Thank you, Bitters Pub.
You’ve made this easier.
Never Look Back
Alright, so we’re going to discuss something I like to call “Character-Reader Synchronization.” There may be other, easier terms for it. Sometimes I feel like there’s little that hasn’t been named three times over already. But this is my name for it.
Basically this is an extension of the “writing POV” talk we had a while back, and it’s something to think of when you’re writing to keep the drama in your work. What it boils down to is: don’t let your reader know more than your character knows.
Let’s explain: say there’s a character (strong female type. Played by Glenn Close or Jodie Foster). She has to run to the store and leave her two young children with her teenage daughter from a previous marriage while she’s gone. When she returns only ten minutes later, all three are gone. The remainder of the story then is her trying to find them. Sounds dramatically interesting to me. We could go inside the characters mind and hear all her suspicions about who might have done it: her ex-husband? Her father-in-law? The older man that hit on her daughter at the park two months ago? Who knows?
Well, you do. Or you should. But the character doesn’t. You know who else shouldn’t? The reader.
In a story like this it’s obvious why the “camera” or “narrative focus” should stay on your main character. If you showed what happened to the children as it was happening, there’d be no drama to the remaining scenes in which she tries to figure it out. The reader wouldn’t be invested and trying to figure it out with her, you’d already know. Clues the author places wouldn’t be dramatic, they’d make the reader bash their heads at the stupidity of the character and go: “How can you not see the answer?”
There are lots of examples of this type of writing. There’s a Star Trek: Voyager episode called “Macrocosm” that’s particularly famous for it. But mostly in literature the issue comes about in non-science fiction / horror genres. Most action-oriented genre writers have learned these rules by the time they reach a point in their craft that they’re being published (although we still get a lot of submissions with it). No, mostly in published fiction it’s cases where the author feels this rule does not apply to them. The fantasy and romance and general fiction writers.
Wake up: it applies.
Good drama is the one universal need for good fiction. There’s no way around it. And the above example destroys good fiction. The story might still be good, it might be well written with good dialog, and people might very well still enjoy it… But it’s lost the essential element that would have made it dramatically pleasing and amazing.
This is a one of the only rules I’ll press. Only exceptionally avant-guard authors should even attempt to subvert it, and even then… Probably not.
Keep it in mind.
Never Look Back
Great, now I’m going to have that Lion King song stuck in my head all day.
This is another relatively obvious post, but perhaps so much so that I feel it often gets ignored. I know I did for a long time. Put bluntly it’s the act of always being prepared when inspiration strikes you. To sum up: carry a pen and pencil.
Blog post over? Not quite. There’s a little more to it then that. Basically what you’re “being prepared” for is inspiration. While many writers, especially those trained to produce under deadlines by jobs and school like me, can power through periods of dry creativity, there’s one thing nobody can fake: the divine spark. The idea.
Let’s explain. Once you have your novel outlined, most people can still force out some content even if they’re having a bad day. But nobody can force that initial idea that comes and inspires the novel to begin with. Nobody. I don’t care who you are.
This idea can come at any time, so you have to always be prepared. Muses are fickle things. Sometimes they’ll come while you’re sitting at your desk and ready for them, but other times they’ll come when you’re in line for coffee or getting your eyes checked.
So the old pad and pencil. But that’s not very convenient either, is it? Thankfully we live in a digital age. Send yourself a voicemail. Or an email. Or (my personal favorite) use the Notes app on my iPhone (this will be the only time I describe a helpful app on the iPhone). Do anything to get that idea down. Because while sometimes the idea is preserved seamlessly in your mind (I’ve had the opening scene to a book called Black Womb Returns perfect in my head for over a decade), other times it’ll evaporate within seconds. And there’s nothing more frustrating or painful for a writer than realizing you’ve lost what you’re sure would have been a best-seller because you didn’t have a pen.
But as a point, don’t go into too much detail. You don’t need to stop in the middle of Starbucks and write an eighty page outline. A) that’s time consuming and b) if the story never evolves further than the first idea you’re in trouble.
Take the note above, which I jotted down in iPhone Notes:
“Stuck on an elevator” novel
Man hits on woman,
They get stuck in an elevator together.
You don’t get much simpler than that. And the novel, whenever I get around to writing it, might never be like that. Or I may never write it. It’s so loose an idea that it’s just there to remind me. To spark the fires of inspiration when I’m near my keyboard. Like a string around my finger. It could be anything by the time it’s done. Or started.
