Monday, March 15, 2010

Reclaiming My Voice

The first time Cat saw Aniel, he thought she was a ghost.

I had a funny little epiphany late last week.

I was writing an entry for The Grey Tower, which is an online writing/roleplaying site set in the world of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. I've been involved with this site off and on for years; for a while I was actually helping to run the place. Then my free time imploded, and I dropped out in order to give myself more time for my own writing projects. Amusingly, that was the same reason I went back: I wasn't finding time for my own projects. The sort of written roleplay done at the Grey Tower involves creative writing in pleasantly bite-sized chunks, and offers a way to keep the imagination limber when I just don't have the time or attention for an entire story.

Recently, I re-introduced one of older characters, a master swordsman named Firredal Osiellin. He would be interacting with one of the newer arrivals at the Tower. Firredal had been away for at least a year of his personal time, and his affairs were more than a little complicated. So when the time came to reintroduce him, I had a lot of background to fill in.

So I started writing, trying to set the scene so that my partner could see it well enough to add the next part. And I found myself describing Firredal's return, exploring his mixed, conflicting reactions to the changes he found, filling in the setting by describing the ways in which it had changed. I found myself, in other words, writing a reasonably compelling opening scene.

And then I found myself wondering, Why can't I do this with Warrior's Legacy? I've started and restarted the rewrite of that book; I probably have a dozen abortive second drafts. And I realized (or at least theorized) that I was treating Warrior's Legacy like a project, instead of a story.

The problem with writing stories that have speculative, futuristic, or fantastic elements is that they require additional work. You don't just have to introduce the characters and the plot; you also have to introduce the weirdness: how magic works, if you have that; the effects of advanced technology, if you have that; the applications and limits of psychic powers, if you have those. You have to know, preferably before you get started, how your world is different from the real world... and then you have to introduce those differences to your readers.

And I'd been working too hard to fill in those differences. I was so busy trying to introduce the world, that I was neglecting the characters and the plot; I was trying to stuff the background in - unobtrusively yet - so I could get to the story. And, naturally, it didn't work. It ground; it dragged. I'd get frustrated (probably at not having really started the story yet), and start over again... but while I might come at the story from a different angle, I hadn't fixed the fundamental problems with my approach.

Okay, I told myself. So don't do that. Just start with the story, and fill in the background as you need it. So I did, and suddenly the story has flow again. I'm making progress. It isn't quick or easy, but it's worlds better than it was before. Before, making progress was like shoving a boulder down a road; every time I let up at all, it ground to a halt and didn't want to move again. Now, the story itself is pulling me along; I'm not pushing at along so much as following it to see where it goes - or at least how it gets there.

I've found my voice again, and - oddly - I owe it to roleplaying.

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