Stupid Scenarios #1: Duran Hits the Liquor Store

I’m currently in a headspace where I can squeeze out just enough words to keep momentum going on my current project, but don’t have much more, so I’m forgetting about regular blog updates for a while. One thing I’m doing, to keep my head in the story when I can’t squeeze out actual story because it’s become a thick glue-like paste and clogged up my brain tubes, is putting my characters in hypothetical situations. It’s a great exercise because you should know your characters well enough to know what they’d do in any situation, no matter how unlikely. I’m writing them synopsis style (third person present tense) so I don’t waste too much writing energy on them. I figured I’d post them here, because why not. The first is my take on the prompt: how would your main character go grocery shopping? Since my main doesn’t eat human food, I had to improvise.

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How Important is Backstory?

I’m currently wrestling with this question because I have on my hands over sixty thousand words that don’t fit in the novel I’ve been trying to write. One of the many reasons the creative life is fraught with angst: you can work hard for months only to have to scrap everything you did. After keeping a steady word count for months, I have to stop, have a good look at what I’ve done, and possibly retool.

Not knowing where to start with my current novel, I decided to write my character’s story from the beginning and see where that took me. I started with his early life and, after fifteen thousand words, figured out that story wasn’t right for my novel. So I jumped to the next bit and spent a whole month writing twenty thousand words that could be something, but still wasn’t right for the novel. I did the same again last month, writing twenty five thousand words and – nope, still not my novel. Dammit! At least I can take heart knowing Mark Twain did the same thing.

I’m at a crossroads where I can either keep going with this exercise, getting all my character’s backstory written until I eventually stumble into the novel, or I can cut it off here and spend a month plotting to figure out what stories actually need to go in the novel and only write those. I’ve already weighed the pros and cons of both, so I’ll sum up:

If I keep going with the backstory, I’ll have my character’s whole prior life to draw from, probably enriching the main story in ways I can’t foresee. But I also know I’m stalling because I don’t feel ready to tackle the novel – is that a good or bad thing? It’s not like I have concrete deadline. Any stories I do include in the novel will have to be rewritten completely because it will be colored by the context of his current experience. Continuing along these lines means pumping out more verbiage for the scrap heap. However, a few of these stories might be worth turning into novellas, so it’s not all wasted effort.

If I quit writing backstory and get on with the novel, I do have a couple short scenes in the framing story to use as a jumping off point. Everything I write from there will be more relevant and automatically shaded in context. It means less work rewriting, but I also risk losing depth the story could have if I knew all the backstory lying below the surface. Not doing that groundwork also means potential continuity issues, because the novel demands being told in a non-linear fashion. The original reason for writing the story in its proper order first was so every puzzle piece would fit together when I mixed them up later.

So now I have a big choice to make. Do I make the big leap into my novel in a desperate attempt to crank out a first draft by the end of the year, or do I continue plodding along until I reach my novel naturally? Part of my anxiety comes from running into more than a plot hole – a great big information gap in the linear story that I’m scrambling to fill because nothing I write later will make sense otherwise. I could shrug and say who cares, but – no, actually I can’t. My brain won’t let me get away with that. I guess I’m stuck filling the gap and writing a crapload of exposition for my story bible until the world I’ve created once again makes sense to me. Sigh…

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Boy, The Latest Entry in my Journal is a Doozy

Since I started writing seriously I’ve been keeping a journal of interesting physical sensations and unusual experiences. It’s usually things like freezing my face off in -40° weather and what it feels like to defrost afterwards, or the incredibly specific pain of a pinched nerve. However, the other day I recorded one hell of an experience: a full on hypnopompic hallucination.

It started when terrible sound filled my dream, a voice yelling “PAT PAT PAT PAT…” It was Dalek-like, like a man yelling into a voice modulator. The sound confused me more than anything, until I saw an old-fashioned hunting party ride through my backyard carrying bazookas on their shoulders. The image was silly enough to make me realize it was a dream and wake myself up. But the sound didn’t stop.

I pinned the sound on my boyfriend. He wasn’t so much snoring as making little puffs of air, but my brain converted it into the reverberating shout:

({(PAT)}) ({(PAT)}) ({(PAT)}) ({(PAT)}) ({(PAT)}) ({(PAT)}) ({(PAT)}) ({(PAT)})

It was creepy and terrifying, more-so because it accompanied visual hallucinations.

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Advice That Makes You Go Duh: Summing Up a Story

If you can’t sum up your story in one sentence, you don’t have a story so much as a bunch of shit that happened. It could be a long sentence, but you only get so many “ands” before people stop listening. If you can’t make someone interested in your idea within that framework, it’s time to take a step back and figure your shit out. It’s a lesson I learn fresh every time I start new story.

Often people start with a situation, but not knowing their character’s drives, they fail to turn that situation into something that moves the reader to give a damn. I’ve found summing up your story in as few words as possible is a great way to reveal this fundamental flaw.

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