass. The flat planet essentially becomes a shelf keeping us from falling into the massive object on the otherside. But what keeps the shelf from falling?

What keeps the earth from colliding into the sun? After all, the sun does pull us towards it. What pulls us away? You've probably heard about centrifugal force. It's that thing that keeps water in a bucket, even when you spin it upside down. So at the same time the earth spins around the sun, causing the earth to want to fly off into outer space, the sun pulls the earth towards it due to gravity. The two forces exactly cancel each other out. Now before you think, "See? Only God could have reached such an amazing balancing act!" Keep in mind, this is the same thing humans have figured out how to do to keep satellites up in the sky by orbiting around the earth. If a satellite didn't spin around the earth, it would instantly start plummeting towards us. Sometimes satellites do come crashing down. But the earth took billions of years to work out its balancing act. No doubt other planets weren't so lucky and crashed into our sun long before life started here. But I digress.

The sun rising and setting in the same place in my world is a hard system to explain, but I'm happy with how I have it. It has to do with the creation of the planet and the final mystery--and that, I'm keeping under wraps for now.

Ok, but on to what's been causing me the issue. I cut out 3 other main characters and just focused on one. She has a lot of crap to deal with, and she transforms throughout. It's a very emotional journey for her. I'm happy with her and the issues she faces. But I picked a really hard narration style to do this story in--Third Person Objective. It means the narrator is an objective reporter that only mentions what can be observed. No "In the character's heads" kinda stuff. So if a character is sad or angry, instead of saying so, I describe what the expressions look like and assume the reader knows those signs. It's basically like script writing. It works ok 80% of the time and allows the reader to be a more active participant, coloring in the story with their own interpretations along the way. Unfortunately, it's not a story open to a wide variety of interpretation, so readers keep coming up with weird conclusions that wreck the enjoyment of the story. I feel like I'm wasting too much time trying to micro manage details to shape reader perceptions of scenes.

This writer's group I'm in, I'm pretty happy with them, but they're just not feeling the impact from the story like I want them to. So I'm going to play around with it, and write with the exact opposite narration style--First Person Stream of Consciousness. Hell, I'm even putting it in present tense. It's similar to how people write blog style only for events happening in real time. In this blog, I'm assuming that I'm writing conversationally to another person. In this case, no one's actually reading this blog, but it does help me if I pretend like people are. Keeps me on my toes and in practice giving out as much information as possible with the least amount of words.

The narrator in the story is a little different. She's not assuming she's talking to another person, but rather trying to sort things out in her own mind for herself. Also, events interrupt her thoughts. I like this because Stream of Consciousness writing can fall into a trap of losing sense of time. Time is really important in fiction. I'll give you an example of writing that loses time:

"The detective scanned over the crime scene, her trained eyes soaking up every detail. Suddenly, she noticed something the other investigator missed. Is that a tiny spot of blood on the hallway? Would it match the killer's or the victim's? Carefully, she crept towards the spot and took a sample. Not a match to either. She shook her head at the lab results. An accomplice or an unknown, second victim?"

Wait, what the hell? What lab results? Is she still at the crime scene or is this several days later after a lab did a DNA test? You, as the reader, have no idea. What it is, is bad writing. If the problem instead is a lose sense of rhythm, then that can be equally jarring. Ok, more bad writing:

"The Space Commander looked over the palate of carbonite transductors in Storage Room 4. How many Nebulons could have been saved had only his crew been able to reach Orion IV and deliver these sooner?

It took three weeks for the Star Gazer to reach the jump point. Orion IV was now on screen. The Commander paced in front of his command chair. He rose his hand ready to give the order to plot course when the tactical office spoke. Nerubians. Not now!"

Ok, first off, he was in one room, then three weeks went by, I think, now he's on the bridge. I say "I think" because I don't know if the author's saying in the past it took three weeks and they're there now, or if he looked at the transwhattawhats and then it took three weeks. But even if we take this as sequential order, it's like the writer is yanking the reader through time. The pace is unpredictable and causes the reader to slow down and try and figure out what's going on. Any time the reader has to stop and go, "Ok, what's going on now?" it means reading your piece has become work.

Time cannot always flow at the same speed in writing. Characters sleep and do other uninteresting things that do not and should not be explained or detailed in real time all the time. But rhythm should still be predictable. What I like to do is pick real time scenes and use scene breaks to separate them.

Speaking of that, I should get back to it. Trying this new narration style, I should be able to crank through this faster and have a book with the emotional impact I was shooting for.

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