Because science into life doesn't go

Friday, December 05, 2008

Tense Negotiations

Okay, I came to a decision about the POV. The story will be written from the first-person perspective of the man under interrogation. I managed to find a critical question that both the interrogator and the interrogatee could plausibly both be in the dark about and still want to know the answer to. Hopefully, this will mean less artificial restriction of events the main character would clearly be aware of. And it allows me to hide some facts that the interrogator is aware of until the appropriate time.

The question has now moved onto what tense the two threads of the story should be written in. Personally, I don't have any problem with present tense, and I would be quite happy to write the present-day events in the present tense, with the scenes of the MC's recollections written in the past tense. This seems a natural way of enabling the reader to rapidly understand whether the current scene they are reading is past or present, and additionally gives an extra feeling of events happening *now* in the present scenes. For a first-person narrated story, there is one situation where present tense is mandatory -- when the main character dies before the end of the story. I don't think that's the case for my tale, but it is nice to keep that option open!

There are many successful examples of first person present-tense out there -- Ted Chiang's "Understand", and Frederik Pohl's "Gateway" immediately come to mind -- but it does seem to be a deal-breaker for some readers. Artistically I want to go with the present/past structure, but from a commerical point of view, perhaps the past/past structure is better. What should I do?

117 words. (Plus hundreds more in character backgrounds, plotlines etc, so not as bad as it sounds!).

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Not Just Any Body


The present story I'm working on begins with my main character being interrogated about an act of sabotage he may or may not have committed (but was certainly involved in, in as much as he was there at the time). Through the course of the interrogation the events of the crime are slowly revealed, so that by the end of the story both the denoument to the crime and his role in it are uncovered.

The problem I'm having is choosing the appropriate POV. If I choose the guy who was involved with the crime, then it makes the story artificial in that he deliberately withholds infomation about (a) the facts of the crime, and more importantly (b) his identity in relation to the crime (in essence, is he an enemy inflitrator, or not?). If I want to retain him as the POV character (ideally, I do, because the story is essentially his) then the only way I can do this is by using third person-cinematic -- the viewpoint where there is no interior monologue, just action like in a film.

If I don't want to do that I need to switch to the interrogator's POV; this allows me to keep the reader guessing about the true identity of the captive, but does mean that we are no longer directly attached to him, seeing the world through the interrogator's eyes instead. That's nice in the sense that I can explore the theme of trust more naturally, but it does also mean that I need a story for the interrogator as well. He cannot merely be a passive observer in the piece.

Which POV would be the better choice?

450 words. And good 'uns, too!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

In Their Heads

One of the biggest problems I have with my writing (I said "one"; there's plenty of other faults!) is developing a character's voice.

By nature I often take a detached view of events, and this translates through to my prose. I usually construct my sentences slowly, focusing on clarity more than voice. This method seems to leave the unique cadences and tics of any particular character off the page.

One gregarious violation -- exactly like those two words! -- is my use of longer, more precise lexicon when it's not always faithful to the character. There are a number of ways of dealing with this.

First off, never use language -- especially filler language -- that the character wouldn't be aware of themselves. If you used the phrase "Pertaining to the matter," then as a reader you might expect the character to have a certain level of education or be in a professional firm or have had a particularly well-heeled upbringing.

Second, keep the character's focus on things they would be interested in. If a character has no expertise in star fields, then you can't begin describing the constellations in great detail even if it is just description. That would jar.

Of course, there are many more tricks: sentence length; diction; deciding on your character's overriding feeling towards the world -- cynical, joyous, depressed, envious (be aware of alienating readers with unsympathetic characters though!). Automatic writing may help to overcome your own sub-conscious imprinting of your own outlook on the writing too.

Or, the other way to go is choose POV characters who better reflect your own worldview and personality. Anyone for an emotionally detached analytical hero?!

As an example of brilliant control of character voice, everyone should read Daniel Keyes classic, "Flowers for Algernon."

298 words. Meh.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Writing Lab

So, the exciting development that was hinted at yesterday!

Although I realise that my daily wordcount numbers are a fascinating statistic in their own right, I thought that there might still be ways of spicing up these posts further. Difficult, I know, but probably not impossible. And I like a challenge.

So, lightbulb moment! What about talking about some writing issue that's come up during the course of the day? That might mean anything from analysing a single sentence's construction, to what to do with all those rejection slips, to how to really piss off an editor/agent at a con (#1 Follow into the toilets one of the few people who can help you make it in the writing game, then push your shitty manuscript under the cubical door while he/she is taking a crap. No prizes for guessing what gets used as loo-paper).

Since I meant to post such a dilemma yesterday, but was foiled by a dropped internet connection, I will talk about, not one, but two issues today!

First up, what's a reasonable characters/words ratio for a first scene of a short story? I'm not talking about all those nameless goofs who might be making up the numbers -- Rebel Alliance homecoming crowds, Star Destroyer minions, you know, those kind of folk -- but the people you actually name. You see, when a reader comes across a Luke Skywalker or a Harry Potter on the first page a little memory stack in the brain gets used up. Actually, it's probably not so little. There's probably lots of anticipatory clearing of the cobwebs so that the mind is ready to begin storing everything from what little Harry ate for breakfast, to what his big conflict is. There's only so many such folk the brain can handle (unless you were born in 18th century Russia in which case a named cast of hundreds is just dandy), and nothing pisses off a reader more than Auxillary Sandwich-Machine Maintenace Engineer Billy Gimes getting stage-time in the first paragraph only to never appear again in the rest of the story. Personally, I think a 250 words per character is a reasonable maximum for the opening scene. Any more and the reader won't be sufficiently grounded in any of those characters and they'll stop following the story you're intending them to read. Of course, clever sods might deliberately name Bashful, Doc, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, and Sneezy very swiftly to engender a sense of confusion that mirrors their protagonist's feelings, but that's a special case. In practical terms, if your planned first scene is a short one, but involves all five of your main characters together in speaking roles, you probably need to change that scene. And the corollary is that you should never name any of the grunts. Let them do the dog-work anonymously!

Second conundrum. How do you slip acronyms into the text? Some are easy. Everyone knows what CIA means. You don't need to write "Central Intelligence Agency", the reader is not a moron. But what about CME? Do you know that, smarty pants? It stands for Coronal Mass Ejection. But, ahhh, your characters don't go through that mouthful every time they say or think the concept. They refer to it as a CME. Thus, satifying both your reader and your character is a mite tricky. Do you use, "Corona mass ejections -- CMEs -- flared off the sun," making an ugly halfway house that at least allows you to never again have to utter the bastard phrase , or do you just fuck the reader and write "CMEs flared off the sun," and let them work it out, or do go all skiffy and make up some new term that is understandable to the reader and plausible for the character, "Spewers flared off the sun,"? I don't know the answer, but every time I commit "CME" to the page I feel dirty. Suggestions?

And the wordcount? 458.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Checkin' In

843 words. Check back tmrw for a more exciting post!