Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Motivation of a Big Life Change

I’m moving in two months. I’d have moved two months ago if I hadn’t already agreed to work a play. Then add in that my job is closing and I am one of the few primary employees, I didn’t want to leave my boss in the lurch, so that tacked on an extra three weeks until I could go. Then it’s my Dad’s birthday. Then Christmas. Then New Years. So now the official departure date is January 3rd.

There’s all this crap that I wanted to have done before I go, and now that I have a date in mind, it’s actually time for me to think that it’s feasible. Truth is, having a deadline like that is a great motivator. The problem with most nonprofessional (i.e. unpaid) authors is that they don’t have a time requirement. No one cares if they don’t get their stories done within a certain amount of time.

I do, however, and I’ve been slacking.

I will admit that over the last few weeks I’ve been working a show and, combining that with my day job, I’ve been working 14 hours a day with one half an hour official break. I’m exhausted—like many of my fellow thespians—and I don’t feel like doing much. But, today the show premieres, which means starting Sunday I’m going to have my nights back again. Hell, even a day off if you can believe that.

I’ve decided, as I like to do, that there are a few bigger projects that I’d like to get done before I actually pick up and move. These projects, like most, are in the final stages and so get waylaid (I’m much more likely to do something that I know will take forever to finish, but will blow off anything that I feel I could end in a quick burst of work ethic.)

These things are…

-Read all the books I’ve borrowed from people and return them.
-Finally send out that manuscript to agents.
-Get my serial short story website up.
-Redo my web comic and get ten pages ahead.
-Finish one of the books I’m writing.
-Get my Etsy store working.
-Get my giveaways going.

Most of these won’t actually take that long. I have several different first drafts that are damn close to being done, my manuscript I have been editing for the last few years just needs to have about 10,000 words cut (which considering I’ve already cut more than 50,000 isn’t as difficult as it seems.) I’ve been writing my serial short stories for the last few months, have the website designed, etc. It just takes some time to put it together. The web comic will take forever, probably at least two weeks of all my focus, so we’ll see about that one. The giveaways are going to be writing based quilts I’ve made, one including one of Edgar Allen Poe. (Follow my blog, friend me on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter to keep up dated on when that will be.) I’d like to set up one to co-inside with my launch date, but I’m not sure that will happen. Quilting takes a long time.

In that vein:

I am announcing the launch of my online episodic short stories, STORIES OF THE WYRD, December 15, 2014.

Brother and sister, Rasmus and Kaia, walk along the ever shifting boarders of society and the strange wilderness christened the Wyrd, fighting monsters and beasts that crawl from its misty recesses. For a price of course. And if they can’t find something, there’s nothing to say they won’t make it up.

These stories will be free and online at my website at the end of this year.

I won’t be worried too much about getting any of this started until Sunday, mostly because I am so tired I am finally willing to admit that maybe I don’t have the time needed to actually do all my work, and that maybe I can give myself a break.

So I have three days until the countdown begins. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

So I’m Writing This Novel: Forcing the Fun

I thought about keeping with the alliteration of the title and adding an extra F word—it would be an accurate indication of how I feel—but I believe the heading is a little too public for that sort of language.


Am I right, writers?

Alright, now that I’ve effectively lost half my audience, let’s begin.

There’s a saying that, like most sayings, I don’t pay enough attention to to remember verbatim, but goes something like, “Start your story as close to the end as possible.” Many beginning authors “start theirs too early,” and take a damn long time to get to the point.

I do this. Except it’s not that I start too far away from the plot, but rather I start too far away from the scene that I actually want to be writing. As I believe about many authors’ instinctive beginnings, the place I decide to start always has a logical entry point—the introduction makes sense, clarifies the world, and foreshadows (what I think) will be some of the major setting elements and themes.

I started THE PLANE with a plane fight. Duh. It establishes Soel’s above-average talent in piloting by having him beat out six other pilots. (One of the major realizations I’ve had over the years is to always have your protagonist fight someone of average abilities and have him win or lose accordingly. Usually, I would have him/her fight someone pretty damn epic, have him/her lose, and then have the audience have misgivings about how good of fighters he/she actually is.) I established his failings with guns and his need for a gunman, hence setting up the importance and his dependence on a future character. Finally, it was a means for me to launch the significance of money to him, and just how much one “drakma” was worth.

