06 Jan 2014
I’m about 7,700 words in on the Broken Shores story that I’m currently working on and I’ve started to run into some problems, namely that I need to know where everyone on the island is at a given time. This isn’t an insurmountable problem, as there are only seven people on the island, but it can be a bit tricky. One way to do it would be to just write things so that people are wherever the story needs them to be. This approach would be fine if I were only writing a single story in the setting, but as it is part of a larger series, it would lead to inconsistency. So on my lunch break last Saturday, I went ahead and started to make a schedule, which is where the title comes from (sitting in a room full of people, some of whom I enjoy talking to, using my phone/keyboard combination to create a spreadsheet that tracks the schedule of fiction people on a fictional island in a fictional world, and I couldn’t use a regular calendar program because my world has eight-day-long weeks due to my decision to play around with calendar stuff, raise your hand if you feel normal now).
The work will likely pay off as it will make writing the story much easier, but it brought up something else that I found interesting, as well. Making the schedule I learned a lot about the island, such as who was likely to be close to whom and how important seniority was. In addition, it helped to define the group dynamic, after all not everyone can have the best schedule, creating tension. Finally, it will likely result in the stories being more interesting, as it places some limits on who is available at any given moment. For example, if Emera needs help, the best person to provide that help might be Ran, but what if he is on watch? What if he is dead tired from a long stretch of work? Emera now needs to either find someone else or find some way of convincing him to help her despite very good reasons not to. This is much more interesting than being able to simply write: Emera found Ran and asked for help or having to make up reasons for him not to help her. It will also likely feel more realistic, more relatable to those of us who have to work around scheduling conflicts.
In short, if I had to sum it up in a rule concise observation, the more you know about the world you’re creating in your fiction, the easier it will be to make that fiction interesting. I’m sure that I’m not the first person to say this (in fact, I recall hearing a piece of advice that when you run into a dead end, find out what your character’s hobbies are), but it bears repeating. Also, I think that this applies to all kinds of fiction, whether it be speculative or straight literature set in modern day Chicago, there are things that won’t be immediately obvious about a given character, and if you find yourself running into a lot of walls in your writing, you might want to take the time to dig a little and learn something new about them.
On a final note, I think that this has some bearing on the nature of creativity. Creativity is often viewed as creating something entirely new, or recombining existing elements in an interesting fashion (I personally believe the latter is vastly more common than the former, if you doubt me, go spend some time at TV Tropes), but that is only the starting point. Good narrative is two things: something new and the logical consequences of that something new. If you do only the first, you get a confused mess, if you do only the second (logical consequences sans something new) you get something even worse, boredom. I will end by disagreeing with Einstein, who said “Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” Imagination can take you to fantastic new places, but without logic, you will find yourself earthbound, wherever you may land.
And now for some shameless self-promotion. I’ve written two stories that are part of the particular storyline I’m talking about, “Induction” and “Trust and Vulnerability”. They’re free and you should really check them out. “Induction” is also available (for free) on Smashwords for just about any format, I hope to get the rest of Broken Shores up there as well, this year.