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Unread 21st of August, 2010, 01:00
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Fiction Discussion

This is a thread for discussion of fiction and/or writing, something I have always wanted to do - "traditional" fiction that can be published for others' enjoyment.

I am thinking of trying to turn The Cult into a novel; and while Trey's character got the most play, I was also interested in John Doe and the whole anonymity/alienation angle. And it's the closest thing to a completely original concept I have every written about.

Another thing I was thinking about falls into the ex-post-apocalytic genre. I am a big fan of S.M. Stirling, not the greatest of writers but a very good one that delivers enjoyable reads to me every time. I think I have read everything he has written, except for a couple of out of print books I am trying to find for less than collector prices. His "Change" series is one of my recent favorites. For those of you who don't know, its premise is an externally-imposed ending of technology - suddenly, electricity and explosives don't work, the laws of nature are subtly changed - and super- or extra-natural forces are at work. Civilization as we know it collapses and after a grand dying-off, pockets of humanity ranging from clans to city-states emerge and restart the eternal political struggles. Great characters, emerging as heroes in a chaotic time, really make the books. He also wrote a book called Conquistadores, which was actually about a gateway into an alternate Earth, uninhabited by humanity. I was thinking about combining the two, maybe with a bit of G.O.D., Inc. and Amber thrown in: gateways to other worlds, but worlds where the laws of physics and nature differ, and would have to be discovered as one went along; some pristine and virginal, some inhabited by...who knows what?

I know, it's all been done before in some form but recombining elements into something fresh is what it's about. I do like books that begin in the "real world" and progress in some kind of connectivity to others. This theme is common from ancient mythologies such as the Greeks, all the way to H.G. Wells and Amber and Harry Potter - ordinary guy encounters the extraordinary.

Last edited by Wired*Nun; 21st of August, 2010 at 02:18.
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Unread 21st of August, 2010, 01:17
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There is very very little that hasn't been done in some form or another these days. Recombining elements into something at least half-way new and putting your own spin on it is really about all I think you can acheive without a proverbial genius level unique idea. And we don't have those every day, do we?

I have read some of Sterling's stuff, including the change series. I like his writing, for the most part, though I think he has a thing for 'Bad Ass Lesbians' if you will, as it seems a recurring thing in his books. I also read the 'Domination' series about the Draka etc.

I am not familiar with 'The Cult', though I could read up on it if you have things about it you would like to discuss.

Right now my most prominent writing idea is an urban fantasy concept. Essentially a lineage ( blood-family ) that has survived into modern day america as an 'old-money' family. The central character is the current 'scion' of the family. A younger guy who, while not unskilled, is still not yet 'advanced' ( giving room to grow through a series ) and seeking to learn from either older members of the family or the extensive library on the 'estate'.

The magic/mysticism I see as essentially three-fold. Summoning/Spirits, Alchemy, and Enchanted Stuff/Items ( Probably fetishes with bound spirits ). Humans don't have powers of their own, period. But a skilled summoner can project amazing ammounts of power through their spirits. But it always comes with a price. You have to pay your spirits. What is negotiable, but the bigger the spirit the more it wants, probably something you don't want to give.

Essentially I want to bring an old school Howard/Conan dark fantasy feel to the urban fantasy genre.
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Unread 21st of August, 2010, 01:19
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I like the idea of the gateways and multiple worlds thing that features so commonly in Sterling's work.

Do you have a clear idea of how you want your protagonist to encounter these gates and/or to interact with them?
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Unread 21st of August, 2010, 02:17
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http://www.baen.com/library/

A really good thing to look at.
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Unread 21st of August, 2010, 02:45
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Sounds like a Victorian/Edwardian era thing is what you're talking about - sounds fun. Even if it's set in modern day, it can be bent that direction - old money and all that. I'll ask you the same kind of question - what would the stories be about?

The gates idea would essentially be "man against the frontier" - exploration, discovery, adaptation, two or three protagonists and several antagonists. I have been debating with the idea that ordinary people would discover or acquire extraordinary powers in some worlds, and how dominant those powers should be i.e., would they be relatively minor and mysterious or major and "scientific"; should they dominate and define the characters or just be influential flavor?

