Playing With Time

Timing is everything. Being in the right place at the right time can make all the difference; choosing to act (or not to act) at a specific moment in time can be beneficial or harmful to varying degrees and influence subsequent actions. Evaluating the past helps plot out the future, with the intent of (hopefully) correcting the mistakes / missteps to secure a better future. Then there are those contemplative moments of wondering “what if?” – the speculations into the different paths life could lead if Action B was taken instead of Action A, leading to Consequence C instead of Consequence E. If time travel were possible, or parallel universes were real (and I vaguely recall reading an online article positing that alternate universes could actually exist – or maybe it had something to do with other dimensions) then there could be the possibility of seeing how events might unfold if different paths were taken.

If only it were possible to go back in the past to make different choices, if only to see how those different choices would shape the future, with little to no consequence to the present.

Nah, that’d be too tense.

The notion of playing the if / then game (as it were) mapping out various scenarios and constructing the outcome is the fun of creating alternate worlds within a narrative structure. Imagination is a powerful thing – the ability to create worlds and characters different from those that exist the Real World, with limitless possibilities is an asset in the writing process. The narrative structure need not be sequential – the order in which things happen can be fluid (wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey) or concurrent. Perspective is a determining factor in the sequence of events, giving the reader a puzzle to solve, with the requisite plot twists and turns. There is the possibility that the disjointed time jumps and such can leave the reader confused and frustrated, but that can be a deliberate choice so that once all the pieces fall into place, it will make sense in the end. This device is employed in many of the story arcs in the recent seasons of Doctor Who (though some may argue it’s used too frequently to have any impact).

With the almost infinite possibilities down which a story or character can take can (and probably will) lead to multiple versions of a single story, told from different points of view and with slightly (?) different outcomes. I’ve contemplated using this method while constructing the story arcs within the MASC Chronicles – telling a few of the stories from different perspectives and / or mapping out different endings, with the notion of having them as quasi- AU (alternate universe) fan fiction. (Yes, I still nurse the fantasy of writing fan fiction of my own work – it’d be hilarious).

Then again, in order to be able to write that speculative fan fiction, I probably should establish the Canon first, deciding the actual sequence of events before skipping about and messing about with the timeline.

But then again, time isn’t strictly a line – it’s well… you know…

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Refining Dialogue

In the midst of plotting, pondering, and (alternate?) world building, actual!writing, albeit within the confines of the mind, marches forth on this March Fourth.

Pun quite intended.

Amid the scene setting and character building is crafting the dialogue between the characters (spoken or implied) from which the narrative unfolds. It’s still an aspect of the writing process with which I struggle, to ensure it sounds believable and true to the time frame in which it is spoken (though given the recent developments, the parallel / alternate universe angle might render the historical accuracy of the cadence a moot point. Then again, how characters speak and what they say (or what is implied) need not be entirely accurate – it’s how the characters (and the readers) interpret the words and the meaning behind the words (if applicable). These days, words (spoken or written) are important, and the implications behind them can be interpreted differently depending on the perspective of those receiving it.

Truth within and behind the words should be absolute and clear, but in some instances, the truth can be subjective and ambiguous in order to lead (or mislead) the protagonist (and perhaps the reader) into believing one interpretation to be true when the antithesis is the true truth (if that makes any sense). Misdirection and red herrings are the foundation of twisty plot twists, and the source of the information provided to the characters (and by extension) to the readers is key, especially with a story told in first person perspective. The narrator essentially controls the pace and tone of the narrative, supplying the lens from which the plot unfolds; with third person perspective (limited or omniscient), the control is more abstract and broad, as a more detached, objective vantage point established.

The content and context of dialogue is also paramount in the telling of the story and the shaping of its characters – words (and actions) tend to be taken out of context and its content skewed in a way that leads to consequences unforeseen, resulting in (hopefully) a dramatic climax or a startling resolution. Well-crafted dialogue has the potential to entice and captivate, with the intention of conveying a interesting and intriguing story. The meaning of the message and the rationale behind it can change depending on its speaker, to whom they are spoken and who hears it – bias and perspective can change the intent of the words spoken. Choosing what to say, how to say it, when and where to say it, to whom to say it to, and why to say it is as important to any story as the exposition and world building.

Words matter more than ever.

Words, Words, Words

It all comes down to words.

Words dispensing dialogue and imparting information (the alliteration ailment returns) comprises the foundation of storytelling.

Why it’s so challenging to string together enough words to create the story is a mystery in and of itself. Of course, the trick is to assemble a logical sequence of words in the right order so sense can be made of the narrative arc.

So, the (curiously counterclockwise) spiral into that murky pool of perpetual state of non forward motion continues. The aftershocks from the Real Life Brigade implosion created concurrent ripples within ripples within the time/space continuum, leading to more internal plotting and pondering and not so much external actual!writing. In that hopefully-not-so-fatal free fall, characters, sequences of events and narrative arcs are in a state of reassessment, as the remaining quasi-sane plot bunnies bounce haphazardly down the rabbit hole, hoping for clarity.

In other words, not much has happened since the last installment of this (hopefully) amusing blog.

Running in place (or rather pacing in concentric circles) has never been more frustrating (yet mildly healthy – at least calories are being burnt). Conversations between the existing characters have waned, as plotting scenarios have reemerged, reverse-engineering plot structure, rearranging sequences of events to the point where effect and cause orbit one another, sometimes colliding in strange ways.

