What’s It About?

I think every writer reaches a point where he asks himself what his story is about. Sure, it’s about the characters, the plot and events, the conflict…but is there anything more? Or does it need to be about anything more? Surely, many readers don’t need their stories to be much more than the ride. Rowling and Patterson fans, Clancy and Fleming devotees, countless readers of chart-topping blockbusters just want an engaging story with characters they grow to love and identify with. They don’t need a deeper meaning or passages to dog-ear or highlight.

But doesn’t every author want their work to mean something? Deep down inside, don’t they want their novels to be remembered for more than the plot? Even while writing, aren’t we trying to say something more? About life, love, and the human condition? I’m not sure my novel is about any of that. It’s about family, I guess…about loss and friendship. About revenge and redemption and the infinite possibilities of the universe. I think. But what it’s really about is a boy that lost his parents who grows up to be a man that searches for his parents. Set against a backdrop of space travel and intrigue, with an android and a man who can see the future, and spaceships and bokguns and the Alendor and ancient artifacts…

Maybe I don’t need to have a deeper meaning. Maybe I don’t need this story to be more than what it is. Or maybe I haven’t figured out what it’s about just yet, and it’ll reveal itself to me in the due course of its creation.

The Chase

Okay, so I’m a little behind in my word count for Camp NaNo this month. We’re past the halfway point and I’ve only just passed 25% of my goal.  However, that’s about 13,000 words so I can’t complain.  Overall, including what’s already written, I’ve got about 19,000 words – or approximately 76 pages paperback.  It’s coming together.

I just finished the introduction of a secondary character named Ennio.  He’s spent most of his life on the streets of Osan Station down in the Tok (short for Tik Tok), the seediest area on the large space station, where lawlessness rules – unless you run afoul of any one of the crime syndicates that run the joint.  But Ennio’s got a secret up his sleeve: if his skin touches you, he sees how you’re going to die.  It goes without saying that it’s a talent best kept under wraps for a petty beggar.  If the secret gets out, he’s sure to be a target for those who think they can exploit the gift for themselves.

Ennio’s introduction finds him being chased by some ne’er-do-well through the slums of the Tok.  I’ve never written an action scene like this before, so it’s been an interesting experience. I’ve got 17 pages written encompassing the chase.  It could probably use some editing, but for Camp NaNo it’s all about getting the words on the page.

Summer Camp

So tonight I started Camp NaNoWriMo, the July version of the annual November ‘contest.’  The challenge is to write 50,000 words in one month’s time, but there is no award or prize or recognition for doing so.  It’s simply a support team via numbers: knowing that you aren’t alone in your struggle to write while your busy life continues is in itself the reward.  The site even places 7-8 participants into ‘Cabins’ where you can utilize a private chat feed, to comment on story ideas, techniques, give support, or just vent about block.  The support of your loved ones is even better, and without them you’d fail every time.

And all you have to do is write.  Don’t edit; just get it on the page or screen and out of your head.

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Currently at 1,795.   Behind for the week, but with the holiday I’ll have several hours each morning and early afternoon to commit.  I write best in the a.m.

Better news is what I wrote was such an entirely new scene, and so much more than it really had to be, that I’m excited to inhabit this secondary character. Don’t you love when you feel at home playing the part of a certain character? When you find that what could’ve been a throwaway role ends up being so colorful? When your voice adapts and you begin to think like him/her? It’s been a good night of writing, and enjoyable.

Dialogue

Tonight at my monthly writer’s meeting we were tasked with sharing some of our work for critique.  I chose a dialogue scene in the hopes that my past history of screenwriting would help the scene come across as intended.  Screenwriting is all action and dialogue, so it’s a discipline I draw upon when I want to move my story forward.

Here’s what I shared with the group, picking up with our main character, Pavel, and his close friend Malena on the GSV Logan:

“Thinking up some trouble again?”

Pavel jumped at the sound of the familiar voice and spun around. Malena stood ten feet behind him, holding her tablet close to her chest. “I swear if I hadn’t said anything I could’ve followed you all the way into your cabin.”

