If there be dragons…

After fighting with a scene for three weeks, which included yelling at my keyboard, pulling at my hair and much weeping and gnashing of teeth, I’ve finally broken through the fog. How? I realized that it wasn’t the logistics of the scene that were hurting my ability to write it…it simply didn’t need to be written. I needed several main characters to encounter a, well, let’s say hardship, and instead of crafting a useful way for this to happen I was rushing through what turned out to be an extraordinary scene in the process. Let me be more specific; I hurried them through some rather fantastic scenery in order to be on solid ground and encounter said foe, and by doing so I was missing out on all that I was eventually able to do in the original setting.

All that gibberish to say that if a scene is giving you that much trouble, there are two reasons for it: It deals with something you personally aren’t ready to deal with, or it’s being forced. Check your motives. Does it sound like a plot device? Could your novel/short-story do without the whole scene? (This is good to ask for any scene you write).  There may be many parts of the story that you write only for yourself, because keep in mind that a reader only needs to read what will push the narrative forward. Now, that’s not to say that it will always be obvious how it does so. A scene/chapter may only be for character building purposes, but you have to be unbelievably careful in doing this, you stand the chance of losing your reader’s interest. In other words, yes you can learn alot about James Bond with internal dialogue while he’s on the John, but it won’t have near the staying power as hearing that internal dialogue while he is in captivity somewhere (where he will inevitably sleep with the enemy and blow something up…but I digress).

I learned alot through this…and I may have encountered this lesson before, but as I’ve already said, each novel is different. Every story has its own characteristics and everytime I begin a new chapter, its like beginning a new relationship. There is the courtship phase, the newly-wed phase, the seven year itch (please God don’t let this drag on anymore), and hopefully the blissfully comfortable familiarity of someone you’ve known all your life. There are basic guidelines and ideas for all novels/relationships, but not all of them apply to every piece.

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Woe is the writer who mounts their merit on the masses

M John Harrison: (On World Building)
Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over worldbuilding.
Worldbuilding is dull. Worldbuilding literalises the urge to invent. Worldbuilding gives an unneccessary permission for acts of writing (indeed, for acts of reading). Worldbuilding numbs the reader’s ability to fulfil their part of the bargain, because it believes that it has to do everything around here if anything is going to get done.

Above all, worldbuilding is not technically neccessary. It is the great clomping foot of nerdism. It is the attempt to exhaustively survey a place that isn’t there. A good writer would never try to do that, even with a place that is there. It isn’t possible, & if it was the results wouldn’t be readable: they would constitute not a book but the biggest library ever built, a hallowed place of dedication & lifelong study. This gives us a clue to the psychological type of the worldbuilder & the worldbuilder’s victim, & makes us very afraid.”

I read this earlier today, and had to share it with you. A keen observation, this is. Look at what he says closely. As a reader, it is our job (nay, our pleasure) to fill in some of the blanks. As writers it is our duty to allow all others the freedom to do so.
We musn’t tell them everything. Some things, certainly, but not everything. I mean this as no excuse for poor detail or fractured narrative. What I mean is this; know it, inside and out, every detail: The peoples, long since faded from memory that once thrived where your hero now treads; animals that will never wander in your protagonist’s path and ruins that are too covered with centuries of stories to be seen. Every rock, village, tide and turn. This is the foundation upon which worlds are built. These are the underpinings of much greater things. Like steel beams in a modern building, it holds…it structures the fabric of your imagination.
Because after all, it is the utterance of a thing that makes it what it is. As an author, you will always (without fail) know more about your worlds than can be shared with your readers. Your acknowledgement of it is enough. If it is strong, it will carry through your prose and filter into the minds of those who dare dive deep enough. Those are the worlds that leave us dreaming long after the last page has been turned. Like the never ending story, some worlds will never die.

Madness ensues…

Nathan Bransford asked a really good question yesterday…What is the worst writing advice you’ve ever been given? A myriad of responses flooded in, and much of it sounded like some of the stuff I’ve been told.  In stead of talking about what shouldn’t be done, I thought I would chat a moment about what should. Consider this quote concerning fads:

Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.” 
–Ray Bradbury 

How true. How startlingly, frustratingly true. I lightly considered, as I complained about the current trends, changing my next project…or I should say I considered shelving my next project and replacing it with something that would fit the market. To even contemplate setting aside something that warms my soul to make room for something that fills my wallet, is true defeat.

So, in light of such a humbling revelation, I suspect I will get quite a good ways into book four this weekend. Nothing like stark reality to get the ink flowing again…

Some worlds never die

Some worlds will never die. Regardless of how many generations come and go, there are some places that once imagined, will never cease to be.

As a young girl, I read E. R. Eddison’s work, The Worm Ouroboros. It remained a part of my mind long after I had closed the book.
Gro answered and said, “I will not hide it from you, O my Lord the King, that in my sleep about the darkest hour a dream of the night came to my bed and beheld me with a glance so fell that the hairs of my head stood up and pale terror gat hold upon me. And methought the dream smote up the roof above my bed, and the roof yawned to the naked air of the midnight, that laboured with fiery signs, and a bearded star travelling in the houseless dark. And I beheld the roof and the walls one gore of blood. And the dream screeched like the screech-owl, crying, Witchland from thy hand, O King! And therewith the whole world seemed lighted in one flame, and with a shout I awoke sweating from the dream.”

Why is that one of my favorite passages from Ouroboros? I love the imagery. The visceral feel of the world in which Gro lives. It takes me, terrifyingly of course, to another existence. How much fiction have you read lately that can lay claim to that? So much pop fiction frustrates me. Is this a lost art? Is Epic Fantasy losing its readership to paranormal and urban fantasy? Some think so. Quite a bit has been said lately about the decline of book sales in the genre. Is this a passing trend? I personally think so. There is a really good discussion of it here http://aidanmoher.com/blog/?p=230#comment-2057
Epic stories are too much a part of our being. In a commercial, pragmatic world, its nice to fall into a realm that knows nothing of emails, or cell phones, or the wonderless existence of living in polluted, over-crowded cities.
Who hasn’t experienced loss that, even for a second, made you wish for the impossible? Even those who claim they don’t care for fantasy, are drawn to newstories that are seemingly incongruent with reality.
Our daily world is built on the foundation of immediate gratification. We are no more invested in imaginery worlds than we are our own. But, this mindset is relatively new. Like all things, it will change. We’ll find the lost art of letters, and face to face communication. Not to be archaic, but I like things that leave more than a page in your browser history. I am not alone.
So, no. I don’t think Epic Fantasy is dying. The publishing trend may be pulling things in a different direction, but as the pendulum swings it will return again. Some worlds will never die.