Saturday, April 30, 2011

On Originality

I wrote before about my having some concern that I value originality in what I read and couldn't seem to come up with any in what I write. Chas pooh-poohed on this, and rightfully so. Since then, I really have been trying to forget all these rules about writing I've imposed on myself and just write. I figured I could worry later about whether or not I've managed anything original and, even if I haven't, at least see if it was still worth reading.

A few days ago, I was off looking for a quote by CS Lewis, and I stumbled upon this gem (also from Lewis):

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

I've been mulling that over ever since. What do I want to tell the truth about? What is that central and that important in the story that's in my head? I think I have an answer and, to be honest, it kind of surprises me. I haven't got it all neatly summarized in some pithy little saying, but it has to do with relationships and everyone pulling together as a team. It has to do with trust and sacrifice. The part of me that can relate everything to WoW is crowing about how I basically want to write a book about pulling together as a raid team.

And, yes, any truth I might have about deep friendships or teamwork will not be new and will have been told many times before. I'm okay with that.

In which I am parenthetical  

The aforementioned romance that has captured my writing attention lately (now that I've graciously extended myself permission to work on whatever has my interest and not to feel guilty that I can't just sit down and focus on one thing) is a Pride and Prejudice fanfic. (I've also decided I don't care if other people look down on fanfic; I enjoy it and it is so much fun to ask all the "what if" questions and go from there.) I've been posting it over at, and have been flatly astounded at how well it has been received so far.

One of the things that keeps coming up in reviews is that my take on it is "new." Isn't that funny? I certainly hadn't set out to try to do something original in the fanfic 'verse (and didn't think it was possible, frankly, given the sheer amount of other fanfic out there for Pride and Prejudice). At the risk of sounding like a certain author who writes about sparkling vampires, I simply had a dream one night and it was with me the next morning. I couldn't help turning it over and over in my head, coming up with reasons for why the things that happened in the dream took place as they did.

Next thing you know, I realized it would fit Pride and Prejudice very neatly and all I would have to do would be to give Darcy a sort of Second Sight and set it in an era when women were just beginning to enter the work force.

In and of itself, nothing in there is original or new. But it does seem to be resonating pretty well with some people and they are seeing it as being such.

And I am having such a whale of a time writing it that I want to try to get my fourth chapter finished and proofed and published.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What the hell is this?

Another post? So soon? I am in severe danger of breaking the pattern of leaving this space abandoned for months and months at a time. Never fear - there's always a good chance I'll fall off the wagon tomorrow.

Anyhow, I've been working my way through the Wheel of Time series for quite a while now, making slow progress because I fear that devouring these books at my normal rate would have an ill effect on me. I'm not sure whether I would kill myself or someone else, but that is the sort of outcome I would expect these books have on me. I wouldn't read them at all, except I <3 Brandon Sanderson, who is finishing the series (and has been rumored to be doing a far superior job to Mr. Jordan's original efforts).

I feel one could hardly do worse than Jordan and as I get further and further into the series (I am only on book four), I find myself increasingly puzzled as to how these could ever have become popular in the first place. To make a short list of the many problems I have with what I have read so far:

  • 95% of the characters are plain unlikable and 100% of them are two-dimensional at best
  • It's hellishly repetitive 
  • For being (at a guess) 300k+ word books, nothing much happens in any of them, a very slow pace
  • Everything is shockingly predictable
  • Everything is a blatant ripoff of better and far more interesting works of fiction and myth
  • I can't suspend my disbelief quite as far as the story demands me to
  • Women are treated horribly as a general rule, with no apparent reason, even in societies which are more matriarchal 
  • I feel dumber for having read as much as I have

I could keep going, but I will not because it's not the point of this post.

So what is the point?

I read some advice recently that went along the lines of: "Don't write what you know. Write the book you would want to read." It seems good enough advice to me. Obviously, the Wheel of Time series is not something I like, but I was thinking about it and there are a few things in there that do appeal to me. A very few. The fact that I can pick them out at all makes me think that they are the sorts of things that most resonate with my preferences.

