Monthly Archives: September 2013
I’ve been editing the Victorian Dark Fantasy all afternoon, headphones in, as per usual. In keeping with the mood of the book, it’s been mostly Celtic music the past few weeks—both pseudo-Celtic-inspired-it-sounds-close-enough music and actual Gaelic-language folksongs.
I love them.
But it’s not just the bouncing fiddles and reels that have me wriggling with joy. See, lots of people know about using images as story prompts. You look at a picture and it triggers a story (or questions that lead to a story) on some visceral level.
Honestly, I mostly use music.
I’m not a musician, but music seems to bypass my squirrel-brain and punches me right at the level of emotion. Because I tend to hear everything at once if I’m not careful, it also helps quiet my brain down—the racing thoughts just get drowned out. And, like many writers, I use music to help get into the mood of a story/scene.
But for me, it also triggers stories. And that’s kind of awesome, because I’ll be searching for music to help with one story, and inadvertently stumble across another piece that sparks something else. It exposes me to a lot of cool stuff, both musically and story-wise.
Take the Victorian Dark Fantasy. Early thoughts had been clattering around for a while, but the story really only snapped into place when I found a lovely Scottish tune called “Mari’s Wedding” (or “Marie’s Wedding,” or “Mairi’s Wedding” or “Mairi Bhan”). Actually, the song only caught my attention because I wondered if it had anything to do with the play “Mary’s Wedding.” It doesn’t seem to. And aside from the fact that someone named Mari/Marie/Mairi is getting married, it has nothing to do with the VDF, either.
Except it does. Because listening to that song, I caught a flash of character—and then I started asking questions. I also started looking for more music, something that could help me enter this emerging world.
That’s the one that’s been making me grin like an idiot for the past two days. Because in this song about a young girl wanting to hook up with some sailors in Galway, I hear another conflict in this world. I hear opportunities to make my characters confront some really difficult choices. I hear the beginnings of another story.
After a very rough year, I think I’m finding my passion again. That’s a very, very good thing.
Naturally, I’m getting ahead of myself, still riding the “I FINISHED THE BOOK!” high. I do need to return to Strix. Not to mention a few other projects in the pipe…
But oh man, when I hear that chorus, I just squirm with excitement:
Téir abhaile riú, téir abhaile riú
Téir abhaile riú Mhearai
Téir abhail gus fan sa bhaile
Mar tá do mhargadh déanta…
Theme. Now there’s a word that conjures up memories from high school. All those English classes, probing texts, trying to answer the question, “But what are the themes of this work? What is the author saying?”
At the time, I think I mostly muttered something about “we murder to dissect” and deconstructed stories with both great efficiency and resentment.
Ah, the arrogance of youth. Although I think my main issue was actually some teachers’ insistence on imposing their interpretation and only their interpretation on the stories. When I’m writing, I do consider theme just as much as pacing, characterization, setting, mood, etc. Stories are always about something. That doesn’t mean that everything is a symbol or metaphor for something. Even the actual, literal narration points to the theme, because the way the story unfolds tells us something about the author’s assumptions.
If the protagonist is brave and loyal and wins out in the end, that tells us something different than if they get the same result by being dishonest and cowardly.
The theme(s) of a book is/are a lot like a thesis in an essay. It’s an argument, a proposition. When I wrote essays in the days of yore, I constantly checked to make sure whatever I’d said hadn’t invalidated my thesis. Same thing with fiction: you’re always testing the narrative against the theme and seeing if it holds. If your theme is “Honesty is the most important” and then your hero saves the day by lying, you may want to take a second look at your story.
Often, I find theme helps with plot. I just finished the Victorian Dark Fantasy. However, unusually for me, I wasn’t entirely sure how it was going to end.
So I looked at my themes and asked, “What is the point of this book? What is my protagonist’s arc? How has she changed? What would illustrate those changes/what this story is really about?”
Theme is world building. The cool thing about writing is that you are creating your own universe with its own rules. Some of those rules might relate to things like magic, but some of them are more abstract. Take Hapax – hope beats fear. Taking that as something True, it does influence the plot and world itself. It’s like an experiment: in a world where this is A Thing, what happens? Is that wonderful, horrifying, or does it have an effect at all?
But setting out to Write A Message doesn’t end in themes. It ends in morals. Just as plot and character develop naturally out of each other, so too does theme. Sometimes, you have to do what I did in high school: look at the story, its plot and characters, and try to find a theme that fits it all, the same way scientists develop hypotheses to explain the things they see.
And on that note, onwards to edits! 😀
Dragon Con felt subdued this year. Not that it was small; I swear there are more people every time, and this year I actually needed 30 minutes to travel between panels. Nevertheless, a lot of faces were missing. Don’t get me wrong, I had fun, but it was a different convention than last year’s.
Now, the fun stuff: what did I do for three days? (Yep, I skipped out early Monday morning; Tuesdays at cons are too depressing for me.)
I chatted with editor Gabrielle Harbowy about Strix and saw a very early mock-up for a potential cover (spoiler: I love it…which means I should possibly get this darn thing finished). I wandered the dealers’ room and finally met Thomas and Sarah of Brute Force Studios. I went to some panels and readings, where I met Suzanne Church and caught up with Rob Sawyer. I wrote. In a happy twist of fate, I discovered that the Hyatt was screening a 24h/day Doctor Who marathon all weekend long, which gave me a place to retreat when I needed to recover but still wanted to feel like I was participating in the convention.
Several of my friends had exciting things happen: Mur Lafferty won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (i.e. the Hugo that is not a Hugo). I can’t think of anyone more deserving, and I’m absolutely thrilled for her. Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris picked up another Parsec for Tales from the Archives. Again: so very proud.
Also, Sylvester McCoy, better known as the seventh Doctor, presented at the Parsecs. He pwned the ceremony. He needs to get his own podcast which I will then listen to obsessively, because he was brilliant…though I’m sensing a trend towards very short acceptance speeches next year!
And that was about it, really. The post-con haze is settling upon me, and I’m very cognizant of the fact that I now have to work for eight days straight while juggling three different writing projects and starting Strix-the-Podcast.
So, you know, a typical month coming up. 😉