Archive for January, 2010

Jan 28 2010

A Box Has No Windows

Published by Reesa under Writing, blwio, callie, characterization

She fumed as she was thrown out of the story abruptly.  These interruptions were beginning to be intolerable.  She had planned to be reading for the afternoon, and now had several empty hours to fill again.  Usually the lack of windows in her rooms didn’t bother her; she was as uninterested in looking out of them as she was in anyone having an easy line of sight into her home.  At this moment, she’d likely be smashing the glass.  With a last frustrated glare at the firmly-closed book cover, she rose from the couch and left her sitting room to check the door in the main room.

Locked, as it usually was, and no key readily available.  The viewing window set into the door at eye-level was no help either.  There was no one out there to see regardless of which angle she peered from.  She dropped back the dark blue curtain covering the door’s window and spent a few moments absently stroking the edge of the velvety fabric as she thought.  When no brilliant epiphanies ignited her mind for the wishing of them, she decided to work off some of her irritation with exercise.  A session with the free weights should tire her out enough that a shower and nap might follow nicely after.

Her exercise area was at the opposite end of the large main room from the door, angled in such a way that someone working out could easily view the media screen on the left wall.  She didn’t load anything to watch.  The exercise mat was clean; she always wiped it down carefully after each session.  Her weights were on a rack against the wall, and her innate design preferences were evident here.  The weights themselves were neatly aligned in the rack and evenly spaced with each other, but there appeared to be neither increasing nor decreasing organization along the shelves in terms of relative weight.  She selected a pair of twenty-pound hand weights from where they lay next to a two-pound barbell plate and set them down at right angles to one corner of the mat.  She stripped down to her bra and the thin linen pants she was wearing, draping the rest of her clothes on a rod she’d attached to the back wall for just that purpose.

Maybe after her nap she’d be able to read again.  The image of her door standing open, her rooms empty, kept appearing in her mind as she worked up a thin sweat.  She tried to manipulate the image to view it from different angles, but it remained stubbornly static.  Empty rooms; an open door.

If she couldn’t read, she’d find where the key was.  Perhaps it was time to venture outside again after all.

2 responses so far

Jan 26 2010

Discussion: story-hopping characters

Published by Reesa under Writing, characterization

In contemplating various areas surrounding the creation of a series character (instead of one that exists within the pages of a single story), we end up having some fairly interesting discussions here at the Dream Café.  One of the most recent conversations involved an observed trend among a few of the writers we enjoy reading, that of creating a character in one story that then appears in an otherwise unrelated story later on.  (Note that this is subtly different from the concept of a character having more than one series of stories.)

We came up with several examples which I’ll discuss, but I encourage anyone reading to mention their own examples in the comments of anything we didn’t cover here.  Nathan suggested that the intersection of Isaac Asimov’s Robot and Empire series (referenced vaguely to avoid spoilers) is one example of this story-hopping idea.  I think that Dean Koontz comes close to this in his Christopher Snow series, which is set in the same world of, and references some of the events that happen in, his previous novel Watchers.  (To my knowledge there is no actual character overlap between the two, but I admit I haven’t read all of the Snow novels.)

Nathan also suggested the “Fizban the Fabulous/Paladine” character from the Dragonlance series, where a clumsy-but-likable wizard also happens to be a major lawful good deity.  Heinlein has some interesting character and story intersections when he introduces the food-processor-effect of the “World as Myth” concept.

The character Enoch Root from Neal Stephenson’s The Baroque Cycle and Cryptonomicon is a closer reflection of the story-hopping character, with Root possessing an elixir of life that allows him to resurrect and be present in different times and places.  Root influences other characters around him toward actions of importance on surrounding events, as well as resurrecting a couple of other characters with his elixir.

A well-documented and analyzed example is Stephen King’s Randall Flagg.  He appears in nine novels, including The Stand, The Eyes of the Dragon, and the Dark Tower series.  While in those series he plays a major antagonist, and more minor roles in other appearances, his role as a sower of chaos, dissension, and destruction remains a constant theme.  The character doesn’t always keep the same name but often (though not always) will use the initials R.F.

