Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Organic Tale

A writer is always searching for an organic tale that is complete in itself, compels the writer to spin it as finely as they can, and which, on completion, requires nothing more to be said. The organic tale's narrative grasps the writers imagination and will not release it until the tale has been written.

The best organic tale is a narrative in which neither character, setting, nor plot can be altered without destroying the story.  It is a tale of change that progresses from a state of disequilibrium that suggest possibilities that evolve through elimination into probabilities that eventually yields a resolution revealing how the protagonist or situation has changed. Throughout, the reader (and admittedly, the writer) is ever eager at every stage to discover what happens next.

While the fervor of writing the organic tale is often high at the outset this feeling diminishes as the writing progresses and the possibilities offered dwindle into mere probabilities as choices narrow.  Only when the resolution finally comes into sight does the writer's enthusiasm return.  It is the dreaded middle is where most writers falter, stumble, change their mind, or quit, sometimes for a brief while and worst, forever.  The middle is where doubt creeps in with its tiny claws, or imagination fails, or hours of staring at a demanding screen frustrates any attempt to lay down sentences that make sense.  Only the strongest or most stubborn continues to the bitter end. But mere persistence does not guarantee success.  More often than not persistence simply perpetuates a failed concept beyond the writers ability to handle.

But when the proper narrative presents itself a writer must apply their mind to the task.  The writer may fail on the initial attempt simply because they lack the experience or skill at that time.  Later, after gaining more of each they may return to recast it with a better narrative.

Such is the dream when one starts any narrative.


Saturday, January 14, 2017


One of the things I've noticed at conventions is how writers, reclusive and introverted troglodytes  by nature and choice, suddenly blossom into affable, garrulous speakers, at ease with voicing their uninhibited thoughts before crowds of strangers. I suspect that their smiles and easy social interactions are masking their inner doubts, their uneasiness, and their burning desire to be back in their cosy cave, slaving at an unforgiving anvil, pounding words into proper form, and cursing their elusive and flighty muse.

Or perhaps the boisterous enthusiasm these reclusive writers exhibit on panels is analogous to a diver's decompression, where freedom from the weighty anvil of creation liberates their inner selves  to range freely.  While participating on a panel, a writer faces no deadlines save the panel's fiftieth minute, nor will their words raise the ire of an eagle-eyed copy editor, and whose spoken words are as ephemeral as the words they write.  Here, they can assert doubtful facts, spin tall tales of their literary prowess, and highlight their recent success without fear of immediate contradiction (of course I am not talking about myself.*)  Panels thus become fora for debate, sounding boards for ideas, and platforms of ego that sometimes reveal more about the speaker than they intend, much to the entertainment of the audience.

In private conversations I've learned that many other writers don a mask to be other than they are by nature, donning socially acceptable (by con standards) dress, and forcing themselves to plunge cheerfully into the chaos of panels, readings, signings, and the inevitable hallway/bar conversations.  At the same time they are ever searching for opportunities, discoveries of a new market, or validation of their worth, ever wary for that bit of idle conversation which might, at some future date, be useful in an as yet unwritten tale.

Writers have little choice but to attend conventions when asked and willingly pay the price of a mask in order to engage in intelligent dialogues with fans and other writers.

*Of course not!


Friday, January 6, 2017

Evolution of an Idea

After a hiatus of holiday confusion replete with self-doubts about my ability to write I have finally returned to my writing forge to hammer out some incomplete short stories on the desktop and perhaps work on adding another few words to one of the incomplete novels.

That is, if nothing distracts me.

Usually I  have a more-or-less, vague idea for a story before I type the first word.  Sometimes it is an opening and on other occasions it is an ending. Regardless the final opening or closing changes, influenced by whatever took place between the two. Despite my claims that I am a Plotter I frequently fall into Pantser mode to generate copy.   The two types I mentioned above are the easy stories to write. It is the majority of other story's evolution that bedevil me.

Let me use, as an example, my July1998 Analog story, THE ICE DRAGON'S SONG, which started out as a fanciful recasting of HANS BRINKER AND THE SILVER SKATES, but taking place on Europa - one of Jupiter's moons. That conceit lasted for a few thousand words of an early draft but were mostly rewritten when another possibility intruded because of the nature of Europa and the influence of several of my Jupiter stories that preceded it.  Then the story changed again to the conflicted nature of the teen-aged protagonist's mind when Gene Wolfe asked me a question about the sub-text of the first "dragon" when he heard me reading a partial draft in the hotel lobby.  As a result Freudian symbolism became a central feature of the story's resolution.

That came back to me as I worked on one of my current projects; a story whose premise has changed with each completed scene. Each  change rippled back over new and previous scenes until I had a piss-pot of seemingly unrelated 7,000 words.  While winnowing scenes down to those that appeared to hang together some more possibilities came to mind and... Well, you get the drift.

Further efforts for resolution only invoked more confusion and, finally, I glimpsed a clearer idea of the point I wanted to make. The only problem was that none of the candidate scenes I'd selected could get me there but some of the discarded scenes perhaps could.  Luckily I use Scrivener and still retained those parts so retrieving/reinserting them in the draft was no problem.  Those alterations have taken me to 3,500 words of early draft that I now have to wrestle into something under 7,500 words.  That is, unless my fickle muse presents me with further possibilities and outcomes.

I go through this agonizing process so much that I wonder about how other writer's stories evolve? Are they as tortured with doubt and indecision as they cast words onto the screen?  Do they edit and revise entire chunks of text as they develop their stories, casting aside perfectly good narrative just because it doesn't fit the current project?*  Or do they, like I, modestly protest that I produce final drafts with little effort?

If all fiction writing is this messy and undisciplined it is no wonder so many abandon it rather than perfect their craft, leaving only the persistent and those who do not recognize their own limitations as they fill the slush piles.

*I doubt anything a writer conceives is ever cast aside but is repurposed 
in some other piece further down the line, even if they are unaware of it.