The quasi-inspiration for the title of this week’s blog stems from my continuing fixation for Sunset Boulevard (both the original 1950 film and the 1993 musical adaptation). For those who have read my theater blog, and for those who know me well, Sunset is one of my all time favorite films and musicals. In the film (and musical), Norma Desmond the protagonist/antagonist (depending on how one’s perspective) is/was a silent movie star who rails against the introduction of “words, words, more words!” into films and mourns the loss of the “gold of silence”.

Of course, the comeback return of my fixation for this film/musical was the recent concert production of the musical adaptation at the ENO (English National Opera) starring original Broadway star Glenn Close. As I was unable to make the trip to London to see the production, which ended its limited run today, I’ve been listening to the various cast recordings of the musical, and musing upon the value of words, and its impact on telling story. I’ve struggled with writing believable (i.e. non melodramatic) dialogue and usually spent much of my actual!writing time (if I could find any) fixated upon description and internal monologue, letting the exposition “speak” for the story.

There is a kind beauty in that “gold of silence”, as dialogue from the mouths of the characters) can be (consciously or unconsciously) misleading -but then again, that might the point of the story.

Not that there has to be a point to the story.

Or to this blog entry.

But that could be a story in and of itself, waiting to be written.

Oh crap.

Back to the Plotting and Pondering Annex within the Land of Exposition.

Perhaps the quasi-silence there will help.

NaNoWritMo Update #2

So it’s a little over a week into the writing challenge that is NaNoWritMo, and suffice it to say, I’m (still) very far behind the recommended word count quota (if I were to write a 50,000 word novel within 30 days). Of course, real life things do “get in the way” of the writing process, as do other outside distractions; on the other hand, I’m doing much better than I had this time last year [as I write this, the word count for One More Angel in Heaven is 2,890]. Interestingly enough, the first few [Word] pages of this story contain more dialogue that I have ever written before, and (thus far) not as much descriptive language. As stated in another blog entry, writing dialogue has never been my strong suit, and (naturally) is necessary  in any narrative story.

The story structure is in 1st person perspective, and has the quasi-requisite summation paragraph at the start, then launches into the story proper – it’s my little homage to Christie and to Conan Doyle, two authors who have had quite an influence in my interest in mystery stories and aspirations for writing my own. While it has always been in my nature to plot, ponder and edit ideas as I concurrently write the narrative proper, I am striving not do to so for this draft (for that is what a NaNoWritMo novel should be, given the time constraints), as the whole stop-and-read-what-I’ve-just-written method does stall the writing process.

I’m sure for some other writers, aspiring and otherwise, extracting a 50,000 word novel within the 30 day time limit is easy (and one writing buddy reached the 50,000 count on Day 3, and has since exceeded that limit), but for whatever reason, the rate at which I write is not as prolific [though I do have the occasional spurts of inspiration every now and then].

With this whole (almost) making-things-up-as-I-go-along writing style, I’ve found the narrative has taken a (slight) left turn from where I had thought it would have gone – a throwaway reference to a situation that had intended to be a negligible footnote in the story has been pulled to the forefront, and has solved the dilemma of how / when / where the narrator meets the detective. Where the rest of the story will go, and how it will all unfold is now quasi-questionable, as this new angle has made me rethink sequence of events.

But enough blogging – back to writing.

Writing Dialogue

Throughout this blog, I’ve touched upon several aspects of my writing process – from creating characters and developing narrative arcs to discussing influences and inspiration (and distractions). It has occurred to me that I have yet to expound on one of the most critical components to a story, regardless of genre or length.

Dialogue.

I’m rather an introverted person (as anyone who knows me can attest)  – if I’m ever among a crowd of people (and that’s a rare occasion in and of itself) I’m often the one standing off to the side listening to other people’s conversations and generally observing those around me – I don’t really like to talk too much and usually feel awkward in social settings.

[Brief disclaimer to those who do know me well – a huge exception to the aforementioned reticence to interact and converse with others is whenever I am at theatre-related occasions, whether it be waiting at the lobby or the stage door of a theater or waiting in line at a CD signing. Those are the times when I will strike up a conversation with whomever is around me – I’ve met a good deal of friends that way, discussing similar interests and shared experiences. ]

Anyway.

Writing dialogue has never been my strong suit, as I tend to be more comfortable describing locations and situations, and conveying inner monologues for my characters. I’m not so sure why this is the case, though it might stem from my introverted nature (I’m not a psychiatrist) and my reticence to speak out loud; I have little problem “conversing” via email or Facebook messaging, or (for that matter) blogging, which is somewhat akin to dialogue albeit written and not spoken, so it’s more like narration than actual conversation. Though this is not to say that I have not ever written any dialogue – after all, I have in my archives an unfinished novel (which is soon to be revised and inserted somewhere in the MASC Chronicles) and several short stories (both on paper and in Word documents) that contain some dialogue, as well as my current works in progress.

It’s just that much of the dialogue that I had written comes across (at least to me) as being highly melodramatic (and almost Victorian) and somewhat unbelievable [I “blame” my years of watching General Hospital for my apparent tendency to have my characters recite such melodramatic conversations, and some of my more outlandish plot ideas].

In an attempt to (sort of ) remedy this situation, I’ve decided to participate in a writing exercise posted in one of the Facebook writing groups, and write my entry using only dialogue. I’m not sure how this will turn out, but it’ll test my ability to write more plausible dialogue; also, as an added challenge to myself, I’m just going to write whatever comes to mind, without plotting out the narrative or the characters beforehand (though I have caught myself being “distracted” into casting some of my existing characters into this writing exercise).

This should be interesting – perhaps one of these days I’ll post an excerpt here, though (introverted as I am) I’m not quite at that stage yet.

One day.

Someday.