[process] Mature characters with backstory
Saturday evening I was texting with bravado111 (urban fantasy author J.A. Pitts) about how much we both liked Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]. John observed that the book read like the fourth volume of a series, and compared it to the original Star Wars movie, now known as A New Hope.
This got me on to thinking about mature protagonists, a topic which has already been on my mind somewhat of late. Mature characters come with their own backstories, their own histories. (For that matter, so do infants, but in dramatic narratives, people with fully formed life histories are usually more interesting.)
Among my books, Rocket Science, Mainspring, Escapement, Pinion, Green, Endurance and Kalimpura all center around young protagonists. Death of a Starship and the Flowers books deal with people in middle age. (The Before Michaela Cannon, core protagonist of Sunspin‘s ensemble cast, is 2,000 years old, so she’s a bit of an outlier.) With those younger protagonists, a major aspect of the story being told is their own journey to maturation and discovery of their life path. The older protagonists have a lot of backstory and implied action embedded in their preferences, desires, choices and reactions to the unfolding of the plot.
Certainly that latter effect is what Saladin achieved in Throne of the Crescent Moon. Hence bravado111‘s reaction. Those characters had been around a long time, had experienced many prior adventures, had lived.
What I’m now chewing on is whether I think it’s a bigger challenge to write a youthful protagonist or to write an older protagonist. How does this affect the reading experience? Green and its subsequent volumes would be very different books if she were middle aged at the time of the action. Some of the key underlying themes of Sunspin would be null and void if Cannon weren’t literally the oldest human being who had ever lived. And Ahmed’s Doctor Adoulla Makhslood wouldn’t be anything like he is if he were still living in the bloom of youth.
Food for thought, indeed. What’s your take, as either a reader or a writer, on the age of protagonists?
Posted: 5:48 am Mon March 12 2012 | Comments(6) |
[links] Link salad takes to the skies once more
delkytlar reacts to Pinion
The Genius of Pinterest’s Copyright Dodge
How Waiters Secretly Predict Your Every Need
Windows on the iPad, and Speedy — Hmmm… (Via my Dad.)
The Handley Page H.P.39 Gugnunc, Cierva C.19 Mark III autogyro, and Westland-Hill Pterodactyl IV – at the Royal Air Force Display, Hendon, 1931 — This is quite a photo. Pterodactyl?
Remix footage of the world’s first helicopters using samples from the British Pathe archives
Buckyball Solids Found in Space — Cool!
‘Nomad’ planets may outnumber stars in Milky Way — Many of those homeless planets could be heated by internal radioactivity, and if any possess thick atmospheres, they might even harbor some kind of microbial life.
Never mind the polls—we’re convinced our candidate is going to win — People tend to think their opinion is a majority view, even if they’re total extremist whackaloons. Remember the Montana Freedmen, who were convinced the entire nation would rise up in support of them when the FBI came to their compound?
Maryland gay marriage bill on way to governor — Another setback for the religious bigots.
President Obama as an alien — We know it’s wrong to judge people by their race or lineage. Unless we’re Republicans, of course, trolling for votes from white bigots.
The Man Who Wasn’t There — It is now an article of faith among the Republican base that Bush’s failures stem not from the fact that he was a manifest incompetent, but that he was too liberal a president. Yep. And further proof that Republicans are delusional.
?otd: Fly much?
Writing time yesterday: 1.25 hours (Sunspin revisions)
Body movement: airport walking to come
Hours slept: 5.5 (solid)
Currently reading: 1491 by Charles C. Mann
Posted: 4:30 am Fri February 24 2012 | Comments(0) |
[process] Writing the second (or third) book
Greg van Eekhout (who has one of the coolest names, ever) is launching into writing the sequel to his novel The Osteomancer’s Son. He made an observation that:
I’ve never written a sequel or a continuation of a series, so this is new territory for me.
My response to this was:
I have been quite surprised by the change in my technique and internal thought processes brought about by writing second and third books in series (or at least in continuity). You will be too, I am confident.
This has got me thinking about those second and third books. Last year while I was drafting Kalimpura, the third book in the Green cycle, I made a passing observation on this topic [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]:
This is the second time I’ve written a third book in series. (Pinion being the other, of course.) As I believe I observed while writing Pinion, it’s a rather different experience that writing a standalone or initial book. So much of the worldbuilding, characterization and discovery is in place. I have to touch on bits of it so a reader who’s starting with this book won’t be lost, but I have it internalized. That means that writing this book is a different experience for me. I am far more focused on plot and inter-character dynamics because that other stuff is already in place and not crying for attention. And much as I had this experience with Pinion, I think it’s likely to make a somewhat different kind of book.
