Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Contact with the enemy...

I've always been a big believer in the phrase, "No plan survives contact with the enemy." It's something I use as a gamemaster when roleplaying, and it's something I use when I'm plotting novels and stories. When I'm working with the characters and trying to decide what their course of action is, I have to take into account the fact that nothing should work as planned.

And why should it?

How often do you plan on something and have it work so smoothly that you don't need to react to variables in any way? It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's pretty boring, right? There's no strain, there's no stress to accomplish, no drama at all...

When we're writing, we're putting characters through the most interesting and challenging things possible so our readers may experience this drama vicariously. Why would we skip all of the dramatic effect of everything going wrong?

You tell me:

What's the more interesting of these two scenarios?
  1. I desire to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I collect the ingredients, place a slice of bread on a plate, spread peanut butter on one side and jelly on the other, smoosh the two pieces together, and then eat with satisfaction.
  2. I desire to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I collect the ingredients, but find that the bread is moldy. So maybe I look for a backup... ooh... there are tortillas, maybe I could live with a peanut butter and jelly burrito. So I slap the tortilla on the plate, then fetch the peanut butter and slather it on the bread substitute. Now for the jelly... but the jar is empty. I scour the fridge and find that there is not a single suitable substitute for the jelly, but then an idea hits me. I snap my fingers and point to the junk drawer... I pull it open, rifle through the screws and bits of string, then reach the promised land: packets of mild sauce and ketchup. Sifting through those I find one that's much more boxlike... Eureka. Jelly. Sure, it's dusty. And grape, I hate grape, but given the option of a peanut butter tortilla and a peanut butter and jelly tortilla, I'm going to go with the whole package every time. I roll up everything into a burrito like shape and take a bite... It's not half bad... Kinda...
The plan is much more interesting by how the complications are overcome, rather than by the plan itself.

It's something I always tried to fit into my philosophy for the physical act of writing, but I never really liked it. "No plan survives contact with the enemy..." I wanted to use it to tell myself that just because something doesn't turn out the way I imagine it doesn't necessarily mean it's bad. But there was always a foul taste in my mouth. It made me feel like my initial instincts were somehow suspect and that my writing voice was an enemy. 

In some ways it's true, but it never really clicked for me.

That is it never clicked with me until I did an interview with Bill Willingham about the end of his series Fables last week. He told me something that really got my mind racing with implications. (You can read the full interview here.) He said: 
Someone much wiser than me said, "You ruin a story by actually starting on it because when it's just in your imagination, it's perfect. Your skills are never going to live up to what you hope for a story in your mind, so by beginning it, you wreck it. And that's been pretty much the story of my career, except for the time I look back now and again and say, "That kind of worked out the way I thought it would." 
And when he said that, it felt perfect to me. It's in the same vein as the "contact with the enemy" but it's so much more succinct. You have to sit down and expect that it's not going to be the same thing. You have to embrace that. And every once in a while you'll surprise yourself. 

It's a little like drawing, too, though, right? At least for me, I can imagine things in far more vivid detail than I can draw them. But every time I sit down and make a concerted effort to practice, I can get closer to what I had in my imagination. Writing is no different. I know in my head how the story is going to work, and to the best of my ability I work to replicate that in a physical, literary form. 

Hopefully the act of me passing those two bits of information that caused me to think onto you, maybe it'll make us both better writers. Right? 

I had three big pieces come out this week. The first is a my review/interview with Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham about the end of Fables for The Huffington Post. The full interview is available on Big Shiny Robot! 

Also for Big Shiny Robot!, I wrote a piece about the Slave/Huttslayer Leia controversy and I think that's worth checking out. You can read it here. 

And finally, for Salt Lake City Weekly I wrote a piece about why I think Daredevil might be the best thing Marvel has done on the large or small screen because of the way it tells a story. You can read that here.

As an update on my writing, I've turned in three stories for publication that you'll see coming out over the next few months. I added another few thousand words on my fantasy novel, and I did a lot of other writing to get other projects together. I've also been tinkering with a manuscript that I'm sending in to an agent, and the other one going to the publisher soon.