For a third and yet again different take from Stephenson and King on the story-hopping character idea, we can look at Devera from Steven Brust’s body of work.  Devera appears in every published Brust novel, both the series and the stand-alone novels.  She is always a secondary character, a reality-walker with a very fluid definition of time, and usually appears as a brown-eyed pre-pubescent girl.  In several novels the mention of her is obscure or vague, while in others she has a more active though still secondary role.  However, the most active role she takes in the novels (The Phoenix Guards, Taltos) is that of a messenger, passing information along at a key plot point.  The rest of the time she seems more an observer than an active player.

It seems like it would be difficult to have a recurring character, especially in unrelated stories, and not have that “grow old” for the reader after a while.  While I think the ones I’ve mentioned do a better job of retaining interest in seeing the character show up again (especially Devera) I also recognize that is at least in part a subjective assessment, so opinions on the success of interest retention may vary.  What do you think?  I know the idea of a story-hopping character delights me in theory, but actually doing so with ongoing viability seems a daunting reality.  What are some other examples of this or something similar that you’ve encountered?  I stuck with literary examples here but you can feel free to branch out into other media.

3 responses so far

Jan 20 2010

Writer-as-protagonist in story

Steve and I were talking yesterday about his irritation at the “writer as protagonist” that often shows up in fiction. One of the most famous examples of this (and arguably the single biggest reason for the popularity of the trope) is Stephen King. It can be seen in his earlier works such as The Shining or Salem’s Lot, and continues to show up in several of his works throughout his bibliography (The Dark Half, Secret Windows, Lisey’s Story). Dean Koontz, another huge name in the horror genre, has also written stories (such as Lightning or Mr. Murder) which feature a writer in the main character role. Nor is this trend limited to horror; Kurt Vonnegut and Charles de Lint are two of several authors in the sff genre who have placed writer characters in starring story roles. I’m not as well-read in the more literary fiction end of the spectrum, but I’d be very surprised if a similar pattern wasn’t present there as well. (Feel free to mention and discuss other examples in the comments.)

I’m still a bit unclear on exactly why Steve gets so irritated by writer-protagonists — hopefully he’ll clarify his position a bit more in comments, hehe. I remember from our last chat that he feels like having a writer as a protagonist in a story you’re writing creates too many situations where you are tempted to be clever, or clever-seeming, possibly even superseding the priorities of the story. I think he said it’s the difference between an author being clever in how they tell a story, versus using a technique that says “hey, look at me being clever over here”.

I suppose I can see that point; certainly some of the more forgettable stories I’ve read with writers in the lead role felt rather like what Steve describes. On another hand, some of the more interesting examples of the trope do play around with some neat ideas. Koontz’s Odd Thomas books reference the unreliability of a writer narrator throughout the stories, making references to editing and eliding events even as he tells the tale. de Lint uses writer characters as he does other artists and musicians in his Newford stories, where the act of creative generation unlocks hidden magics in the surrounding world. Vonnegut’s writers don’t seem to be able to self-referentially change the story due to their own writing; I get the impression, reading some of his quasi-auto-biographical fiction works, that his characters are often writers because Vonnegut himself is one. However, Vonnegut didn’t always do the writer-character-as-avatar for himself. I’ve read several references to his famous Kilgore Trout being a poke at Theodore Sturgeon, which amuses me to consider.

Looking at King’s extensive bibliography and publishing history, I’m struck with another thought that’s occurred to me before. So many of his writer characters struggle with aspects of their craft–even to several of them blocked on writing, alcoholics, or otherwise engaged in unstable and self-damaging behaviors–which fascinates me when compared with the fact that, since 1974, there has only been one year that King didn’t publish one or more finished pieces. It doesn’t seem from his observable public output that King, the person, suffers from much in the way of writer’s blocks or dangerous instability preventing his writing. Did much of the potential for that self-destruction get sublimated and exorcised into the more troubled writer-protagonists of his stories?