Now if I could only figure out how to deliberately leverage this phenomenon in future projects.
Well, since then I’ve outlined all three volumes of Sunspin in one go, deliberately designing them to work as a three-book project. Which is, or should be, me attempting to deliberately leverage this phenomenon in a future project.
In a nutshell, I think it does come down to what I said before. After a first book has been written, much of the worldbuilding, characterization and discovery are in place. Unless the plot of the second book is “our heroes sail over the horizon to discover new, alien worlds”, it’s probably operating from much the same geography, culture and politics as the first book did. That means one’s focus as a writer actually narrows rather than broadens. We don’t have to do everything in the punch list for book 2 (or 3, or 23). There’s still a bit of obligatory effort to bring new readers up to speed, but mostly we can assume that anyone reading book 2 knows what the Castle of Inordinate Doom is, and what happened to the Lord of Bright Shadows in book 1. That means we don’t have to set all that stuff up again.
Fine. So far, so obvious. But what does this do the writing process, to address Greg’s not-quite-a-question?
I think first of all we have to make different kinds of promises to the reader. Book 1, any book 1, is in part saying, “Hey, look at me!” They usually begin with something sharp and memorable, a clash of cymbals to grab the readers’ attention and say, “Hey, I’m worth the next few hours or days of your free time.” Book 2 is saying, “Welcome back, old friend.” Reader trust already exists, at least in principle, and while it needs to be sustained, it doesn’t need to be re-established from scratch. That allows a lot more room to maneuver in building the opening scenes, which can serve different purposes in a book 2 than in a book 1.
Likewise how the characters are introduced and what is done with them. Subtlety and depth come to the forefront, in favor of the broad strokes often used to establish a brand-new protagonist. A book 2 character has a shared history with the reader, an account balance of well-established words and deeds and emotions that can be drawn on. They enter the stage differently.
Finally, as alluded to above, the need not to explain so much is powerful. The tapestry is already woven from book 1. We can assume so much more, and only introduced those things which are changing, as well as those things to either elucidate or camouflage the changes. It shifts the art and craft of world building significantly, allow tighter focus on selected elements, given what can be assumed the reader has brought forward from book 1.
Emphasis and focus can make book 2 as different from book 1 as book 1 was from some discovery short story that originally introduced the character and setting. It’s a softer, subtler art. The character and plot loom larger in the writer’s mind, written as they are across the established setting and tone.
Greg, does this make it any easier?
Posted: 9:09 am Fri December 16 2011 | Comments(1) |
[publishing] Out of contract blues
Now I’m going to complain about something that will probably irk some of the aspiring writers who read this blog. It’s one of those established writer problems that can look ridiculous from the outside, but is perfectly real and serious from the inside.
I’m out of a trade publishing contract for the first time since 2006. And it feels very weird to me.
Mainspring was originally contracted by Tor in 2006 for a 2007 release, along with a second book to be named later, which was eventually Escapement. Near the end of that contract cycle, Green and Pinion were contracted. Near the end of that contract cycle, Endurance and Kalimpura were contracted.
Well, now it’s 2011 and I’ve delivered Kalimpura for 2012 publication and, well, here we are. It’s not that Tor and I have parted ways. It’s not that we haven’t parted ways. We simply haven’t had the discussions, nor have I entered into discussions with any other trade publishers.
Some of this is my own doing, as I decided to write the Sunspin series as spec books rather than proposing them to Tor. Some of this is the cancer, which has stolen half my writing time in past two years, slowing down my ability to deliver a spec book in time to propose it to Tor, or anyone else, within my usual contract cycle. Longtime readers may recall that had I not experienced another metastasis this year, I had planned to write all three volumes of Sunspin by this fall. The book package would have been ready to go to market last summer, except for cancer.
And now, thanks to the travails of chemo and my resulting inability to execute on important revisions recommended by la agente, Sunspin‘s first volume won’t be ready to go to market before next February or March at the earliest. So I’m going to stay out of contract for quite some time to come, unless we take the rather unusual step of trying to sell on proposal plus unrevised draft.
All of which makes me feel very weird and insecure about my career. I’m in danger of missing the 2013 publishing cycle. I’m going to take a financial hit, to boot, simply because of delayed contract and payment timelines. But mostly, I worry about simply disappearing from view.
