Research, Exposition and Researching Exposition

Writing stories set in years (or even centuries) past, especially in a specific time/location is always a challenge – of course the events that occur within said tale are completely from the imagination of the author, but then there’s that pesky thing called historical accuracy, which is critical if one is writing historical fiction (of any genre). From fashion to social mores, political alliances to scientific discoveries, nothing damages a story’s credibility than inaccurate details and anachronisms, so there should be time allotted to researching various aspects of the time period and the place(s) about which one is writing.

Then again, if one is writing about a completely fictional place and time, an alternative/mirror universe from reality as we know it, and/or about a far-flung future, the research for historical accuracy does not apply; rather, a (quasi) different kind of research should be contemplated and undertaken. Off the top of my head I can think of at least a dozens (or more) stories be it in other published novels, TV programs, or movies, that are set in an entirely fictional place in far off times (past or future) as well as stories set in the far future – research needs to be made into these universes to ensure that the one being creative is different ( or at least different enough) from those that already exist. After all, there are only so many archetype stories out there, yet almost an infinite number of permutations and variations on those themes.

Naturally, as my stories are set in a quasi alternative universe from our own, in fictional towns/cities within actual locations and is set in far in the past, not-so-far present and farther future, I have a good amount of historical research to conduct, along with ensuring continuity in the historical “facts” I create and skew for the purposes of telling my stories. I’ve always had a great interest in history (and even minored in history when I was at university), learning all there was to learn about bygone days in far off places and within the country where I reside. I am a firm believer in the adage by philosopher George Santayana, which states “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. True in real life, it can (and should) apply to those in the fictional realm, though whether or not my characters choose to learn from their mistakes or actions is up to them.

Maybe.

But I digress.

As mentioned in other blog posts, character building and creating exposition is as vital a component to writing a story as the story itself – exposition of the surroundings and the characters within and their relationship to one another as well as to their surroundings is the foundation on which a narrative must be built. I tend to do both concurrently – work on the narrative and ponder ideas about character relationships (or lack thereof), family history and how that intertwines (or conflicts) with the social and/or political history that surrounds them. Since there is to be a quasi linear historical flow within the Epic Saga that is the MASC Chronicles, much pondering and musing is done toward the latter task, to the point I have created timelines and family tree diagrams (via Microsoft PowerPoint) to pinpoint and clarify who goes where and when and why and how they impact what happens at any given point over the course of several centuries.

Or at least that’s the plan, so far.

It’s akin to the Butterfly Effect – wherein one minute change can have an exponential impact on the future. At the moment, there are a multitude of these fluttering about  – color coordinated, too (I tend to color coordinate ideas to keep track of where they originated and chart musings and ideas – it helps to have multicolored pens, Post-It notes and a varied color palette within Microsoft Word).

I was going somewhere with this blog post when I first started it, but I think I may have digressed too far.

Oh right.

My current status on the stories I’m writing is in that concurrent place of writing the narrative and pondering/researching ideas/events that might have, could have or have had occurred, as well as those that have yet to take place.

Time is certainly a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey ball of stuff, yet even with this nebulous confluence of… stuff, there has to be a semblance of solid foundation on which the ambiguous, unfixed points in time/space can exist and be as vague or lucid as they want to be.

Onward to research, exposition and writing!

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Writing Fan Fiction

Fan fiction is a fascinating category of literature (if there’s such a thing, and I think there is) – stories that utilize existing characters, themes and settings, most commonly derived from movies (both live action and animated), television shows (again, both live action and animated), plays, musicals, video games and, of course, books. Fan fiction stories range from being serious to silly, romantic to angst-ridden, and are written as continuations of or additions to the source material from which the story is based, or AU (alternate universe) from aforementioned source material. Fan fiction is often written by unpublished writers (usually posted on various websites), but there are also professional, commissioned fan fiction written by established authors (though they’re probably not thought of as such).

I like reading (most) fan fiction for the handful of film, television shows and books of which I am a fan (hence, probably the moniker “fan fiction”), some I’ve found to be very good, others I’ve found to be humorous, and others… well, let’s just say they were not to my taste. That being said, I’ve also ventured into working on some fan fiction, though the source material is probably not known to the general at large (or at least I don’t think so).

Anyway.

As mentioned above, the tone of fan fiction stories can run the gamut of genres, could adhere to the “canon” (the established time frame, place, and plot development) or deviate into parallel universes (the “what if…?” scenario) or be something in between;  there are the introspective, character development pieces, the expository tales that fill in the gaps left from the source material, and the “crossover” stories – wherein characters from two or more different (or similar) source material are brought into the universe of one or the other, or to a completely different environment from where the characters previously resided.

Got all that?

