Monday, January 24, 2011

Musings from the Chair Lift


Okay, I admit it. I went back for more – and spent a second weekend in the Poconos, skiing. It was a lot less crowded this time. Less crowds means more runs and more time riding the chair lift – which is one of my favorite places to think about writing. Honestly, can you think of a prettier place to ponder your work than suspended above a snow-covered mountain, with all the tree branches around you encased in ice and sparkling like tinsel?

As I complete my latest round of revisions on a manuscript I’m almost ready to share with my agent, Sara, I realize I have to face that WIP I laid aside a few weeks ago. You know – the one where the characters failed to come to life.

I’ve come to understand the characters weren’t really the problem. It was the setting. This was supposed to be a steampunk story – centered somewhat around Nikola Tesla’s laboratory and his would-have, could-have, (did-he?) experiments involving electricity, magnetism, anti-gravity, and lasers. Before writing each chapter, I painstakingly researched the technology involved and talked over everything with my in-house engineer, Bob.

And then I carefully regurgitated what I’d learned onto the page.

Urgh. Who wants to read upchuck?

If I want to do this, the technology has to take a backseat to the story. Even in steampunk or science fiction, the setting is just a backdrop.

When I write historical novels set in the 19th century, the characters travel by train and carriage, communicate by letters and telegrams, and tell time with pocket watches. However, I don’t painstakingly describe the operation of these things or explain how they work. They’re just there. The same must hold true in any fantasy or science fiction story: start explaining the setting and you’re strangling the story.

I need to start over, and I think I need to throw away my outline. (I knew I wasn’t an outliner. Pantstering, here I come!)

And while I rethink the entire project, I’m going to play around with three other ideas I have – well, actually one idea, one scene, and one opening paragraph – all totally unrelated. But on the lift this weekend, I had an idea about how to tie them together into a single story …

Love the chair lift.

7 comments:

  1. Wish I skied. LOL I think it's wise to work on a few projects, right now. For nothing else, it might relieve the pressure you've put on yourself to 'fix' the other story. Just relax. It will all come to you.

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  2. For me it's the shower. On a chairlift, I'm pretty sure all I'd be thinking is, "Oh God, Oh God, Oh God..." (Yeah. Not big on hanging suspended anywhere. So it's a good thing I don't ski.)

    But I totally agree with your point about the setting. No matter how important or compelling, it is still just the backdrop.

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  3. Gasp!!! You're going to go back to the darkside. Nooooooo!

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  4. I've named you as a Stylish Blogger. Drop into my blog to see how to "accept" the award. http://mgddasef.blogspot.com/2011/01/stylish-blogger.html

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  5. hi miss dianne! wow that picture is soooo cool. those trees are like in a fairy tale. i think i could like that ride if i didnt get froze. that lift got your story lifted up so now you could get going on it again. wow! how cool is that!
    ...hugs from lenny

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  6. Cool, Dianne. This is a great perspective for me to read. I think I would do well to remember what I need to know or don't need to know. And that view from the chair lift is not bad! No mention of pain this time.

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  7. I am jealous that you are skiing. I miss the snow and the mountain. I am not big on outline either, so I am glad to hear you are tossing it. Your fiction sounds interesting!

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