So yeah, that’s my ramble on being prepared. If you find an idea, find a way to get it down. Don’t let it evaporate.
Make sure to give your idea the best chance at life you can, because only you can do it. And I’m sure it’ll be great.
Never Look Back
Okay, so I think I’m finally done.
As I’ve stated, I’ve been trying to quit coffee for some time. It makes me very irritable. Recently, because of the Holiday K-Cups, I fell off the wagon. And I’ve noticed that I’ve been more irritable with Ellen as a result. This is unacceptable. So I put my foot down.
Today, near the end of my shift, I was thirsty and asked a buddy of mine if he had anything to drink. He only had coffee. I drank half a cup and felt bad. I became aware off all my teeth. They felt like they were vibrating. And my stomach got really upset. I can feel a headache coming on.
I had a similar experience with quitting smoking. My last smoke disgusted me. So I think this is it. I’m done. Start the timer over, no more coffee for me.
Never Look Back
For the uninitiated, Sci-Fi from the Rock is an anthology series published by Engen Books. There was a collection released in April 2010 consisting of three stories, followed by a second volume in April 2011 featuring five stories. These stories, and the main purpose of the series, is to tell stories that take place outside the main Engen Universe. Anything could happen in these stories. The world could blow up. I think it did in Justin Foley’s story last year.
Anyway, this year there isn’t going to be one. And I wanted to explain why before rumors started flying.
Basically it was never intended to be annual. I don’t think we ever called it annual. If I did it was a slip of the tongue. It was always intended that this title would be “preempted” every so often.
For example: Steve Lake write his “Full Moon” series of shorts. Someday he might decide to write a novel based on the property. If he does, that novel would take the place of the book of shorts that year. I’ve toyed with the idea of even putting “Sci-Fi from the Rock Presents” at the top of such a novel, but will likely not as it would alienate new readers.
So I decided this year that anthology would get replaced with another anthology, the Light|Dark I’ve been talking about so much lately. To be fair, the plan was to include many of the authors from the Sci-Fi series, it just didn’t work out that way. But that just means it’ll be all the more epic when it returns with another collection (or novel?) next year.
So, to sum up the reason for this post, I wanted to make this one point clear: the series will return. I love the series. I have non-Engen stories waiting to see print in the series.
Anyone interested in contributing should message our submissions email. You’ve likely got a year. 😉
Hope everyone’s having a good day.
Never Look Back
Ellen made these for us to Valentine’s Day, proving that her skills and creativity go far, far beyond that of the written word.
I don’t know how she’s so great, she just is.
She even tried to make me Ninja Turtle cupcakes. It didn’t work, but they were still the right colors! It was a theme!
Loves my Ellen.
Never Look Back
Okay, there’s this contemporary theory in anthropology that was pioneered by a someone named Pierre Bourdieu around 1980 called Habitus. According to his article Structures, Habitus, Practices, Habitus is the durable, transposable dispositions a person has that are predisposed to function a certain way and are the principles through which we govern our actions. And that we adapt to their outcomes, though not necessarily consciously.
That’s a bit of a mouthful. But it basically boils down to the theory that all people are the sum of what has happened to them up until that point, and to a lesser extent, the product of everything that has happened anywhere up to that point.
This theory is particularly true and applicable when writing good fiction, with emphasis on character development. I’ll try to explain what I mean.
In a novel you don’t need to reveal everything there is to know about a character. Were they ex-military? Brought up in an orphanage? Deeply attached to their older sisters? All three? These are elements of the characters history, and (according to Habitus) they affect how the character will act when confronted with different situations. In this way a characters backstory can be implied through actions without being stated outright, and also helps to form more thorough, well-developed characters.
Although Habitus puts extreme emphasis on events that happen earlier in life and they’re importance, it also states that all events contribute to a person’s Habitus. For an overt example: you are different for having read this blog post, and will act differently to relevant situations in the future all the time.
This ensures good character development. All the events of your novel will affect your character, even if in only minute ways. Remember in T2 when the Terminator learned to check for the car keys in the visor? That tiny thing was a huge moment in the film. That’s a great example of character development through Habitus. When not only the events of the novel, but the events of the story make the character different at the end of it than they were at the beginning of it.
Hope this helps.
Never Look Back