Wednesday, 24 July 2013
Best Two out of Three
On the Saturday I was recovering from a night of heavy drinking, but I was still cognizant, I could have written something. Hell, for the Sunday I was fine and I had hours to spare, so what kept me?
Well, basically, as much as I hate talking about it before it's written, a lot of this has to do with Duke Forever. I am spending a lot of time working on it.
This is a problem for the blog because generally, I write blog posts about stuff that I notice while I'm living my day to day life. But since so much of my life at the moment is all about Duke Forever, I can't talk about it. While there's some things I can talk about, like watching Doctor Who; researching Greek Mythology & how much I love trains, there's a lot that I can't mention at all for risk of spoilers. Even for some of the really simple stuff, I can't mention it because, while miniscule, it's actually a major part of the story. Actually, it's the simple stuff especially that I can't talk about, even if you never read it within the story, because of the way storywriting works. So today, since I can't talk about what I'm doing directly I'll instead be talking about that concept within storytelling.
The Word of the Day is: 'FOUNDATION'
Foundation /fown'dayshən/ n. 1. The basis of anything. 2. The natural or prepared base on which some structure rests. 3. Building Trades The lowest part of a building, wall, etc., usually of masonry, and partly or totally below the surface of the ground. 4. The act of founding, setting up, establishing, etc. 5. (a donation for the support of) an institution. ♦adj. 6. Of or relating to someone associated with the beginning: A foundation member.
In order to build a building, the most important part is a strong foundation. If you don't set your building on a steady footing it can easily sink into the ground, slide down an incline or even collapse in on itself. It's one of the most important parts of any building, yet you never get to see it. In fact, the greatest pieces of architecture are those which can hide their foundations, leaving us to wonder how they can be built so high.
The same is true of stories. Stories need a good foundation, and it's the quality of that foundation that can help a story develop, but so often you don't get to see the foundations that make up a fictional world. However, stories aren't built on dirt, stone or sand like a building. Rather, the groundwork for a good story is so often more stories, ideas and characters.
This foundation, or groundwork, for a story is something that I (and my writing companion) call the "Two-Thirds". Why? We created the term from something J.K. Rowling said in reference to the World of Harry Potter; to paraphrase:
"What you read in the Harry Potter books; that isn't even half of the whole story - not even a third. It is only a small fraction of the families, the history and the world that I created."
As I have experienced storywriting, I have come to understand the truth of that statement. You can research, develop, conceptualize, create & brainstorm for days, to write a story that someone will read in less than an hour. Because there is so much work behind the scenes to make one scene work properly.
This idea is very vague, because of fiction's scope, so let's look at a simple example . . . how about a Belosian Spacejet? It's my own example, from Chapter One of Duke Forever, The Unearthly Pilot. If you haven't read it, don't worry it's not much of a spoiler (but if you haven't read it you seriously should read the story now anyway, because it's awesome and you're missing out).
Anyway, the Belosian Spacejet is just an alien ship. As far as the story is concerned, it might as well have been a clear, plastic bubble, and I was originally going to make it look like a flying saucer. But since it was such an important part of the story, I wanted to make it something a little more memorable - these are the two-thirds of the ship that you didn't read in the story:
I would have researched DWU alien races to find one that suited my needs, but I quickly scrapped that idea. A major part of any science-fiction series is making up new aliens whenever you feel like it and I didn't want to miss that opportunity in my first story, so I said the first word that popped into my mind. It sounded like "bill ocean", so I fiddled with the word in my head until I got the spelling right. Then, to make sure I wasn't stealing anyone else's thunder, I typed it into Google. (actually, if there already was a fictional alien called a Belosian, I was going to use them to inspire my own.)
I was surprised to learn that it was already a word, but not for an alien race; rather it's an Old Saxon word which means 'to deprive'. Intrigued, I decided to use that as the inception point for the alien race. Straight off the bat, I thought it would be interesting if the Belosians were deprived of some of that cool alien tech that every stock alien race seems to have, such as warp cores, laser beams and transporter technology. However that left me with a dilemma, if they had lesser technology, how could they make a spaceship?
That's when I was reminded of Steampunk.
Steampunk is a genre of fiction whereby technological advancement basically stopped after the boiler, but society continued to advance around it requiring everything from cars to computers to to be built with steam-based technology. I'd already decided on the billion2-gallon fuel tank plot point, so I upgraded the Belosians to dieselpunk, making them a dieselpunk society that discovered transdimensional engineering.
This influenced the way I designed and described the ship in the story. I coloured the ship brass as an homage to my my original 'steampunk' idea, I changed the Duke's exposition to explain it as such and the way I wrote the story was to portray, as best I could, the concept I had developed of a simple, but very powerful little jet.
Now, it may not seem that important - but it speaks volumes within the story. Without it, it would have been a clear, plastic bubble, or a flying-saucer disk. Or, I don't know, a jetpack. Something uninspired.
Instead, when I say it was a Belosian Spacejet, you can enjoy it that much more. Because there is a history to it, and a story - hell an entire alien race - hidden behind those words within the two-thirds.
Also, because that foundation is there, I can use it to build even more stories. One day, I may even write a story where the Duke meets a Belosian. I'm not planning it at the moment, but the opportunity is there. As are many other opportunities from the great number of stories, characters, ideas & histories that I have already created for the two-thirds of Duke Forever.
You know, I said that I didn't like to talk about a story I'm still working on, then I did anyway. So let's talk quickly mention some other stories to make up for it:
Other writers have their own hidden stories within the two-thirds as well. For instance, J.K. Rowling famously calls the concept "Ghost Plots" and within her books this includes Dumbledore's homosexuality; Hermione's status as the 'Mary Sue'; the Dementors' relation to Depression; the history of Hogwarts' Founders & a whole heap of unmentioned characters.
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote so much material about his fictional world of Middle-Earth, that he wrote appendices and essays on the material and fictional history books which were published by his son; and apparently the book The Silmarillion was basically a compendium of this information.
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events has a lot of information that can only be read in Lemony Snicket's Unauthorised Autobiography.
I could go on, but I want to post this before midnight, so I'll leave it there; but rest assured that many an author has their own Two-Thirds of a story that you can discover from their interviews, website or other media; and yet even more will have hidden groundwork for their stories that you will never discover.
In Conclusion, I would like to think this post will serve as a warning. Writing is fun, enlightening & an amazing form of personal expression; but if you want to write well then it's not easy. Even if you're writing a short story, barely 1,000 words long, if you want it to be truly amazing then you're going to write a lot more than 1,000 words. Back story, World-building, setting, extra characters & ghost plots - all of these can colour your story dynamic.
You can't just have a main character, call him Jim & expect him to carry a story. But if he has those two-thirds. If he fought in the War or graduated top of his class in politics; lost his wife to cancer or has four adopted children, so long as there's something more to him than what you see on the surface, then it will bleed through into the work and make him a more believable character.
I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and until next time I'm going to see if I can come up with a blog post that doesn't mention Duke Forever!