Monthly Archives: December 2018

Theme Music

Work continues – in between end of term stuff at the day job – on the new WIP; I crested past 10,000 words last week, which is not a huge amount but is enough of a Hunk of Stuff to make me feel like this thing has some momentum behind it, especially when I can get a little more time devoted to it. It’s a neat feeling, although I do have the odd twinge of doubt that this is really a good idea. If Heretic Blood was the most difficult thing I have written to date, this new thing is the craziest idea I’ve ever seriously tried to work on. Apparently the crazy ones are the good ones. We’ll see.

I am also encouraged because I’ve started to figure out the new project’s theme music. No, really. I don’t write my stuff imagining it as a movie or TV show (or a comic), but I do sometimes ‘cast’ the characters I’m writing. That’s mostly just a fun mental exercise for in the middle of a 10k or something. But, I always have theme music.

This isn’t necessarily the same as music I play while writing, although I usually do have that going on. I play all sorts of different things almost every time I write, and it isn’t necessarily connected to what’s going on on the page at all. Mostly I just choose something that’s either going to relax me or otherwise get me into a pleasant headspace where I can focus on making the words happen.

Every story I’ve written, though, has at least a couple pieces of ‘theme music’ that are basically connected to the mood and feel of the piece I’m working on. I don’t honestly know why I do this, because I’m not at all a musical person in the sense of writing it or performing it in any way. I guess some part of my creative brain reacts to it, though, because forming that link between the story ideas and the right piece of music seems to be an important step.

Once I have the theme music (which I usually will hear and just go ‘oh yeah, that’s it, isn’t it.’) it tells me a lot about what the tone of the story is likely to be and the direction I want to take it in. In the past, at least, figuring out the theme music makes it much easier to get to work on the writing. I’m not entirely sure why. I find it genuinely fascinating that there are these parts of my creative process that appear to be important, but I don’t (apparently) consciously understand why or how. Most of the time, I also feel that it’s one of those things that’s best not to ask too many questions about.

This all sounds, I am sure, slightly(?) overly-mysticized, and no doubt it is. I expect there’s some reasonably straightforward neuropsychological reason for why things work the way they do. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter. I’ve got the theme music.

That means it’s time to keep on with the writing.

I probably won’t blog next week, what with it being the holiday season, and all. See you in a couple weeks. Thanks for reading.

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On Sabine

I really don’t have a good idea to write about this week, but I have been thinking a lot about Star Wars (in part because of the RPG I game master, and in part because I’m doing the Star Wars Lego advent calendar), and so I think I’m going to do my thoughts on Sabine Wren. For those who have maybe missed it, Sabine is one of the characters from the Rebels animated series that I’ve talked about on here before.

I really enjoyed the series overall, and I think all the characters were written quite well. Sabine was the one that really surprised me, though. I kind of cringed a bit when I first saw her because she’s a young girl in Mandalorian armour – the stuff Boba Fett wears. I think I’ve also said several times before on here that I think the Star Wars writers have fumbled the ball pretty badly where Boba Fett is concerned.

They had a character with a neat visual design who people thought was cool in part because of the look and in part because he was an enigma. Boba Fett had fan support far beyond what his actual role in the movies really justified. The response to this was to not only do more and more with that specific character, but also to recycle that visual design into seemingly as many places as possible. A copycat bounty hunter in basically the same suit. Another identical looking guy for the prequel trilogy. Mandalorians everywhere. Everything they’ve added has, to me, undermined where the appeal of the Boba Fett character came from so that by the time I saw Sabine show up on Rebels, I was like ‘oh noooo’.

But then, she turned out to be far from just a retread of the ‘bounty hunter in cool armour’ concept. I mean, yes, Sabine is good in a fight and enjoys explosives, but there’s a more interesting layer. She’s an artist. That (to me, now) overdone armour is brightly painted and stylized. She bombs things with paint, and wants to leave a her symbol behind to let the Empire know who just kicked their ass. When she’s gonna take a stolen TIE Fighter into battle, well, she’s not gonna do it until she’s given the thing a custom paint job. I’m still sorry we never saw that thing again.

