Wednesday, 21 January 2015

On "Words and their Meaning"

I've not been able to write a story for over two years. Nothing of substance, nothing of worth, blah blah blah, bitch and moan, bitch and moan.

Whatever. The best way to get back on the horse is to throw yourself on said horse and hope it doesn't buck so wildly that you fall back off and crack your school open, therefore leaving you worse off than before. ENOUGH WITH THE HORSE METAPHORS.

I wrote a story, and I'm going to tinker with it, make it tight and punchy, because the first draft feels like... well, it feels like I've forgotten how to structure a story, or that that muscle, the one where story structure lives, is weak. Atrophied. Again, whatever, I have to make this work.

I take these things quite seriously, and I always think what I want to do with a story while I write it. Sometimes I have an agenda going in, but other times these agendas form as I go. I thought I'd write... not a commentary... not a thesis statement... nothing like that... but I thought I'd write about my mindset, my intention, my approach to this story, and what I wanted to prove with it. This is the first chunk of that, because I only have one story to work with right now. I'll write a part one about the second story I'm working on in a bit, or maybe as part of this, because I have an agenda with my second story that ties into what I've done with the first.

Right.

On "Words and their Meaning", a Scarlett Faraday adventure

I haven't been able to really put a Faraday story together since I finished the third book. The third book is currently requiring heavy edits, then maybe I'll be able to self publish it. The maybe is mostly based around the fact I might have forgotten how to self publish. Another muscle I need to work on.

The thing is, the story ideas haven't really stopped coming. They're always there, big epics that I need to work toward, big stories that will pay off on things that were referenced in the first novel. But the big problem I have is that I need to earn those big epics, or write the connective tissue, the gammy threads that can link what came before and what's coming.

For example, I know I haven't mentioned once vampires in the mythos I've built. This means that they're either there, lurking in the shadows with the greatest occult investigator completely ignorant to their existence because they're that damn scary, or, they don't exist yet. Yet being a great story prompt and foundation to do stuff that hasn't been seen before. Maybe. At this point, you're either Dracula or you're not, and I think I'm way past the marker for Vlad the Impaler.

Regardless, I've really been struggling to get my head together, and there are loads of reasons for that, lots of personal stuff that's gone on these past few years, but that's by-the-by.

I know the way I left the board in Richard Faraday At The End Of The World meant that I couldn't just tell low key stories. I couldn't write a little story about an exorcism, or a monster, or any of the stuff I set the board up for in Richard Faraday, Ghost Detective. But the thing was... I wanted to.

!! SPOILERS for the end of Richard Faraday At The End Of The World !!

So, my main protagonist is dead, having saved the life of his wife and then dissipating into nothingness. I know how he's coming back*, and it's a topsy turvy mind fuck of a story that I've planted the seeds for throughout the books. But this means that Scarlett is back in the world, she's been missing for nearly three decades, and she's just lost her soul mate. She has a daughter she never knew she had! That daughter has so much baggage that it's crazy to even think about. There are so many story threads that need to be picked up, and yet, because I'm not ready to start writing the big epics, I need to earn my place back to them.

But how?

Firstly, I needed to relearn how to write these stories and who these characters were. That meant a soft reset on what I had done before, simply because it was such a long time ago that I wrote about them, now I'm in a position where that distance means I'm a different person. Scarlett was always there, sometimes more of an emotion than a character, more of a plot device for Richard than she deserved to be**, and while I think I did quite well with her in the chapters she appeared in (there was an early chapter in the second book which is her running around a haunted house that ends badly for her, but I think she comes off looking quite good, along with the entirety of the third book which only features Richard in the final act, the rest of the story featuring Scarlett being the main protagonist).

Relearning the characters meant… writing them. Just seeing if I could find their voice and go from there. Scarlett was the fun-loving one, the one who got excited about things while Richard was more withdrawn. To me, that set a tone for these stories that was somewhat different to Richard’s. In my head, Richard is a Ghost Detective. A paranormal investigator. Scarlett is an adventurer. An archaeologist. While Richard was wandering around haunted houses, she was on digs, discovering lost civilisations, doing things that were more action packed than the more dour mysteries Richard would be looking into.

So, there it was, the first thing that came into mind. Before the title fell into place, was the sub-title.

A Scarlett Faraday Adventure

To her, life is an adventure. But at the same time, does the world stop turning because she’s in mourning? When the phone rings and someone asks for the Ghost Detective, does she just apologies and hang up? No. She pulls herself out of her loss and does what needs doing.

