Hi there. If you're reading this, it's either because you know me or you spend way too much time hitting "I'm feeling lucky" on Google. Either way, welcome.

Illumination is a perpetual work in progress, so please pardon our dust. The intent of the place is to provide space where I can lay down my thoughts and observations about the world around me and the things I do. That means it could be filled with nearly anything, from silly accounts of my gaming antics to thoughtful political discussion and anything in-between.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Needles (on There's A Story Somewhere In That Haystack)

I’m good at building things in my head. People, places, worlds, all spinning freely away from my imagination to hang in the air around my mind’s eye like constellations sparkling in the night sky. Sometimes they start as an idea; an image or a description or a snippet of dialogue, a small thing that begins as a tiny spark and require some nurturing to grow strong enough to take wing and join the rest of the stars; sometimes they leap from my subconscious fully-formed or nearly, requiring only the gentlest of nudges to be off, rocketing away on a trajectory that I can barely control and only mostly follow.

Both kinds have their perks and flaws, but getting them out into the æther where I can access them late isn’t the hard part. The hard part, the bit I’ve always had trouble with, is figuring out where they’re going. I can set up conflict just fine –and I often even discover some measure of it is built into the things I create- but resolving it is a problem.

So, in an astoundingly arrogant simile to NASA and SETI projects, I’m going to fling this question out into the great dark void and see if anyone answers it:

How do you find the endings to your stories?

This is a question I’ve been chewing on all week, and I’m beginning to suspect the problem is actually two of them, coming at me from different angles.

The first one is probably the simpler: I’ve got more practice at beginnings. You have to start something before you can end it (well, usually), and a lot of things that get started don’t ever get finished, for reasons that I would need a room full of six-fingered people to count.

At least some part of this is that I’m a roleplayer, and spend a lot more time wearing the GM hats than I do the player hats. Aside an unfortunate habit of thinking in my system of choice, the demands of writing plot for an RPG are a lot different than writing plot for a short story or a novel, in the sense that because the direct actions of the characters are out of my hands, all I can really do is catapult them off the deck, hope I gave them enough airspeed to keep them up, and then watch them sail off into the adventure.

I can nudge, I can suggest, and sometimes I can dangle a carrot for them to follow, but ultimately I can’t assume direct control of where they go. It’s a unique set of challenges that I know can be problematic for a writer to overcome, but it turns out that the reverse is also true.

The second problem is what I can only call an attention span issue that’s optimistically brought about by being spoiled for choices. That metaphorical belt of constellations from before the jump is constantly being added to and shuffled around, and I have a bad habit of latching on to whichever star in the sky is shiniest and newest. I’m thankful the problem’s not worse than it is, else I’d be chasing laser pointers around the house same as the cat.

I have a couple of guesses on the source of this one, but this isn’t a psychology post and I refuse to let myself dive into that probably deserves a dozen pages all to itself. The tl;dr version, as those wacky Internets would say, is that I have a tragically short attention span unless I can convince myself I have a compelling reason to keep paying attention.

In the end both are really issues that I’ll have to solve for myself; one an issue of experience and the other of motivation.

And if nothing else, it’ll be an interesting lesson to learn, just one among many on my path to… wherever this desire and talent(?) is leading me.

…see my point?

1 comment:

  1. my $0.02

    One of the bits of advice I've had about stories is that it's much easier to write beginnings; it's difficult to get to the end; OR it's easy to come up with a beginning and and end, but it's not that easy to write the in-between / how you get there.

    But the problem you have (the attention span to a story) isn't an uncommon one, I hear.

    I have vague memories of people advising me to write short stories first, whole short stories, from beginning to end. Then, making those stories longer. Till they need chaptering... and before you know it, you'll have finished a novel.

    One of the ways that I used to do it is to set a 'chapter = mini story within the overarching tale'. I'm not sure if that would work for you, but it might work around your 'short attention span', as you put it. I rather imagine that you're the kind who'd do better with three different writing projects being written at the same time, and not one of them the same type. (ie: Article, short story, novel).