Tag Archives: conflict

Writing: The Process

I’m sure I’ve written about this before but right now I’m in the middle of the full-fledged process. I’m trying to get a story done for the World Horror Convention writing contest, as well as doing and online interview with the other Evolve authors on Bitten By Books. Go over there now if you have questions to ask or want to see a bit of how different authors view the process of writing or writing specifically about vampires: www.bittenbybooks.com I’ll also be at Orycon from Nov. 12-14 in Portland to talk about writing and to do a reading, maybe two. Right now I think I might read this virginal story I’m working on.

Indirectly, perhaps, it involves the picture to the left. Those are barrow mounds in Ireland, at Knowth. However, to back up to the beginning of this process is the kernel of an idea I had. Perhaps it started with Nancy Kilpatrick saying she was doing a second anthology of vampire fiction. I wrote one page and couldn’t think of a plot. I had atmosphere, a character and…that was it. Well, sure there was a thin plot showing itself but it was a cliché vampire tale and I didn’t want to write that, nor would anyone want to buy it.  So I put it aside and pondered. And pondered.

And came up with nothing. Thinking this one page still had something I finally emailed a bunch of people and said, “Is anyone willing to read one page of fiction and tell me what you think the story should be.” About five people responded. One went for humor, which this story was not, two gave suggestions not really suitable even to the first page, and two others gave me enough suggestions that I could kickstart the thinking process again. Sometime we need a mental smack upside the head to knock us out of those cliché grooves.

Often my next step in the writing process is this: ruminate. Turn the ideas over, think about this or that factor, literally sleep on it and work out a whole bunch logistics in my head before even hitting the paper. Then I start to make points, bits of conflict, images that come together. I went to Ireland a few years back and I’ve never used anything Irish as a setting for a story. Once I started thinking that my story started to come together better and the characters inhabiting it made more sense. Then those thoughts lead to the ability of my character to change or not and the depth of the conflict.

Next, I start writing. And stopping. And writing. And going to clean. And writing. And napping. Sometimes the story pours out and sometimes it creeps shyly. I wrote six pages last night after taking a day to write one page. And now I’m stopped (procrastinating writing this) as I try to work out the next stage. My character has overcome one conflict, but is that it? No. A good story usually has internal and external conflict so I need to bring up her internal conflict and whether she succumbs, fights or changes will remain to be seen but I have to make sure there are enough stakes in the game for my character (whose name is changing as I write this) to either emerge triumphant or changed by her travails.

Some stories have taken me years to finish because I can never satisfactorily work out the plot and conflict to my satisfaction. Some stories leap fully grown from my head like Athena from Zeus’s brow. And some are a bit of both worlds; parts flowing out while others turn to concrete in my head.

And now that I’ve defined my problem, the internal conflict, I guess I need to decide if in fact the theme that I often write about in my stories will be the same here. Morality. “An Ember Amongst the Fallen” was a morality tale. “Exegesis of the Insecta Apocrypha” is maybe an immorality tale and this one, well, yeah her morals are question. I’ll see what the character decides.

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Writing: The Task of the Antagonist

Sometimes I write here to keep myself writing and to work out my own thoughts about various items and events. And working out the process of writing is a…well, ongoing process. :)

The antagonist is almost always needed in a story, otherwise it’s a meandering view of someone’s life with nothing really happening. Life is full of conflicts; little ones like “what should I eat tonight” or big ones, like “should I move across the country” or “if I ignore this growth on my neck, it could kill me.” Those are possible conflicts and in the course of a story; the conflict is faced and either overcome or not. If conflicts are never encountered or if all it amounts too is what should I eat, then it may be a fairly boring story. However even a story with a character deciding on what to eat could be exciting or very funny, if done correctly. Canadian Stuart McLean is a master of taking the normal everyday things and making them hilarious. http://www.cbc.ca/vinylcafe/

Usually the protagonist is the main character in a story. It’s much rarer to have  an antagonist as the main character but there can be someone who seems the antagonist and changes through the course of events. However, a story that only has an antagonist will alienate the audience because people tend to empathize or relate to a character, even if that character does things or lives a live that is completely alien to what we know. With only an antagonist as the main character, we can jeopardize the story. Perfume was one book that I read where any character that I could have been sympathetic to was on scene so briefly that there was no connection.

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was so despicable a character that I could care less if he lived or died. The only thing that truly propelled the story forward was the unique way in which Grenouille reacted and saw the world–through his sense of smell.

A protagonist without an antagonist is only half a story. The antagonist doesn’t have to be a person. It could be an animal, a corporation, the elements or even oneself. We come back to the three age-old conflicts: man/woman vs nature, man/woman vs man/woman, man/woman vs him/herself. These are the antagonists.

The antagonists job is to give the protagonist a run for their money or to challenge them. Batman and Robin always faced very obvious villains, such as the Riddler, the Joker or the Penguin. These were in every way cartoon villains because they lacked depth and dimension. The paper comic books took them to more depth, gave them backgrounds, and histories.

