Writers write for two reasons. (1) A thirst for recognition. (2) And to release the baying hounds of unchecked and untrained inspiration that run amok inside our brainmeats and threaten our (questionable) sanity.
It was just under eight years ago that I stopped writing simply to release the hounds and gave more than a split self-effacing second of thought to the possibility that someone, somewhere might actually want to read what I have to say someday. That was the moment I started writing for recognition.
Yet, after the first two novels began drowning in ever-expanding puddles of their own spilling and dissolving plots, I finally quit beating my head against the many questions that kept arising (no. 1 being: why is this so hard???), and decided to seek professional help. For the writing dilemmas I was facing, that is.
Subsequently, I took a lot of creative writing and editing classes, read a few books on the subjects, and, most importantly, wrote a lot of ridiculous, often hilariously silly, prose. Still, recognizing the embedded lessons of even silly and ridiculous prose is to a writer’s benefit, and makes that prose valuable.
And now, two completed and three to six (but who’s counting?) uncompleted novels and several short stories later, I’m penning the third book in my science fiction trilogy, and finally trying to do it in a logical, structured way. You’d think that someone who spent three years crawling through the mud under concertina wire and jumping out of olive-drab-painted cargo planes for the army would have the structure thing down, but, like most stubborn and willful children (even grown ones), I somehow aspired instead to reject everything the military required of me. Except for remaining fluent in acronymese.
Which brings me to the current topic. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been bouncing around ideas for Contract of War’s anchor scenes (and here’s a great summary at From the Write Angle of what those are). This process, as many of you know, is an agonizing battle of generating wonderful plot ideas, which, after the requisite analysis, you realize aren’t so wonderful and murder with shameless savagery. Because no idea is ever good enough until one IS.
When my gray matter finally started to ooze with sweaty exhaustion even worse than Lawson Craddock felt at the recent Amgen Tour of California, I had a flash of inspiration that told me to step back and first figure out what the hell it is exactly that drives and motivates my characters. Perhaps knowing who they are will help me better know what story eventually needs to be told about them. The notes below are a result of this process and come from using writing techniques taught by the late Jack Bickham in Elements of Fiction Writing – Scene & Structure (and if you write novels and haven’t read this book, I can’t help but wonder if you also like to drive a car with your feet).
SPOILER NOTE: As these are notes for Contract of War, it’s safe to reason that these characters will all be featured in it. Some of the mischief they are planning will likely also be in the notes. So, if you don’t want to know what may go down, best to just leave it at: there’s a congregation of main characters (most you’ve met), and they be wantin’ somethin’.
Character Self-Concept Files
What is each character’s self-concept, and what turns that on its head?
Aly’s self-concept is that she is a woman of action; a doer and a survivor. She was inadvertently recruited as a medic during the war thanks to her affiliation with Vitruzzi. When she ends up still in that role at Broken City, it begins to chafe at her. Her natural cynicism starts to claw at her nerves. When Quantum and Vitruzzi/Brady’s fight for leadership starts to grow, it compounds her own restlessness. She is not a politician and simply wants a regular, 3 squares/day lifestyle where she and Karl can live in relative sanity and peace. If that can’t happen, then she wants to be busy and free from overt dictatorialism (not a real word, but it should be!).
Quantum refuses the rule of law or rule of authority, or the idea that humanity is capable of order. He is both a technophile and a caveman. Broken City’s mini-government is getting under his skin because he believes it is just the seed for a new version of the Admin. He’s an interferer, but thinks of himself as proactive and a pragmatist about human nature. An egomaniac who thinks machines are better than people, thus machines should be the ultimate goal of people. When he perceives the colony regressing into an atavistic reinstatement of Admin control, he begins looking for ways to sabotage.
– Incidentally, he and Aly share this concept of authority.
Vitruzzi is a compassionate realist, leader, and reluctant about nothing that serves to keep peace and order. Unflappable and stern, she regards herself as levelheaded and a fair judge. It’s when her own decisions cause harm that she starts to lose touch.
No nonsense, no passes, no breaks. He’s a bulldog and a humanitarian that treats any gray area as an outright enemy. The pain and losses he’s suffered have turned him hard, but the inner Brady is one hundred percent finest-quality human. He is loyal and just, but has a hard time admitting when he’s wrong. Stubborn, like Aly, he believes himself to be a guardian of what is right, but can be too quick to decide what that is.
David is a joker and a mediator who doesn’t like to fight, but can handle himself in any kind. He reasons lengthily before deciding on a course of action. His loyalty to his crew can be rigid to a fault. He’s quick to think the best of people, but still slow to embrace them in his inner circle or confidence.
Like Aly, Karl is a doer. Stoic and driven, his main goals include keeping his friends safe, keeping out of the way of trouble, and enjoying what life has to offer. Having been a soldier and wounded, most of his life experience has trained him to value rules and be realistic about consequences and avoiding recklessness. Yet he’ll turn himself inside out to come to the aid of those he is loyal to.
The great news is, after doing this exercise, those anchor scenes are finally done!
Anyone want to share some of the steps you undertake as part of your pre-writing process?