“I’m not going into my cabin,” he said. “I’m going to dinner.”

“Whatever,” she said, skipping forward to stand beside him. “I still could’ve.”

Malena was the daughter of Jerry Patton, Logan’s lead biologist. She was one year younger than Pavel but took all the same classes. Malena excelled at her studies and carried her tablet everywhere she went. At any given moment, you could find her huddled somewhere dark and quiet, face lit by the soft amber screen of the small handheld device. That is, when she wasn’t causing trouble. Which was often enough. There weren’t many children on the Logan, so you spent time with those your age or near. Malena was Pavel’s closest friend, partly due to the trouble in which they always found themselves and partly due to age. She was also pretty, Pavel’s mother had once said.

“Whatcha doin’?” she asked.

“Going to dinner, like I said.”

Malena gave him one of her classic sideways glances as they started walking again. “You don’t say. What have you been doing, silly?”

“Nothing,” he said.

“Liar.” She skipped ahead and turned to face him, walking backwards. “Let’s see. Pavel Dushkov, son of famed archaeologists Artemy and Katya Dushkov, heir apparent to the legacy of the Galactic Science Vessel Logan!” She smiled with that big, bright smile she saved for when she was hounding Pavel for one reason or another. “The whole universe spread out before you, the young prince at the helm, all of possibility at his fingertips! What are the chances he was, say, staring out the observation deck at Grila again? Hm?”

Pavel kept walking, silent.

“Yep. Thought so.”

“So?”

“Sew buttons on a red bird,” she said.

“What does that even mean?” he replied.

“You’re always there these days.”

“Well, you’re always buried in that tablet of yours.”

“Some of us don’t have the luxury of a personal tutor,” she sneered.

Pavel sighed, “Borya’s not so bad.”

“I never said he was. I like Borya.” She smiled.   “A little stiff, even for an android. But I like him. I still make time for fun.”

“Who says I’m not having fun?”

Malena shrugged. “Yeah, I guess.”

They reached the center of the crew deck, from which the cabin modules radiated outward in six directions. Each hallway was lined with doors. Rows of berths lined each side of each corridor. Straight ahead, the hallway led to the mess hall and gym.

All the ship personnel lived in these modules. From its exterior, the Logan resembled a rod lying on its side. It was a lean craft, stripped down to absolute essential features, allowing long voyages far from He-3 refueling outposts and quick jumps to FTL when needed. The perfect design for an archaeological vessel studying a race that never seemed to stay in one place for very long.

“Did you hear about Dylan?” Malena asked excitedly.

“No.”

She brushed a lock of her dark brown hair over her ear. Pavel tended to get distracted whenever she did that. His mother told him he was growing up. Whatever that meant. “He bungled it again. But this time it’s serious.”

“What’d he do this time?” he said, smirking. Dylan stories were usually entertaining, and served as cautionary tales for the children on the Logan. If there was mischief to be had, Dylan had had it.

“He fell asleep in the lab, where they’re holding that thing they brought back from Grila.”

Pavel stopped and turned to Malena, eyes wide. “He was in the lab?”

Malena nodded quickly, smiling wide.

“How’d he get in? You can’t get in there.” His brow furrowed. “Wait, he fell asleep?”

“I know, I know,” she said, holding her hands up. “But somehow he did.”

“How’d he — Wait, what was he doing in there? Trying to see it?” Pavel’s head spun, excited at the possibility that Dylan may have actually seen the artifact. None of them had seen it. What if he had touched it?

Malena grabbed Pavel’s left arm and slowly squeezed. She leaned forward, checking both ends of the hall before looking into his eyes. Pavel’s stomach felt strange all of a sudden.

“Get this. He was roleplaying in the vacsuits like he was a big important scientist. Started walking around the lab in those big, heavy boots? Apparently, he sat down to rest and fell asleep. With a chocolate bar melting in his grubby hands. A chocolate bar! In the lab!”

