I really don’t like thinking that I’m a sadistic rat, mind you. I mean, I know I’m a long way from being a good person–keeping in mind that I have rather high standards in that regard–I’m far too aware of my own shortcomings, and all the times I knew what the right thing to do was…and didn’t do it. So no, I don’t consider myself a particularly good person in the sense of being a credit to my species, but a “sadistic rat”? Isn’t that a little harsh?
No, not really. See, I’ve been working on a writing project in plot resolution mode for a bit. It’s slowing down the actual word count, but it’s a necessary step. And the question “What’s at stake for my hero in this?” quickly morphs into “What is the absolute worst thing I can do to him?” And I thought of something diabolical. Nasty. Heart-breaking. I know what you’re thinking, but that’s not the “sadistic rat” part. That came out when I realized that the absolute worst thing wasn’t actually the absolute worst thing, because I had already done the absolute worst thing to him that I could do in a previous adventure…which wasn’t the absolute worst thing either, because it occurred to me that the absolute worst thing was something I’d done to him even before the reader ever met the guy, something that continues to haunt him until the present situation and will beyond it, assuming he survives.
So, not the “absolute worst thing” I could do to him, because I’d already done it. Twice over. But pretty damn bad. And, yes, I’m going to do it. The story needs it, and the story always comes first.
I am a sadistic rat, no question. It goes with the job description.
“I never plan things. I start writing them, and it’s like a magician forces a card on me. ‘Pick a card!’ I couldn’t start it if I knew what I was going to do.” – William Gibson
I’ve said it before in a slightly different context, but now it’s time to explore the idea to its logical conclusion. So repeat after me: “I’m a writer. And I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”
I’ve talked about “foxes and hedgehogs” to compare and contrast different approaches to writing. Today I want to talk about different approaches to process. Specifically: how do you begin? As with the whole fox/hedgehog metaphor there are no absolutes, but there is a spectrum, and we tend to gravitate toward one end or the other. In short, to begin a project we either tend toward Order or Chaos. Continue reading
This is a subject I’ve talked about before. Likely I’ll talk about it again, so don’t think of it as a rerun. Think of it as emphasis.
Have you ever noticed that, now and then, a really good new writer will appear on the scene with the sfnal equivalent of fireworks? They get people’s attention right from the start. People seek out their work, talk about it, it comes to the attention of awards judges and publishers alike. Not too surprising; sometimes really good writers appear as if sprung from the head of Zeus, fully grown, armored, and ready. Never mind how long they spent working and improving their craft; that’s between the writer and his or her word processor. So far as the rest of us are concerned–poof! there they are. Actually it is a little surprising. Because in this field, being “really good” isn’t good enough and never has been. Being “really good” and working hard will usually get you published regularly and well, but it doesn’t bring you the kind of attention I’m talking about here. What does? After much thought and discussion, I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is: voice.
Now, don’t misunderstand this: it’s almost certainly necessary for such a writer to be “really good” (though better of course to be like Kelly Link, arguably a genius) for all this to happen. But it’s not enough. Neither is “voice,” for that matter, at least when considered by itself. There’s more to it, as there usually is. Continue reading