Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Rules for Life or just Writing

There are as many magical/tech systems in use in the world of science fiction/ fantasy as there are authors to write. I could write about the various sets and subsets, but I think I will leave that to another post. I feel like any list should be descriptive though and not prescriptive.

Each time I read a book that comes up with a new approach, such as Brent Weeks’ Black Prism, I am thrilled. For those of you not familiar with this series, it is a somewhat novel approach. They take light and break the visible spectrum into separate colors and each has unique characteristics.

The key though is this, the more light they bend the closer they get to going crazy. There is a finite limit on their abilities.

My initial forays into writing were often tied into free form role-playing where it often seemed like the only real limit was how creative you could be with whatever loose rules you start with.

There are limits. To help people relate to a story there has to be a barrier to what people can achieve. The limitation for many people is time, money, and abilities. The same should be true of a story.

I am sure there is someone out there thinking now that it shouldn’t apply to them because they have rewritten the universal laws for their story.

Great, more power to you, but without an underlying structure or overarching superstructure to guide you there is no sense of foundation or starting point for people to gain perspective. Meaning: have a history, religion, superstition, laws of physics, something to guide your story both in terms of science and magic.

After all; a sufficiently advanced technology might as well be magic to someone. Ever split an atom? Seems like magic to me.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Balancing Act

I mentioned balance in the last post and I find I would like to talk about it a bit more. Again keep in mind, I don’t consider myself an expert in any way, but I like to muse on topics.

- Humor -

I really admire authors who are able to create any book of any genre and have it be funny all the way through. I am exponentially impressed when they can take that and do it over and over again.

But most really can’t.

You end up seeing the same gags and situations over and over and over again. Until you the newness of the characters wears off and suddenly you find yourself wondering why you still read it? Then maybe you start just checking it out at the library in lieu of buying it until eventually you find you have fallen behind and can’t quite care.

The other end of the spectrum is also true. Ever met a person who was never funny and never appreciated humor? Maybe one John or Jane Doe, right? Meet two?

Now think about authors you may have read where you never ever laughed. I don’t mean you have to break down in tears and deep gasping breaths, but life is funny. Sometimes, or even especially, at times when things are the worst. Because it is how people cope.

I think the lack of humor is just as false and being funny all the time. One makes the piece either super depressing or just two dimensional, to me. The other sets the bar high the first time then too often fails to repeat.

- Conflict –

The other big reason I often stop reading something is a lack of conflict. Or, more rarely, too much conflict.

Ever read a book that you struggle to remember which peril or obstacle the character is trying to defeat this chapter? Or maybe that the character is almost dying all the time. I am just as guilty of this at time, but I feel like conflict needs to be balanced between internal and external.

Characters who never change aren’t interesting to me.

I like conflict that moves someone. They don’t have to evolve, they can fall back into bad habits, which I think more people should explore. Maybe my next story I will take some of that angle. I can add it to the list.

I read somewhere that a good author has some sense of tension on every page to keep people reading. I don’t know if I buy that idea, but I do know that too much every day blah and I find myself skimming and then missing crucial things.

Balance is important, wish I could find mine.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The World in My Eyes

Perspective and world-building are, in my experience, inextricably intertwined. Understand that when I say world building what I mean is both the macro world the character lives in and the microcosm of the individual experience.

Each author can answer the question of nurture versus nature in her/his own way, but it has to be answered. The biggest creative examples I can think of are movies. A different medium to be sure, but still a very applicable example. I love movies almost as much as I love books, but you can do so much more in books than movies because all the special effects occur inside your own imagination.

Back to my point.

One of my biggest complaints is that the characters in too many Hollywood movies are out of touch with the audience and the roles they are trying to portray. A work-a-day schmuck is not going to have access to unlimited funds, martial arts skills, weapons training, a beautiful suburban ranch, and BMWs falling out of his/her ear, but it seems to be the norm in Hollywood.

Characters will take for granted risk taking, expenditure, and cross-societal and cultural experiences.

You shouldn’t though.

I wouldn’t be who I am without my own peculiar limitations and experiences. I think you learn more from a character who has obvious limitations than from one who has no limits on power, money, influence, access. Your world needs to make an internal sense.

Even if you are basing your story on a very different species in a different time frame and a completely different social structure, things should make some sense. Think back on your own experiences and those of your friends and family and find a fault to expose in your character. It will make them more real and if it is tied into their place in the world, all the better in my humble(ish) opinion.