The Story’s The Thing!

ScholarSome ideas die hard.

That is the ailment of the month. A document keeps expanding whenever innovation strikes, as elements of a new novel are jotted down. It’s a yarn built upon twin short stories, both pitched to various publishers but rejected with encouraging remarks. A lack of depth is the usual problem, and that is the much sought solution.

The background for SFF novels often times becomes a double-trap for young authors. Fledgling word-smiths frequently fly by the seat of their pants, relying on strictly their imagination to fill in the blanks. At worst, the results are derivative of that writer’s most recent literary conquest. At best, their concoction is remarkably original but devoid of particulars and technicalities which audiences crave– with proper delivery.

Likewise, the note-taking developer types with their pseudo God-complexes can become so involved with research into each organization, country and character that production slows to a crawl. However should the effort avoid the pitfall of becoming a textbook of fiction, the outcome is often an achievement.

Such truths could sour hopes for the junior scribe. Yet the most memorable books often borrow strongest from true life. Robert E. Howard is said to have once stated, “There is no literary work, to me, half as zestful as rewriting history in the guise of fiction.” J.R.R. Tolkien drew heavy inspiration from Norse mythology including Elves, Dwarves and Der Ring des Nibelungen. And George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire draws inspiration from the War of Roses and, some believe, a few other sources.

Admittedly these facts are a deterrent. There is little pleasure to be derived from the crestfallen countenances of dreamers-turned-skjalds for whom this is the lesson du jour. The fusion of economics, history, politics, culture, religion, psychology and science and/or the occult into a tale is no trick. Such intellectual pack-rats authors can become, for no esoteric knowledge is worthless.

The cynicism is due to timing. National Novel Writing Month has nearly arrived. An event that floods publishers and book delivery platforms with thousands of manuscripts. An event sponsored and encouraged by various groups who financially benefit from the stoked competition that spawns the deluge. An event that sparks the yin and yang of ambivalent emotions; a desire to be encouraged and see folks succeed, yet fearing the earnest zeal of effort that shall be futilely deflected against an uncaring public.

There is the rest of the year to be a scrivener who needs no crutch. For now, the innovations shall brew and storm, a time of rest from the inferno that serves others and not the creator. And December shall be the month when the ink touches the page.

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Shut Up Brain… Wait, Don’t!

When I was younger, I had a problem. Maybe it was Attention Deficit Disorder or the like, but I kept having… ideas for stories and characters. It was bad. I had a friend or two who got frustrated with my bouncing around on our mutual creative opportunities.

As of late, that… energy, that constant inspiration, has returned. A name, a country, a single powerful word can sometimes spark an idea that becomes a character, a subplot, or even the start of an entire novel. I tried to go to bed and ended up staying awake, eyes open as an idea for a short story, a good portion of a fantasy novel and a political/crime thriller novel, in some way about India, danced in my head. No. I don’t mean one of these things, I mean three very, very distinct stories that stand out on their own despite a single, unifying theme. And yes, I do intend to write all three.

But ideas aren’t enough.

Growing up, we constantly heard this… heh. I’m sorry. This lie that a “single idea can change the world.” I’m sorry. I know better. I’m older and freshly aware how it’s not just inspiration that gets work published but solid work. Research times three times writing and sticking to it. Followed by proofing, editing and being prepared to rewrite entire swaths of work, if not the entire piece. That last point has certainly happened before and will happen again.

My fear as of late has been two fold.

The first is that the inspiration will go away. Nothing is worse than seeing the golden goose fly away of its own accord, but sometimes that happens. I know it will happen again, be driven off and return in time. While I wouldn’t call these periods without the inspiration writer’s block, it is easier with inspiration than without.

The second, and what I fear far more, is that I get bored of something. That is the worst. If I’m bored writing, then something is very wrong. And that something is going to be reflected in the writing itself. Boredom is the very antithesis of writing because if you’re bored writing it, then it will be boring to read. Which begs the question of whether it was worth writing at all.

And I’ve certainly felt that before. If it’s just a short story then there’s no harm. In the long wrong, a short story isn’t that big a deal. To have boredom strike in the middle of a one-off novel is not good, especially if there has been quite a bit of work invested in it, but I can deal with it so long as it’s not on contract.

But what if boredom strikes in the middle of a novel series?

Now that scares me. I’ve written my first novella and I’ve been drawing out the work for the sequel. And although I feel confident that the sequel will have plenty of interesting aspects going on for it, what if there finally reaches a point in writing a sequel that I get bored?

Hell, who even likes to do sequels unless it’s a story that finally gets at something one wanted to write or do in the first place? How many boring origin stories led to outstanding sequels about what we really wanted to see? But what if it goes on? What could dry one’s interest out like writing about the same characters and dealing with the unresolved plot details that I’ve held off on.

I suppose that’s something I’ll worry about when it gets to that point. But I’ve been bored before. And I have to make a promise to myself not to let my writing sag or try ridiculous, unrealistic twists just to keep in new or fresh. If I just can’t take a character or aspect further, perhaps it’s time to give it out. Keep the original stories and let others play with that intellectual property.

Sometimes, the greatest tales have come not from the people who originally invented a universe or character, but from the people who came after, took the idea like a rugby ball and ran with it.

If I ever forget, remind me.