STUDYING OTHER creatives is that you learn stuff you never expected. Sometimes you learn stuff you didn’t even know you didn’t know.
And, then, if you review what you do know in the light of the new knowledge (or, if you like, wisdom), you can expand both.
Even cooler is if the other creative is at a different development level than you are. Doesn’t matter if they’re further along the particular track or a few switchbacks behind you. It’s the perspective that matters. Just as greater altitude increases both scope and appropriation of detail; just as oblique light casts shadows that enhance detail and throws otherwise hidden information into stark relief; so, too can the difference in perspective — from either above or below, ahead or behind — can enhance your understanding of a given subject.
It’s why I love reading Sarah Hoyt’s musings on the mechanics of writing.
Monday’s topic was on outlining. And I found myself bouncing on my chair, going (like Gunther Toody) “Oo! Oo! I know!”, because I made this brilliant discovery some years ago. And, though I’ve never brought it to a successful conclusion, I still can’t escape the notion that it’s a useful thing, if I can only get it to behave the way I think it ought. I think some of what Sarah says in her post may help me do that.
I call it a fractal reiteration. In simple sum, you start with a stick figure plot and drill down. Say, Boy Meets Girl. Next level you reiterate, only with more detail. Boy (male, 43, international troubleshooter for a secret kiretsu of commercial enterprises by an alliance between gods and human beings) meets Girl (female, 21, newly-minted PhD techno-mage, virgin, lipstick lesbian, former lover of the Crown Princess of Faerie). And you realize that’s not much of a plot, so you add a few more feet of planking to this level: They have a mission from Aphrodite to collect an artifact that she had comissioned 150 years previously, and she intends to use in her millennia-old quest to create original life.
Another, hostile party of gods and men interfere. Friends are killed.
Betrayals are encompassed. Open warfare breaks out. Wackiness ensues and our Fun Couple fall in lust and it sticks to their faces. The two escape from a particularly nasty attack and flee from the Evil Queen of the enemy through the wilds of Attica, Greece. Gradually, their lust morphs to something approximating love. Evil Queen catches up with them and kills Girl. Boy barely escapes with his life and catches the Last Plane Out. *
(Hey! It’s a fantasy! We’re Making It Up!)
And so-on until the high-level outline of the story takes something resembling a final shape. Then, you drill down another level, in another reiteration. And reiterate. And reiterate. The overall shape stays the same, but you are gradually adding more detail as you go. A fractal reiteration.
At some point, you get to where you’re actually writing scenes. But you have the entire story, like a miniature landscape in a model railroad
layout: all there, available for you to zoom in to any level of detail you need. “All” you have to do is fill in the blank spots. And it stays in place, where it belongs, until you have a complete story. Novel. I can’t see using this technique for anything less complex.
Now, you KNOW there are problems with this. For one, the method assumes you will know as soon as a fragment drops into your mind where it belongs, and that all of the connections from the new bit to all the other bits of the story will be obvious from the start.
(Stop laughing! It makes it hard to concentrate!)
Sorry. It’s just… so… nemmind.
One difference, I suppose, between art and technology is that, in technology, when you decide to make a change from the blueprint, you have to redraw the blueprint. In art, you can just wander off into the weeds at any moment and not notice for a few hundred pages. In fact, in a lot of ways, it’s better like that, no matter how frustrating it gets to the person in the driver’s seat. Shakespeare wrote (in Romeo and Juliet) “They say at lovers’ perjuries, God laughs.” I would analogize that in this situation, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell him how you plan to plot that novel.”
For an example of the bootlessness of advance planning a work of art, the character herein known as Girl was originally conceived as a redshirt. You know, the ones in classic Star Trek episodes (they always wore red shirts), who’d beam down with Kirk (or with the away team, in Next
Generation) and get killed by the Alien of the Week almost immediately on landing. Disposable characters.
This character was originally conceived as one of those. As I filled in ever-more detail in her appearance, character, and back story, she sort of took over, until she became the Tragic Love Interest and pretty much the focus of the story. So much so that, in the Apocrypha story It’s Dolly’ Birthday, Drummond is still mooning over her. I give him a quote from Marlowe, “It was another country. And besides, the wench is dead.”
But characters will do that. So why shouldn’t plot do the same thing to you?
I keep meaning to get back to that novel — the Dolly Origin Story, Geppetto’s Log — which itself was supposed to be an allegory to the first chapter of Collodi’s Pinocchio for the Dolly saga.
Tell me stories don’t mutate like a Chrichton virus on steroids.
I took occasion today to look at a draft of Geppetto’s Log. It sucks. The whole present-tense thing just is not working. Which I see as a good thing. I’m able to get enough distance from it to see it at least SEMI-objectively. So it goes in the queue to be worked on.
*Is that a trope? If it isn’t, it sure ought to be.