The beginning, as a whole, was a technically useful introduction to the world, Soel, and the conflict. I also had a hard time writing it.

When I first began, I didn’t know how magic played in. I like magic, and I have a hard time caring about worlds without it. I was inherently imagining the world sans the supernatural, but I consciously decided to contradict the instinct. I didn’t know how much, however, of it I wanted to be dealing with. I also hate action sequences. I also know very little about planes. I also know very little about the rules of the world’s technology. This all made the scene not fun to write and slow going.

Usually I have a rule of thumb that if I’m bored, the audience will be. But I read through the section again, and—while I want something more to it—it wasn’t as bad to read as it was to write. It was much faster, for one thing, and pretty exciting, if not all that… oh we’ll say logical.

I got through it, I got him on the ground and in a conversation—two areas I feel more comfortable in—and sped through a scene between him and a character who I know I will proceed to abuse the hell out of. It was fun, what I wanted to be writing, and ended quickly. Also, unfortunately, did not finish how I expected at all.

I pictured their little interaction to finalize with the legion (their government) rapping at their door. (Quit picturing 50-Cent, you bastards.) They would be revoking Soel’s plane for his fines, and chopping off Reger’s hand at the protagonist’s balking. They would meet the main villain, and Soel would immediately be removed from his lifestyle, which would quickly lead me to the scene that I’ve been waiting for, the introduction of Sanya, Soel’s gunman. I have the whole thing planned out, and I find it pretty damn funny.

But that’s not what happened. I ended up derailing, realizing that I had set up the pins and couldn’t knock them down so quickly without it feeling contrived. I sent Soel to the legion’s post—which was a good idea because it established the contrast of their lifestyle from his, as well as built the world better, which I’ve already discussed needs to be done. But I was forced to keep going somewhere that I didn’t really want to be and didn’t know how to end.

 Writing became hard again.

Fortunately—or unfortunately—I’m not one to believe that I should submit myself to writing scenes I’m not interested in. They often read like that’s exactly what they are—I don’t care, my readers don’t care, lots of times my characters don’t even care—lacking in energy and passion, usually ending up dull. The more fun I’m writing, the more fun the reading tends to be. Therefore, it makes sense that I don’t have to write what I don’t want to. It is supposed to be exciting. The answer how to make it fun is often the same as how to make it interesting. So what do I need to do?

For one thing, I realized I could end the legion scene earlier than anticipated. I could still leave his visit in the manuscript, but I didn’t have to show him being detained. I could stop it right at the two big legionnaires entering the hall where he was arguing with the little man over collecting a bounty. He could very well just go right back to Reger’s workshop—face bloodied, hair grimy and matted down, a pissed expression—and announce, “Where the hell is my plane?”

I didn’t want to spend much time with the taking of the plane scene, and I believe that his reaction in the aftermath was just as important, if not more so, then how he handled them actually removing it from his possession. I didn’t need to blather on about how he finds out or how they treated him. I can skip the scene, the story won’t suffer for it, and I won’t have to write it.

But as I was realizing this, it also brought to view the breaking of a certain rule I have for myself: No there and back again.

I have a tendency to have a character start in Location A, go to Location B, come back to A, often several times. I can’t explain what exactly about this feels like poor execution to me—except maybe it sounds like poor planning, or looks like the story isn’t progressing—but whenever I do it, there always seems to be a problem attached.

And so I looked at the first Reger and Soel scene again and realized that without it ending as originally planned, I didn’t really see the point in it being there. Which was kind of great, because I wanted to get the plot going, but also kind of upsetting because it was about 2,000 words lost. Not that that actually matters in the grand scheme, but it feels like a wasted amount of work.

But I didn’t want to remove the visit to the legion post, and I also realized that the antagonist’s (who is yet unnamed) wouldn’t come to pick up the plane himself anyway. If he was going to hack off Reger’s hand, he had to be in the workshop (no way in hell I could get Reger to come to him), and, based on the antagonist’s motivation behind taking the plane in the first place, I think he had to meet Soel first, realize Soel’s importance to his cause, and then come all the way to their station before punishing the mechanic. There’s no way he would live there, I realized, so no reason he would be there to retrieve the thing. He’s too rich to deal with that crap.