So, In the midst of working on the MASC Chronicles, I’ve been working on a fan fiction novel entitled Carpe Noctem, based on the short-lived Broadway musical Dance of the Vampires, which was an English adaptation of the German musical Tanz der Vampire,, a musical I loved, despite the harsh critical “reviews” (my thoughts on the musical can be found here).  it’s a novel I have thought about writing in the intervening years since the musical opened (and closed), but only really started to plot and write roughly a year ago. Of course, when writing two different stories, ideas from one tend to bleed into the other, and there is an indirect link between the two projects, with possibilities of crossover (I haven’t fully fleshed out all those details yet).

The other fan fiction project I’ve had inklings on writing is far more recent – nearly a week ago –  a collection of short stories, (perhaps a novella) based on The 3rd Gender, a play written by a friend of mine, which was staged as part of the 2013 New York International Fringe Festival (my thoughts on that play can be found here). The play provided a premise of an alternate (yet highly probable) universe, rich with plot and characters that are complex and diverse, yet there was much left unsaid or at least unexplained – wherein the opportunity for fan fiction stories arises.

Of course, this all does add to the list of stories I will need to write and hopefully publish one day; whether or not there will be any crossover between the three separate stories is unlikely, but not entirely improbable. Hopefully, whenever the MASC Chronicles is written and published, there just might be fan fiction stories based on it (heck, I might even write some – I have thought about it, even as much of the canon stories have yet to be written).

What is your thoughts/opinions on fan fiction? Have you written any?

Doubts, Worries, and Introspection

OK, so this entry is actually going to be quasi-random musings that will most likely come across as quasi-coherent rambling (and if you haven’t noticed yet, I do like to use the word “quasi” a lot.). It’s rather belatedly come to my attention that while the title of this blog is “Musings of a Mystery Novelist”, a good amount of the blog entries read more like mini essays on whatever topic I chose to write – much of the text sounding quasi (yes, there’s that word again) academic, citing instances where a particular element or theme has appeared in other people’s work, be it in novels, theater, television and/or film.

Sometimes I wonder why I write this blog at all – or if anyone is actually reading it – I do regularly check the stats on a daily basis to see how many views the blog (and any given blog entry) receives. WordPress has robust analytic data in that regard, which is great and also disheartening at times; many writers, both aspiring and published, have blogs dedicated to their works, or the process by which he/she functions to produce that work (or at least makes an attempt to do so).

As stated in previous blogs, I’ve been writing on and off for many, many years and only recently started to share some of my thoughts about it. I’m also fairly new to blogging as well  – my first blog focused on my experiences at live theater and with theatrical actors (which can be found here), and interestingly it wasn’t until a few weeks into blogging about my theatrical experiences that I realized that what I was writing was being read publicly, and that it was truly the first time I had published (so to speak) any of my writing (albeit not totally fictional in nature). I’m quite introverted and self-conscious about my writing of (which is one of the few things I’m genuinely proud) and the comments that have been left for my theater blog, as well as this blog (however few) have been encouraging, but (as the title of the blog clearly states) I have my doubts and worries about how my writing will be received (or whether I’ll have the nerve to ever post any excerpts of any of the novels of which I am plotting, pondering and writing. I’m quite sure these kinds of thoughts have crossed many an author’s mind, published or not, and most of my insecurities are probably just in my head.

Maybe.

Oh, and on a quasi-better (maybe) note, I’ve finally gotten around to reading Dean Koontz’s novel 77 Shadow Street (the novel which I had discovered a while back had nearly the same premise as an unfinished novel I had written) – I had borrowed this novel roughly a month ago, and had every intention of reading it, but was distracted by Dan Brown’s latest novel Inferno (which had been released earlier in the year, and of which I had placed a request at my local library). The latter novel was a gripping read, full of twists and turns (though I do lament the potential disaster the film adaptation will be, given how film adaptations of novels are never really that faithful to the source material). Nevertheless, having finished that novel, my attention has returned to 77 Shadow Street, which is the first Dean Koontz novel I have read (though not on purpose – I do tend to read a wide range of genres, and authors within those genres, and I just never really got around to reading his novels)

But I digress.

Anyway, as I’ve stated to delve into the narrative of this novel, it does seem (thus far) that the details within the premise of 77 Shadow Street is different enough from what I had written (and will soon re-read and edit, as I do plan to include that unfinished novel, or at least aspects of it, into my MASC Chronicles saga) – so at least that’s good. So far.

Well, back to writing, plotting and pondering.

Stand Alone or Fit Together

There’s probably a dual meaning to this week’s blog topic (or multiple ones , I not quite sure) – in reference to the Epic Saga that I am in the midst of writing, henceforth entitled the MASC Chronicles, the lingering question to ponder upon is whether or not to have each novel within each series of the saga be sequential or a stand alone novel. I’ve outlined and quasi-planned out that there are to be three distinct series to the saga, and a grand total of 36 novels within the saga (albeit not evenly distributed within each series – so far there is to be 14 novels in Series One, 12 in Series Two and 10 in Series Three).

