A (Quasi) Different Kind of Writing

So here we are (once again) nearing the end of another year, and this writer’s journey has moved a snail’s pace, at least in terms of actual!writing – a smattering of plotting and pondering has happened intermittently, with inadvertent digressions, inevitable distractions and illuminating diversions. There are only so many hours in a day, and there’s never enough time to get the things that need to get done done before other things start to appear to that take up time to get done.

In short, it’s a perpetual cycle of deadlines and diversions on all fronts. Between the Real Life Brigade causing organized chaos, causing the Muses and Plot Bunnies to scramble about in an effort to find some order amid the chaos, and the newly discovered (?) bugs in the FanGirl Meter (patent pending) causing glitches in its basic programming and letting melodrama and smut pass through unnoticed, things in the Land of Exposition are… interesting. It’s also the odd sensation that there isn’t a new episode of Doctor Who this week from where to draw inspiration or insight, which has happened every now and then in the past few weeks (though there’ll be the Christmas Special in a few weeks’ time, and I’m looking forward to seeing how River Song interacts with Twelve).

Anyway.

As I’ve kept up with writing for the blog throughout the trials and tribulations that is the attempt to actually!write, there have been many (well, one person thus far) who have pointed out that I’m quite good at writing essays (or whatever the heck these quasi-random musings are called) – they’re not quite fiction, not quite non-fiction, but they’re (apparently) amusing and entertaining. There are metaphors amid the meta-ness of whatever travels that (seemingly long) distance from my head through my fingers and on to WordPress – as I’ve always written these entries directly into the site itself and rarely ever edit/reread before hitting “publish” (unless it’s a blatant spelling/grammatical error). If I spent less time plotting and pondering and actually!wrote my stories the way I write this blog, then I’d have a several novels written (albeit probably not ready for Prime Time, as they’d be quasi-random streams of thought which would need a whole lot of editing and stuff like that.

[Like editing the “stuff like that” stuff – it’s almost like writing the way I talk, with bouts of repetition, non-sequitur and quasi-random musical / pop culture references.]

Then again, writing is an art and a science [scientific art, artistic science? Who knows?] and it’s crafty and it’s precise. It’s a jumble of words stung together with imagination and wit. Even though I haven’t written as much as I would have hope to have written, it’s still an objective towards which I would like to aspire – to write something of value (whether it be entertainment, inspirational or maybe sentimental remains to be seen).

Six days until The Force Awakens.

May the Force Be With Us All.

Spoilers…

As I continue on this long and epic journey of plotting and writing my novel(s) and blogging about it, I’ve come to realize that I have spoken (well, written, if one wants to be technical about it) very little about what this Epic Saga (and yes, that has to be spelled out with capital letters to stress the import and enormity of what has been planned out) will actually entail. There are several reasons for this – one of which can summed up in this blog’s title: “Spoilers…” (I’m almost certain that there’s a certain percentage of readers out there who saw and read that single word and thought of Alex Kingston’s voice and her exact  intonation of that simple yet complex word).

Yes, I’ve become a Whovian (albeit a fairly new fan) – watching (and re-watching) episodes of Doctor Who (especially those in the 11th Doctor’s tenure, plus a few from the 10th Doctor’s tenure) has given me much insight to how to structure long story arcs and how to use the multiple meaning of certain words and/or phrases and present them in a way where they can be interpreted as nuggets of truth or possible red herrings. Misdirection and playing on preconceived  presumptions [try saying that three times fast] are tools often used to enhance the element of surprise. This has had quite an impact on how I approach my writing: how to develop my characters and the myriad of connections / relationships one character may (or may not) have with another, and how the character’s actions, inactions, and/or their very existence impacts the plot of not only the novel in which they live, but of the entire story arc (and in the case of the MASC Chronicles, the entire Saga. Maybe.)

