Posts Tagged ‘story logic’
I don’t usually write fanfics. I get all hung up sometimes about using someone else’s characters and making sure the voices sound right and all that stuff that applies to anyone monkeying around in someone else’s back yard. It’s possible they may like what you did with their flower beds, but then again…
I do take inspiration from other people’s work, usually negative.
- ‘Why did they do that?’
- ‘I could have done this better.’
- ‘I’d rather the story went this way…’
Many times I take these ideas and use them to enhance my own stories. Not in any way that violates copyright, of course, but there’s no need to say where the idea came from or use names anyway. It’s the scenario that matters.
A fanfic is a different beast, and there are different types of fanfic. Many are enhancements of something, a story written to add corroborative detail to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative. Or it could be hairy and convincing, but not enough for the guy writing the fanfic. Some TV shows try to mirror their weekly schedule in the script, and fanfics are written to fill in the gaps. One fanfic author I especially like blithely ignores the romantic tension plot of our mutual favorite series and has the characters expressing their affection openly, if not explicitly.
What makes a fanfic work for me is whether or not the storyline of the original story needs to be changed to accommodate it, a technique known as retcon, for retroactive continuity. (I’ve read some novels that try to do the same thing, which to me is a sign of bad writing. We won’t even mention
Highlander 2.) The less ‘retconning’ there is, the better the fanfic, at least to me. My respect for the logic flow of the original story sort of requires me to try to carry it forward into any fanfics I read, or write. A story that at least doesn’t contradict the original is minimally OK. If the logic flows into the fanfic, if the fanfic explains something in the original story using the story’s own logic (which I’ll call explanatory power), so much the better. (Of course the author of the fanfic may have a different idea of what that logic flow is than I do, in which case he’s wrong.) Clearly multiple fanfics can be written to extend or embellish any story at any point, and as long as they satisfy my criteria I’d say they were all equally good, qua fanfic. The actual writing may still suck.
I have so far written all of two fanfics, not counting the scenes in my books which were inspired by other stories. Those were scenes, not complete stories, and the characters were my own. I’ll give you points if you can tell me what the scenes are and what the inspirations were. Points are cheap.
My only reason so far for writing a fanfic is that I felt a complete or partial lack of closure to a story arc, i.e., the logic is incomplete. Incomplete logic annoys me in and of itself, which often means that the story itself bothers me, given how tied together the two are. My first fanfic was written solely to scratch an itch inflicted upon me by the TV series Chuck, back in season three, when a story arc that stretched for four episodes ended abruptly, without a happy resolution, or even a sad one. I suppose I could have lived with a sad one, but since I prefer happy endings that’s what my fanfic gave her, sort of. It’s on this site as Free Story #2, above. It was a short exercise for a minor character. No retcon involved, nor any explanatory power.
I just finished my second fanfic yesterday. Again it is for the series Chuck, one of the few TV shows to have characters that involved me enough that I would care enough about them to write a fanfic. The series just ended, and the final episode ends with a major plotline unresolved. The producers say this is to allow viewers to make up their own endings, but the more likely explanation is that they wanted a hook to hang a new series or movie possibility onto. Innocent that I am, this rather cynical second possibility did not even occur to me until after I’d plotted out the fanfic I wanted to tell, to resolve the plotline as I felt it ought to be resolved, i.e., no retconning, maximum explanatory power, and an HEA.
This was the fastest writing I’ve ever done, 7K words in three days, or about 9 pages a day. The characters were there and I knew them all and loved them. I believe they all act in character and sound right. I knew the story intimately, and even though the logic isn’t exactly the tightest in the world, there were certain conventions to be observed and standards to be upheld, and I think I did. It’s one of the few I’ve ever plotted out from beginning to end, or was able to. This story wanted to be written and it wanted to be written right now! (Plus I’m in the middle of another novel and job-hunting so I really don’t have a lot of time.)
I sent it out to a few beta-readers already, and I’m hoping to post it either tonight or tomorrow. If you like the show Chuck I hope you’ll check out my story and tell me what you think. For other fanfics about all sorts of stories, not just TV, check out fanfiction.net. I’m sure there are others.
Remember, all authors love feedback. If you have a favorite author, write and tell him so. Tell his publisher so. The only way to keep the stuff you love available is to spread the love and spread the word.
By which I mean to say, that I am following a thread. It’s not a real thread, unfortunately, but a thread of logic, of coherence, and consistency. It is in short, a thread of story.