Ambitious, I know – I suppose I’m more inclined to plot things out in the grand scheme of things, and worry about the details later, which might explain the aforementioned planning out of the entire saga, yet barely started to plot out the exact details for each novel (though I have decided on the titles of each novel, so far). I’ve pondered on having each grouping of novels within a specific series be sequential and to be read in order, as opposed to each story as a stand alone novel. As there will be recurring characters within each series, with generational ties between series, it almost seems logical to write each series in chronological order as part of a larger narrative, akin to the Harry Potter series. Most of the mystery series I’ve read have been stand alone novels, though each novel imparts and summarizes character development and minor and major revelations, (if applicable) so that the reader is “caught up” with the events that have taken place thus far.

Of course, now that the MASC Chronicles has slowly but surely been swayed from being firmly rooted within the mystery / detective fiction genre and has dipped its toes and been swept away to the land of science fiction with brief passage through the forest of fantasy, and encountered the specter of horror, the issue of a long continuous narrative vs. the stand alone format has almost been a moot point.

For the moment, (I think) I’ll straddle between the two formats, and have each grouping of novels within a series been quasi-continuous yet also be able to stand alone (somewhat) from one another; there will be jumps in time between series so at least that part of the equation has been settled.

The possible other meaning of this blog’s title is a more abstract one, addressing the issue (of sorts) of whether this series/saga will be unique in its (seemingly) blending of genres or whether it should conform to one of the aforementioned genres and their associated templates. As of right now, I hope it is the former, as this blending of genres is one that I don’t think is seen that often (or at least to my knowledge).

Though it might prove tricky to figure out on which shelf to place these books when the time comes when I get all of these novels out of my head and onto a printed/electronic page.

Oh well.  I suppose that’s part of this long adventure that is novel-writing.

Location, Location, Location

Location is the key to everything:  it can be an integral aspect that shapes one’s personality as well as have an impact on the choices one makes over the course of a lifetime, for better or for worse.  Where one comes from and where one lives influences one’s perspective, perception and predisposition (try saying that five times fast) on the people, places and things around them. Of course, location is not only a question of where but also a question of when – at what point in time a person is born, and spends his/her childhood, teenage years as well as adult life, in conjunction with world events happening at precise moments in one’s life affects one’s personality and relationships with those around him/her. I’m pretty sure had I lived in another city, state or even country,  and grew up in another time period, my life would have been drastically different that the life I’m leading now.

Location is also paramount in the fictional world, regardless of whether that fictional world is rooted in real world or a world created from an author’s imagination (or some place/time in between) – the time and place where a story is set shapes how the story is told, and the characters and events that occur within the story are perceived. A prime example of this is Sherlock, the (fairly) recent adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, set in present day England. The characters remain quite the same as they are in the source material, but with some changes (some minor, other major) to be compatible with the modern-day setting; the result being an upsurge in attention and an expansion in the Holmes fandom (though I’m quite certain that the exponential boost in popularity of the Sherlock Holmes stories and the character himself is due to the actors in that program, and has in turn sprouted a loyal following). Another example of this is the long running Poirot  television series, an adaptation that has placed the bulk of Agatha Christie’s novels and short stories set in the 1930s (even though most the stories are set in the years prior and after that time period) – a change that has had some impact (both major and minor) on the telling of the story.

The location (both time and place) of my own stories has changed significantly over the years, though over the course of time, where my stories take place has returned to what it had been initially, with some minor alterations, while when my stories take place has evolved considerably. As a self-proclaimed Anglophile, (influenced by years of watching British mystery series on PBS, and reading British mystery authors), my initial novel was set in England, specifically in the West Country (I’m not quite sure why I had chosen that specific part of England) in the 1930s. Over the years, as the one novel grew to become a trilogy, then a series and ultimately the Epic (three-part) Saga that is its current state, the time has changed significantly, while the place has more or less remained the same. As stated in previous blogs (I think), I’ve generally outlined that each part of the MASC Chronicles is to be set in different centuries, namely the late 19th, early 20th and mid-21st centuries, all of which will (still) mainly be set in England, with a few stories set outside of England. Maybe.

There is another novel I’m working on, separate from the MASC Chronicles,  yet still related to that saga, that has a different location, both  time and place-wise, which will impact on the events that occur in the quasi-alternate universe of the MASC Chronicles. Also, with the (rather late) addition of time travel added to this mix, time and place will certainly play a major factor in the shaping of the Epic Saga, though how exactly it will do that is yet to be determined.

I think.

Where and when events happen (or don’t, or do happen then un-happen) is an interesting and challenging new dynamic I’ve given myself to in turn bestow on my (somewhat unwitting) characters.

Buckle up, it’s going to be bumpy ride.