So I deleted scene two, shortened scene three, and then still had to go a couple of extra places before I could get to Sanya’s bar fight, or Sanya and Soel’s interactions, and their actual mission, all of which I have imagined big parts of vividly and I’m excited to write about.

Sometimes I will let myself summarize scenes I don’t want to write to get to the good parts. Sometimes I will write out of order all together. Sometimes I’ll scrap the beginning and go straight to the good stuff. “That’s what my readers would want me to do,” I insist.

But the summation of a scene I don’t like is really procrastination—I’ll have to do it sometime. And if I write out of order, I have a hard time keeping track of what the audience knows or doesn’t, which is one of my bigger weaknesses especially if there’s going to be big changes to the beginning scene, which I assume there will be.

And lastly, my instincts were right on about the sorts of places and events the audience needed to see. They were just very wrong about how to make that interesting. At least to me.

Again, a part of the reason is how long they take to write, how unnaturally the cause and effects of each moment come to me. After deleting scene two, it made it worse. I feel like this book is taking longer than most have, partially because I’m not pressing on, but actually am looking back.

Anyway, I’m changing the introduction now. Probably stalling because I don’t want to write what comes next. This book is going to take forever.

Some of the deleted scene two:

They had been good friends before the three years Soel went gallivanting, disappearing with no word to anyone after that. When he came back, things were never the same, partially because they each had their own lives now, and Soel only came to Reger for favors, like keeping the plane in his dock, and cheap labor.
            But Soel realized that Reger wasn’t going to budge. After he had gotten out of the plane and walked around it, Soel’s stomach had turned to lead.
            The little brown vehicle was mangled. Its patchwork of multicolored paneling was more porous than a fisherman’s net. They had blitzed his machine badly—as he expected. From the front, with the exception of the few dents from long before the fight, his front looked fairly normal. But the back…
            His tail had one little fin still sticking up right, but one side was completely mutilated. It looked as though someone had taken a hammer to it.
            With great hesitance, Soel went to the engine and found it covered in black, smoking, with foul liquids protruding from all kinds of places.
            He had already been getting on Reger’s nerves. This would not be easy.
            “Don’t know why you’ve been attached to that thing for so long ‘nyway,” the mechanic grunted.
            He wrenched around the nut. Soel didn’t recognize the thing Reger was working on, but he rarely did anyway. Mechanics, the insides of the plane, never interested him much. He just didn’t get it.
            Striding across the wooden floor of the workroom, Soel made some distance between him and the man before spinning. “I’m good for the money. Y’know it.”
            Reger just snorted.
            “I got twenty drakma comin’ in.”
            “If you can prove it.”
            “I can prove it. They’re gone, ain’t they?”
            “So? No sayin’ they didn’t just get bored an’ leave.”
            “This aint my first rodeo. I’ve done it just like this.”
            “You should’ve gotten tokens,” Reger said. “You never bother. You think everyone’s good on their word.”
            Soel crossed his arms, his leather coat crinkling. “Never had a problem before.”
            “You don’t deal with bandits too much. And you’ve been getting bounties from the station heads. It’s the legion you’re dealin’ with this time, and they like to scam people as much as they can. They know they won’t be shot.”
             “Don’t count on it.”
            “Then y’got a bounty on your head. Come on, Soel. Do y’ever think?”
            The pilot licked his chapped lips, glancing around the room. The small workspace was musky and hot, the humid air of the evening coming in strips through the holes in the slates. It was a mess, per usual, machine parts strewn across the floor. Sacks of canned food and gallons of water next to a fraying hammock. He had a ladder leading up to a small upstairs space—it’s side open to viewers who entered in through the front door from the docks—but he kept larger engines up there, hanging from the ceiling so as not to be damaged by resting on the floor for months at a time. Reger believed the proximity to the top would save anything that broke beam or rope, but Soel believed the ten-ton equipment would just come crashing down through it.
            “I can’t just buy a new one,” Soel said finally. “I don’t got the cash at all. And who could I find willin’ to sell me a plane on prospects?”
            “Yeah,” Reger scoffed. “Who would be fool enough.”
            “I need y’man. I need y’more than I’d ever needed you before. I am in deep shit here.”
            Reger slammed down the wrench on his work table. “So you expect me to just eat it?”
            “Not the parts. I’ll pay y’for the parts,” Soel insisted. Then, seeing the man’s expression: “I’ll pay y’for your time too. Just not right away.”
            The mechanic just shook his head.
            “Come on. I’ve never stiffed y’before.”
            “Yeah. If you got it. I know you’re good when the money’s in hand. I just don’t know if it will ever be in hand. Y’know?”
            Soel tensed. “I’ll get it. It might take some time, but I always get it. And I got a big cash cow comin’ in right now.”
            Reger just rolled his head back, looking up towards the wooden rafters in exasperation. “If oceans freeze over and you get the dough from the legion, you’ll have to give it back to ‘m to pay y’r fines. If y’don’t pay y’r fines, the plane’s gettin’ taken, and you won’t earn no more.”
            “It won’t be taken, and if I don’t get it fixed, I won’t be earnin’ nothin’ anyway.”
            “You can’t even get me enough for the parts right now.”
            Soel’s arms collapsed beside him. He hated this. Reger was right, of course; Soel hadn’t even paid back all he owed from the last few repairs. The pilot hated himself, hated knowing that he was just taking advantage, advantage of the one person who liked him enough to let him. If he had another option, he would back down. But if he had another option, he wouldn’t hate himself.
            “Reger, they’re gonna send me to the Isles if I can’t pay my fines.”
            “No they won’t.”
            “The legion is going to harangue me. You know how they are when we cross’m.”
            “You ain’t crossin’ them, and you ain’t what they’re after. They’ve been collectin’ extra cash all across the channel.”
            Soel set his jaw.
            “They’ve been creatin’ laws and making shit up so they can fine you. Fine all of us,” Reger finished.
            “Don’t matter if they believe it or not. They won’t be lettin’ me out of disrespectin’m.”
            “They want your money or they want your plane. They don’t give a shit about y’r life.”
            “My plane is my life! They take that away from me, what do I got?”
            Reger dropped his head, groaning. Soel waited. Finally, they matched gazes.
            “Where’s all the money you’ve been savin’?”