What do you think about this trope of the writer-as-protagonist? Do you like it? Does it irritate you when you encounter it? Are there similar metaphoric parallels in other artistic disciplines, for you other creative types out there? Let’s discuss!

2 responses so far

Jan 16 2010

Inside the Box

Published by Reesa under blwio, callie, characterization

Her suite of rooms seemed more confining, lately. She had been living here for some time now–longer than she was used to staying in one place. This morning she meandered, stopping at whim to examine things more closely before wandering on. She wasn’t much inclined to watch visual media regularly, and today felt just dreary enough that mindless computer entertainment didn’t appeal either. Her touch lingered briefly on the dressform next to the drafting table, still draped haphazardly with several samples in a riotous conflict of colors. She didn’t have an inspiration for this piece yet, and wasn’t in the mood to look for one today.

Outside her suite was its own set of problems to deal with, and again not something she felt like handling this morning. The others called her area The Box, and for all she knew it even looked like one from the outside. Inside, however, everything was apportioned as she liked it, and even on aimless days like today she took pleasure in each room’s decor. She finished up her walk in the sitting room, and decided that reading a book would do for a temporary distraction.

Her three full-sized bookshelves were made of identical black particleboard and arranged along one wall in a uniform line. The books themselves were a chaotic mix of hardbacks and paperbacks, most of them well-used. They were arranged alphabetically by author and then by title from left to right; the first unit held A-J, the middle K-R, and the last the rest of the alphabet. She tended to pick each week’s reading selection by a blind grab, but balanced her randomness with the ordered formula by which she chose the shelf to pull from. This week it was the middle bookshelf’s turn, top shelf. She closed her eyes and shook her hand back and forth a bit before moving it around in loops and spirals through the air in front of the shelf. When it felt right she pushed forward, her fingers ready for the first brush against a bound spine…ahh, a hardback this time.

She opened her eyes and examined her selection. One of the classics in its genre, but not one she’d previously made time to read. The author photo on the back could not possibly escape notice. She spent an interested minute analyzing her reaction to the pose; it looked like an attempt at “intense, thoughtful and brooding” had become instead “nervous, weird, and slightly dorky”. She suspected the closed-off body posture contributed heavily to eroding the overt intent of the picture. When she tired of this game, she read through the dustjacket teaser for the story inside and now her interest was fully engaged. A thrilling premise, not to mention one that started all sorts of fascinating ideas and possibilities cascading through her mind.

She curled up onto the firm but plush couch, which was just the right length for her to stretch out in comfort, with pillows propping her upright and a blanket tucked around her legs and toes. Bringing the pages close to her face she inhaled deeply, savoring the papery, musty used-book odor. She ran her fingers lightly across the covers; as she reached the closed pages, she gripped their edges and riffled them quickly front-to-back as one might a flip-book, enjoying the buzz-whir sound and the tickling feel against her hand. This pre-book ritual, she found, put her into a pleasant frame of mind and ready for hours of reading enjoyment. Sensory demands thus satisfied, she turned back to the first page and began to read.

2 responses so far

Jan 13 2010

breaking block(head)s (discussion time!)

Published by Reesa under Writing

What is the most clever, weird, or innovative way you’ve gotten yourself unstuck from a major creative project?

Are there ideas for getting over a stuck spot that you’ve thought up but didn’t actually try? Was it because of fear/insecurities or other reasons for not following through?

What hurdle-hopper tricks in your repertoire consistently work? Do you know why?

What do you feel are the resources most lacking in your creative toolbox (at this time) for keeping your motivational drive moving consistently?

What in your current creative support structure (if you feel you have one) would you most like to see change, and why? What do you feel is rockingly awesome about your creative support network right now?

Pick one or more of these to answer and let’s chat!

One response so far