I like heroic fiction in the classical sense - not the stories of the ordinary guy who happens upon heroic deeds; but rather, somene who is truly extraordinary, whether by training or birth or conferrence of power - Amberites, Matadors, Hoopers, wetware-powered super-agents, Ryx commandos, Spider-Man, Ender Wiggin and Bean, Mike Havel and Rudy Mackenzie, Kindred, Garou, Mages, etc. Those are the stories I like, and I'd like to write. Not exclusively, perhaps, but initially.

The Cult is the other game...feel free to read it, I think there was some good stuff in there. Every significant character in it was Converted from ordinary humanity to their Nephilim heritage (kind of like some modern RPGs - heroes and demigods and scions and celestials and so on...)

I really really want to write in first person but I realize that this is a form that only the most skilled writers can bring off well, since one has to resort to some verbal trickery to bring other points of view into it - narrative stories within stories, for example, or even mixed and alternating forms.

Do you have a clear idea of how you want your protagonist to encounter these gates and/or to interact with them?
My idea right now is that he stumbles on the site of a failed experiment of some sort - perhaps dating from the Nazis or some other repressive and secretive regime - that was trying for time travel or dimensional travel but ended up in disaster. The protagonist finds a way to access the gate, and is the first to explore it. I don't see the mechanism as important, but it wouldn't be highly technical or infrastructure-dependent (not like SG1 for example). More like a door stuck open and not controllable.

Then he brings others in on it. They form some kind of secretive cabal to explore and exploit. Inevitably someone splits off because he/she wants to do more exploiting than building and exploring, conflict breaks out. The first book could be all about the new world and establishment of the alternate civilization - some possibilities include a "game preserve" for the privileged few, or a "new frontier" for settlers, or vast natural resources to be raped and pillaged.

Later there would be encounters with some kind of other intelligent life - natives or visitors from "somewhere else" - the possibilities of more than the one gate, wars and alliances among species - and everything going on sub rosa, with only a few on Earth Prime even aware of it.

My problem is not ideas, it's focus. I know I need to boil it down to some good characters and some basic plotlines to start with - script it like a roleplaying game and don't overcomplicate it. When I start writing the detail seems to flow out of me naturally, so if I put organized thought into something it has to be structure and plot.

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Unread 21st of August, 2010, 03:00
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I do like the Victorian/Edwardian feel, culturally speaking. The family likely would be slow to change and/or feel rather attached to such ways of doing things. Temper that with the general 'dark' feeling of their magic, and the prices paid to make it work with pacts etc., and you get a good image of them.

But contrasted with a modern day setting.

I have a couple of different lines of thinking about 'events' that I have been tossing around lately.

One is an old friend of the protagonists grandmother who doesnt' practice anything but 'knows' about the men of the family and their mojo has something happen and asks the grandmother for help.

In a nutshell a novice sorcerer who in his 'day job' is a businessman gets into a dispute with his partner and decides to kill him. As a novice type sorcerer guy he figures using that would be the easiest way to not get caught. So he curses his estranged partner's daughter with lycanthropy ( in this cosmology a spirit possession/channeling kind of thing, but still with the whole transformation thing ) at a time when he thought she would be with her father and kill him.

Plan goes awry, the father isn't there when he usually would be, bad stuff happens but nothing serious. But enough to make the 'wierd' list of the local police, and to set off the concerned grandmother of the girl ( the friend of the protagonists grandmother ). She makes the call, the protagonist comes in not really thinking anything is really going on but going anyway to humor grandma.
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Unread 21st of August, 2010, 03:07
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Essentially the point I find curious is that you want the 'regular guy who encounters the strangeness' type of thing but at the same time you want over the top powerful characters. Not that these aren't combinable elements! But it makes me quite curious how you might intend to do so.

Do you intend the portal/gateway to be fixed and thus they require access to it in order to do their exploring? Or, if this is meant to be something that could span multiple worlds, a discovery and solving of a technique/technology of used to travel dimensionally?

Or start with a fixed portal and in a few books progress to figuring out the technology based on their study of what they have?

