Story Craft #21 Research!!

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As a science fiction and fantasy author – which is all I ever wanted to be until recently – I never once thought about going out into the world to do primary research. Other sf/fantasy authors don’t talk about it. You don’t have George R.R. Martin explaining how he went to mental asylums and wrote letters to psychopaths in order to better write Ramsay Bolton. Tolkien’s research was entirely his own enormous invention. That approach always appealed to me enormously. You just make it up. Yes, I would get inspiration from an interest in science, history and politics – but …

Story Craft #20 Action, not World

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I’ve now written 1 and 3/4 thrillers, after writing 12 sci-fi novels, 2 epic fantasy and mostly only ever reading sci-fi and fantasy, and it has taught me 1 major lesson that is already helping me write better in all genres: Action, not world In a thriller, it’s about original action, not about an original world. World-building is far less of an issue. The world itself is not the draw – because to a large degree, it’s the same world we all know. So you can’t hook with fascinating stuff about the world. Yet I have always focused on world …

story craft #19 Weight in a Name

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You’ve probably heard of the callback, a technique comedians use to get fresh mileage out of an old joke, often with exponentially uproarious results. Here’s a callback in Seinfeld: Seinfeld did these a lot, in this case it was a callback and a kind of catch phrase linking back to a previous episode, that when repeated multiple times, only gets more power. Master of my domain. I use these sometimes just hanging out with people- something gets mentioned early on, you see a chance to mention it again later, tangentially related to what they’re saying, boom, everybody laughs. Everybody uses …

story craft #18 Steeping (or China Mieville’s Teapot Brain)

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I have figured out how China Mieville writes. I did this by watching several interviews he was in, and noticing one thing- China Mieville uses the word ‘steep’ quite a lot. In this video interview he used it, and in this article, and this one, and this one. In this single word lies what I believe to be the secret to being China Mieville. In a word, it is preparation. In another word, it is teabags. Ever since I read Mieville’s book The Scar 10 years ago I was kind of awed by the world he put together, the way …

story craft #17 Thin vs. Fat Stories

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What is the right balance of thin vs. fat in a fantasy or sf story? I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. I’ve had a few story sales to the pro and semi-pro markets now (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld, Ideomancer, etc..), plus dozens of rejections, and been trying to deconstruct the patterns that work. I think I’ve found the/a winning pattern, and it’s all about thin vs. fat. First off, what do I mean thin vs. fat? Thin is plot, conflict, movement, Dan Brown style writing. There’s very little time spent establishing character or setting, so very little sense …

story craft #16 Flash-forward Openings

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What do you think about stories that open with flash-forwards? Consider the movie Fight Club. Ed Norton brandishes a gun and conducts a bizarre conversation with Brad Pitt. They are in a dimly lit skyscraper looking out over a city’s night skyline. We are totally engaged and intrigued. What the F is going on? Who are these guys, and why are they talking like this? Smash cut- and we’re yanked back to the beginning. If we want answers to our questions, we’ll have to watch the whole movie. push / pull Let’s call this a pull opening, because it pulls …

story craft #15 Acts of Invention

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26. That’s how many acts of invention a story needs. We can look at any story, any story that is a story, at least, and reel them off. Without fail, they’ll be there. They are all discreet. They all require a new idea, or the development of an old idea into a new idea. They are the ingredients in the cake, mixed and baked according to recipe, flavored with the writer’s voice, that build a living breathing story out of a bunch of bits and stuff. 26. Why is this interesting? Why should we sit up and take notice? Well, …

story craft #14 How Not to Threat

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There’s a killer on the loose. He killed five people already. He cuts them to pieces and eats them- yuck. You get home, and the door’s been forced. There’s blood on the floor. Your heart yammers. He’s there, you know it. You round the hallway for the bedroom, and he leaps out, wielding a hatchet, wearing somebody else’s face. You kick him in the crotch. He goes down. You call the police. Hurrah! Feeling fulfilled? Unless that was a spoof movie, you’ve lost the audience forever. It could be a movie or a book, but if you write this, it’s …

story craft #13 Going Hot

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Going hot is a term Orson Scott Card uses (in his book Characters and Viewpoint) to describe entering a character’s stream of consciousness. We go into their head and work through their motivations and drives alongside them. It’s something I’m dealing with a lot now in the (third?) redraft of my fantasy book Dawn Rising, learning how to add it in as an intrinsic part of the story. In the first few drafts I hardly did it all, so the book (may have) read like sections of a Dungeon Master’s hand-book, cold and with little sympathetic investment.

story craft #12 Kill All Wimps

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I`m over the first hurdle with Dawn, into the second half of the first book*, and find myself dealing with a spate of wimps. My characters are so shocked by what happened in the first half that they stand around gawping, lost in self-pity, filled with indecision. They don`t know what to do and don`t know how to do it. They become wimps. And wimps need killing.