Describing and/or explaining what the MASC Chronicles is about and relating who the characters are and what their motives are is a tricky business when the genre in which this Epic Saga takes place is primarily mystery (with dashes of horror, fantasy and a bit of science fiction). As the author and creator of this universe, which, as of now the entire Saga (not just the first part) will be in an alternate Steampunk-infused world, I will need to be holding all the cards (so to speak) and only showing you (the reader) just enough of what is up my (proverbial) sleeve.  Moreover, the reader may (or may not) know more about what is going on in the story than the characters do – one of the benefits of employing first person perspective narration over the more omniscient third person perspective. As the creator of this universe, I will have final say of who knows what and when and how and why, and having said that, it’s difficult to know how much to impart prior to the actual writing of the story, and to whom certain truths (or mistruths) are to be shared without spoiling the (possible) plot twists that will be revealed (eventually).

Of course another reason for the hesitation of explaining  what the Epic Saga is about is a simple one: I have no idea myself how this Epic Saga will turn out – it’s been an evolving (if I can use “evolving” in this context) process spanning many, many years (as my initial blog post can attest) and has changed over the years (again, as my initial blog will attest). The narrative plot and character development is an organic work in progress, sometimes with minute changes, and sometimes with monumental changes, both of which will have an impact (both large and small) on every facet of the story.  With this seemingly constant and consistent element of change and the Unknown, it give me as the author and creator much to ponder about, and has filled many pages of Word files (and many legal pads) of musings about plot, characters and other random thoughts. Some are whimsical, nonsensical thoughts (often conjured from somewhere in my mind usually in the middle of the night as I’m drifting off to sleep) that lead nowhere, while others are no less than major epiphanies (that again often occur as I’m drifting off to sleep) that both clarify and complicate matters.

I do have (somewhat of) a clear notion of how the first part of the MASC Chronicles will play out – as I’m very much a plotter, I have (very) generally outlined the fourteen novels (well thirteen novels plus one prequel) of the first part [Tainted Blood] and (kinda) plotted of the pacing of Important Plot Points to maximize the build up to the Big Reveal (though I’m stymied at the moment of how to handle the Fallout). That being said, I’ve tentatively started to think about the overall story arc of the second part [Fatal Illusions] and the allusions that series will have to the first part; I have yet to ponder what will happen in the third part [Buried Secrets] but I have tentative ideas.

So, you may ask, “What does ‘MASC’ in the MASC Chronicles stand for? To what does each of the titles of the three series [Tainted Blood, Fatal Illusions and Buried Secrets] refer?”

“Spoilers.”

Character Building

The complexities of creating well-rounded and interesting characters is as daunting  a task as plotting out the intricate details of a story, regardless of the medium through which they are presented. The characters are at the heart of any story, whether they are the hero or the villain (or a mixture of both): they are the ones who dictate and shape the overall structure of the plot and how they relate to one another.

Well, at least mine do.

I’ve spent much of my time of late figuring out the personalities and back stories of the core group of characters that are to feature in the first part of the [proposed] three-part saga, nine in total thus far (there’ll be others, but I haven’t gotten around to them yet). What has been challenging is creating characters that are complex and unique, yet utterly believable (or as believable as can be given the quasi-alternate universe I’ve created for them), without them becoming caricatures or one-dimensional.

Of course, having (almost) nearly figuring out who these characters are and why they are the way they are, and do what they do, there’s the added challenge of presenting the characters, pacing how much detail to reveal to the reader, and to the other characters. Since I’ve elected to write in first person perspective, the narrator knows only so much, and ultimately has the power to choose what to reveal and/or conceal to the reader (and to the other characters), which presents infinite possibilities on how the story is to proceed.

For the moment, I’m focusing on the personalities, motivations and relationships of the characters, though I have given some thought as to how they would look – I have taken to using aspects of real people [usually actors] as a starting point, then mixing and matching to visualize my characters, which will in turn provide some insight into their mannerisms and fashion sense (or lack thereof).

The naming of characters is also a tricky business – names are important for they hold the key to the character’s identity, and may (or may not) have a greater meaning in the grander scheme of things. Examples of this include the characters River Song and The Doctor himself, from the Doctor Who series – I’m sure there are many others, but those are the two that come to mind immediately (as the Doctor Who episode “The Name of the Doctor” has recently aired, and I’ve fairly become quasi-fixated on all things concerning Doctor Who lately).

