Archive for September, 2014

Reinventing Beloved Characters

There are beloved characters in our culture, characters that everyone knows about, even if they haven’t seen or read the originating material. And they get used in phrases or idioms, or you can use them for comparison or descriptions, and everyone knows what you mean.

Beloved characters seem to fall into two categories:
1) Characters who are sacred
2) Characters who are reinvented over and over

And it seems, as time goes on, that they all tend to eventually fall into category 2. The longer a character exists, the longer they’re popular, the more likely they are to be re-used, re-invented, re-imagined, until eventually there’s hundreds of versions and yet they all seem to somehow be the same person.

Doctor Who may be the most obvious version of this–as the Doctor is literally re-invented every few years, taken on by a new actor, written and played slightly different. But it’s every incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, Peter Pan, King Arthur. Every time someone retells Oz a little differently. Every time someone takes a fairy tale and spins a new thread through.

And it can be seen in newer characters as well. Admittedly what made me think of this is that the small, mobile one and I rented some of the newest Scooby Doo series from the library. Now, Scooby and the gang are pretty old for cartoons, but in the great cultural timeline, they’re pretty new.

And how many versions of Scooby Doo has there been? There’s been different animated series on since it premiered in the ’60s. There’s live-action versions, puppet version, and the prerequisite version where everyone is kids. And the characters get tweaked. Shaggy’s intelligence level (I think he’s slowly gotten more useful as time has gone on), whether Fred and Daphne are dating, Velma’s level of nerdiness, Daphne’s level of stuck-upness, Fred’s level of stupid-jockness. Some combinations work better than others.

(I am not a fan of Velma in this newest series, which is lame because normally Velma is awesome.)

But through it all, the essence of the characters remain the same. Daphne is Daphne is Daphne. Shaggy will be eternally hungry. Velma will say “Jinkies!”

And that’s what’s important in a reinvention. Each character has something that makes them them, and as long as you retain that, you can move that character through time periods, alternate realities, and genres. Robert Downey Jr., Basil Rathbone, and Benedict Cumberbatch are all wildly different Sherlock Holmes, but, at the same time, there is something about them that is Sherlock.

And, as long as that essence can be retained, I say go for it. These characters resonate through our culture for a reason, after all.

What do you think, Squiders? Are you a purist, or do you like it when characters get a new story, a new plot? What are you favorites?

(Also, what is your favorite version of Scooby Doo?)

Previously Discovered Territory

So, I’ve been working on determining a project to work on for Nanowrimo. And, since I haven’t started a new rough draft in four years, I’ve got a huge list of story ideas that I’ve written down, to get to eventually.

I think I started with 18 different novel ideas. I’m down to four: the first book of a space adventure scifi series somewhat in the same vein as Star Trek; a high fantasy adventure story that’s the same world as my high fantasy trilogy but otherwise unrelated; a vague story that involves some combination of mazes, Friendship Trumps All, hidden magical worlds and is mostly still in the running because it’s so openended for the moment; and the sequel to my anthology story that’s included in the Under Her Protection anthology.

And because I’ve been treading on the same ground for years, editing and rewriting and submitting and publishing, the idea of writing something new is extremely exciting and I want to write them all. So I’ve been having a hard time eliminating ideas, and so I’ve been talking to anyone who will listen to me about them, in the hopes that one will suddenly jump into the lead and I can start planning for reals.

Last night I was going over these ideas with my husband again (only there was one more idea that has since been eliminated, because we determined that the plotline needed to be planned out in such detail beforehand in order to work that Nano was probably not the right place for it), and I explained the worldbuilding for my scifi series, which he thought was interesting, but then when I went into potential plots for this first book (crew has to learn to work together, saboteur from radical group onboard, warring colonies, transmissions from a colony thought lost) he said, “Well, what’s new about any of that?”

And I admit I went through this phase where I went “OMG he’s right, obviously I should not be writing science fiction when I’m just going to do the same plot as everyone else ever” but I got over it. And I will tell you why.

First of all, when condensed down to a single sentence, a lot of plots sound the same, whether they are or not, because summaries lack the nuances that stories have.

Second of all, the fact of the matter is that I like a good space adventure and other people like a good space adventure, and sometimes it’s okay to use genre conventions (especially if you twist them later on).

And third of all, a story is more than just the sum of its plots. And each plot is affected by the world it’s set in, by the characters involved in it, by the tone and theme of the story, by the voice. Every murder procedural ever follows that same basic plotline, but everything else changes.