Lots of authors out there can tackle any piece of a story that comes their way, writing up little pieces of text that will, eventually, get put into the right order so the story is revealed, much like a picture puzzle. I am not one of those people. The writing experience for me is very simple: I start at some beginning (which, often as not, comes to me in a dream or a random comment, or some internal visualization) and I keep going until I get to the end.
There are upsides and downsides to thread-following, as there are to most things. The upside is that the maze becomes less of a maze. Random side alleys are less inviting, if they even get noticed. I’m not looking at them, I’m looking at my thread. I’ll go down a random side alley if the thread does. Which it often does. To a pantser, every alley is a random side alley.
But, not all side alleys are alleys I want to go down, even if the thread leads there. My latest WIP, Ghostkiller, has my MC currently working with a pair of homicide detectives investigating, well, a homicide. Another Ghostkiller. Which has lots of nasty ghostkiller-related consequences. And I don’t know much about homicide detective procedures anyway. I’m interested in the guy, not the job. Do I really want to go down that alley?
Fortunately, I don’t have to. Story logic is multi-branching, and there are threads all over the place. There are doubtless other threads I can follow which do not require me to know about police call-in procedures. I’m not a complete pantser, either, so I have some idea of which threads I want to follow and where they’re likely to go. If I’m done the job right, or got lucky, there’ll be a branch just up ahead. If there’s no branch, maybe I’ll do like the hero in Tron and make one. If I’m not lucky and I can’t just make it up, there was a branch just a little back there. If I’m really unlucky the last branch was quite a long time ago, and I’ve got some serious revising to do.
Which, curiously, is another benefit of thread-following. Dead ends and bad branches don’t hang around in the text, waiting to be excised in a furious burst of revision and second drafting. The current draft is the only draft. When editing time comes along there’s almost nothing left to do but the mechanical formatting and grammatical stuff. Of course I suppose I could just save that text and see if it makes sense somewhere else. That’s another weird thing about story logic, a scene that makes no sense from one direction can make perfect sense somewhere else. The manner in which you enter the alley dictates whether or not there’s an exit, and if so what kind.
But if you drop the thread you’re screwed, hunting around on hands and knees in the dark, groping about until you find it again. Which could take a while. If you’re like me you’ve got a bunch of threads at the same time, though, so if you can’t find one you can just spin off on a different thread-axis and work on a different story for a while. The threads are all connected, after all, by following one you may pick up the one you lost. Happens to me all the time. On the other hand, having multiple threads can be a problem if they all start calling at once.
I haven’t said anything about the main metaphor in this sea of troubles, the minotaur that lives in the maze. Which is only fair, I suppose. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it, and have no idea what it could be. Do you?
I don’t know about you but I feel kind of funny about saying everything in a story. In part this is because the story logic gets in the way. If the story assumes that a given culture exists and has existed for a great long time, then it makes no sense to have the characters say things that explain that history and culture for the reader. This is the great problem of backstory and exposition in general, getting out all the history and structure of your world so the reader understands the context of their actions. Clearly this is work that has to be done, explicitly but not clumsily. As you already know.
In a slightly different vein, there are numerous cases in which details that lend a certain depth or flavor to the story need to be put in. These, being details, are small, often casual comments that have a basis in the story logic but are not contributory to the story itself. Depending on how different the world is from our own, there are either more or less of these little details, but never none. The funny thing is that this is more of a problem the closer this world is to our own. I noticed a while back, while reading a philosophical paper on abortion, strangely enough, that the further away you get with your hypothetical cases, i.e., the fictional world of the story, the more of these details there are. Which is not a good thing for philosophical papers (especially that one). For fantasy novels this actually simplifies things, since you can’t take any of these details as implied. You have to state them. Only when the world is very similar do we have the problem of having to tell our readers the things that normal people in this world would take for granted.
As an example, in my current WIP, Ghostkiller, the entire group of Ghostkillers all go by the last name of Smith (don’t ask me why, I haven’t figured out the reason for it yet, but I’m sure there’s a good one). So it follows (see the story logic element here?) that they would all refer to each other by first name. It further follows that not referring to someone by first name is a bit of a snub, while referring to someone who isn’t a Ghostkiller by first name is inclusive, i.e., a friendly act.
I have a lot more of these, as Ghostkiller is supposed to be set in a world very similar to ours, except for the ghosts and the killing of them. The problem is, how obvious are these things supposed to be to the reader? My preference is to let implication do its subtle work, and just use these elements without hitting the reader over the head to make him notice how clever I was. On the other hand, in several of my stories I’ve had it impressed upon me that I left too much to be implied, and had to add a lot of text to make it clearer what was going on.
Where do you draw the line?