Saturday, October 11, 2014

So I'm Writing This Novel: Setting and Background

On a somewhat not really related note, I’m officially 25! No, I don’t feel old, and for the first time since I turned sixteen, I do not regret the aging process. Why? Well, 24 sucked.


The way I write starts with images—visions of scenes—in which I want certain things to be said and done and look a certain way. And no, these aren’t hallucinations like most alcoholics. Ahem. Writers. They are just very crisp, if not fully fleshed out, “shows” that play before me like I’m standing in the room watching it happen.

After I pin down what I want, I fill in the blanks to get it there. (In order for this to be true, this must be true.) A character’s motivation often comes to me inherently—I think in argument, and I focus on convincing the characters to do what I want them to. It is rarely hard for me to understand the depths of a character’s mind outside of what I’m seeing “on screen.”

Setting, not so much. I learn things about the world as I watch them. I understand it from the clothes they wear to the objects they pick up, to the terminology they use. Before I see them talking about their parents, before I sit and “watch” the conversation unfold before me, I don’t know anything about their parents. Not unless I deliberately say to myself, “You need to answer this question!” in which case, I will make something up. But it needs to occur to me to do it.

There is usually a natural continuity in the rules of the world, even though in the first third of it I don’t really understand them. My subconscious has a base structure that, unless I start consciously wonking with it, ties the decisions together. The world tends to lack some broader explanations in the first draft, but the readers rarely have problems seeing it before them. It is vivid, if not having a clear pattern.

And because I don’t really figure out the setting during the writing process, I usually have to go through and find places that I was deliberately vague about details (I didn’t know the answer), and anchor the world, make it more clear and concise for me and the reader in the second or third. When the reader doesn’t understand the world that much—which they rarely do for the first half of the book in my first few drafts—they are incapable of trying to solve puzzles, to predict what might happen next. I truly believe this causes a great deal of boredom. I don’t mind having to go back through and clarifying things (versus just outlining and figuring them out before hand) because I find knowing one thing that I want to fix in the second draft allows me to focus on something instead of being overwhelmed. Other problems naturally come up as I fix the first instead of reading through and making random stabs in the dark.

HOWEVER, none of this is true for my current book. THE PLANE (working title), is lacking consistency in its world building, and I feel it. I can feel it as I write it. I am constantly stopping myself because I don’t have “obvious” answers to certain, almost inane questions. In most of my manuscripts, I might not know anything about their religion, but then, when the subject comes up, there always seems to be a natural answer.

I know a few things about THE PLANE’s world. It is an alternative reality, a non-Earth setting. It’s oceanic, most travel being done by ship or plane. People live in almost city-state islands, or on man-made stations, which have the appearance of oil rigs. They are technically governed by a blanket authority, the legion, but primarily left alone. Each island, so isolated from one another, tends to have its own distinctive culture and rules. Out in the far reaches of the world there is unexplored territory where allegedly great treasure has been abandoned. I want a certain level of magic, but it needs to be subtle, hasn’t been introduced yet, and I have a feeling I can’t wait much longer or people will be jarred.

And that’s all I know.

This isn’t usually a problem—again, I figure things out by how the scenes appear to me. But, the bigger issue is the one I brought up in my last post—the accidental plagiarism of the cartoon TailSpin.

I won’t relist my reasons why I chose to keep the concept after I realized I subconsciously took it, but a big part of it is I know that the story isn’t really going to be the same at all. Some of the plot points and scenes I’m planning on are already extremely divergent, and I’m not worried about my story ruining or being ruined by someone having seen/read both.

However, now that I’ve realized the similarities, I’ve become fixated on them. In the beginning of my career, I was one of those writers in which everything had to be original, that the moment I realized someone else had already done it, I’d scrap the idea. I’ve learned that if you do this every single time something is remotely similar, not only will you never be able to write what you want, but you’ll often not be able to write at all. It’s common for people like me to stick to generic, can’t-be-plagiarism-because-everyone-does-it storylines, out of fear that our unique concept will be someone else’s unique concept. Not necessarily consciously, of course. Which, considering how many stories that exist in the world, of course has been done before. However, this mindset still has residual effects on me, and it’s hard to shake.

My subconscious has tethered me to the cartoon show, and everything that appears even similar, I reject. TailSpin is set in a world that’s very similar to the 1930’s, with many story events that are atmospherically similar to adventure stories like Indiana Jones.

Being that I do not have any idea of the technology level of the world—in fact, I believe I’m going towards a sort of multi-decade, steam punk style with its own evolution—and that all the characters appear to me in 1930’s garb, I feel like I’m restricting myself to that timeline. This is only a problem because TailSpin’s best feature is the unique and developed setting, and if I stick with that choice, I would then actually feel like I am starting to steal ideas.

My subconscious is telling me 1930’s and my conscious self is saying NO.

So what seems to be resulting is inconsistent technology, terminology, and vague glossing over of character’s fashion (not that I was ever good about going into detail on that crap anyway.) None of this I’m okay with.

But I do believe that trying to force answers out of yourself is not the best way to come up with a satisfactory answer, so I ignored it, knowing full well I would have to go back and fix it. So I kept writing. It went fine. I knew that my beginning had pretty terrible world building, I knew that my last novel was/is a bitch on this part as well, and I knew I am going to be frustrated with it in the future. I knew I was going to have to deal with it eventually. But I thought I could stall longer.

What I did not expect was for the problem to keep arising in unexpected areas.

            The cavern filled with lights from his opponents’ beams, but it was not a lot. The pitch-black swallowed Soel as he belted forward. Every part of the cave seemed to be swooping down, but he kept to the ceiling. His plane’s injuries made the machine hiccup and jump. Soel still clung tight to the roof. He felt it scrape. He tried to speed up, to make distance between him and the outlaws, but his plane wasn’t having any of it.
            Just a few more seconds.
            He couldn’t see into the cabin, lights blinding him. It was going to fire. At this close range, it would obliterate him. Even he could not take a hit like that.
            Soel’s stomach clenched. His heart stiffened, almost paralyzed. His insides hurt as he pressed forward, his eyes aching as every fiber of him pleaded with God that this was the right choice. This plan had failed before. Now it would kill him.
            But the canon didn’t fire. For whatever reason… maybe it stalled, maybe the weapon was broken, maybe God liked Soel better than a bunch of murdering criminals—no matter the case, the wall came before they could shoot.

The concept of religion arrived.

In my last book, a somewhat dystopian novel involving cults and a brainwashed protagonist, religion became very important. A Christian-based structure made sense in that world, and I really allowed her to be very devout, and made a big part of the story her learning to question things—including people who insisted her religion was just evil.

Before that, however, I didn’t deal much with faith at all. I believe I could get away with it because many of my characters were isolated, away from civilization, and with their lack of religiousness, it didn’t need to come up. Plus, many simple decisions like how many gods there were, seemed obvious for the world.

After The Dying Breed, however, I really learned just how difficult it was to talk about religion. I struggled with trying to never make it look like propaganda on either side. I was not promoting religion or demoting religion; it was far more about authority, happiness, and not seeing things in black and white than it ever was about whether or not people should be faithful. Personally, I believe people have the right to be religious or not, depending on what makes them happy. And we need to leave each other alone about it. That’s as far as my “politics” in religion go.

So, while delving into religion was fun and interesting, I don’t want to do it again. I don’t want to worry about what I might accidently be promoting, and I don’t want people be distracted from the point and plot. (Whatever those may be.)

But I can’t pull my usual, I’m just not going to talk about it. Number one, I know that’s a cop out. Number two, most cultures are defined by religion. Even in America, the world’s melting pot, where many people are surprised when they find out their new friend actually goes to Christian church than not, we were at least founded, and definitely affected by Christian morals.

 If I want to find out more about my setting, it’s a decision I need to make.

That’s where TailSpin rears its ugly head again.

While the cartoon itself holds no religious overtones, the 1930’s definitely did. My original instinct was to have a Christian-based religion, with one God, church, and Christian viewpoints. But, again it is pulling me back into the two areas I don’t want to be: A 1930’s based world, and inherently bringing in a conversation about religion. If, however, I make up my own system of faith, less people will be less concerned with what his religion is and what I’m saying about it.

I saw Soel as being the religious sort ever since the question came up. Unlike most of my characters, it very much makes sense for him to need that sort of thing and attach to it. He is alone, impoverished, grew up on a low-class island—an upbringing that constantly affects his ability to get jobs. He needs to feel like there’s something better out there for him, that he has some love outside of the derision man gives him.

I considered multiple gods for an instant, maybe each island having its own protector. But with the mix of technology and the inconsistency of relatable “time,” I felt that it confused things, and also just didn’t feel right. A big part of me believes that their lives are such that no one would be capable to participate in a religion that required a lot of scheduled worship. The influence had to be psychological, but not ceremonial.

I just saw Soel as being too sensible, and a little too humorless, to participate in anything not directly necessary.

I wanted one god, I realized. But maybe it didn’t have to be a god at all, just a singular entity.

Because I’m not religious, I often refer to the “all powerful being,” in my psyche as Fate, Luck, or the Universe. Logically, I don’t really believe in destiny, but I’d like to. Only if it has a minimal influence, of course. Yet accepting humanity’s irrelevance and insignificance has never been tolerable to me, so I’d like to believe that things happen with intended results in mind.

When this occurred to me, I suddenly found myself with a whole slew of answers.

I liked the idea of the people believing heavily in Fate. It ties in with the character’s issue of being low in the hierarchy, and gives most motivation why they think it’s okay to be so bigoted. They were born where they were supposed to be. They are supposed to be treated this way. Soel’s self-loathing stems from his faith, and his belief that there are extraordinary people and ordinary people, and you are what you are since you are born; there’s no changing it. (A philosophy that I personally hate with every fiber of my being.) It allows me to discuss that mentality, and also explains a lot of his decisions—versus the decisions of Sanya, his supporting character.

I decided their worship came in the form of tokens, and certain actions with these tokens to ensure good luck. This references the common superstitions of sailors, and is fitting, I believe. It also enables me to show the rules of the world through action, and his religion by means of what he does with the thing. Plus, I wanted the magic level in the world to be just above “Is this magic, or just superstition?” and I think that the token’s effects can cause just the right amount of subtly.

This feels right.

I’ve learned long ago that setting is the difference between the book getting finished and getting dropped. If I don’t like the world, or even just don’t care about it, it is hard for me to live in it. It’s one of those things that tends to develop on its own, but sometimes, like in the Case of the Stolen Concept, I have to be very logical about it. But I think I’m on a good path. My next step is to clarify the rules of technology before I start solving my problems with it. But I think I can stall a little longer.

Friday, October 3, 2014

So I’m Writing This Novel: The Damn Concept

I guess if I’m going to feign sheer honesty here, I’m going to have to confess something first.

So, Father, forgive me, I have sinned; I really should not be starting a new novel right now.

For several reasons. One, I have three that are somewhere between 50,000 and 65,000 words long. Meaning that if I hit my target goal of 80,000-90,000 and met my daily expectations, I could finish each in a week. One of them I have all planned out until the end. The other got a little of track and needs to be reigned back in. The last one I have a 100 page summary in which all I need to do is actually put it in real words rather than the “Then this happens, then that.” (I was experimenting. So sue me.)

Not only that but I have seven other novels of all sorts of sizes. I could be focusing on any of these things.

And finally, I fully plan to participate in National Novel Writing Month in November, which means in the next 30 days I’ll have started something new. But, considering I’m trying to limit myself to 90,000 words for my next few books instead of the 180,000 words that I’ve been prone to do, if I meet my goals—don’t laugh—I’ll be damn near done with this one too. In fact, I’ll only have around 15,000 words, which means if I manage an excess sometime in October (though with my stage managing job and my day job taking up most of my time it seems less likely), I could actually finish it.

In any case, I say screw it, because I’ve never had problems finishing novels before. THE PLANE (Working title, I assure you) will be my thirteen novel, if I don’t get distracted and finish one of the other three first. It’s a time in my life to experiment and screw around, and since I can’t find any willing partners, I’m going to interpret it as freewheeling my writing tactics.

Long story less long, over the next few weeks, I’m going to journal my progress in writing THE PLANE, detailing my process of writing as I go.

Note, I advocate nothing, but do what works for me at the time, depending on my mood. And sometimes my mood has a sick sense of humor prioritized over actual good writing. Bear with me.

I’m not exactly sure where the ignition spark for THE PLANE happened. I know it was vague, the concept itself limited, because usually I remember exactly what made me think of it. I am under the impression it was a dream, which explains why I’ve long forgotten it.

THE PLANE stars a young pilot named Soel. Living in a world of vast oceans and makeshift Stations dotted across them randomly, he is a pilot for hire, like many of the citizens. Unfortunately, he has been bombarded with fees and debts that the legion, the reigning government that tethers the remote islands and stations together, threatens to take it away. Though he tries to make his money, they end up selling the machine to a reclusive business man.

The man is not without his mercy though, and agrees to hire Soel on as his pilot, allowing him to buy back his plane if he earns enough money.

Here, of course, is the problem with the concept, as some of you may have already figured out.

It’s the plot to TaleSpin.

TaleSpin is a fantastically weird Disney television show. Using characters based off The Jungle Book, it tells the story of an irresponsible but talented pilot who fights air pirates with his sidekick, Kit Cloudkicker. Wikipedia describes the show like this:

TaleSpin is set in the fictional city of Cape Suzette in a fictional country called Usland. The city lies in a harbor protected by giant cliffs through which only a small opening exists. The opening in the cliffs is guarded by anti-aircraft artillery, preventing flying rabble-rousers or air pirates from entering the city.
The series centers on the adventures of bush pilot Baloo the bear, whose air cargo freight business, "Baloo's Air Service," is purchased by Rebecca Cunningham upon his default on delinquent bills with the bank and renamed "Higher for Hire." An orphan boy and former air pirate, the ambitious Kit Cloudkicker, attaches to Baloo and becomes his navigator. Together, they are the crew of Higher for Hire's only aircraft named the Sea Duck. From there, the series follows the ups and downs of Higher for Hire and its staff, sometimes in the vein of old action-adventure film serials of the 1930s and 1940s and contemporary variations, such as Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Now that I’m older, I find TaleSpin to be a great deal more clever and involved than I ever realized in my youth. In fact, I remember distinctively hating the show as a very small youngster, then mildly changing my mind later.

I didn’t realize I had stolen the concept until I was about twenty pages in. In fact, I remembered coming up with the stakes very conscientiously. The plane concept was all I had. But I knew the character needed to want something—when the characters want things, the story writes itself. I thought back to an episode of Firefly (A short lived, sci-fi television show) in which every time I watched it with someone, we all had the same response. They got out alive… but did they keep the money?!

Firefly did a fantastic job of making money matter—and that’s what I wanted.

I can easily see what my subconscious did. Pilot needs money. Why would a pilot need money? Let’s just grab everything you have experienced in this area—one cartoon from your childhood—and use that.

Made sense to it. And I didn’t question it.

So, now that I realized this, now that I am fully aware of my own plagiarism, am I going to stop writing it?


Several reasons why. Feel free to judge.

For starters, this happens all the time. Sometimes it’s not even the issue of you actually stealing anything. It can simply be you coming up with an idea simultaneously as someone else, but they get a big movie contract long before you even finish the damn thing. I am not kidding. When they say there is no new idea under the sun, they mean it. Not only do you take inspiration from things that already exist, get ideas from any sort of stimuli—including other people’s fiction—but the same idea will exist out there without your knowledge. You can accuse any book of plagiarism and unoriginality, and sometimes fixating on doing something novel will just overshadow doing what you want to be, and, more importantly, doing something good.

I have one rule of thumb when it comes to originality and defining the difference between “being inspired by,” “referencing,” “spoofing,” and “stealing,” is to always assume the reader has seen both works—and can enjoy both even knowing about the other’s existence.

The truth is I’m excited about this story. More so than I have been in a while. Even if I never let it see light because it was too close to the “original” for me to ever pass it off as my own, I’d still want to write it.

Secondly, it is only one idea, one concept, that may very well change over time. Setting, characters, tone, voice, and even the actual plot differs greatly from TaleSpin. The original set up I directly took from the show, but the real story is very different. At least the way I see it now.

Time will tell if I’m wrong. I know that this is the most blatantly comparative concept I’ve ever used. Anyone who’s seen the cartoon will make the connection. And normally that would horrify me. But I know how I work, how inspiration works, and how little other aspects of the book will play out, and I am confident that—while it will be criticized for this—it still can be something I love.

And for good measure, I’ll leave you with the first page:


            He only needed 125 more drakmas.
            The rat-a-tat-tat of his opponent’s gun sounded pathetically through the fog, blending with the whir of his engine. But his little plane could take a hit—Soel was sure some of the parts of his machine were excess, dead limbs that did nothing. At times he’d find bullet holes splattered throughout the metal that he’d never even felt.
            He’d be getting twenty drakmas for this fight.
            The fog had come in deep over the ocean, blocking Soel’s sight of the outlaws. This was fine by him. He was out numbered, and he was statistically more apt to hit one of them by randomly firing than they were to him.
            Six planes, five drakmas each.
            He’d already taken out half by just arbitrarily blasting into the sky.
            They had followed him down as he scaled the water, chasing him from their outpost on the cliffs. The outlaws had been reported to sit there waiting for any plane to happen by. They’d shoot it down into the water instead of smashing to bits everything inside. With a simple shotgun blast to the pilot’s head, they’d then pillage it and let it sink.
            These six had been the reason why people had stopped taking the route, preventing travelers from coming to the station floating in the ocean after the canyon. The residents there made their living by being the only place to refuel on the quickest route from the city to the small spotting of villages out on the other side of the mountains. The canyon was not the only way though, and when some outlaw got a big idea about cornering them, people would just take the long path around, which would make them bypass the little station all together.
            And once about every year, some outlaw sprouted up.
            Usually though, the singular fiend was taken out quickly. Out near the stations, most bandits worked solo. Anyone wishing to make a quick buck and willing to work with others tended to join the large blimps that sailed the far reaches of the oceans, taking out the bigger bounties from the treasure hunters. It was less risk—those who sought the fortunes of the forgotten world were expected not to return. The pirates of the blimps were rarely tried for murder. Out in the recesses of the ocean, how could anyone prove if a plane had been shot down at all, let alone by who? Having six together, however—smart enough to be at the prime location—proved a problem, and even the Legion’s men couldn’t remove them easily. If they ever bothered to care about the outlying villagers and sent more than two, this might be different. But after a cursory failure, they determined the risks too high for the reward, and told the station there was nothing to be done.
            Soel knew he was hired for his low prices. He’d not been shot down yet—not in any way permanent at least—but his exploits were unknown and unbelievable. He was the lowest of the low, coming from the community of Green Shore: a mercantile station that produced simple nature-based materials to fuel the greater cities’ growth, like wood and stone, and some wild fruits and vegetables.
            No one thought much of them.