Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Structuring an unstructured mind is like nailing a cat to a sail in a hurricane

The problem with having an overactive imagination is getting it to stop.  I can be walking along when I have a great idea, concept, lyric, line or something that flashes across my mind.  It's so great it puts the proverbial spring in my step as I let it run free and grow and build and I think 'I HAVE to get this down, this is amazing'.  Then something happens - someone speaks to me, a child punches me in the groin or a car tries to run me over (all have happened) and the great idea evaporates away before it has time to fully form in my memory.  It's a pain in the arse.

That said, a lot of idiocy and madness does survive that initial germination phase and makes it to a scrap of paper, a notebook, the back of a hand or any other place I can get it scribbled down, just enough to prompt the thought again when I look back at it later so that the idea is not lost amongst the noise of the world.

Even with all the loss, I still splurge out more ideas than I can realistically turn into worthwhile work.  This includes stories, songs and often just throwaway lines that I put on Twitter or to a lesser extent Facebook.  I've always written stories, even from a young age.  A couple of things stick in my mind from that period. Both involve the same English teacher, Mr Milner, who taught me at Oaklands School in York.  He must be dead by now, but he had a huge impact on my life, even though he doesn't know it.  In return, I never gave him back his copy of To Kill A Mockingbird.

My first memory related to his teaching - oh no, wait, there's three, not two - was when we were given a sheet of paper with a series of drawings, depicting a guy who gets a motorbike.  We had to use them to tell a story.  I sort of cheated, because I cut the page up, rearranged the sequence of pictures and turned one of the characters into a policeman reporting on the untimely death of the lead character at the end of the story.  Mr Milner wrote on it 'This is a work of the highest standard, well done.'  That stuck in my head because a) he was right, it was good and b) I didn't get why nobody else did the same thing.  It just seemed obvious to me.

Memory number two was a story about a raft.  I wrote it from the point of view of someone walking through a forest a spying on another person building a raft.  Mr Milner started reading that one out in class, much to my horror.  At that point I realized that I don't crave attention or validation for my writing.  I know when something works and when I doesn't.  I don't need other people telling me that.  If I let someone read something it's because I've gotten it to the point where it's progressed far enough to be presented to an audience.  That doesn't necessarily mean its the finished product.  That said, I do take onboard people's suggestions.  When people read my story I want them to find plot holes or any deus ex machina moments that need extracting and replacing with decent story telling.  I don't have a problem with that but generally by the time I have gotten to the point of letting someone read my work, such problems can be fixed with one or two lines of exposition.

Memory number three was a comment he put on a story about a deranged general trying to blow up a neutron bomb.  He wrote at the bottom - 'hugely entertaining, worthy of Jeffrey Archer!'  At the time I thought that was a compliment, but there will be more on that story later...

So that sort of brings me on to the point of this post.  I have a lot of stories in development, but a lot of them are pretty closely tied together.  In order to keep track of this, I need to set out a diagram of where they all fit together.  Apologies for the formatting:

Brotherly Love

                                                    Valiant Shield

Satisfaction                                Ghostwalker                                                      
Sympathy for the Devil               Ghostwalkers
                                                                                 Infinite Diamond
                                                                                 The Eye of Andromeda          Scorpio

Okay, I have more than I thought, that's actually eleven books.  Given the length of book I seem to write, that's about a million words.  Seeing as I do at least one complete rewrite per story, that brings it up to over two million words worth of effort to complete all these stories.  Now you see why I see having too much imagination as being a bit of a curse.

Bear in mind that most of these are not written out in full, and that million word target is probably more around the three hundred thousand word mark at the moment.  In fact, only Satisfaction and Ghostwalker are completed to a reasonable degree, with Infinite Diamond close behind.  Brotherly Love has an outline and a few passages.  Sympathy for the Devil has a start and a premise.  Ghostwalkers has a premise.  Valiant Shield is based on the story Mr Milner likened to the work of Jeffrey Archer, and is little more than a basic pitch.  Infinite Diamond is the story I'm working on at the moment and is about half way through being rewritten. The Eye of Andromeda has an outline, as do the last three.

What links Valiant Shield through to Nemesis is one character.  He's called Nathan Hayes and in some of the stories he's a relatively minor player, whereas in others he takes centre stage.  The overarching span of these stories is really about his career, although you wouldn't see that reading any one of the stories.

The stories on the left don't involve Hayes and are a standalone little stories told from the first person point of view.  This is by far and away the easiest and laziest way for me to write, because I'm basically writing in my voice as I see it and hear it in my head.  If a character doesn't know something then they don't know.  I don't need to go away and research a subject or try to describe something I barely understand myself.  It really is much, much easier writing like this.  It's pretty much the same voice I use to write this blog, only it's fictional.  That's why when I start trying to publish, I'll be using thes stories on the left.  That way if I fail, it's at minimum damage to myself.  The other reason is to retain creative control.  I know where I want the rest of the stories to go and how I want them to fit together.  If I publish one of them without securing that creative control, it would run the risk of buggering up the overall structure that I have in mind.

The rest of the stories are very much more conventional fiction writing and range from thrillers through to straight action stories, mostly with a slight fantasy/sci fi element, although I don't include characters with names like Jxxfrkk or Gilfard the Great or anything like that.  It's a little more grounded writing than that, I like to think.  I do tend to write pretty visually and of course I think about how these stories could end up on film.  I'm also realistic though, and I know there's pretty much a zero chance of that happening, since they would be expensive to make.  So for now they will exist as novels, although another thought has occurred to me.  Being very visual stories, they could do very well as graphic novels.  I think the sort of stories I write could work in that medium and be marketed to the sort of audience who would pick up a graphic novel in the first place.

The only problem is that, like most things in life, I have no idea where to start.

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