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Posts Tagged ‘setting

I had another idea come to me about my query synopsis a few days ago. I was looking over my most recent version after the latest rejection, thinking of sending it out again, but wondering if something wasn’t quite right with it. The first section dealt with the larger context in which the story took place, with the following sections detailing the actual story, but somehow it just wasn’t quite working. The transition seemed a little jarring.

So I wrote another section after the first, intending to make the transition a little smoother, but once I wrote it, I wondered why I was bothering to make the transition at all. Well, the main reason is because the situation is just that, a situation, pretty static. It’s the people in the situation who are doing the things that make the story go. And once those actions have been performed, one of the big reveals of the story is what effect they have on the situation, to resolve it, all unknowing to any of the actors involved.

In other words, only from the perspective of the situation, do the totality of the actions taken make complete sense. So to describe the story with no more than a few players involved, the obvious place to tell it from is the perspective of the situation. Which is, to some extent, the authorial point of view, and we all know how much I hate telling the story from that place, which may be why it took me so long to think of it. Not to mention the fact that it’s the reveal, you know? It’s the story.

So I wrote a synopsis in which the Situation was the main character. What were its goals? To achieve a resolution. Why did it want them? Because all stories naturally desire resolution, i.e., to be reduced to the least unstable state. these goals were so obvious they could be taken for granted. The question was really how, or to put it another way, what constitutes the least unstable state.

A lot of actions could reduce the instability of the story, for example, killing all the characters in chapter one, but that’s hardly a satisfying resolution, or the least unstable state. What constitutes a satisfying resolution depends on the type of story it is, which of course means that the type of story it is depends on the resolution that works best. In a badly done story, no resolution works best. A romance that has an unhappy ending, a comedy that leaves you confused. One might achieve a greater degree of satisfaction by recasting the story in a form which makes the most total sense. In The Producers, a failed historical drama becomes a wildly successful comedy. Ex Machina looks like some form of romance until it becomes a horror story.

(Which is not to say that a properly resolved story has no defects. i just watched a nice little romantic comedy called The Rewrite, which despite the ending managed to miss a number of opportunities for minor story arcs to be resolved, for several characters. But these were all subplots, not para- or coplots, so the story didn’t suffer badly from them.)

So the takeaway from all this is that in order to properly describe stories of the sort I seem to end up writing on a regular basis, I have to abandon the reveal, at least as far as the query letter is concerned. The real trick is to do it in such a way that the ending is still a surprise.


I was talking to a librarian just yesterday, and I gave myself the idea of a story with no hero. The more I considered the idea, the more I wondered if I was not already writing such stories, even the short ones, where you’d think there wasn’t enough room for tangled skeins of story lines.
I started out writing fantasy novels, with the premise of a man who was an incarnation of the Holy Will being called on by the Gods to do the work they needed to have done. That first story, Unbinding the Stone, was mostly about him, my Hero, but even in that book he had companions who played a significant role in how the story played out, although they tried not to do everything. I think that first book was the last book where I had a hero.
I traded that role for a host of MCs, all of whom were necessary to the resolution of the story, none of whom were sufficient to the resolution of the story. While Tarkas, hero of the first book, played a dominant role in the sequel, A Warrior Made, I can’t say that the story would have been resolved without the efforts of all the other MCs, each on their own arcs that all came together at the end. I think that book was the last where I had a villain.
Instead I have situations, often fantastical or supernatural in nature, as in St. Martin’s Moon, in which people act according to their natures. Some, with a bad nature, act badly, but the main characteristic of the villain is lacking. They are not plotting, nor are any of my other MCs planning their reactions to what he does. They aren’t necessarily reacting to him at all. It’s the situation that matters. Simply defeating the bad-natured MCs won’t resolve the situation, which is what needs resolving if the story is to have a satisfactory conclusion.
I don’t know if there is a technical term for this type of story. Do you? Most genre fiction I’ve read has a villain, with henchmen and a plan, and a hero who works to stop that plan with the assistance of any number of lesser characters. I’ve never heard of a genre novel without a hero. Have you?

