The Most Important Question is “Why?”

If you follow me on Twitter, or just check out my Twitter feeds on the site, you might have noticed my two tweets from yesterday that stated,

As great ideas increasingly come, they bring with them certain logic problems to be solved #amwriting

Great thing about solving logic problems though, it helps to deepen the story & present new & interesting directions #amwriting

I thought that I would expand on those two thoughts today.  I don’t claim this is the reinvention of the wheel, nor that this advice is in any way new or ground breaking.  It’s just that yesterday, this made perfect sense to me.

I spent most of the day driving in the car with my wife.  I would either contemplate my current WIP, or openly discuss it with her.  The more ideas I thought of, in terms of plot, overall mythology and character development, the more I realised there were problems.  For instance, if the main character does action B, what happened to action A?  If the character has to do action B for the plot to progress, I either have to insert action A, or explain why it makes perfect sense for action A to be skipped.  Or, if a certain scene has to exist to accomplish something in the overall plot, how does that scene occur?  Why do we end up there?  Why?  Why?  And most importantly, Why?

As I forged ahead and answered a number of these nagging Whys, I realised just how much deeper my plot was becoming.  I also came to the realisation that a stronger inner logic was forming that would give the world a better grounding.  In sci-fi, fantasy or spec-fic particularly, but I suppose horror, romance and just about any genre that bends, adds to, or all together disregards, our common reality, it is important for there to be rules.  If Superman can fly, why does he fly?  Answer: he’s an alien.  So did all of Superman’s people fly on his home planet?  No.  Why?  Because they had a red sun and it is our yellow sun that grants him these powers.  See what I mean?  As you answer the question why, your mythology deepens.  The further down you dig, eventually you will hit firm bedrock and you’ll know that your mythology makes sense.

Using my Superman example, we now have several plot points that we could include in a novel.  Superman is an alien but our story is set on Earth.  How does he get here?  Superman never had abilities on his home world, so he would develop them here on Earth.  That could be an extensive storyline.  Oh wait, eight or more seasons of Smallville owe their existence to this kind of thinking.

Think about this.  The Twilight series started with a dream about a girl laying in a field with a boy who sparkled in the sunlight.  That’s it.  By asking the questions of why does he sparkle, why are they together, and I’m sure numerous other why questions that came along, a whole series was born.

Harry Potter could have started as simply as an image in the author’s mind of a boy with a scar.  Why does he have a scar?  Why did someone try to kill him? You see how this is going?

By constantly asking why of our stories, situations, characters, etc, we create the bulk of our story and provide ground rules that will keep our reader engaged.  When we make rules up on the fly or break established rules of our world without sufficient reasoning, we lose our audience.  As an example I present you with a tale of two movies, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and The Matrix.

While considerably different movies, both featured incredible fight scenes where characters defied gravity.  In the Matrix this was explained.  The very foundation of the movie allowed for the flexing of typical laws of gravity.  Audiences were thrilled and totally into the wire work on display.  When I left the theatre, all I heard from people around me was that the movie was amazing and how the fight scenes were incredible.  Crouching Tiger did not really explain the abilities of its characters to defy gravity, it took it for granted that the audience watching the film was acquainted with the cultural heritage it came from and would therefore accept what they saw without question.  Unfortunately, seeing this in a Canadian theatre, there were clearly people there that thought this was a Chuck Norris film.  Walking out, I could hear people muttering how it was stupid that they could fly etc.  Granted, cultural ignorance of the genre contributes, but it illustrates my point.  People will accept the breaking of accepted laws, as long as you give it a reason grounded in the world of the story.  By doing this, The Matrix found a much larger accepting audience than it would have if it just took for granted everyone watching loved anime and its penchant for defying gravity.

If your character does magic, why?  Does everyone in your world do magic?  If not, be prepared to answer why.

Embrace these logic problems.  They present incredible opportunities to develop plot and character.  As I said, this is just my observation from my own journey through the creative process.  Hope it helps.

