The Joy of Restraint

Salutations dear readers.

Following my standard pattern of doing some blogging and then just disappearing for months on end it seems that the cycle has come around and here we in June with an update on what’s been happening.

Well, for a start I stopped going to the cafe to work, and while it is certainly important to find somewhere where one can work, I opted to make a space in a spare room where I set up a desk and my old record player. The upshot of this is no more stress trying to get to the cafe in time to claim my preferred seat before the cycle brigade make their sprawling conquest of the shop. Equally, I’ve been listening to plenty of vinyl. I’m currently in the depths of an afrobeat binge – I don’t remember how I came across Fela Kuti, but his story was fascinating.

Anyhow, more importantly I started to double up on my day to day sessions where I could, writing both in the morning and the evening and sacrificing some of the less virtuous past times. The pressure, you see, is on.

For a start the book was becoming huge. Not necessarily a problem for fantasy, but a potential problem for a first novel. Publishers see BIG and think COST! A good friend of mine asked if I could not break it up, but it didn’t seem likely. Pondering the problem I thought I would remove the first chapter of about 4k words as it was somewhat disconnected (but still vital to the story). Realising that there was a small story between it and the main bulk I decided that I would fill it in. Two months later and I’m in the final arc of what might have been a prequel, but now makes the whole thing easily split into a nice trilogy of moderate sized pieces.

And the title of this post? Well, it wasn’t to do with my accidental clicking on something called Shibari You Can Use. Consider me enlightened, but I now have bondage rope appear in my recommended items.

No, what I refer to here is that working on this previous segment, there was a sense of limitation to the story. There was no chance to go wandering down creative tangents, or to deviate into grandiose plot sequences. It didn’t mean I couldn’t be creative or inventive, but rather there was a simple joy in just filling a gap that already had a size and shape.

The aim now is to have it revised within a month or two and sent out to test readers. Then begins the work of writing the proposal for it – one element of which is the bio for yourself, something that I have played around with. I wrote a new one recently late at night for this blog by way of experimentation.

For now it’s back to the grind as I wait for the postman to bring some more vinyl, this time offerings from Fela’s son Seun.

And as the year swings into summer, I’m certainly feeling a surge of optimism. Until later then, dear readers.

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Origin Of An Idea, Part 3: Research and Serendipity

So I got over the hump. Pity I got Noro virus. Just another hurdle that was going to put me out of action for a couple of days. There’s nothing quite so wretched as that span of time when you know you’re going to hurl but you just got to wait it out. It was taunting me, keeping me dangling on the verge, hour after hour…..

Anyhow, it’s thankfully in the past. I’m moving on with a nice solid couple of days aggressively editing part 2. Nearly there. Only five more parts to go!

Meanwhile, whilst reflecting on what I was trying to say last time, I remembered a prime example of something that had slipped into my subconscious and found expression years later. When I was a child I, at some point, saw some episodes of Ulysses 31 (a sci-fi/fantasy retelling of the Odyssey for those that missed it or are too young to remember). I can say with certainty that this took root in my imagination, and unconsciously I would replicate the little floating islands of the cosmic Olympus as a dumping ground for all the spare ideas that I couldn’t work into my main projects.

Thus did the idea itself became a recepticle, the cauldron into which I could throw ingredients. What came out has so far included one Nanowrimo project that’s waiting to be turned into a series, the project I’m working on now and also a little something else that’s waiting in the wings to be fully realised.

So, in this last part lets just talk a little about where else we might come across ideas that we can throw into our cauldron. I’ll present two: one is down to your own volition, the other not so much.

Research: This can be done at any time under your own steam. Even if you’re just looking things up on Wikipedia, it’s never wasted because it will give your voice more authority. Whatever fiction we’re writing, we’re bound to find books that can help, from psychology and cultural thinking to descriptions of equipment and practices. For fantasy I’ve found that there is a wealth of information to be had delving into anthropology. It doesn’t have to be heavy going either. One of the first books I ever read in the field was The Forest People (Colin Turnbull) about the pygmies he lived with, told in a very straight forward, narrative style. Other topics I found useful (and are common to fantasy) were theories about kingship, sorcery and myths, as well as attitudes towards life, destiny, marriage, death and children.

On the other hand you might be writing a Game of Throne’s clone and all you need is a text book about medieval clothes and weapons.

Serendipity: Some of the best ideas can come to you out of nowhere. Perhaps you were chilling with friends, eating cheese and biscuits when you noticed that one of the cheeses was called Brillat Savarin. Commenting on what a great name it would be for a villain you married it up with someone who had a mysterious reputation like Keyser Soze, a great criminal underlord.

Or maybe you were flicking through the channels of someone elses tv and came across a programme about paranormal activity that had a Russian music box in it and married up the cliche with the idea that perhaps the Russian psychic warfare division had manufactured hundreds of them and sent them to the USA as part of a systematic attempt to destablise the country.

Anything might trigger you off, and as always, my advise would to always, always make a note of it, even if you can’t use it straight away. Pop them all in a box and when you’re running dry or you want to start something new you could pull out three, four, maybe five ideas and see how you can connect them up. Do a bit of research off the back of it, see what else might come up. Roll it all together and keep turning that kaleidoscope.

And sometimes you come across little research projects randomly that can do great things for the imagination. The video below was just in the Youtube recommendations and the sheer scale of what it shows made my brain hurt, a little like doing mental weights.

The only limit, after all, is how much we can conceive, and that’s a boundary that we should always be trying to push.

