Monday, April 21, 2008

Character Arcs, Plots, Emotional depth and Layering

Part One

Why this idea? Why not some other idea? How the hell do I pick and choose?

People always talk about how they have so many thoughts, so many ideas--all kinds of characters and people whispering in the back of their heads. Ideas everywhere, snippets, and notes--scenes that show up full blown. And they write the scene, and they start a book--or start halfway through a book, and wonder if maybe this book--this fabulous idea they just had is worth more than the idea they had earlier.

Ideas stick. Not in the sense of filing cabinets, unless you have instant recall or something, but all your life experiences, all the books you've ever read--all the movies, and thoughts, and discussions you've had--every street and character, actor and friend. None of it goes away. It simply accumulates. If you've ever seen a dump--there's flat land and mountains, but the mountains are garbage and none of it disappears--it simply gets tamped down.

When I first started writing, I wrote regency historicals. I loved my characters, and I thought the names were spiffy-cool. Someone asked me why this name? Why are you so fixated on this name?

No clue. I went around for years wondering what on earth this woman was talking about. I like my names, they resonate. Trouble was they resonated because someone else used them first. When I went back in to re-read Veryan's Sanguinet series, I found them all. I must have read the books and said, "damn, that's a good name. I'll tuck that away for later."

If the story comes too fast, it's probably something you've heard before.

If you can't get any farther than a scene, or can't sketch out a basic plot, then it's not really a viable option.

Writing is a discipline. I know I can start things, but if up in the logical part of my brain I don't see my new story as a finished project, I only have so many hours to work on what I can finish.

Does that make certain projects better? Maybe.

If I can't write the "ultimate" vampire story, my odds of publishing are slim to none. There are lots of vampire stories out there. Is what I have so different? My knee-jerk reaction would be to say--yeah, I am different. I'll show them. But the write to have viable-product side of me would say, hey? The southern farm-girl, hip urban chick, mechanic who's really a coyote and separate species stories have been done to death.

Writing is hard. I'm not trying to make it harder on myself. I want a project where a) my voice shines b) it shines because it works for the sub-genre and c)and I know all the conventions of my chosen field.

And that brings up a good point.

You need to love your sub-genre.

Regency historicals for example. In a regency historical, the writer knows sex is allowable, there are certain conventions, the clothing opens a certain way, and women thought a certain way--there was this kind of food, and that kind of furniture. The cadence of the language is very unique to the period, and an Avon is different from a Signet. They also know the way the field is moving--right now it's very hot and spicy, but it came out of a sweet genre and that divided the readers. It's why RWA's Beau Monde was created, so people who know the difference between a pelisse and a chemise can talk.

A regency historical writer who got tired might logically want to write romantic suspense (that'd be me) because maybe they focused on war heroes, and PTSD, which ties in well with modern day warfare.

BUT while that same writer would say, "oh, it should be easy--I'm a writer. I can write about anything." They'd have to start from scratch.

Weapons and terminology, gunshot wounds and spec op terms, hand signals and clothing styles, whether night vision goggles were big and how satellite phones worked. If the door on a Huey opened or slid, if there were corporate planes with bedrooms, and how corporations break down into divisions. It's a whole new world, and none of it has to do with the Peninsular War or whether staff officers wear blue.

Looking back on some of my regencies, I'd love to re-write them. But to re-write, I'd have to re-learn everything I knew before. So the logical step would be to stay with romantic suspense, or to carry my knowledge into a field that uses the same knowledge base. Space opera. Fantasy. I could do the Crimson City thing and fast forward a few decades.

But much as I might want to--even with Dameral knocking at the inside of my skull--write a regency historical, I'll stick with what I can finish. Like voice mail says? In the order in which it is received.


Traci Flowers said...

When I first became serious about writing I thought I wanted to write Historicals. Then I did some research and figured out, duh, there are many different time periods. So now I stick to contemporary and make up whatever I want to with my paranormals. lol

Kaige said...

Yay for the desk and space of your own! I've been avoiding my cave for the last four months. I've been enjoying the light and sunshine of the living room where there's visible proof of a world out there. Maybe that's part of my problem too ;)

Great post, Jodi. Looking forward to more of 'em!

Jeanna said...

You need to have a drink at LavaBalls, woman.

jodi said...

lol, Jeanna. I had to scroll down to see your post and I spewed Reese's Whipps (40% less fat!!!) all over my keyboard.

I have plans for LavaBalls. Believe me. There's a little street in Singapore where someone just opened up a skeevy dive...I'm thinking male strippers in g-strings, cosmetically enhanced waitresses, and a sound system belting out "Great Balls of Fire". :)

Alice Audrey said...

It isn't that hard to bounce from RS to Historical. I do it all the time. Once you know the difference between a pelisse and a chemise it only takes a little while to remember. You've already added the words you need to your spell checker, haven't you?

jodi said...

lol, I am a lazy person, Alice. I focused on the returning hero, and like all my stories it went all angsty. You know, siege of Badajoz, prison, missing letters, runaway heiresses and evil villains--good guy turning into a jerk to protect himself. sounds like my StallingCo stuff. But yeah--I really liked Dameral, shoulder length red hair, scars and all, and his side kick Ryelander. I dunno. Maybe when I've done all I can do with DalCon and finish out Open Grave. I've been pushing to get DG done, and I've finally got momentum.

There's still a lot to explore in Regency historicals.

Unhinged said...

I have nothing to say, really, just thought I'd let you know I was here and nodded and sighed and wondered. Well, maybe I sighed first, then nodded.

(Sorry. Please don't expect me to make sense today.)

When I first started writing, I tried a Nancy Drew style. I really sucked at it, too. Then I tried V.C. Andrews (remember her?) and was pretty good at that. And then! Then I tried historicals. Well, ONE. It wasn't very original, but I was going off the idea of trying to REwrite a historical. Not sure where I saw that suggestion, but the idea was to study construction and plot.

I didn't try and spymance until I was comfy writing La Femme Nikita fan fiction.

Hmm, guess I had something to say after all.

Love the writerly posts!


jodi said...

you know how regencies have these great names. Dameral Liancourt, who turned into Tris Stalling--his whole name is Tristan Liancourt Stalling. I guess my people never leave, they just sort of morph. And his best friend, Ryelander who turned into Rapahel Caravagggio.

I did the re-write thing too, it must be an old suggestion, because I did it when I was going through my western phase. :)