Posts Tagged The Bridge

Worldbuilding for SF and other fiction, reimagined for roleplayers. And pony books. Podcast at Fictoplasm

How do you create a world for a science fiction novel or a slipstream element for a more contemporary story? I’ve done both with my two fiction outings, My Memories of a Future Life and Lifeform Three. So Ralph Lovegrove invited me to guest on Fictoplasm, his podcast for roleplayers.

You probably know I’m fond of stories that flirt with the edges of SF and fable, and we discussed quite a few, some of which are in this thumbnail above. And Ralph has made detailed show notes with the titles and a time stamp so you can jump to exactly the bits that interest you.

Ralph’s podcast likes to explore unconventional inspirations for roleplayers, so I offered him a challenge. Could I convince him that the pony story, beloved of horse-mad kids (and grown-up kids) was worth a look? He was more than game – and it gave me a grand excuse to revisit some old, old friends. Do I get away with it? There’s only one way to know. Trot over for a look.

 

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You have an agent: why self-publish? The hybrid writer

Charles Dickens self-published sometimes. And he sat on chairs the wrong way round (thank you Smabs Sputzer)

Writer Laura Pauling dropped by one of my recent posts and asked this rather interesting question:

I’m curious about your decision to self-publish as I believed you had an agent?

Yes, I have an agent. Not just one, actually; two. Jane Conway-Gordon for my adult fiction and Piers Blofeld of Sheil Land for my MG/YA work. Agented up to my eyeballs and beyond, in fact. And yet I’m self-publishing My Memories of a Future Life. What gives?

Well, My Memories of a Future Life is one of those awkward novels that agents love, editors love – but it’s not what publishers are buying as breakout novels at the moment. It’s come back from editors with notes that said ‘we loved it but was too unconventional’.

It’s a matter of timing. My Memories of a Future Life has a speculative element and would have done fine if I’d been submitting it at the same time as David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas or Iain Banks’s The Bridge. But a lot has changed since they came out (particularly The Bridge, which was published in 1986).

So what’s a girl to do?

Even six months ago there would have been a stigma if a professional author self-published a work of fiction. But some books fit the high-volume needs of the publishing industry and some are better as a slow-burn cult discovery.

This doesn’t mean we don’t need publishers. Far from it. But it does mean that professional authors are developing a hybrid approach. Alina Tugend wrote in The New York Times this week that many traditionally published authors are now choosing to self-publish some of their work. The Bookseller recently featured a group of established writers from all genres who are bringing their own projects to Kindle with their own ebook site – Kindle Authors UK.

Writers are creative people. From time to time, what we create doesn’t sit within well-established genre boundaries. But that doesn’t mean people don’t want to read it (I refer you to paragraph 4…)

And we’re only following in the footsteps of other industries. Buffy creator Joss Whedon made Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog himself, rather than take it to a network. But he hasn’t turned his back on mainstream film and TV.

And I’m not turning my back on conventional publishing. Just because My Memories Of A Future Life doesn’t fit the industry’s needs doesn’t mean my other books won’t. Indeed, my MG/YA novel, Life Form 3, is on editors’ desks right now. Because writers today can do both.

Should you self-publish too?

If your novel is solidly in the middle of a high-selling genre and isn’t getting a sale, perhaps you still have work to do. But if you’ve got a book that’s earned its spurs by securing an agent, has had good feedback but hasn’t made it through the marketing department, maybe you should think about self-publishing too. (In fact I talked about this a while ago in this post here… and a lot of you had plenty to say…)

Laura has also asked how I’ll be promoting the novel, as I usually blog only about writing. It deserves a post of its own, so I’ll deal with that tomorrow!

In the meantime, tell me your thoughts on the changing nature of writers’ careers. Personally I love the hybrid approach – some of my books will be right for mainstream and some will be better as indies. It gives us all more freedom to have fulfilling and viable writing careers. It brings readers a wider breadth of work. It keeps the artform fresh. What do you think?

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Fiction within fiction – made-up worlds and stories inside stories

Stories within stories, dreams and made-up universes are all tricky because once you leave your story’s established world the reader may leave you too. How do you keep them with you?

Stories within stories can go badly wrong. The reader knows it is not ‘true’. Yes, fiction isn’t true anyway, but the reader allows that because they bought into it when they opened the book. But they didn’t necessarily agree to read the characters’ fiction, or spend long periods in their dream worlds. The reader needs to be connected securely with the other world and want to go there.

I’ve just been reading Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, which I discussed recently on Guys Can Read. Tony and Susan does story-in-story with aplomb. Here’s how.

Susan, who is comfortably married with 2 children and a nice home, is sent a novel written by her ex-husband, Edward, who she hasn’t seen in 20 years. When they split up decades ago, he was a discontented drifter making incompetent attempts to be creative. Now he comes out of the blue and asks Susan to read his novel because she was ‘always his best critic’. Susan feels awkward about it – and not just because she’s worried the book will be awful. There’s difficult history between them – she feels complicated and guilty – and she’s dreading what she’ll find in the novel.

So, by the time we get to this novel within a novel, we’re curious. We want to see if it will be bad – but we’re not too worried about that because the (real-life) author has been assured and entertaining so far. And also we’ve become connected to Susan’s reactions. We have inklings that there is an older, raw Susan in dread of being woken. So we are eager to see what is in Edward’s book and how she reacts.

So the first rule of stories within stories is this: give us something we want to find.

When do you introduce it? As soon as you like, so long as you tick those boxes.

You may not need to wait very long. Tony and Susan has a prologue and a short first chapter and we’re into the book within the book. (Yes, a prologue. This writer is happy-slapping several writing taboos – and getting away with it.)

Another of my favourite books with several tiers of fictionality is The Bridge by Iain Banks. The Bridge starts with a man trapped behind the wheel of his crashed car, in pain and terrified. A mere two pages and we are into a parallel fantasy world which is his consciousness while he is in a coma. In the coma world are clues that anchor us to the real-world scene we’ve just read. Some random delirium words – ‘the dark station’ – become the first line of the coma world. There are other details too – a strange, O-shaped bruise on the man’s chest, which has given him his coma-world name, and which we know was from impact with the steering wheel. (Although the book does get flabby after a while, with dream sequences run to briar…)

Second rule of stories within stories

Give us details that anchor us and help us understand what we’re seeing. Another master-stroke about Banks’s coma-world is its setting on a giant, neverending bridge – the Forth Bridge, where the accident happened.

Here’s the third rule of stories within stories

Make both stories satisfying. Tony and Susan’s story within the story is a harrowing thriller, with every bit as much tension as the story around it. Often I see manuscripts where the writer is more interested in one strand than the other. It’s often tricky to make sure the crescendos complement each other, but, hey, you knew it would be a challenge,

Fourth rule

Make both stories affect each other.  So the characters have to be changed not only by what they are doing in the real world, but what is happening to them in the other one. It all needs to knit together to make something bigger than both stories separately – otherwise why have them in one book at all?

Again, Tony and Susan has it nailed, and in rather an interesting way. The Tony part (Tony is the fictional MC) is a story of literal, bloody revenge. The Susan part is about psychological revenge. Edward (the writer) knows exactly how to push Susan’s buttons and prod her insecurities. Because of what Edward is making Tony go through, he’s forcing her to have a relationship with her again, through the book, because he knows he’s making her react. That’s all very uncomfortable.

Do you have any rules for writing stories within stories? Do you have any favourite novels – or films – that do this particularly well? (Thank you THQ Insider for the picture)

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