So I’ve got the out of contract blues, magnified by my cancer woes. And it doesn’t make me very happy. Another penalty of cancer, another thing being taken from me by this disease.
Posted: 5:53 am Thu October 27 2011 | Comments(2) |
[books|writing] Keeping score on my novels
Not that anybody was asking, but in an attempt to corral my own thoughts, here’s a list of all the novels I’ve ever written/co-written or am committed to writing, time and my health permitting. I make this seventeen completed manuscripts, two in-progress manuscripts, and six on the table to be written. In addition to all of the below, kenscholes and I have discussed doing a YA gonzo SF trilogy together, once he’s done with the Psalms of Isaac.
Who has time for cancer?
Written but unpublished
The January Machine (time travel/millenial SF, project abandoned)
Rocket Science (zero draft)
Death of a Starship (zero draft)
The Murasaki Doctrine (space opera/military SF, could not sell)
The Heart of the Beast (with Jeff VanderMeer, project abandoned)
Our Lady of the Islands (with Shannon Page, at my agent)
Other Me (YA lost colony/identity paranoia SF, awaiting rewrite)
Written, in progress or planned
Death of a Starship
Trial of Flowers
Madness of Flowers
Reign of Flowers (not a committed project)
Calamity of So Long a Life (in progress)
The Whips and Scorns of Time (to be drafted in 2012)
Be All Our Sins Remembered (to be drafted in 2012)
Original Destiny, Manifest Sin (American Old West fantasy/AH, to be drafted in 2012 or 2013)
Black Tulip (Dutch historial thriller/mystery, to be drafted in 2013)
The Rockefeller Plot (1970s diplomatic thriller with Ambassador Joseph Lake, in progress)
[untitled Biafran war novel] (1960s diplomatic thriller with Ambassador Joseph Lake)
Posted: 10:35 am Sun September 04 2011 | Comments(3) |
[links] Link salad says Happy Father’s Day
Sidewise Award Nominees — Yours truly is up for a Sidewise award for my novel Pinion.
Movie neon — Some awesome signs. (Via willyumtx.)
Why Do Firefighters Take Such Risky Jobs? — Fascinating article. To misquote Willie Sutton, “Because that’s where the money is.”
The Gravity of Life — Whose well-being is threatened by our changing relationship with the myriad organisms that shaped the evolution of our species?
The Regolith of Asteroid Eros — A nifty close up from NASA’s APOD.
Lop Nur, Xinjiang, China — A striking image of salt evaporation ponds in the desert of Lop Nur, China.
Breakthrough Batteries? — Considering that Alessandro Volta would recognize most modern batteries, this kind of scientific and technological progress is critical.
The supernatural does not exist — Bad Astronomer Phil Plaint on the supernatural and testability. As I’ve said a million times, just because you believe it doesn’t mean it’s true.
Don’t know much about history — A conservative complains about ‘politically correct’ history. A conservative complaining about historical distortions is a like a dog complaining about barking.
?otD: What do you remember most about your dad?
Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (chemotherapy)
Body movement: n/a (chemotherapy), possibly a short suburban walk to come
Hours slept: 8.5 hours (fitful) plus 4.0+ hours of napping
Currently (re)reading: A Storm of Swords
by George R.R. Martin
Posted: 7:55 am Sun June 19 2011 | Comments(0) |
[sale] German rights to several novels
Through my agent Jennifer Jackson of Donald Maass Literary Agency, I have accepted an offer from my German publisher, Bastei Lübbe, for print, ebook and audio rights to Escapement, Pinion and Green. I am quite pleased.
Posted: 5:38 am Wed May 25 2011 | Comments(6) |
[links] Link salad feels even a bit more like its old self
A reader really likes Pinion
A reader really dislikes Madness of Flowers
mlerules on her experience of my recent chemotherapy weekend
Is a bad writing system a Good Thing?
‘Go the F— to Sleep’ proves a popular lullaby with bleary-eyed adults — (Originally via KOF.)
The Hidden Message in Pixar’s Films — Hmmm.
Parrots choose to work together — Soon they will form political parties and it will all fall apart.
Camel Thorn Trees, Namibia — Wow. As Pharyngula says, “That’s a photo?”
What Makes a Body Obscene? — Of chests and breasts.