As an example, I like Lan, even if he is as flat as the rest of the characters. Because his two assigned personality traits (I think that's all that Jordan's characters are allotted) are ones I like in a man: He is brave and he is protective. So far anyhow. Seems that any time the story shifts to anyone's point of view we are instantly let in on their mental train of thought which is always and without fail on the Self Pity tracks, headed towards Whinyville, with occasional stops at the Twin Cities of Unreasonable and Childish.

I just can't stop picking at the many flaws, can I?

To get to the point, I am intending to set forth on a writer's exercise to list all those attributes I like to see in characters. I mean, I like my villains to be smart and cunning and cruel. I like for them to have some reason for being cruel and not just bent on destruction or chaos for the pure hell of it, the way so many villains are. I would like for them to be able to take the stage in a book and lay out their logic and emotions and have it all make sense and possibly even be the sort of thing someone could understand even if they don't agree with it.

How many people are really bent on world domination? Just to dominate the world and for no other purpose? And don't give me the whole insane line. I've met insane people and they don't function all that well.

But how many villains are we force-fed all the time who are just evil because they are inherently evil? Or craved more power, as if the forces and kingdoms they commanded weren't enough of a nightmare to keep track of?

I just don't buy it. There have to be so many more reasons for anyone's actions than those glib explanations. Stay tuned and I'll probably start exploring these concepts a bit more in depth. In the meantime, I feel inspired to go work a bit on Chapter Three of the romance.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Maybe standing on the train?

I last wrote that there are no damn excuses for not writing. Since then, inspired by some random link my husband sent to me, I've bought a notebook and dedicated my commute - or at least the bits of it that take place on a train - as writing time. Writing what? Whatever comes to me. That's been Emergent in the past few days, though I don't doubt that other things will creep in. Doesn't matter. Nor does the throughput (only several hundred words this week so far) because, dammit, I want to be writing. And I am doing some. It's not making me cringe in shame either, though I am sure it can use some work. Nevertheless, here's everything I have managed this week (taking into consideration that I usually spend at least one full leg of the trip standing and therefore unable to write a thing. I totally think we need a revival of chivalry here in the states. Am I not as worthy of a seat as any middle aged woman? MEN. Or something.):

(On a related note, Bast's cheerfulness in this scene makes me think he is hiding something. But what? Also, this is from the viewpoint of my mysterious, unnamed, newly formed dude. He'll be known as Syfr, although that doesn't come up here.)

Settling into my life as Bast’s semi-permanent houseguest was remarkable simple. As I might have guessed, he gave his whole life over to his studies and seemed, to me, to be pursuing no less than a dozen lines of research and inquiry. 
As he showed me through his small house – kitchen, bedchambers and study – he apologized several times for the clutter and the fact that he was not much of a cook since he rather tended to forget food when he was deep into his research. 
“It’s a rather common failing among most Alchemists,” he laughed. “But perhaps having someone else about will aid my memory regarding such matters. This,” he continued, pushing open a door, “is my study.” 
I had been about to protest that he need not take any extra worry for my sake, that I did not wish to disturb his life or routine and that perhaps I might repay his generosity in some small way and take on the tasks of the kitchen. But this all died on my lips as Bast’s study was revealed.
The room was bright in the morning light and I saw that there were wide windows on three of the walls. Below each window sat a desk, each one polished to a glossy sheen and all of them the same warm-toned wood. Two of them were immaculately organized, each item placed precisely, everything squarely stacked. It was mostly books and papers on those, although a few devices whose purpose I couldn’t begin to guess at were also present. 
The third desk was the most fascinating. On it stood untidy stacks of paper, several of which seemed likely to fall over at the slightest provocation. Various colored glass bottles stood in jagged groups, several of them unstoppered. There was also the occasional bit of rock in as many varieties of as there were colored bottles. A striped brown and green chunk the size of my head dominated the others for mass, but my attention was also caught by a dull glint of silvery metal and the sparkle of something a light lavender that seemed to catch and refract the sunlight. 
Bast noticed my taking inventory and gave a low chuckle. “Yes. Those are the things that do not keep my interest so much as the more abstract questions of energy.” 
“Energy?” I echoed politely. I had no idea what sort of questions anyone might have about the matter, let alone how it could possibly be abstract. 
“Such as the energy of light,” Bast elaborated, confusing me further. Wasn’t light just there? Did it do anything that could be construed as energetic? Fire seemed to have a dance of its own; maybe that was the sort of thing the Alchemist meant. Though I still didn’t see what questions one might ask of a blaze. 
“What’s in all those bottles?” I asked, rather than show my confusion. 
Bast’s face lit up with a broad smile, as though pleased I should take an interest. “Most people would be afraid to ask such a thing,” he informed me. 
I paused, fearing I had made some grave social blunder. 
But Bast was still grinning as he continued. “Then again, most people have some experience of having asked an Alchemist a very simple question only to receive an hour’s lecture for their curiosity. When an Alchemist gets to be as old as I am, he has learned that no one will willingly speak to him of science save his colleagues.” 
I laughed, for Bast did not appear so very old to me. “I am happy to learn anything,” I replied earnestly. “You will find a willing audience in me.” 
“So you say now,” Bast’s voice held a note of warning and I could not tell how serious he might be. “Come, I will show you what I am working on and you can say whether you would rather sleep in the streets.” 
He stepped into the room as he spoke and beckoned for me to follow. I did this with alacrity, truly interested in the knowledge Bast might impart. Every time we spoke, I learned much – and not only about Alchemy, but also religion, history, politics and law. He had yet to speak on any topic with anything less than perfect assurance. 
Of course, I was woefully ignorant and the Alchemist might have only been giving the impression of knowing more than he did. But it seemed that other people had listened with respect to what he’d had to say. 

