Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Writing Process: Q& A Break.

I’m going to take a moment and address some of the questions I’ve been asked.

How do I organize the information gained during research?

This depends on the information. If it’s a website that I don’t anticipate fading into oblivion, I’ll bookmark it (medical information used for Byron in Full Circle, parts of Canonical Law for About to Sin, etc). If I’m afraid the information will go away, I’ll copy and paste the information into a Word document and include the url at the top of the document. If it’s a factoid from a book I own (the blood type in Full Circle, Bob’s and Phineas’s back stories in Full Circle, raven folklore, etc) I’ll put a piece of paper to mark the spot in the book and keep the book by my desk. If it’s some kind of formal document, such as the Vatican’s instructions for the pastoral care of homosexual persons, the Pope’s statements about homosexuals in the priesthood and so on, I’ll save a copy of the document in the same folder as all the files associated with the story. If it’s information gained during an interview with a person (i.e. a “former” priest I spoke to who left the priesthood after having an affair with an adult male (heartbreaking story), technical information that can only be held by the people who’ve been through it, etc) I’ll save all the e-mails. If it’s information from a phone conversation, I’ll write notes in a notebook and often have to call or e-mail them for clarification.

Why do all of this reasearch for an erotic story?

I believe that there needs to be a certain amount of fact to make the fiction believable. I also don’t believe that writing erotica is “slumming it”. Readers who happen to enjoy reading graphically depicted sex deserve a good story.

How would I deal if I can’t figure out how to start a story?

If the “flashes of scenes” I get about a story are not the start of it, I do nothing until I work backwards in my mind to the first word of the story. This is why I have nothing typed up on my catboy story. I want to do a catboy story and I know how the middle is going to play out, but I don’t know the first scene. So, it sits in plotbunny form until it decides to play nice with the others.

If I know the first scene, but not the first word, then writing discipline comes into play. I’ll do a few things to help me think. What’s the tone of the scene? I’ll play a song or group of songs that match the tone of the scene. I’ll use logic to figure out what’s going on in the scene and try to deduce the starting sentence. I’ll paint my nails to give me a mental break from staring at the blinking cursor. If worst comes to worst, I’ll work on something else and play a trick on myself. I’ll deny myself the joy of working on the new story until I really, really, REALLY want it and my mind is cooperating. This kind of hitch rarely happens to me when it comes to the first scene. I’ll usually leave a story in plotbunny form until I’m ready to start typing. This is the kind of thing that will happen to me in the middle or end of a story.

How do I go about character design?

There’s some of that in the previous installments and I’ll be showing more in future blog posts. I think what this person is really seeking is some kind of list or step by step process that I go through.

I’m sorry. I don’t do it like that. My character design is haphazard and backwards. Sometimes I’ll have things written before I know the details.

I’ve been asked to use About to Sin as an example for this. I can’t talk about specifics with Father Daniel right now, because there’s something coming up in the next installment that’s pretty important and I don’t want to spoil it.

But, here’s how I did it. About to Sin started as a short one-shot. I wanted a priest and a doctor together. Father Daniel is a Roman Catholic priest and that alone gives me a lot of back story. I wrote the first installment not expecting to write any more, so I just went with the guilt and shame aspects of feeling the need to do something like he did. When I turned it into a series, I had to start asking myself all sorts of questions. (Note: Questions only at this stage)

Why would someone want to become a priest? Why would Father Daniel want to become a priest? What has to happen to become a priest? Why would a good solid priest seek out what he sought that Friday night? What is he running from? What is he running toward? How old was he when he entered the seminary? Did he realize he was gay at the time? What kind of family would he come from? Are they supportive of his desire to be a priest? When he became ordained did he realize he was gay? What kind of crap had to be fed to him for him to view his sexuality as he does? Is he really a good priest? Obviously, he’s closeted from his family, but would they accept him being gay? Why is he trying so damn hard to be what he thinks is a good priest instead of being himself and letting his inner goodness manifest via his priestly functions?

For Anand, I asked myself these questions:

What makes someone so confident and happy with their sexuality? Does his family accept his homosexuality? Why did he leave Hinduism? Why did he become a doctor? What made him so jaded and reluctant to love? Why is he circumcised? (That question will make sense when you read further into the story.) Where are his parents now? How many sisters does he have? Is he the only boy in the family? If so, how do his parents deal with their only son being gay? Why…for goodness’ sakes…does he pay so much lip service to being selfish when it’s obvious that he’s not? Is the real reason he attended mass for six month just to ogle the sexy priest or is he seeking something more? Is he with Father Daniel only because Father Daniel is a priest or does that just add a sprinkle of kink on the relationship for him? I think it’s pretty obvious from the first installment that he gets off on the priest thing. Is this healthy for the relationship? Why is he a man-slut? Is he REALLY a man-slut?