Long story short: I'm incredibly busy at the moment, and it's almost all writing work, and that makes me very happy.


That's it for this week.  As far as my work outside of all this: I'm keeping busy for Big Shiny Robot! and Full of Sith. 



Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Update

It's been a while, and for that I am truly sorry.

Having a baby in the house after a decade is busy work. After making sure everything in that department was taken care of, my next responsibility was to keep up on my writing. I've had so many deadlines in the last month and I felt it was more important to get my writing schedule back together than to come back here and to report to you all about it.

It made me think a lot about priorities, though, and it forced me to rely on my discipline. I don't think the material I wrote for the first couple of weeks after having the baby was the best work I've done. I was exhausted. Sometimes I wasn't feeling as creative as I wanted to. I was easily distracted by the fact that there was a baby around whose cheeks I could kiss.

But I got through it. I hit my deadlines, I got through the stories and chapters I needed to. And I think the only reason I was able to do so was because I had become so accustomed to the daily ritual of writing. Every morning, no matter what. It's become so ingrained in me that I feel uneasy when I miss a day now. It's part of my routine as much as brushing my teeth in the morning or putting on deodorant. How do you feel when you miss those things? It makes you a little anxious, right? You want to go back and fix it before you get too much further into your day because if you don't, everything is going to stink.

And so that compulsion kept me going.

Every morning.

I'm still stressed out because I have so much too many projects to work on, but at least I didn't lag too far behind thanks to that discipline.

Quick recap of the last month: I've been working hard preparing a manuscript and a proposal to send to an agent. I've submitted four stories to magazines. I've written my next column for Salt Lake City Weekly. I've conducted nine interviews for pieces (transcriptions are killing me.) I finished off a short story. Oh, and I added 10,000 words to my fantasy novel.

In the next week or two, you should be able to pre-order my next novel, The Aeronaut. And hopefully it won't be much longer after that you'll be able to pre-order a collection of my space opera short stories called Escape Vector. About half of the stories in it have been published elsewhere, but I went out of my way to create a ship-load of new content for it, so I think it'll be a big hit.

I had a piece hit StarWars.Com as well. This one connected the influence that 2001: A Space Odyssey had on Star Wars. It was a lot of fun and I learn so much dissecting stories for that column. You can–you willread it here. 

That's about it for this week.  As far as my work outside of these things: I remain busy for Big Shiny Robot! and Full of Sith. 

As a reminder, you can get tickets to Stuff You Missed in History Class's first live episode in New York in October (which, coincidentally, will feature me) right here.

And please, please, please don't forget to check out any of my books, drop reviews of them on Amazon or Goodreads, and follow me on twitter and Facebook!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A brief update

So, I missed my post last week and I considered skipping a post this week.

Why?

We have a brand new baby in the house. Her name is Valkyrie and she's great.

Naming tiny humans is a much harder thing to do than naming characters, and I find naming characters to be one of the hardest parts of a story for me. But I know that if I'm at any point dissatisfied with a name, I can find+replace the old name and insert a new one.

With a kid, it's fairly permanent.

Valkyrie was on a long list of names and it's the one that seemed to match what we wanted the most and came out on top of the compromise. That's the other thing about naming characters versus children. Unless you're collaborating with someone, you have the final say in what your character's names are.

While I'm taking some time off from other forms of work because of the new baby, I'm not taking time off from writing and I've been chugging along on a new novel and short story, as well as continuing revisions on The Aeronaut.

As for some new things: my latest piece for Huffington Post is up. It's about why Star Wars: Rebels is Must-See TV. 

I also published the newest installment in my "Cinema Behind Star Wars" series, this time I drew the parallels between Star Wars and Citizen Kane.

That's about it for this week.  As far as my work outside of these things: I remain busy for Big Shiny Robot! and Full of Sith. 

As a reminder, you can get tickets to Stuff You Missed in History Class's first live episode in New York in October (which, coincidentally, will feature me) right here.

And don't forget to check out any of my books, drop reviews of them on Amazon or Goodreads, and follow me on twitter and Facebook!