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Posts Tagged ‘LOTR

I just wrote my very first synopsis. It’s my fourth novel, but I was never able to write a synopsis before this, so…yay, me!

Of course, this comes after a year of contemplating the damn story, writing and rewriting the damn query summary, or query hook, or mini-synopsis, or whatever the hell it’s called. Really, there should be a more unified vocabulary for this sort of thing. Or maybe there is and I’ve just outed myself as never having attended a writing symposium of any kind.

Anyway, after a good chunk of forever spent thinking and rewriting, I finally just sort of dashed off a query thing pretty quickly, which surprised me a bit. I found an agency that looked interesting, but their submissions page mentioned a synopsis, in addition to the query, and I’d never written one of those. But hey, I just wrote the query hook/pitch/middle/whatever, how hard could this be? Well, as it turned out, quite a bit harder.

First I wrote a pretty detailed precis of the story, 3000 words worth. Which could be what I needed. Or not. Some friends of mine on Facebook recommended a one-page approach, and that was a good deal trickier, even though I was pointed to a very nice little blog post on the subject. But even with a model to follow it still took me two days to get something I don’t hate.

The trickiest part, since it colors everything that follows, is the section called the inciting incident, which is the part of the story that sets the guy off from whatever life he’s got into the adventure to come. What is it, and what action does it incite? I confused myself by thinking that my hero had to be pursuing some epic goal, which he wasn’t. I thought maybe he had to want something grand and glorious, which he didn’t. The most epic adventures are those where the hero is just doing some little thing that he knows ought to be done, and then the consequences pile up.

So in my latest story, the hero isn’t trying to solve a murder, or save the world, even though he ends up doing both. When the police come and bring him to the murder scene, and start asking him questions, he is ashamed. He knows nothing about the man’s life. He feels guilty, and he wants to correct that. What took me days to figure out was that the initial motivation didn’t need to be epic, it just needed to be great enough to make him move. When good characters move, epic events follow.

Of course, something has to be epic, and somebody has to do those epic things, but I don’t think it has to be only or always the MC. (There’s probably no more epic moment in Star Wars than Ben stepping back and letting Vader strike.) I sometimes feel like my stories don’t have a plot so much as 2 or 3 co-plots, with some number of different characters each pursuing their own goals and their individual stories intersecting. My last three stories have been like that, so maybe it’s not an accident after all.

Pretty hard to synopsize, though.

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Lately I’ve been watching a lot of TV on DVD, mostly new shows that I’ve discovered after they’ve been cancelled, because all the good shows get cancelled while all the mediocre dross lives on forever. Well, not exactly, Chuck and Burn Notice are both still on the air, although Chuck keeps having to struggle for renewal every season, it seems.

I recently got a hold of Castle, a TV comedy/mystery series about a mystery writer who gets involved in a murder case that uses murders from his books, and uses his connections with people in high places to get attached to the detective in the case as an observer. Of course his insights are brilliant and his position is very helpful to them in resolving all the cases. Of course he’s romantically interested in the lead detective but at least the show has the good sense not to let that proceed too quickly. And he’s got a brilliant daughter and a vivacious mother and the dialog is sparkling.

Can you hear the “But…” here?

I seem to have lost my taste for standalone stories, and each episode of Castle is a standalone. I like them, but there’s no sense of progression, not even in the relationship. A witness in one episode asks if they’re together, and she says Absolutely Not while he says Not Yet, which is pretty much where the show started. It’s also the way Chuck went for years, and lots of people got kind of annoyed that Chuck and Sarah kept getting separated. But Chuck and Sarah obviously wanted to be together, while Beckett hasn’t shown a great deal of interest in Castle except as a writer. Which is understandable, he’s had his own way with everything pretty much his whole life and she doesn’t want to become yet another success story.

Maybe Castle (the show) should add a new, unknown mystery writer, whose analyses are much better or at least as good, and in whom the detective is much more interested. Give Castle (the character) a run for his money, and he seems to have a lot of money. (Which is another problem, him starting at the top and all, but not one that matters to this post.) In other words, a story arc. This is pretty much what happened in the show Wonderfalls, which got concelled while still filming the last several episodes of its first and only season. The writers were able to turn those episodes into a long story arc that resolved a number of plot threads, much like the Serenity movie resolved the hanging plot threads of the series Firefly. And these episodes are in my opinion the best and most enjoyable of the show. I got really annoyed when they interrupted this plot arc with an apparently irrelevant episode set on a reservation, just as I got really annoyed when season 2 of Buffy had a fabulous plot arc going about Angelus and they interrupted the arc with the worst show of the series, about the swim team turning into sea monsters. WTF?

