02 March 2007

Big Bang theory of writing

Many zine submissions reqs include story ideas considered as trope. Basically, that says "send us a story with this and we'll reject you". Well, I've been focusing more on our acceptances lately. What do these, and other published stories, have in common? I won't get into specifics on stories in our "hold for voting" file, but they seem to have some things in common.

Lesley wrote recently that good stories are about more than one thing. Sometimes people put things so succinctly, it bears repeating. Good stories are about more than one thing. However, I'd add, Good stories are about more than one thing, and all these things impact at the resolution. Internal and external goals and motivations, even seemingly unrelated, should collide into one Big Bang at the end of the story.

I recently read "Clockmaker's Requiem" by Barth Anderson in which the characters undergo personal changes, an industry undergoes changes, and even how the world measures itself changes. A lot to pack into 4000 words, but he did it brilliantly. I felt like I was reading four stories at once. Every character had discernable, conflicting goals which served to torture the other characters, this relevant industry, and the world.

I tend to torture my characters with irony, which can be a tough thing to nail down (probably why I often take up to two years to write and edit a short story while I can measure my books in months.) However you do it, everything must collide at the end. My suggestion is this: when you've got a story idea (I'd call it a story problem, but that gives me mathematical heebie-jeebies) work out goals and motives for each character. Do the same for their primary space, be it a job or home or in the middle of an ocean kicking at sharks. Then name the goals and motives for the world at large. Keep all that in mind, even if you don't quite know where the story is headed. Give the magic of writing a chance to act, and watch all those goals collide in the resolution of your story, creating a new reality.

After all, isn't creating new realities what writing's all about?


barthanderson said...

I totally agree with the "grand finale" approach to writing stories, setting off a number of effects simultaneously, especially at the conclusion. But I think I should come clean and say that "Clockmaker's Requiem" wasn't written with motiviations all spelled out ahead of time. This would be a great time-saver, and I stand behind your advice - but I'm personally not so organized, I confess. The story started with two characters, opened up to three, then four. In the course of drafting, I realized there might be secret allegiances, backstabbings, regrets, castes with differing outlooks, assassinations, etc. The "magic of writing" was certainly given a chance to act, and I'm always looking at my emerging characters with a skewed eye. I never trust who they first appear to be, so motivations and goals are always pretty fluid.


Betsy Dornbusch said...

Oh jeez. I appear to be a plotter in this post, and I should make it be known: I so am NOT A PLOTTER.

Anyway, I was left with that feeling that you've forgotten more about writing than I ever learned, so it's a damn good story. :)

The rest of y'all, Gimme that, and you're gonna find your stories in Espec.