So why shouldn’t I write my saboteur and my clashing personalities (arguably more interesting because they’re trapped on a deep space ship together) and my space dinosaurs? My story will still be uniquely mine, just like every story is unique to its author.

So there.

Let’s Get On With the Space Travel

So, I suspect a lot of us have seen this picture floating about the Internet (for people too lazy to click, it has two columns–the first is Star Trek and a piece of technology, and the second is that technology being invented in real life). And at the point it says: Star Trek Predicting the future since 1966.

And, as people point out every time it raises its head, Star Trek didn’t predict the future. It inspired the future. The reason why we have those technologies now is because the people who grew up with the show were inspired to make those things real, such as medical tricorders and hyposprays. (We’ve talked about that before.)

So, while this is all well and good, I gotta ask–where’s my space travel? Where’s my new worlds (and, depending on whose science you’re following, my new civilizations)? Where are my moon colonies, my outer space ship yards, my Mars trips? Where is my boldly going where no one has gone before?

As a child, I was obsessed with space travel. I went to space camp three times. I had memorized most of the astronauts and cosmonauts and what missions they had gone on. I knew technical specs for the space shuttle and could rattle them off at a moment’s notice.

(I also memorized the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual, so I also could tell you what exactly it meant when the pattern buffers in the transporter went awry.)

And things were so promising. I love Apollo era space travel. In less than a decade we went from no space travel to a MAN ON THE MOON. Several men on the moon! We pulled out all the stops to make it happen, and I love reading about how we made it happen. And the shuttle program had so much promise. We were going to go to space ALL THE TIME in our amazing, reusable ships! We were going to do everything!

But then Challenger happened and it seems like everything’s gone downhill since then. Poor NASA has barely any budget, and they keep taking it away, even though it’s only, like, 1% of the national budget. And we keep talking about going back to the moon, or on to Mars or Europa or Titan, but nothing seems to be getting there.

(At least NASA’s working on the Warp Drive.)

And, of course interplanetary travel is harder than making flip-open communication devices or portable devices that can interface with your computer system, but I know a lot of what draws me to science fiction is the environment, the exploration, the potential danger, and to see how we react when confronted with new things. And I just wish we seemed to be making some forward progress. But instead it just feels like we’re sliding backwards.

How Reading Order Influences

So, last weekend, I was talking to a random person about scifi and fantasy authors, comparing things we’d read and suggesting new people and the like, and we had the following exchange.

Guy> Oh, {author} is like Philip K. Dick.

Kit> Ah! I like Philip K. Dick.

Guy> I find him highly derivative.

Kit> Really?

And he went on to say that he’d started with a lot of science fiction from the 1910s and 20s, which were a major influence on Philip K. Dick. Whereas Philip K. Dick was some of the first short scifi I read, so it read more original to me.

And that got me to thinking–each of us are directly influenced by the order we consume media in. The fact of the matter is that a lot of books (TV shows, movies, comics, etc.) are similar to other books (…etc.). And our perception of what came first or what is derived from something else is often directly based on the order we consume things in.

Let’s look at Power Rangers and Voltron, for example. Both involve a team of people who wear color-coded jumpsuits. Both involve aliens and robots and swords. Voltron technically came first, being an anime released in the mid-80s, but if you were a kid who watched Power Rangers and then found Voltron later, you’d say to yourself, “Oh, this is just like Power Rangers.” Never mind that it’s the other way around. You found Power Rangers first, and so Voltron seems derivative, even if intellectually you know it came first.

Another example of this is when some novel gets big and attracts readers that don’t normally read that genre. You get a ton of people who heap praises on that novel without knowing that it’s standard (or, in some cases, substandard) for that genre of novel. I’m going to use the Hunger Games as an example here. (Now, to clarify, I liked the first two books–and I think we talked about why the third was bad here, but if not, I will,  but it’s a good example of people reading genres they don’t normally.) I think we can all agree that the Hunger Games as a series brings nothing new to the dystopia genre. Yet, for people who were new to the genre and its tropes, it was amazing.

So, sure, you can sit there and say “Well, Battle Royale did the kids killing other kids thing first” but for people who started with the Hunger Games, that doesn’t matter. They didn’t experience things in that order.

What do you think, Squiders? Do you agree with me? Do you find that you compare things to what you experienced first, or are you able to separate things out intellectually?

Spring Cleaning

Yes, I know it’s almost fall. Shhhhh.

My husband and I were going through our guest bedroom earlier today. Said bedroom is one of our stuff-gathering places in the house–you know, one of the places things just get shoved to be out of the way and forgotten about. And we try to not let these places go for too long, because then the stuff becomes overwhelming, and no one wants to touch them, and it just gets worse and worse and worse, and next thing you know you’re on one of those hoarding shows crying because you hadn’t realized things had gotten so bad.