I guess it’s maybe not a surprise that I’d dig a character who is, on some level, another creative, but I also think this was just not a character we’d seen in the Star Wars world before. Knights, space pirates, royalty, con men, yes … but not really an artist. So that was cool, and it got me to buy into the Sabine character long enough for the writers to give me the rest of her story. Which did, in the end, involve a whole bunch more dudes in that goddamned armour, but by then I didn’t care because it was Sabine’s story and they found a way to make me care about that.

So well done, but also something to think about regarding characters in general. It gets me back to the idea that I keep running into from writers I respect that it doesn’t necessarily matter if the bare bones of your idea (plot, setting, characters, whatever) are brand new, because you’ve never told their story before. Sure, a particular character concept (Mandalorian warrior!) might have been so chewed over that people are sure they’ve seen it all before – but they haven’t seen you do it yet.

I mean, I still don’t think I ever want to see another Mandalorian armour bounty hunter in my Star Wars, but maybe I do, and I just don’t know it yet, because it’s gonna come from a writer that I haven’t seen use that particular brush to paint with. I think it may be the hardest thing to learn as a writer, and I’m sure still working on it: believing that the story I have to tell could not be done by anyone else, alive or dead, and that means it has an audience that wants to hear it.

Tell that story with confidence. Paint brightly.

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Read Whatever

Busy times just now, so a bit of a brief one. I saw several separate discussions on the internet recently about people being told that they ‘must’ read various authors, either to ‘properly understand’ SFF as a reader, or to be able to ‘properly write’ it. This is not, it’s true, unique to SFF or fiction in general; people will make the same argument about appreciating music Properly or film The Right Way or whatever. It’s not something that I’ve ever been told personally, but I sure have seen many suggestions along the lines of ‘you cannot truly understand SFF until you’ve read <Author>’. <Author> is usually a white dude from like the 1960s, although not exclusively.

I don’t care who the author is, though, this is bunk. There are lots of great stories out there, ones that will blow your mind, and you should read them. Seek them out. Hunt them down, feast upon them. The thing is, that even in a ‘niche’ genre like SF, or fantasy, or horror (or, or, or), there’s so many different kinds of story, too. For any individual reader, there’s some you’ll like and some you probably won’t, because of the writing style, the thematic approach, the characters, whatever. It’s very silly, to me, to think that there’s some imperative to read the stories we know or can guess that we won’t like very much, just because A Name wrote them.

A friend of mine noted (tangential to one of these discussions) that he’s never read any Heinlein. I’m not 100% certain, but knowing him as I do, I don’t think he’d enjoy Heinlein’s stuff very much. There’s like a billion things out there to read, why spend your limited time on something that doesn’t grab you by the throat and scream ‘READ ME’?

Likewise, as a writer, the most important thing (it seems to me) is to write the stories you feel passionate about. You can absolutely do that, because the story comes from you. There’s no background reading required (although yes, reading widely in general will improve your writing). This goes back to one of my very first blog entries and that advice from Stephen King (still some of the best writing advice I have yet seen) – you’re ready to write when you feel ready to write, and if someone tells you you’re not because you haven’t read X or Y books from whenever, tell them to get bent. Go ahead and smoke that shit.

Now, if your objective is to study the history of a field, the development of (say) SF fiction over time, then sure, you’d need to go and read particular influential and impactful writers and landmark books. But if you’re just reading to read? Read whatever tells you that it must be read. If you’re looking to write? Congratulations, you’re ready to sit down and try it out. Just write the story that you’re excited to tell everyone.

Gatekeeping, man. It’s extremely tiresome. Most creatives really don’t need anything additional feeding our impostor syndromes. Give these kinds of argument all the attention they deserve, which is none.

That’s what I’ve got for you this week. Thanks for reading.

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