Basically, I start with what I have written or what’s in the flashes of scenes and then I use a mixture of logic and psychology to figure out what happened to make them the way we are. It’s nature AND nurture. Furthermore, I may never answer all of those questions in the manuscript. I’ll eventually know all of the answers, but if I can’t naturally get them into a scene, then they stay in my mind. Also, answers will often lead to new questions. It sounds like a cop out, but I really do have the characters answer these things. I look at their behavior, dialog and narrative for clues. Narrative isn’t exactly the word I want for this sentence, but my mind is drawing a blank. >.<

Some writers will work their character designs before they type the first word. I work my character designs as I write and usually end up having to go back to the beginning of a story and flesh it out and change it to fit what I’ve learned about the character. This works for me, I think. It allows me to reveal the characters in bite-sized pieces and helps me resist an infodump of back story. I know that the reader needs to know X before the importance of Z scene will register. I don’t like infodumps, so I’ll try to sneak in bits of back story as they become relevant to the scene.

What are some of my turn-offs for plot elements?

I don’t like having a character wake up and it’s all been a dream. That seems like plot abortion to me. (Yes, the phrase “plot abortion” is a real writing phrase.) It also feels like tricking the reader. Don’t get me wrong, for some stories dreams are necessary, but I try to let the reader know it’s a dream or at least make the dream an important part of the story not just *POOF* “Well, that’s done, now where are my car keys?” It’s like hitting a big reset button for a story and I don’t like that. If you’ve written yourself into a corner either write your way out of it or edit your story.

I don’t like arbitrary ticking clocks in a story.


Thaddeus, a vampire, is on a quest to reclaim his mortality. He needs the kiss of a true love to do it and it must be done by the light of next full moon or he’s forever doomed to be a vampire.

Oh gag me. What’s so special about the next full moon that’s so critical to changing him back into human? Oh…that’s right…that’s when the annual meeting of the High Vampire Council happens and the power generated by them all being in the same room eating off the buffet and discussing the Vampiric politics marks that moon as being special.

I have a hard time believing that, but fine. What about the next moon during their next meeting?

Well, that won’t be for another 150 years!

Oh gag me. If the council only meets every 150 years, what’s the point of the council? How much power can they really wield if they meet so infrequently? WTF do they DO? And if they really want to help Thaddeus become a mortal again, couldn’t they hold a special meeting? And Thaddeus is immortal. If he misses this window, his ass can wait.

Besides, what’s so flipping powerful about the kiss of a true love? Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate the romantic element here, even if I do feel it’s heavy-handed. If you want me to put that much weight into a kiss of a “true love”, “young man”, or “fair maiden” you’d better being doing a different/modern/gay/etc version of Sleeping Beauty or explain why it’s so powerful.

I’ve seen this plot or a version of it in a lot of books and movies. I usually spend the time watching the movie or reading the book wondering if this is the only way the author could think of to put a sense of urgency in the story. The sad part, in my eyes, is that this plot element shows up in some popular stories.

If you’re going to have a “once in a life time chance” make sure it really is once in a lifetime. Planets and other heavenly bodies run in cycles. The three moons of Zarnon will line up in the southern sky more than once.

This example also plucks on one of my pet peeves when it comes to vampires. Why do they angst so much about being vampires? Perpetually young and beautiful. Perpetually healthy if they behave themselves. Extra long lives that will help them generate wealth and glorious surroundings. Fangirls and fanboys who want to be feeders for the thrill of it all. And some how, letting humanity be a state of mind instead of a state of being isn’t enough for them. Whatever. Show me a character with real problems, please. I know there are some very popular vamp writers who do this vampire angst thing, but I still don’t understand it.

Another turn off I have is what I’ve nicknamed “The Kung-Fu cop out.” The bad guys have spent the whole story being bad guys. They destroy villages, cheat, lie, steal, rape, kick kittens, and dog-ear corners in books. And yet! One good ass kicking from the hero and—PRESTO—everything is a perfect world again. The sun comes out, any still breathing bad guys change their ways, the hero kisses the cute little number who was the leader of the bad guys’ girl, kittens purr and all the villages forget they were destroyed. Ah…happy ending all around.


By all means give me the showdown with the bad guy and let the hero kick some ass, but realize a broken nose or chopped off head won’t solve the problems caused by the bad guy JUST prevent THAT bag guy from doing more damage.

This Q& A took longer than I expected. I’ll get back to the writing process with the next installment. By all means, feel free to ask questions.


Vinnie G. said...

Just thought you'd like to know that the new hot priest calendar for 08 is out now. . .

IM Cupnjava said...

Oh, Vinnie, you know how to make me very happy!