I can’t help myself, I am a writer. There should be some sort of 12-step program for fiction writers, because sometimes we need help with our imaginations.
Mrs.Greenbean’s dog, the idiot dog named Dobby, immediately investigates the same spot at the corner of the house whenever I take him to the front yard. Every. Single. Time.
This is where the fiction writer in me takes over, and I wonder what the idiot dog is picking up on with his supercharged sniffer. My goodness, the options are limitless.
A. It could be where a body is buried. I don’t know what kind of body, but perhaps before the concrete was poured for our home, one of the workers with a nefarious past dug a shallow grave and hid the body in that spot, at the corner of the house under the concrete slab.
B. That spot is where the aliens landed. Their tiny spaceship filled with tiny, but potent invaders from another planet landed in that spot two years ago. The dog can sense the difference.
C. The government has hidden invisible equipment in that spot to spy on me. The dog can sense the odor from the G-Men who come every night to check the footage and biometrics.
D. A combination of B and C could be in play. There is invisible equipment there, but it is not tended by G-Men, it is the ‘duck blind’ of aliens studying human life so they can better understand and conquer us.
E. Once every full moon witches come to this spot, hallowed from before the time of the Comanches, in the ancient days, as a place for sacrifice. On this spot they slaughter stray house cats and rogue gerbils as they make incantations to the devil.
This is the fiction writer’s curse. Even the most mundane aspects of life erupt into plot that will never be developed. The good news is, as curses go, this is a very delightful and entertaining one to have.
I’ve spent lots of time this week trying to finish my new short story on the Deep Cove monster. It will be the fourth installment behind Deep Cove, Deep Cove: The Party Crasher, and The Deep Cove Lineage. These sci-fi stories are written like a serial–a continuing story line. It is almost finished and ready for others to proof.
1. Deciding how much to leave out. Fiction, because it exists entirely in the mind of the creator, can go as far as you want it to. When I write about the woman being attacked by the monster, for instance, my mind sees the whole thing at once. The problem is, the whole thing at once might bore the reader to tears. I mean, seriously, does the reader really care what kind of shoes the old woman has on? But at the same time I recognize these kinds of detail can give the story a rich, narrative depth. It is always a struggle to know where to stop.
2. Continuity in the story. This is hard enough in a single novel, but it becomes increasingly difficult for me when the stories pile up, such as the Deep Cove series. Many of the characters in The Little Girl Waits are from my first book or other short stories, and I had to really be careful that I didn’t change anything significant about their characters. I almost did. At one point I almost changed the gender and name of one of Butch Gregory’s kids. Yikes.
3. Continuity in the character. I would like input from other writers on this one, because I find that maintaining a character’s voice is not the easiest thing in the world to do. I’ve got a character, Colonel Crews, who in the Deep Cove Lineage has a certain demeanor and I am finding it hard to keep him ‘in character’ in the new story. I don’t know why that is, because I wrote him the first time. Why is it so hard to keep him in personality stasis?
4. Fight scenes. I love reading a good fight scene, and I think I understand the logistics of writing them and how they should work. The problem I have is lack of experience in actual fighting. The last fight I remember being in was in fourth grade. A kid flicked my ear from the seat behind me on the bus and I lunged over the top of the seat, put him in a headlock, and pounded his nose with my left hand. He never picked on me again. However, not all fights can go like that. I have to really work at writing these–even to the point of acting it out in the study to feel how the motion goes. Oh I hope no one ever sees me fighting with myself through the window. They will think I’m Edward Norton from Fight Club.
5. Keeping the tension high. Tension is the key to interest. No one is interested if everyone is happy and the world is picture perfect. Things have to go wrong and the threat of danger must be near. I can do that fairly easily, but what I have a hard time is keeping it high. As a human being, I want things to balance out cleanly before the next tension arises, but this linear mojo is not in keeping with life or good art. It is far better when the tension swirls all over the place and never truly comes to resolution. I find doing that to be a real challenge indeed.
There are many other challenges in writing fiction, but these are some that I’ve been mindful of on my most recent projects. If you are a writer/artists, feel free to share what your major challenges are right now, or if you’re willing, share how you overcome some of these that I’ve mentioned.
If I have a weakest books category (I’m not admitting that, by the way, I’m just saying that if I had one) it would be contemporary fiction. The reasons for this are manifold. First, I prefer other genres of literature than the basic American contemporary novel. Second, I spent too much time reading older books. I believe in order to become a better writer I would do better to read the masters of literature.
Third, I’ve devoted far too much time reading professional development and leadership books. I have vowed to never read another one of those. Never again. Fourth, I find that after I read the dusk jacket or back cover for most contemporary fiction books I always feel so terribly dirty or bored. I’m not really into books about relationships, detailed sexual prowess, or how horrible our parents are. I’m not saying those are not important themes; I am saying that I don’t find them interesting and these seem to be the themes of a lot of contemporary fiction. Fifth, most the time allotted for contemporary fiction in my reading schedule is spent on proofing or reviewing the work of other writers. I love all of these writers and think you should too, but they do cut into the amount of time I have to read the current bestsellers.
With those excuses stated, here are my top three contemporary fiction.
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
When I learned that The Kite Runner was the first novel Hosseini wrote I almost lost my mind. How can a first novel be this amazing? I find that the book is rich in prose and theme, but for my purposes here I will simply highlight one thing I really loved about this book, and that is the generational aspects of responsibility and redemption.
A Painted House, John Grisham
It is odd, isn’t it, that of all the Girsham novels I prefer the one not about lawyers? Grisham is such a wonderful writer in the artistic work of developing characters. All of the characters in this work are not only believable but they are, to me at least, knowable. I have to admit a little bias here. The setting for the book, some of the themes, and the culture represented are pretty close to my heart because it reflects a lot of my own adolescence and childhood. Nevertheless, this is a great book.
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
I probably should include this one in the sci-fi category, but that list is full and over represented because I tend to read a lot of sci-fi. So, I stick it here because though it is speculative ficiton, it deals with the pernicious problems in today’s society of medical ethics, the value of life, and human freedom. By way of evaluation, it also does a superb job with eternal themes of adolescence, discovery, and purpose. Ishiguro can paint a picture with words better than just about anyone who has ever lived, and he excels in this book. The world he creates is at once immediate and distant, transcendent and immanent. They made a very unfortunate movie based on this book. Do not watch it until after you read, and, if at all possible, avoid the movie altogether.
So those are my top three. If you are skeptical of Never Let Me Go, then I would have substituted it would Robin Cook’s Toxin. See how I did that? I sneaked a fourth one in my top three list. Clever, huh?
I’d love to know what your top three are, and believe me, I will take them all as reading recommendations.