I was told, once upon a time, that the central character of Moby Dick was supposed to be a character who ended up getting washed overboard in the first chapter. Don’t ask me why, I haven’t read the book. The point is that the story at some point decided it didn’t want to be about this guy, and so he was gone, because Melville was smart and didn’t argue with his story.

This is a common problem among authors, I suspect. I’ve experienced it in various forms over the years myself. I’ve never had it so bad that I killed off my MC, but I have had stories that wouldn’t let me develop the MC the way I intended to, which is to most intents and purposes the same thing, the story equivalent of “If I’d been born to the family next door…” (Which is silly, since obviously I wouldn’t be me if I’d been born to someone else, or in another country or time.)

One reason I don’t have it is that I tend to give my MCs social roles which are, let us say, indeterminate. They can be whatever they need to be, so if I don’t like the way they’re going I can easily send them off somewhere else. I couldn’t do that if I was writing romances or anything else set in a rigidly stratified social milieu. Comedy maybe, Gilbert and Sullivan did quite a lot of lampooning of just such things. My stories take place in such places, sometimes, but they aren’t set in them, if you know what I mean.

Another reason I don’t experience this problem much is that I write character-based fiction. The plot (such as it is) grows with the character, and I discover it along with him. As a result I never, for example, make the character act out of character to serve the plot. The plot should only be seen in bits and pieces, as the character sees it. The story is not the plot, or the setting. The story is the character discovering the plot and perceiving the setting. Stories are characters in motion.

(This blog post is an example of this. You’ll never know or see the crappy titles and first paragraphs I started with.)

So if you have an idea, develop a plot, create some characters, and start your story, only find that the story wants you to bury your plot, kill your characters, and run off to a foreign land, my advice would be to listen. We’ve all seen kids whose parents force them, urge them, manipulate them into being what they don’t want to be, and they’re usually unhappy people as a result. Don’t do that to your stories.


As a bit of a follow-up to my previous post, I have been reading up on steampunk as a genre recently.  I found this handy-looking little website that gave me all sorts of ideas about the kind of things they should have, they way they should talk, that sort of thing.  This story I’m working on is sort of a ‘Jules Verne meets Rankin/Bass and they beget a Hallmark Special’ sort of story, complete with the stop-motion animation and the squeaky voices, and I have to get it right, since my wife has threatened to introduce me to Mr. Baseball Bat if I mess up.

If that’s not loving support I don’t know what is.

To some extent I’m a little uncomfortable with SF as a genre to write in.  There seems to be such a predisposition to focus on the science, i.e., the setting, and I’m a character-driven guy.  One of the reasons I write fantasy is that I can make up the setting as I go along.  There are details, but fewer of them and I don’t have to worry about keeping them all straight in a single book.  Steampunk as a genre seems to be all about such little details.  Even Girl Genius, the brilliant steampunk webcomic, with all its wonderful characters, turns on an ever-expanding world of strangeness and new toys.

Gizmos.  The Gizmo Effect is when the author becomes so in love with his gizmos that the story becomes about them, and not the character using them.  So far it hasn’t ever happened to me, but I’ve read books where it’s clear the author had nothing else in mind.  Surely you’ve read a few yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like gizmos.  Hell, read my books.  (Please.)  They’re full of gizmos, from one end to the other.  But always because the story needs them.  People using gizmos to do things.  Sure Tarkas has a wondrous sword, but his culture has no word for sword.  Or weapon, for that matter.  And when the Demi-God comes along and ‘educates’ him, via a dose of Triple-Distilled Elixir of Warrior, the story benefits, because now Tarkas has to deal with reflexes, skills, and even thoughts he’s never held before and what do you do with them?  My gizmos tend to have an effect on the man, and it’s the man I’m interested in.

Tomparasil is so in love with his gizmos he’s forgotten what it means to be an elf, and it’s the elf I’m interested in!  This time I’ll have to use his gizmos to explore him from the outside in, rather than from the inside out.  What can I say, I’m stretching myself.  Wish me luck?

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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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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