Anyway. Found some interesting things. Costume pieces I haven’t seen in years. Boxes for electronics we got rid of a long time ago. Old computers that we are hoarding for some unknown reason, including one where the motherboard fried before we even moved back to this state. Almost four years ago.

Also, I have a lot of excess fabric from various sewing projects that I should, I don’t know, make a quilt or applique or something with.

But my point for the day is that writers tend to do this hoarding things with their stories too. You know what I mean. Novels and shorts that never got finished, because life or ennui or whatever happened. Old drafts that have since gotten newer drafts. Character sketches or drabbles that you wrote on a whim.

These tend to get strewn through our computers (or notebooks)–a few here, a few there. Some on this computer. New versions on the flashdrive.

And, sometimes, it’s a good idea to gather everything up, to look over everything, and to organize it. To make sure all the most recent versions are in one place. To have a folder with ALL your short stories in it. To archive older stories that never got finished, to be returned to one day, or to be occasionally read to see how far you’ve come, or to remember different times.

It will take some time. But when you’re done, you’ll feel like you really accomplished something, and everything will be in its place, for when you need it in the future.

Nano Pondering (and a ROW80 Check-in)

My husband said I couldn’t have any more tea until I wrote my blog post. Can you imagine? Noooo I’m dying

Let’s do the ROW80 check-in first. For those who have missed previous ROW80 posts, ROW80 is a writing challenge that happens four times a year for 80 days at a time, and you get to pick your goals. And then, in theory, you check in periodically but I have done a terrible job of that thus far this round (which is round 3).

My primary goal for this round (which ends Sept 26, I believe) was to finish the edit on my YA paranormal novel. I initially estimated that there would be 34 scenes–that has since increased to 36. 17 of them are done, which is a little less than half, so you can see that I’m not really getting anywhere terribly fast. Still having focusing issues, not sure why. Current word count is just over 36K, so we’re looking at approximately 75K for the final length of the draft, which should work just great for the genre and so forth.

I also had a secondary goal of–I believe–5K on my scifi serial, which was wishful thinking from the beginning. I think I’ve got 1.7K there thus far, and I don’t tend to go over 1000 words per entry, so it’s unlikely that my September entry will be the 3.3K necessary to meet that goal. I occasionally think I’m going to get ahead on that, and I never do, so I don’t know why I try and bother.

As for Nano–admittedly it’s a little early in the year to be thinking about Nanowrimo, but we’ve talked about Nano Zen before and I will need to have a decent idea of what I’m going to do before October to go through with that. This will be the first year since 2008 that I’m writing a first draft, which is exciting–one can only edit so many books before one goes mad–and, unfortunately, I have a ton of novel ideas I’ve been keeping on the back burner, just waiting to be put into the oven. (I think my analogy is falling apart.)

I haven’t successfully completed Nano since 2011 (2012 I had a newborn, and last year I was too busy with Shards to even bother), but since I managed 35K handily in April, I’m hoping it’s going to work out.

But man, do I have a ton of ideas. This is what comes of not starting anything new in years. Fantasy. Scifi. Books with romance, books without romance. Space! Also steampunk and mystery and dystopia and mythology. Some that are sequels or prequels to other books. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to decide. I may–maybe tomorrow–sit down and write a short description of everything in the running. And maybe something will jump out at me.

Any advice, on any of the above, Squiders? Are you doing ROW80? How’s it going? Doing Nano? What are you planning?

Why You Need to Know Your Focus

Let’s face it, Squiders–everyone writes a little differently. What works for one person does not work for another, and how someone sets up their story may be completely different for the next person.

But I do feel like focus is important.

What’s focus? Focus is the point of your story. Which character is most important. What they want. What the end goal is, what commentary you want to include, what makes this story your story.

Without knowing your focus, you run the risk of your story meandering uselessly all over the place, never quite consolidating into anything useful or compelling.

Or you run into massive writer’s block, because you don’t have a clear feeling for the direction things need to go.

I had a friend, recently (::waves::) who wanted plot help because things weren’t going well, but when we sat down and talked about it, it turns out the majority of the problem was that she didn’t know what her focus was. And once we talked about it and she made some decisions, things started working better.

So, do you know what your focus is?

Who’s driving the plot? Who do you want driving the plot? Are they the same person?

How does your story change if you focus on different characters/aspects? Do you like one better?

Have any tips for finding your focus, Squiders? Personal examples? (Both good and bad?)