Stephen Hawking: ‘There is no heaven; it’s a fairy story’ — In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, the cosmologist shares his thoughts on death, M-theory, human purpose and our chance existence. Just because you believe it, doesn’t mean it’s true. See also vaccine denial, evolution denial, Moon landing denial and supply side economics.
Rigid Litmus Tests — The idiocy of political correctness on the Right. And may I say it couldn’t happen to a nice bunch of venal pinheads?
Newt Spokesman Pens Epic Poem In Tribute To Gingrich’s Heroic Crusade Against The Media — You know, when your campaigning starts making Sarah Palin look like a model of statesmanlike restraint…
Jane Mayer on the Obama war on whistle-blowers — Honest to God, Barack, we elected you to be better than the other guys. That’s not even a remotely difficult standard to meet.
?otD: Musical thrones, anyone?
Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (rested)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Hours slept: 7.5 hours (fitful, plus napping)
Currently (re)reading: A Game of Thrones
by George R.R. Martin
Posted: 5:45 am Thu May 19 2011 | Comments(0) |
[awards|repost] Hugo pimpage
Hugo nominations are nearly closed out. For the record, here is a selected list of my own favorite work of this past year, should you be inclined to review it for award consideration in your own nominating process.
Pinion, Tor Books
Third volume in the Mainspring cycle, action-adventure in the clockwork Earth.
The Baby Killers, PS Publishing
Alternate history politics, magic and spycraft, wherein I try to address the steampunk aesthetic at all levels of the work.
“The Bull Dancers”, Audible.com (audio presentation as part of METAtropolis: Cascadia)
Sequel to my piece in METAtropolis, about the ultimate fate of Green cities in a world beset by a soft apocalypse.
The Specific Gravity of Grief, Fairwood Press
My intensely personal study of a genre writer riddled with cancer. Arguably more appropriate for “Best Related Book”.
“Coming for Green”, The Sky That Wraps, Subterranean Press
An exploration of the Green universe from the perspective of a much put-upon secondary character.
“The Starship Mechanic” with Ken Scholes, tor.com
Our joint project from a writer-in-the-window session at Borderlands Books, about an alien lost on Earth.
“From the Countries of Her Dreams” with Shannon Page, Fantasy Magazine
A side tale from the Green universe from another perspective.
“The Speed of Time“, tor.com
Structurally experimental view of the end of the universe.
“If This Were a Romance” with Shannon Page, Love and Rockets, DAW Books
Exactly what it says on the tin. A romance set on a generation ship.
“Torquing Vacuum”, Clarkesworld
Backstory on three important characters from my Sunspin space opera project.
Best Related Book
The Specific Gravity of Grief, Fairwood Press
My intensely personal study of a genre writer riddled with cancer.
Also, I am eligible for nomination as Best Fan Writer for this blog, and as Best Editor, Short Form, for METAtropolis: Cascadia.
Posted: 5:26 am Tue March 22 2011 | Comments(1) |
[links] Link salad takes out its guitar and plays
A reader reacts to Escapement — And Pinion.
Adam Engst on iPad and ereaders — Interesting thoughts on the ebooks publishing process. (Via a mailing list I’m on.)
Language nudges Art — Language Log on linguistic gender and cheese. Mmm.
Similar quake due to hit Northwest — Home, sweet home.
A false color map of the Honshu earthquake’s tsunami wave height — One of the more frightening images I’ve ever seen, in a weird way. (Via Bad Astronomy.)
Japanese official says pumping system caused nuclear plant blast — I really feel for Japan already, but this is a twist that cuts deeply into a unique scar on their cultural psyche.
How Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami Warning Systems Work — The world’s only earthquake warning system likely helped limit damage and loss of life. Government spending in action.
Coase Goes to War — Bribery as a precision guided munition.
New FAA Rule Turns Airplane Lavatories Into Deadly Traps — To quote danjite “Number of terrorist attacks on US planes per year, average: 0 Number of legitimate deployments of oxygen masks per year: 40-50. FAA: Remove oxygen from toilets to prevent terrorism!”
pecunium on how government regulation saves lives
Dumbing Deficits Down — Paul Krugman on deficits, healthcare and the disingenuousness of politicians.
?otD: Heavy metal or easy listening?
Writing time yesterday: 2.75 hours (2,800 words on Sunspin
, much WRPA)
Body movement: Urban hiking to come
Hours slept: 8.0 hours (interrupted)
Weight: n/a (forgot)
Currently reading: Esprit de Corps
by Lawrence Durrell
Posted: 8:03 am Sat March 12 2011 | Comments(1) |
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