#2 Complaining and Overthinking

One week on and valuable insights gained, the quintessential one being the difference between prevarication and procrastination, I believe I made one mistake that I can’t go back and edit. What I should have done was to bash out another entry as soon as the inspiration came upon me. Instead I spent a lot of time pondering on how to proceed, on what to make of having a readership, and on just how many entries can be made in a similar vein. Still, the seed was planted in spontaneity so I think I’ll let it grow awhile and see what fruit comes of it.

Anyhew, having been let go from my contract at work I had the past week to get a little writing done. More time = more writing, right? Strangely, it doesn’t feel that way. When I was at work and only had an hour at lunch, I got something done. When I’m at home and have an hour here and then an hour there I don’t seem to get anything done. Unfortunately its all the little things that create a minefield in my head that I can’t cross to get to  my characters and narrative. The battlefield is a concept of time; I have in my head that I have the whole day, so I’ll sit down for an extended stretch. It doesn’t happen. I have to wash up, I have to go get a roof rack, I have to see the optician because my glasses are decrepit.

And then I have to return a roof rack because the damn computer that said it was the right one for the car was wrong. Damn machines……

It all becomes like snowfall. Lots and lots of little thing, but it piles up against the door and when it finally comes to opening the door you can’t escape the confines you’ve been sitting in. This leads to……

Procrastination #5

I am terrible for this one. Also known as “complaining about how you’re never going to get anything done”. I wonder if this would come under depression, but I resist the medical notion as something invented in order to sell antidepressants. That is to say that we all get down, that’s part of life, just as there are always times that shit piles up and we feel frustrated and thwarted. It happens. It doesn’t mean that we’re sick, but what it does do is become its own justification for not doing anything. In this instance it is not so much the not doing, but rather the bitching about it that becomes the procrastination. And when you do realize that all you’re doing is expending effort on complaining you can suddenly see how you could have actually been working instead of sitting like a grumpy sack of spuds in your chair.

It’s a rut, a certain kind of self pity and like any mood you got to find a way to kick yourself out of it. Find a way, anything that works for you, because at the end of the day its all down to how much effort we put in. It might not happen immediately, but even if it’s just an hour a day, it can be done.

Of course, if you do start to do some work then you can always fall victim like I do to this………

Procrastination #6

Overthinking. I don’t know how many writers do this, how many artists suffer from this. It’s the kind of thing that cripples creative endeavours and often bleeds into #1 Perfectionism. You can decide to write something and spend ages trying to work out plot and settings and characters. You make copious notes. You go deep into sculpting the characters and coming up with histories for them.  The more you do the more you can’t decide on this or that and then you wonder if may you did this but then that would effect that bit and…….

Deep in the rabbit hole you find that you’ve actually achieved very little, leading you back to #5.

I myself have spent a great deal of effort at times plotting and writing out plans, but it was only when I just sat down and wrote it that it really came together. Most of the time you find that all the clever things that you spent so long thinking up didn’t really have anywhere to go in the story anyhow. It is simply a case of diminishing returns, and that goes for this blog. I made a whole load of notes about what to write, all the ideas I could do and all the video’s I’d put in. In this respect I was stumped over just how I could find a connection for adding in the awesome video for Fertile Green by High On Fire that I came across on Youtube. Of course there was none until I wrote that sentence, a kind of deus ex machina for my desire to torture your ears and offend your good sensibilities.

And besides, it was all getting a little too serious.

What? You didn’t enjoy that little tune? There really is no pleasing some people……

Still, plenty of mythic content in there for you fantasists out there. Answers on a postcard please.

Anyway, with all the self pity done with and some both necessary and unnecessary thinking about my work, I got down to it and bashed out a wonderful introduction to one of my characters. Now, I often think about how cliche a character might be, or how cliche a plot elements is. It’s a weird paradox; too much cliche and it’s trite, hackneyed, but too little and it might not resonated with people because there are conventions that make people feel comfortable. No doubt I’d be opening up a can of worms even attempting to discuss this in detail, so instead lets do a little exercise. You have a character who is the equivalent of a police chief. How do you see him (or her)? What are the constants across narratives that make this person seem authentic?

Without thinking about it too much and just consulting my list of cheeses, I quickly picked the name Canestrato which to me fitted him quite well, as did a moustache that he would occasionally twirl and dyspepsia that made him grumble, all while staring moodily out of a window. It was only a bit part, designed more to introduce the privateer to the story, but it felt comfortable. So often it seems that there is a pressure to create something that goes beyond convention, seemingly for the sake of it in many cases, but in a way that is forced and unrewarding. Conventions are a structure, and it’s perhaps how you hang the story on that structure that makes what it is. With that in mind I’m going to broach a subject that I’d like to return to more fully in the future, namely mythic structures and how the conventions within mythic narratives appeals to us. Contrary to the notion that myths are in the past and that they don’t change, they are in fact alive now and with us wearing different disguises.

Think of the movie jaws. It has a police chief in it. He’s got a job to do, underlings to help him and a power structure that he’s in conflict with. He’s also a dragon slayer, and just as in the cliched story of the knight saving the villagers from the socially destructive monster, he travels to the domain of the beast and gives combat to it. Jaws is a famous film, based on a book. The ideas are nothing new, but it worked, and it was a success in part because its such a familiar story deep down in our consciousness. On this I will post more later with some reference to people like Bruce Lincoln, Wendy Doniger and Calvert Watkins who are amongst the people bringing new insight into myth and folklore.

Not that Dawkins believes that we should seriously be indulging in all that make believe stuff.

I have only one thing to say in reply to that: