Hi. My name is Steve, and I tell lies to strangers for money. Amanda asked me to do a guest-post for the blog as a way of infecting you — uh, I mean, introducing myself to you in preparation for Naked Reader publishing my work.
What then, to blog about? Talking about myself seems gauche. Which pretty much narrows the field to writing about writing, since that’s all I’m likely to have in common with folks reading a publisher’s blog. So, though I suspect that me talking about writing is like asking a kid with training wheels to advise people on mountain-biking … here we go.
Who Are These People, And What Are They Doing In My Head?
What is it that turns a string of words into a “story”, exactly? Is it an amazing scientific breakthrough, like maybe the replicators from Star Trek? (Well, their larval form, at least.) Or a convoluted international murder plot, preferably one involving a high-tech murder weapon?
No. Those aren’t stories; they’re news articles. Because they don’t give us Characters to relate to and care about.
Think about the stories you have loved – or hated – most strongly. It wasn’t the sterile fact that Bag End was changing ownership that brought that lump to your throat; it was those blank pages at the end of Bilbo’s journal, driving home the realization that Sam’s story would somehow have to carry on without Mr. Frodo in it. And readers don’t wax nostalgic over the details of how the Heart of Gold’s Infinite Improbability Drive was invented; we laugh about Arthur’s unshakable belief that things would all resolve themselves if he could just find that cup of tea.
That’s why we read those stories — “the old stories”, as Samwise called them. To meet Characters like these, and to relish the experience of coming to love (or hate) them. But where do such Characters come from?
I wish I knew. All I know is I’m glad they stop by from time to time. Even the rather-less-pleasant ones. Because that’s more or less how it works, for me: they just “stop by”, usually just long enough to say “Hi.”
No, I don’t “hear voices”, in the classic pop-psychology sense. But the Brownian motion in our hind-brain is constantly flinging together assorted bits and pieces of our experience in response to external stimuli, and sometimes the things that pop into my forebrain are feelings or attitudes complex enough to be viewed as Characters. They typically arrive complete with settings and/or portraying very specific emotions or attitudes. Allen L. Wold (a long-published writer of whom I’ve had the good fortune to translate from fan to friend and quasi-mentee) calls these “autonomous complexes”.
Which means that I get randomly interrupted by such things as:
“If you did refuse to co-operate, things of which you would likely disapprove would almost certainly follow.”
“Oh, I don’t know, milord. I’m not a very judgmental person, all things taken together.”
One eyebrow advanced purposefully up the magistrate’s forehead, as though to lay claim to area abdicated by his retreating hairline. “Is that so? Tell me, how do you feel about drawing and quartering, then?”
Jack felt his Adam’s apple begin to bob, though it was yet several months shy of Hallowe’en. “Uh, would you be meaning in a general, civic-theory sort o’ sense, sir?”
“No, Master Kendall. I would be meaning in a rather more specific and applied-science sort of manner. Not that you would be in any position to record any findings, of course.”
“Oh, well then. Then I expect you’re right sir. I find that I am quite judgmental, after all.” Jack swallowed once more. “What was it you had in mind then, milord?”
“Yes, Miss Dickenson, the art IS speaking to me.”
“Wonderful, Timmy, wonderful.”
“No, Miss Dickenson, you don’t understand. Could you ask the art to STOP speaking to me, please?”
“What ever do you mean, Timmy?”
“I mean the art really is SPEAKING to me. And what it’s saying is very scary …”
“But his eyes showed a smile that his heart never knew. A smile that spoke of malice, of the diversions that might be found in harming those who strayed too near …”
I always make a point of jotting these little bits down, whenever they appear. Some of these visitors have gone on to become finished stories, like the Gremlin you’ll be meeting in Here There Be Faeries next month. Others haven’t yet told me where they belong, and are languishing in the “Ideas” folder of my hard drive. This boy turned out to be an extensive additional story-line in a book I had thought was already fully plotted:
A change in his companion’s breathing attracted the burly teenager’s attention. “Stop that, Father. It wasn’t your fault.”
Himmer’s breathing grew more ragged, not less. “A lot you know, boy. She trusted me, and I failed her.”
“He had three of your arrows in him, Father! Three arrows, all to the mark, in less time than it took him to cross the garden. What other hunter could have done that? What more can you ask of yourself? What more could anyone ask?”
“I could ask to save my own wife!“ Himmer screamed, as the tears broke through the last vestiges of his resolve. “I could ask to save my own babe,” he sobbed. “Not stand useless while my half-grown son does what I wasn’t man enough to finish.”
Wherever you find your Characters, never forget that it is their story, not yours.
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Steve is one of NRP’s new authors. His short story, Here There Be Faeries, is now available at our site and will shortly be available from Amazon, B&N and Smashwords.