The point being that standalones have very little story flow (remember my post about story flow?), while the longer arcs have a great deal of scope. On the other hand I’m not terribly thrilled by stories that get spread out over the course of many episodes/books, either. They make you watch all those episodes, read a lot of stuff, to get to the big payoff at the end, which is OK if the payoff is big enough. Taking out Sauron and his forces is certainly big. Shonsu restructuring nearly every aspect of his world is pretty big also. Restarting the Universe when the Wellworld got damaged is right up there. But I’m mostly interested in characters, and epics usually aren’t. The Shonsu books are, and there are parts of LOTR and the Wellworld series that make them worth reading to me.

The usual compromise is a series of standalones, plenty of scope for character development and story flow, no need for big payoffs at the end. No possibility of a sudden cancelation preventing us from ever getting that big payoff. But even this has its problems. The seasonal arcs in Buffy worked, but the payoff at the end of the show was a bit lacking.

What’s your favorite scope?

I was just rereading one of my fave stories (The Deed of Paksenarrion, if you must know), and I came across a scene that was at once both a most favorite and next to least favorite.  (Everything from her capture in Kolobia to her healing by the Kuakgan, the low point in her life, is my least favorite.) How can this be, you ask?

As many of my blog readers know (and if you don’t, there’s only, like, 73 of them out there so feel free to catch up), I am primarily interested in characters and their development. To my way of thinking, the plot and settings are simply the causes for them to grow and change, but the story should be about the characters, and the ways in which they grow and change based on the causes given. Navak, a lesser character from my Flame in the Bowl series, is a blustering youth presented with the sudden appearance of my hero and his party. How does he react? What does he become? Navak is actually one of my more favorite sudden characters, one I whipped up at the spur of the moment because I needed one, and I spent the rest of the book finding out who he was. While he remains a blustering person throughout, he becomes so much more, in part because I dreamcast him with the actor John Rhys-Davies, who I had originally seen in the miniseries Shogun. More recently he was Gimli in the LOTR movies.

Another theme I like is the idea of sudden self-awareness. In Unbinding the Stone Tarkas has such a moment when he casts his first spell. In A Warrior Made Janosec has such a moment when he tells his first story. However, these moments must be carefully set up in advance. They are twists in the story that you ought not see coming, but nonetheless feel that you should have, or at least make sense after it happens. Over on the LTWF blog they had a post recently about how this affects plot, but in my opinion what it does to character is worse, because characters are so much more central to a good story.

I’ve seen this happen many times, but in the Deed of Paksenarrion, there is a scene in which she is being tortured by the bad guys, over a period of several days. This is a crucible scene, where she is (figuratively and psychologically) melted down and recast in her final form as paladin. (Samwise on the slopes of Mount Doom is another.) Everything that has happened to her over the course of the story is brought out and thrown into the kettle. All of which is great, and necessary if she is to the hero she needs to be.

But…

There is a block of text in the middle of this scene which literally spells out to the reader what is going on. It reminds me of those cartoons where some character with a squeaky voice appears at the end, and says, “Today, we learned…” It’s like the voiceovers in the bad version of Blade Runner. But it’s even worse than that. Paksenarrion is not shown in the course of the story as being a particularly insightful person. She describes herself later in the book as a very trusting person, one who goes where she is directed without worrying about where or why.  An epiphany of this sort is about as beleivable as sneakers on a duck.

This is something of a common problem in plot-driven stories, where the solution to the crisis depends on some inner growth on the part of the characters. In Sam it was beleivable since he’d spent the entire book using the safety of the Shire as his motivation, and his career as a gardener made that idea of safety literal and tangible for him. None of the other characters in LOTR had that same connection to the world he was trying to save that Sam did, and one of them going through the same smelting wouldn’t have worked. In the Deed, while it is beleivable that Paksenarrion would come out the way she did, it is implausible that she would be aware of it.


Unbinding the Stone

A Warrior Made

A Warrior Made

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St. Martin’s Moon

St. Martin's Moon

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Ghostkiller

Chasing His Own Tale

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Struck By Inspiration

Struck By Inspiration

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Steampunk Santa

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Bite Deep

Christmas among the vampires!

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Cyber-pirates. Sort of.

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Off the Map

Reality TV...without the Reality!

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