And that's when my stop came. More to come. God knows what or when.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

There are no damn excuses

I've mentioned on Twitter lately that I am expecting to be an aunt again come November. The announcement was strange to me, since my younger brother hasn't been married terribly long. And since he and his bride had been in Iraq until just recently, I haven't had a chance to so much as meet this new sister in law. I'm not certain I am used to the notion of this brother being married, never mind a prospective father.
A week later, back at my sister's house, her husband offers her some wine -a not uncommon event. She gets frustrated, asks him why he would be offering her that now. I am only barely paying attention but even I catch the part where he tells her she should check with her doctor if it's okay for her to have a little.
And, I know she's been trying to conceive. I bought her tea and looked at... well, never mind what I looked at. So when she tells me that she's five weeks pregnant and due only a few weeks after my brother's wife, I am not altogether surprised.
Another sister-in-law is also expecting again - her second. Not counting children from other relationships on the parts of my sibling's spouses, I'm looking at playing aunt to seven nieces and nephews by the end of the year. My parents are about to double their grandchildren and they don't even know it.
The last time a rash of pregnancies rippled through our families, I had an enormously difficult time accepting it. I've mentioned it in passing (on KMA) before that my husband and I tried for several years to conceive, with no success. So when my sister got pregnant the first time, outside of wedlock in complete contradiction to how we had been raised, I was so terribly hurt and angry that it took me well over a year to work through all that emotion.
I'm sure anyone who is reading this may be wondering why I am posting about babies and emotions on a space that was intended for excerpts from a book I am not really writing these days.
The thing is, I've always wanted to be a parent. I've come to grips, more or less, with the idea that it might not ever happen for me. This new round of pregnancies has reminded me full force of that and although I am not devastated the way I was last time, it has given me a bit of a kick in the pants. 
Because the other thing I've always wanted is to be a published writer. And looking at my siblings building their lives and families will not be an excuse for me to wallow this time.
Not that my siblings are competitors for anything, but when you come from a large and dynamic family where someone is always doing something, there's a bit of a spur built into that. You did that? Oh, that's cool. I'm doing this.
I've put myself on the sidelines for a while now. And so my new challenge to myself is to start with just writing something every day. Something fictional, not just another WoW blog post. However much or little I get, at least it will be something. 
And with that, this space will be seeing some life again. Not just for Emergent excerpts but to do more to track my own emergence as a creative writer once again. 
If anyone is reading and wants to give the appearance of caring, I invite you to remind me as often as you like that there are no damn excuses this time.