Malena burst out laughing, releasing Pavel’s arm and spinning away from him. “Can you believe it? That dumb bum can’t even screw up right.” She grinned with glee. “Not a glance at the artifact or anything. He never even made it past the decon pad. I would of at least grabbed a test tube or something!”

Pavel smiled back at her as she giggled and twirled, but his mind had already begun to race. Dylan had gotten into the lab. That was quite a feat; the labs were the most secure of all the decks on the Logan, second only to the bridge. Safety was the main concern, after all. No one wanted kids running around during controlled experiments or getting underfoot. Contamination and all that jazz. Adults seemed to think kids were only good for one thing; making messes. But when something was brought on board from a dig – a rare enough occurrence – they locked that deck down tight. No one in except those authorized, and only the scientists were ever authorized. The maglift wouldn’t even stop there if you didn’t have a cleared bracelet on your person. With the recent find on Grila, the lab was shut tighter than ever before. Dylan, of all people. Pavel couldn’t believe it.

“How’d he get in?”

Malena shrugged. “I dunno. We ought to ask him, if he ever comes out of his cabin again. I heard he’s grounded for a year. Maybe more.”

Pavel shook his head. “I can’t believe he got in.”

“Uh huh,” Malena slowly said, squinting her eyes at him.

“Do you think he saw it, though? I mean, he fell asleep on the pad, I get that. Dylan never was good at waiting. But what if he saw it and just hasn’t said so ‘cause of all the trouble he’d be in? And if–”

“Uh oh.”

“What?”

“I’ve seen that look before.”

“What look?”

“You know. That look you get when you start thinking real hard about something you want to do that you probably shouldn’t do. Your nose crinkles up and you look like you’re going to be sick.”

“I do not,” he said.

She smiled and motioned for Pavel to follow. “C’mon, let’s go eat. We’ll figure this out on a full stomach. That way you can hurl something up when you get to thinking again!”

Malena laughed and raced ahead toward the mess hall. Pavel tried his best to put aside his thoughts about Dylan and the artifact, but he knew it would be hopeless. Malena was right, he was thinking about the lab and how to get in. Imagine, seeing an actual Alendor artifact! Being close enough to touch a thing of legend! Pavel wondered what it looked like, if it made any sound. How big was it? It had to fit in one of the labs, and on the transport shuttle that returned from Grila. It couldn’t be that big, could it? Dylan, of all people. In the lab and not even a look at it. Pavel knew he’d never make that mistake.

It’s a brief moment of introduction for Malena and a tease to the shenanigans they will get into in their attempt to see the artifact.  From my previous post, you know the Logan ends up breaking apart (sorry, Gary) and Pavel’s family, friends, and even Malena’s life are left to chance…but this is supposed to make Pavel’s loss all the more resonant with the reader.  I want there to be weight with his coming loss.  I want the audience to feel Pavel’s pain when he must cope with his situation.

Thanks for reading!  Please feel free to comment on this – critical or otherwise – as every viewpoint helps me as a writer!

Haxxed!

Seems like someone hacked my blog and posted a get-rich scheme. Hope none of you smarty pants fell for it! ;)

At the very least, I guess that means my writing is popular among the scam crowd. Hey, you gotta start somewhere!

Last Call

Thanks to everyone who has voted!  It means a lot to have your input and opinion.  To those of you who have not yet voted, please do so soon as I’ll be choosing which piece of fiction to submit this weekend, in time for the deadline.

Thanks again, and wish me luck!

Election Day

As summer winds down, it’s time for me to choose an entry for the 2012 Esquire Short Short Fiction contest.  I’ve spent the last 78 days working on 79-word fiction.  Something funny in that, I suppose.  But now it’s your turn to play a part in all this!

Just as with a true democracy, I’m allowing you the opportunity to read each of these and vote on your favorite.  You can only vote once, so vote carefully!  Please keep in mind the goal: to be one of 10 finalists in this contest.  Maybe read last year’s winners to get an idea of what Esquire is looking for and see which of mine best match the caliber.

I appreciate your time and consideration, and obviously the support many of you have given over the past three months.  Without further ado…

[Voting Closed]

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