It sounds interesting. Interesting enough to get me rambling anyway.
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Unread 21st of August, 2010, 04:09
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I probably should have said "human" not "ordinary" - or "seemingly normal". Something like that. Certain high-end skills that will later prove useful (e.g., he was a kendo hobbyist) but not "super-powered". Rather like the Mike Havel/Norman Arminger thing - skills, smarts, foresight, luck, then perhaps acquiring powers. Sounds like an RPG or a comic book, but hey, I'll write what I know. I guess I mean start with a starting point familiar to most people and bring the reader along on the journey of progress or transformation, rather than some full-blown superhero type. Amber had a bit of both; I don't think it would have been nearly as attractive (either series) without starting the protagonist "behind the power curve" a bit when compared to his antagonists.

I envision the gate to be a fixed phenomenon they have to physically protect - gather money, acquire the property, form a corporation and a cover, explore the phenomenon itself, etc. Maybe later there could be ways to move it or close and open it on demand, as they learn more. I'mnot sure. The story should dictate. I don't want it to be just another SG1 or GOD INc, with an infinite number of gates or dimensions. Yes it's the magic thingie that allows the fantasy aspect of the story, but it shouldn't drive the story by itself.

About your idea: - the murderer has to have really bad judgment to think that something that will set off the wierd-o-meter is better than just trying to arrange an accident. Unless there's more to it, like trying to take some dramatic revernge or demonstrate his mastery or domination by making the daughter kill then suffer for her crimes. But what is the story tie to the precipitating situation? Is the protagonist an investigator, an ex-cop, why would granny bring him in to deal with the rogue? I like the idea but I'm trying to figure out how it fits together...
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Unread 21st of August, 2010, 04:49
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The murderer isn't an established or experienced sorcerer, he is someone that is self-taught at rather considerable expense but still essentially doesn't know what he is doing. He knows enough that he can do some things but doesn't really understand them.

The lycanthropy thing he essentially thought would simply infuse the girl with a desire to kill his target, her father. Which, if he had been present, the classical desire of a curse-style werewolf would have done that. But he didn't know that all the rest would be the 'delivery mechanism' if you will. Part of what I wanted to use that for is to highlight the 'magic system' of the setting.

Remember that all magic works off of summonings/spirits and that you have to either be skilled enough to compel a service or make deals/pacts to get anything out of it. So essentially he was misled by a spirit of the type that inflicts lycanthropy, somethign hungry and dark, that told him what he wanted to hear in order to get the bargain and access to the world etc. for itself.

He isn't so much an investigator as he is the current scion of the house and thus expected to 'deal' with things for them. And granny isn't asking him to 'deal with this badguy' so much as 'My dear friend X called and something -bad- has happened to her granddaughter. Can you go take a look and see if you can help?'. If there is actually magic involved the way her friend expects, she hopes he can just get rid of it. Like a fluke encounter with some kind of object or spirit. She also doesn't think there is something like an actual sorcerer involved in the situation because they are considerably rare. Most die young, after all. This family lineage is an exception that has survived long enough to accrue actual skill/knowledge.

Basically all the information he has to start with is that something sorcerous has happened to this girl and his grandmother doesn't like it. So he goes to take a look.

He isn't a professional 'problem solver' for anyone/everyone to start with, but perhaps he could be given time. But essentially I see him more as a Lara Croft like figure that is more out for themself and collecting artifacts and power etc. That is kind of the 'thing' of the family. But I think perhaps over the course of the first few books he would gradually work himself into a position where he turns into, in addition to that, someone people go to in order to solve 'bumps in the night' as it were.
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Unread 23rd of August, 2010, 12:44
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Originally Posted by Wired*Nun # http://www.baen.com/library/

A really good thing to look at.
This was fascinating. I haven't dug very deep to see what kind of books are on there but just that opening statement/article was intriguing.
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Unread 3rd of September, 2010, 03:01
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I keep having ideas that lead to me constructing scenes in my head...but don't have any particular place in a plot. Is plot overrated? What makes a good book a good book to you? For me it's characters that live and breathe and speak to me somehow. I take The Name of the Wind as an example - cliche-ed plot with really good narrative and characters, though I started getting irritated with Kvothe near the end (apparently he can't learn? I have trouble with repeatedly stupid characters). The characters in the Change series are so well-constructed and full of voice that I love reading about them no matter what they do - even having to wade through Stirling's endless description of how wonderful the food is if only we would wipe out civilization to get it.

