Monday, June 29, 2009

Time Is of the Essense

The last month has been dedicated, very heavily, to the polishing of a novella that I've had completed for nearly three years (perhaps four, though my memory eludes me). I've had it critiqued, rewritten it, critiqued again, and sat on a shelf for six months. What I've found through the process of this polish is that time in stories is a uniquely difficult thing to master. So here are some of my thoughts on timelines of stories.

Originally the story I'm working on had a host of flashbacks that I felt illuminated particular parts of my main character's past. However, those flashbacks were all within the 10-year timeline that the entire story took place in. While I felt like the flashbacks were beneficial to the story, I began to realize the timeline itself was disjointed. So I've combined a number of them into longer flashbacks that elaborate a bit better than the previous ones did.

Flashbacks, in my opinion, are useful in giving perspective to a story. We see what the main character is like in the "present" time of the story; flashbacks give us a picture of what they were like before the story.

The trouble with flashbacks, I've found, is learning where to place them and how to distinguish them. Transitions are one of the toughest things, and I have never been a big fan of the old trope of putting in dates. While I understand that dates are easy time markers, they don't have a place in certain stories, and there has to be a new way to identify such things. I decided to mention my main characters age as close to the beginning of the chapter as possible in order to give the reader an indication of when in time they are.

My suggestion, having used a lot of different methods for playing with time in a story, is to write it linearly first. Then, determine where the story really starts and see if there is an opportunity to put in flashbacks. Otherwise, don't do it until you've got a story that really requires them.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Burst of Inspiration

For a long time, I've been working on notes and details and maps (nearly everything but writing) in my world of Dalurin. It's an expansive world, and I have a lot of faith in it - and not just because I'm the one creating it. I've written two legends of some length that are based in the world, and those are good material for future writing, but they're not really the kind of thing to try and publish first. And while I believe that my first novel, Shadows of Mati, has some legs, it needs considerable work, and I don't know that I want it to be the first publication based in my world.

Last night, however, I came across a great idea. This next bit is mine (just as a declaration of sorts) so no snatching.

In the world of Dalurin, there is - at present - a great deal of magic. It is present in much of the world, save for the monotheistic kingdoms, where it is used only for specific purposes and almost exclusively under the direction of the ruler of a particular kingdom. There are powerful mages, certainly, and many come and go; however, the catalyst of this particular story is a specific magic ritual that has been contemplated for centuries but never attained and certainly not perfected. So when rumors of the successful accomplishment of this ritual reaches our MC, he is afraid of many things that will happen, and he takes it upon himself to get a commission from the king to go and investigate - and potentially stop the mage responsible.

Unlike a great deal of the great fantasy works, my underlying mission with this and all of my fantasy novels is to extend beyond tropes (not cliches). There are a lot of things that work in fantasy, and there are a lot of things that are just "standard." I want to try and do something new with certain things; one of them is magic. The other is the races in my world. For anyone who's ever role-played with me, I've never been a fan of tradition, even as a student of speculative fiction. I enjoy it; it has it's place; but I like to step outside the box. So I'm hoping to produce something that will make people feel refreshed and yet satisfied at the same time.

In other news, I applied to two editorial positions yesterday, so we'll see how that goes.

Monday, June 8, 2009

My Thoughts on WriteCamp

WriteCamp was here in Milwaukee this past Saturday, June 6th - for those of you who haven't heard me gabbing about it for the last two months. I believe that it was a huge success, and I am eager for the next iteration of it.

Over the course of the day, I learned a few things:

1. Writers are not nearly as isolated and introverted as people think. Not only did we have nearly 80 people, but all of those people were on-board with the whole notion of participant-driven sessions and interacting with as many people as they could while they were there.

2. Writers are savvy networkers. I saw more people interacting with complete strangers at this conference than I ever saw at UWM's Spring Writing Festival. That's not to knock that conference, because it's great, but the atmosphere at WriteCamp was so much more relaxed and open, that people felt comfortable stepping out of their bubble.

3. Milwaukee's community is big. Outside of the members of The Milwaukee Writers Workshop who showed up to the event, there were a large number of people who I've never met. We did, however, have people come all the way up from Chicago-land.

4. Community - or the notion of community - is changing dramatically. I had more than one person come up to me during the conference and say that they enjoyed the approachable nature of the conference and how they felt more apt to share and listen than they do at their regular group or with their colleagues. This made me happy.

WriteCamp is an evolution in the way we think about how people in the writing/editing/publishing world think about disseminating knowledge to the world at large. Traditional means are working anymore, and no one likes the idea of the acedemic world thinking that they have the keys to the publishing world by determining what's "good" and "bad." WriteCamp proved that there are more experts in the world than people know about, and they're willing to share, to mentor, and to support the community that they're becoming a part of.

Let's hope that word spreads about WriteCamp and that we can hope to begin fostering a new generation of writers who believe in our mission. Thank you to everyone who attended, participated, volunteered, and came up to me and said nice things.