Ideas in the Morning

I don't know what's prompting these experiences, but a few days ago I woke up again with yet another full story line staring me in the face. The surprising — and pleasant — thing about this one is that it involves a rather interesting play on words. It's also a science fiction idea, which is slightly unusual. I read and write science fiction, fantasy, and some horror, but fantasy is what I've focused on for the most part for many years. Yet despite this, I've had a couple of mornings where science fiction ideas have greeted me when my eyes opened. I shan't argue with this, though. The idea has been duly noted and saved. The number of story ideas in my queue has been increased, but I'm still not at the desired number stated in my 2010 goals.

I've now got two short stories out to my Beta Reader, so I'm moving ahead on that front.

As I've been reading through Lawrence Block's Writing the Novel, I've been taking notes and I've every intent to follow through with suggestions that he makes. For example, he talks about reading the sorts of novels you want to write and he suggests reading them slowly, deliberately, to find out what the author is doing and how it's being done. Then, when you finish, you write up a one paragraph summary of the book. A hundred words or so should be sufficient. After summarizing them, you go back to the books and go through them again, this time outlining them scene-by-scene, chapter-by-chapter. The outline, he says, can "be as sketchy or as comprehensive as you want it to be." He says:

I would suggest that you make [your outline] as complete as possible in terms of including a scene-by-scene report of what is actually taking place. There’s no need in this sort of outline for explanation — why the characters do what they do, or how they feel about it — so much as there’s a need to put down everything that goes on, every scene that exists as a part of the whole.

I've come up with a list of half a dozen fantasy novels (one is soft science fiction) that I plan to chew up and regurgitate in this fashion. I've deliberately chosen shorter novels for this exercise. I don't think the length of the novels that I outline is important. The point of this exercise is to learn how a novel is put together.

I tried to do something similar to this many, many years ago, but it was a half-hearted effort. This time, things are different. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I'm unemployed and I can afford to spend a good bit of my time in this fashion. Maybe it's because I'm hungrier than I was when I was younger. Whatever it is, there has definitely been a change in attitude. Block talks about "staying hungry," but in that section of the book he's talking about the drive to write, which can be the desire for money, fame, recognition, whatever. Right now my drive is more a challenge to prove to myself that I can do this, and that I can do it more than once. I see it as somewhat parallel to the drive some professional athletes have.

I'm a big tennis fan, so Roger Federer is a good example for this illustration. He's won more Grand Slam tournaments than anyone. At last year's Wimbledon, he won his fifteenth, finally breaking Pete Sampras's record of 14 major titles. Federer tied Sampras's record by winning the French Open last year, which also garnered him a "Career Slam," meaning he's one of a few men who have won all four majors —Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open — throughout their careers. Not even Sampras was able to do that. Federer has won more than $50M in prize money. So, why does he continue? For the money? Obviously not. Why does any successful athlete continue to do what they do? The love of competition is probably very high on the list of reasons.

So, my view about writing now is I'm writing because 1) I enjoy it, it's fun; 2) I want to be read, so that means publication; 3) which leads to proving to myself that I can write publishable stories. For me, though, it can't be enough to publish just one short story, one novel. I want to prove this to myself again and again. That's the challenge.

Here's the list of books I plan to outline:

  1. A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  2. Out of the Silent Planet, by C. S. Lewis
  3. The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
  4. Assassin's Apprentice, by Robin Hobb
  5. The Drawing of the Dark, by Tim Powers
  6. The Dragon and the George, by Gordon R. Dickson

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