I also like Stirling's acknowledgement and treatment of religion, myth and magic - a bit new-agey but at least he has not fallen off the horse this time with the anti-Christian bias he showed in earlier works.

Amber itself is a book full of distinct and archetypal characters set in a modern Odyssey, a journey of one man. The Change series has elements of that, though the protagonists change over time.

Probably I need to start with some short stories...as they say, "just write." Even if it's derivative or plagiaristic or something, just to get the mind moving.

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Unread 3rd of September, 2010, 03:44
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I kind of have the same problem. I can 'build' my characters, good or bad, and feel like I can give them a good degree of depth. But I sit down and try to 'map' a plotline and I stare my piece of paper. I'm not quite sure where to start beyond terms I've read about a little bit like 'Big Middle' and the like.

I think to some degree exactly what you suggest is the solution, and and for me to actually -read- more and get more plots in my memory to let it all trickle into instinct etc.
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Unread 3rd of September, 2010, 04:12
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Some say start at the end and map backward. That's useful in some operational analyses disciplines, not sure how well that will translate..but it seems a possible way. Want to have a grand duel at the end? How did the protagonist and antagonist get there? Work backward.

Or as you say, envision the middle, then work outward.

Zelazny just wrote going forward. I think I could do that but how well it would work...maybe I should just quit avoiding first person and write something...sigh. And I keep having this recurring thought that if I only I could concentrate without distraction...that's a problem with me just writing the RPG posts. This afternoon is very slow, there's a work event I skipped so everyone is out of the office and it's quiet here and I can hear myself think.

I also sometimes wonder about collaboration. How would that work? Maybe we should start one of those freeform stories where we write alternating paragraphs and just see what happens? Everyone could join in...
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Unread 3rd of September, 2010, 06:41
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As a technical and persuasive writer, I agree that working backwards from a point is the best way to construct a clear and concise argument. Unless a fictional work has a pervasive theme, however, I struggle switching my brain processes, and so often my prose tends to be somewhat stilted or formulaic.

When I 'write forwards,' however, I tend to paint myself into corners. This especially happens when I GM and character response is well outside my control.

You mentioned, Dave, that you have a number of scenes worked out in your head without any apparent means of connecting them. Maybe you could write each of those scenes out independently and keep the equivalent of a gm portfolio where you can later plug and play into a larger story.

Maybe we should all find some short writing exercises like alternating paragraphs to get the creative juices flowing.
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Unread 3rd of September, 2010, 11:39
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Well, I'll make a thread and we can start. What the heck.
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Unread 4th of September, 2010, 15:36
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My habits from gaming I think are forming a block to my fiction writing similarly to the difficulty you describe in 'switching gears', Trey. For myself, in gaming, I tend to design all of the characters/factions etc. and give them 'life' in the form of background, emotions, priorities, and my own notion of their 'decision-tree' if you will insofar as what I might anticipate them doing with any given input.

But I don't plan 'plots' beyond specific encounters or actions. Beyond that it is very much, after the session, I look at everything that happened, see what 'input' my NPCs have received, and then make decisions about what they are all logically going to do next.

So it is all 'unscripted' if you will, even though I do 'prepare' for each individual encounter as it were.

I think this is what I am running into with trying to pre-form a plotline. I've specifically trained myself -not- to do that in gaming, and to just let everything go wherever it wants to go, and give that freedom to players etc.

Now I am wanting, needing, to do the opposite... and I am feeling some kind of 'block' to doing it I think. Or maybe I'm making excuses for myself and I need to 'just write', as they say.
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Unread 6th of September, 2010, 11:08
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Well, GMing means (mostly) some basic plot outlines or at least an idea but the players usually wander away...it's a mixed blessing, having complete control over a story.

Thsi wiki think might be a fun steppingstone...
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