Originally, I wanted to do something darker with Scarlett, something questionable. It didn’t happen, so it’s not really a spoiler, but I wanted her to know what was haunting the school before she even started unpicking the mystery she had been thrust into. Either she knew because it was an artefact from Richard’s youth, or because she’s that damn good. That meant she was going to do something to one of the other protagonists that left the latter changed for the worst. It didn’t happen and I had to unpick the teases and hints of it from inside the second act, because it just felt… wrong.

I don’t want to hate my protagonist, and even if it ends up with her being ‘interesting’, is that worth her being unlikeable?

So, anyway. Scarlett is the kind of woman who respects old debts. Who will do anything she can to help innocents. She’s also not judgemental. I found that out in the third act. She was going to be righteous in her indignation, but then her voice became very clear… if someone hurts someone else, then the former deserves to be punished by the latter. If you abuse that power, then yes, she’ll come back and put a stop to it, but if you didn’t throw the first punch, and you have moral righteousness on your side? Who is she to get in the way?

The story rolled out as they usually do. Characters talking, and then something horrible happening. I’m very much a fan of the television structure of narratives. A pre-credits sequence, and then BAM, something awful happens and you hit the main credits. It’s something I’ve done since my fan fiction days, and I do it with the Faraday stories too.

As I wrote the character, traits I had almost forgotten from her previous appearances materialized. Scarlett is flirty, she’s sultry. She’s American, so she’s a bit more brusque, which rubs up against the rural English setting the supporting cast exist within. When it comes to writing original characters, my ultimate fear is accusations of writing Marty or Mary Sue characters. The first fan fiction story I did involved an original character, and I didn’t even know I messed up so bad, but it was pointed out to me by the readers how badly I'd fallen into that trap. So, when I write Richard or Scarlett, they can't be this perfect example of altruism. They can't be cool for no other sake than cool's. They have to breathe, and I think I achieved that.

It’s through Scarlett that I rediscovered Richard Faraday too. It wasn’t just who he was, it was who she thought he was. That comes out more in the second book, which I found out, pretty quickly, was going to be about the two of them. He’s not back, that’s got to come later, that’s going to be an entire novel, which is going to be so continuity-heavy, I’ve resisted fully committing to it yet. If you write a story, and you self publish, can you expect readers to appreciate the massive web of threads you need to pull together and reference to deliver that final scene? I don’t know. We’ll see.

I also decided, in the final scene of the first story, that I had to put a post-credit scene in. Something that would act as an overarching story for all the little stories I’m planning on writing. You see, in the third book I wrote (Safehaven), I introduced a thread I wanted to pick up somewhere down the line, and because it had no place in the main narrative arc, why not here?

The other main aspect of my writing was the consideration of the internal voice. During Richard Faraday, Ghost Detective, you never knew Richard’s internal monologue. The world was relayed by an audience surrogate, and I did the same thing in the second book. I think I’ll always keep him as a closed book, but Scarlett.. I wanted her to be more open, I wanted you to know what was going on in her head. She’s been through so much, just having her stand there doing nothing, when internally there’s a war going on as to what she should do next, that can’t be a flat narrative. You need to see inside her, and hear her voice.

When Richard comes back (no spoiler there, he was always going to come back) I think he’ll remain a closed book. And maybe Scarlett will become the audience surrogate? I haven’t thought that far ahead. What I do know is that when Richard comes back, you will feel every single ounce of pain Scarlett does in that moment.

I’m still not sure what the story will be, but I know who the main players are. I know the stuff I’m avoiding (I’m writing the stories in real time, so it’s been two years since the events of the second book) and what I’ll need to pick up at some point, e.g:

- What does the world think happened to Japan?
- What about the rain of demons that hit England?
- What about the multi-dimensional prison that fell into the ocean near Norway?
- What about all the dragons?
- What about Marie-Ann, Richard and Scarlett’s daughter, who also happens to be the Anti-Christ?
- What about EVERYTHING?

I know how I’m going to address some of the above, but I also have no idea how I’m going to address the rest. Who knows, we’ll see, but I’m sure it’ll be interesting.

I best go now, because I just realised I forgot to jot down notes for the penultimate story of this new collection I’m planning (The Old Bones Society). I’ll get on that, and then see what’s next.

I hope this is the beginning of something brilliant for me and my stories.

* Energy doesn’t just dissipate! But what energy does is change...

** I don’t know if I actually believe that. I think I did quite well with her, and I also think I need to re-read the second book to get a feel for her, but that would go against the whole point of what I’m doing with these stories

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