But a good antagonist has a story of her own. It is not just about the protagonist and what he needs or wants and what stands in his way. The antagonist should also want something and have a reason for wanting it and find that what stands in her way may be something else or the protagonist himself. Fleshed out characters add meat to a story.

An antagonist just can’t run around and do bad deeds if they don’t someone intersect with the protagonist’s story, even if it is to show a similar philosophy, background or event that moves them forward. That’s the task of the antagonist; to challenge the protagonist and pull out the best or worst traits in that person. The antagonist gives the protagonist’s story a reason for me. They are like the self and the shadow. Without one, the other pales and the reader loses interest. So always give your protagonist an antagonist, or even several.

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Writing: What Constitutes Fantasy

Discussion has recently come up on my writer’s list about fantasy stories. One of the members asked a range of questions, not because she needed advice but because I believe she’s had discussions with other writers on what constitutes fantasy. Most of the members had close to the same answers here so I’m listing her questions and how I view each of them.

1.     Should a writer write down to an audience, or just use their own conversational voice?

 I took this to mean, should a writer condescend to, take on an instructional tone in explaining to an audience that may not know as much. Or should the writer use the author’s voice. However, I believe she meant, use your regular writing voice, thought that wasn’t clear. I have elaborated on my original answers.

I’d think neither. You’re writing using characters so your characters should help reveal the world. A character has a personality and a unique voice and depending on the point of view, that will affect what voice is used. You could have a condescending narrator; in that case yes he/she would talk or write down to the audience.

To explain the particular setting/technology/society of a world requires deft revelation, some of which may be through a particular character. Albeit, some exposition is required in a novel, but it shouldn’t be talking/writing down so much as making sure your regular reader understands the functioning aspects of the world as needed to understand the story. Example: I recently edited a book for someone who had all sorts of words/slang about airforce planes but on a level most of us (unless we were pilots) wouldn’t understand. He needed a bit more info in context so that the reader could understand what was going on.

 Unless you (the author/narrator) are an integral part of your novel, the authorial voice should not be there. When author’s drop into their stories it’s disconcerting and pulls the reader out of the world. Terry Pratchett from time to time uses an authorial or omniscient narrator (as you suspected, dear reader). It takes skill to use it in a way that enhances a story as opposed to detracting from in and ruining the atmosphere.  

2.     Should a fantasy novel assume lack of science and technology?

No. Even a world of magic has some technology or science. Whether it interacts with the story is another matter. Cups, weapons, dyes, plows, walls, etc., are all a science when they’re discovered/invented. Pre-industrial societies had science and or technology. Stories that involve alchemists (as an example) often mix science with magical properties. Books have been written where magic and science blend equally.

If you mean the logic/science behind how magic works in a particular world, then yes it still has to make sense and work in the story. But science does not negate magic necessarily.

3.     Should a fantasy novel assume a pseudo-medieval milieu?

No. It can, as is evidenced by numerous novels, but some are of far earlier societies. Some are integrated in later worlds and some are just plain ole alien. I read Brandon Sanderson’s novel, Mistborn, which had a plantationesque era and established magic. There was science as well. I really liked it for being of a different milieu.

Often there is the accepted trope that in a world that is not industrialized, magics develop in different ways within people. But a world could have magical creatures, i.e., not found normally on planet Earth and still not be medieval. Many medieval fantasies fall into parallel world tropes, where it is the middle ages but some element of magic is real. Many take an Earth like world and values but create fictitious places. Everything from the myths of the ancients up to the modern urban fantasies, like Charles de Lint’s (his name came up often in this discussion) are fantasy but not medieval. And really, a fantasy story has a better chance of selling if it is different rather than the same as every other book on the shelf.

4.     Should a fantasy novel necessarily encompass magic?

Again, it doesn’t matter really. Yes or no, depending on your world. A world can just be “other” or different from the world and the past we know, yet have nothing magical about it. It will still fall into the fantasy category. The lines between science fiction and fantasy can be blurry. Anne McCaffrey’s famous dragonriders of Pernseries started out as a medieval fantasy where people in feudal style societies rode dragons that killed the invading threads. She argued that it was science fiction because it was a different world, where originally the humans came from someplace else.

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover books were similar in that they started out in a medieval style world, where some people had special powers. But as she wrote more and more books, there was interaction with people from other planets and spaceports. Fantasy or science fiction? Yes.

5.     Should magic in a fantasy novel be hard or just part of the norm like breathing?

Depends on if everyone does it, or if it’s a gifted few. Are they born with it or like us, do they go through a crawling stage before walking and then flying? Many books have magical talents begin with puberty. In others, the person must study and earn the talent. It could be a world that has an inherent magic in the way it works such as creatures that change shape. It all depends on what is integral to the plot and how that affects the outcomes and solutions the protagonist must find.

Overall, I’d say almost all of these are not hard and fast. It depends on how the world is set up, what tale you’re trying to tell and how integral magic is to that story line. But questions like these are always goods to ask because as writers, it keeps us thinking and examining what we do. And sometimes it pushes us outside our comfort zones and we move beyond the box.

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