Monday, January 28, 2008

Five minutes...

inside my head.
- like seeing JG Ballard in a sandwich shop it would somehow lessen my opinion of them. I have the notion that he, and a few select others, are entirely nourished by their imagination and never have to trouble themselves with any activity as mundane as actually consuming food.
- there are no dogs.
- vegetarianism is not a religion, its not like there's a pope of it, the grand turnip or something. Or observances.
- tonight we are sending bombs to Mars, no that sounds like we're delivering something. Better - Tonight we begin bombing Mars.
- I have not been inside a McDonalds for more than a decade and its been perhaps 15 years since I ate there.
- the camp should ring with the name. Give the idea that it's what everyone wants.
- Charlie Stross - he's the black monolith and we are the apes hooting in its shadow

Monday, January 21, 2008

Elizabethan superlatives

Ask me for an Elizabethan swear word and I'll happily oblige - pretty much the only lines I remember from Henry IV Part I (I studied it for O level) is the insults that Falstaff and others heaped upon each other. For a brief while when I was 12 a "bull's pizzle" was never far from my lips when I was looking to cast opprobrium.

Although I know the swears I don't know how Elizabethans used to express delight - which superlatives they used. I had this problem in a recent story and it was then that the lack of knowledge struck me. So much of the way we talk about these things is tied to our culture and the words we use change so quick. In 1993 I heard two people in a lift chatting about their weekend. Said one of its start: "Friday was enormous" which seemed so much of that time. Similarly can anyone imagine saying "fab gear" anymore, even ironically?

So I had a look online consulting a concordance which didn't really help much. Will Bill did use "fantastic" but in its proper sense - ie to do with fantasy not the usage that, according to the OED, started to mean "good beyond expectation" in 1938.

This PDF helped the most though - and suggested "marry"(by Saint Mary), "Now by my faith" and "i'faith" as the 16th century counterparts of Wow! Sweet! and Awesome! respectively.

But of course it's not just the words that change it is the usage too. In Shakespeare's time the world was changing so much that language had to change to accommodate all the novelty. New words were coined and they started to be used in new ways.

And that got me worried about the fantasy stories I write. Not that I should be aiming for versimilitude but has anyone analysed how our language has grown? Listed the earliest words? I'd love a source, or tool, which dated words by their meanings so at a stroke I could check if a story was authentic enough. Marry, 'twould be a boon.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Start write here

Writing a story seems a very simple thing. You sit down, you write, when you notice you have typed 'The End' you stop. But as many people on this blog have noted - writing involves a lot more than just the typing.

For me the process by which I work up to actually writing the story is chaotic - I build up a huge amount of notes for scenes, names, events, themes on post-its, scraps of paper and computer and they help me plan the story. I've long kept a sheet of paper and pen by my bed to jot down any ideas that break through during the night. Sometimes though too much is being beamed through and I have to get up, go to another room in the small hours and write it down properly. Experience has taught me that if I don't I will get no rest - inspiration is the broken car alarm of the mind.

I've long appreciated that I need better working methods and I've started to streamline them and organise myself better. For a start I now no longer use Word or Open Office - because they are too rich in features I don't need but lack the ones I do. And that is perhaps why my discovery of Scrivener set me salivating. Binders! Corkboards! Outliners! Inspectors! Sadly, the thing is only available for the Mac and all my home PCs run Windows. Curses.

Even so I was seriously considering buying a Mac Mini so I could run it. Or hacking a PC to run OS/X. But now I'm wondering if my interest is really just writing avoidance. At which I am a master. I find that I will do almost anything to avoid getting on with writing a story. Not least because that is the hardest part of the whole effort. I turn the net off when I write now as I know that the vast leisure sink that is the web will claim me if I remain hooked up. I'll order the shopping, check the blogroll, putter about online, play yet another round of Bejeweled 2 - anything rather than write. Learning to use Scrivener could use up lots of cycles, yet to my warped mind, be justifiably called writing. In the event I went for a Windows alternative - Page Four - which really helps me organise and get on with the writing.

I avoid writing because the potential a story has before it is written is far greater than the stark reality of the finished tale. The shining purity of what it might be never matches what you find when the phantom is wrestled out of your head and pinned to the paper. Never. That can be good in that you may get a better result but often I find that it becomes something entirely different. And slightly unsatisfying for that reason. So you go back and try again, and re-edit and submit it for review by your peers so it more closely matches that ideal. But as you are chasing a phantom that can be a long, drawn out process. Many, many times typing 'The End' can just be the beginning.

Monday, January 07, 2008

That was my idea

In my callow youth, when I first started trying to write SF&F fiction I thought the most important part of a story was the idea - the original shattering insight around which you can hang the story. At that time I was paranoid about the ideas that came to me and ground my teeth every time I read a story that seemed to steal one or more of those precious insights. I even wrote a story, lit by the fuse of bitter resentment, about someone who is the fount of everything that happens and only he knows it (can anyone say "hubris"?). My fear was that all the big ideas I had would be played out by the time I got round to writing them up and leave me with nothing to say.

Now I'm older, though still very much starting, and I realise that originality is not everything. Other factors, such as character and plot (though like SJD I'm leery of that word) matter more. A coherent story needs much more going on than a gosh, wow moment. I've often read in writing guides that good writing can make a bad idea into a decent story and many editors claim they would take a good story over a good idea any day.

I've also learned that the stories in the short fiction magazines now may have been submitted long, long ago. Stories can take months to be rejected and, paradoxically, even longer to be accepted. For that reason, if no other, true originality is rare.

I guess the other reason it is rare is because relatively few SF writers are tuned in to technology enough to suffer those moments of clarity. Originality is rare because we are all half-informed about what is coming down the pike.

It is also something of a blessing that originality is so precious because if the short fiction mags only printed what they had never seen before they would be pretty thin - though very entertaining.

Finally, and this is observation is perhaps triggered by that smoking fuse, I've read lots of stories by well-established names which build stories around very hoary ideas. Stories that would get you roundly booed if you submitted them to a writer's workshop. Maybe I'll know I've arrived if I ever do that and someone calls it a "brave re-imagining of the genre's most treasured tropes" rather than a sorry re-tread of a much over-worked idea.