Using Familiar Style

Sometimes, as writers, we feel the need to use large and overly cumbersome words to express ourselves.  This is probably due to an inner need to sound intelligent, or perhaps to create a certain effect (such as stringing a number of similar sounding words together).  But is this appropriate for Young Adult fiction?  Peta of blog ILBNH makes a pretty good case that it is not.

Instead of filling our books with overly complex words, Peta suggests using Familiar Style.  What’s that you ask?  Well, I’ll direct you to her article so you can get the info first hand.  Follow the link to read What Familiar Style is and Why You Should Use It.

What Harry Did Right

When approaching Young Adult fiction, there is a singular holy grail of modern achievement.  I can’t recall a series that had such equal appeal across age and gender.  Naturally, I’m talking about Harry Potter.

Now, when you have a series as big as Harry, there are going to be the naysayers and pundits that want to tear the book apart and justify why it should not be the success it clearly is.  As writers, I don’t think any of us really care about Harry’s grammar, structure or any other negatives people drag up.  What we care about is, why does it work, and how can we use those lessons to improve our own chances of success.  Well, I have a handy series for you to look at that can do just that!

Jane Friedman’s website There Are No Rules contains a wealth of advice and information.  One particular series of articles, contributed by guest writer Jim Adam takes a look at The Strengths of the Harry Potter Series.  There’s a wealth of things to learn from looking at the fundamental elements that makes Harry Potter work.  I know the first article, on being able to sum a plot in one sentence, gave me some serious pause on my own work in progress.  I went back to ensure my story held up to this seemingly simple test.  Initially, it didn’t, and I realised I was writing more of a concept than an actual story.  Some serious soul searching and digging in the guts of what I was writing eventually produced that simple sentence, and I found almost immediately everything seemed more cohesive.

So go check the link.  I found every single one of the points useful and will be returning again and again just to check.  There are far worse role models.

iPad the key to future self publishers?

Today sees the release of the iPad in the United States.  For those of us in Canada and many other parts of the world, we still need to wait a couple of weeks before we see this shiny new device.  Naturally, everyone is waiting to see just what success the iPad will be.  With the power of Apple behind it, I have little doubt that the iPad will be a winner.  Will it be a champ?  We’ll see.  I don’t think we’re talking iPod or iPhone type domination, so I don’t think laptops should be shaking yet.

That said, if I was really interested in getting an Ebook reader, I think I’d rather spend the extra $200 and get an iPad.  Afterall, with full colour internet connectivity, the ability to use Apple’s Pages software to write and run the millions of iPhone apps, well, that’s pretty awesome.

For writers, the iPad’s success could mean a whole new way of getting our work into the hands of consumers.  While self-publishing has had a somewhat sketchy reputation in the past, the iPad allows for products to look professional, yet be produced at virtually no cost to the author.

This link, that I was pointed to by someone on Twitter (sorry, no credit cause I forget who, I opened it in Safari) gives some ideas on How to Get Your Novel on the iPad.

Giving it some thought, this could open a whole new area for freelance book cover designers as well.  I mean, having a great cover graphic would go a long way to help sell the product.

I’d much prefer to be published by an actual publisher, though I suppose that’s more a pride thing.  At least this exists as a possible back-up plan!

Plotting Your Novel

In writing my own novel, I am on the constant lookout for new and useful guidance.  Twitter has been a surprisingly useful tool in finding resources.  This particular link was from @Indie_Elf.

These are ten very simple devices to help with plotting a novel.  When you read them, it’ll seem pretty obvious, but all too often people miss the obvious.  I know I have been guilty of it on more than one occasion.

Follow the link to see more information on Plotting Your Novel.

Welcome

Welcome to my webspace!  I’m currently working on my first novel written for the Young Adult market.  It is a science-fiction/fantasy novel.  I have just started and I’m only 9,000 words in.  This blog will be my journey of writing the book, editing the book and getting it published.  After those amazing feats are completed, I suppose this will become a blog that follows me on my journey in writing future novels and promoting the one I already have out.

I’m not ambitious at all 😉

So welcome, and I hope you find something interesting in the journey I’m taking.  Since I’m not an accomplished writer with loads of advice to share on my own, I’ll also be posting links to the people, websites and articles I have found useful.

And this is where it all begins….