Most of my characters have had some part of their name change at some point in the writing process (though interestingly thus far, there have been a handful of names that have remained unchanged through the years). The manner in which I pick names is somewhat random, though I often take inspiration from what I am interested in (whether it be in literature, film, television or theatre) at the time when I’m working on the characterization and mix and match, with interesting results. I also take into account name meanings and origins, and match them as best as possible to the character, having a baby name book as a useful reference (or not).

Thus far in this epic saga (still) labeled the MASC Chronicles [though I have yet to figure out for what “MASC” is an acronym, if it actually is an acronym], there are to be a core number of families (as this saga is to span several centuries) and figuring out lineages and other family ties is yet another “fun” challenge. Thankfully, programs such as Who Do You Think You Are? and Finding Your Roots have provided some inspiration on how to tackle this task, though starting at the end and working my way backwards is one way to approach character building, though in doing so I sometimes find myself bouncing between time periods, alluding to personality traits and such throughout, and its impact on the family and personal history of the characters (there will most likely be a separate blog post about historical accuracy, so this is not the blog post to discuss this).

Of course whether or not these characters I’ve created remain the way they are/were when they were created is debatable – as stated (I think) in previous blog entries, the assignment of protagonist and antagonist has switched from one character to the other, and back again (or has remained ambiguous). How these characters will end up is anyone’s guess – I’m not even quite sure, and I’m the one creating them.

Or am I?

The Intricacies of Plotting Out An Epic Saga

I have profound respect and admiration for authors of epic tales, the creators of entire worlds, cultures and philosophies (or put their own spin on our world) who fill them with complex characters, and weave tales of adventure, often tinged with romance and intrigue. The ones who know how it will all end and cleverly insert dialogue or include descriptions that appear to be non-sequiturs at first glance but turn out to be vital clues that only make sense at the very end (or after a major revelation).

As outlined in this blog thus far, my simple short story expanded to become a three-part saga with each series containing multiple books, with a multitude of complex characters set in a Steampunk-esque universe over a large span of time (the Steampunk angle is a relatively new element in the writing process). As such, figuring out how the narrative threads and character story arcs that run throughout relate to one another has been an ambitious if not daunting task. Add the fact that these stories are also self-contained mysteries, and the task becomes doubly ambitious and daunting.

While it may be logical to start at the very beginning (a very good place to start, as Oscar Hammerstein II famously wrote), sometimes starting at the middle (or at the end) and working backwards (much like how George Lucas presented the tale of the Skywalker family or how Steven Moffat presented the character of River Song) also has some logic. All of this has led to much plotting and pondering and not much actual writing, as things seem clearer to me when I know the basic outline of the entire story arc, and filling in the details as I go along. Thus far this tactic has been applied the first part of this saga, (though I’ve put some thought into the next two series) which has resulted in my plotting out, and tentatively writing the first two novels in the first series concurrently.

Another intricacy in working on such an expansive saga is the amount of exposition involved, from the character backstory, and the relationships between characters and how it all fits in the overall story arc. When dealing with important, plot-changing information, figuring out what to reveal, how much to reveal and when (and where) to reveal it is also a fascinating conundrum – of course, revealing such information is inevitable to the reader, but revealing this to the characters within the story adds another layer to the storytelling.

As my epic saga (tentatively entitled the MASC Chronicles) is an evolving one, plot points, character development and narrative flow is bound to change, and has changed over the past few years. Characters who used to be the antagonists of the story have now become the protagonists, character motives have changed, and sequences of events have been arranged, and rearranged. Also with the addition of the Steampunk angle, creating an alternate universe from scratch is another work in progress, and adds yet another layer to the narrative flow.

There are infinite ways of how a story can be told, infinite possibilities of how to present characters, relationships and situations, it’s hard to choose exactly which path to take, and if the path that is chosen is the right one. I just hope I am able to find my way through these intricacies and present a story that is complex and interesting.

May the Fourth Be With You.