samuel x. brase likes to write

Short Journeys

Posted in short stories by Sam X. on 14 May 2009

Let’s take a break from all this novel talk. The novel is great but I’m not JK Rowling and I won’t sell novel #1 immediately. If I get anywhere, it’s going to be from cutting my teeth on the short story circuit.

So I have six short stories that I’m pretty confident in; one of them still needs editing before I’ll feel comfortable sending it out. I have two other stories that require a shit ton of editing / almost aren’t even worth the time that would be spent. I have one story that’s very short and pretty boring and generally not right for any publication.

Thus, five stories are out at any given point, getting rejected regularly. I picked a poor time to start sending stories out; a lot of journals close shop for the summer and have no need for new stories. But whatever, I’m getting used to the process and maybe one will go through.

The current story I’m writing is designed for a journal with the theme of “journeys.” My original idea was about an anti-social man on a very slow elevator ride being cajoled into sociability by a friendly woman. Even the description sounds boring. I wrote about half of the story and couldn’t bear it anymore. The structure is good (a short new section for every floor), and the title is nice, but that idea is just a snoozefest. The characters are good though. I’m thinking about injecting some magical realism into it; perhaps every floor they stop at is weirder than the last, until the elevator ejects them into a tree or something. Still not grabbing me. Maybe I should just table this story for now.

Another theme I want to write about for a journal is “shortcuts.” I’ve had a couple simple ideas for this theme. One is of a boy who discovers a new keyboard shortcut that opens some kind of portal up in his computer. Another is about a house that has a simple passage to another part of the world. Like, a house suburban Colorado has a passage to China or something. They’re both kind of basic ideas. The second one is better. This story would be more of a sketch, as the max words is 2000.

All right, did some cleaning, revised the idea for the elevator story. The first two floors are basically the same, but as they ascend, things become more and more off — plants growing on floors, power flickering, so on. Our main character refuses to reveal what he is seeing to the other two people until they reach the roof and he is forced to confront reality (that their city was destroyed long ago and he has been delusional since).

Not an amazing proposition but it’ll get the story done. I’ll have to keep the fantasy down and the surreality up. Shouldn’t be too tough. The shortcut story can be a little more fantastical as the journal tends towards experimental material. So I can play up the fantasy instead of the surreal when it comes to having a passage to another part of the world in your basement.

There we go, this has been useful. Onwards and upwards.

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Foundation: Structure and Voice

Posted in novel planning by Sam X. on 12 May 2009

When I started the first draft last August, I assumed a structure that was rather convoluted. There was a bit of messy constant encapsulation. I imagined the story being told by Ira Glass through first-person anecdotes, a collage of futuristic history. When I describe it like that I still get excited. A collage of futuristic history? I’d read that book every day of my life. Why hasn’t someone written it yet?

It didn’t work. Not when I tried it, anyhow. There’s probably a way to perfect that method, and I’d like to save it for a simpler story someday. This novel is way too big, too complex to be told in such a disjointed manner. I should probably cop to one piece of information; I don’t exactly intend for this to be one novel. Word on the street tells me that it’s easier to sell a series to a publisher and I’m more than fine doing that. The way I’ve planned this series is as a number of shorter books, each maybe 300 pages, but the lengths are of course up for change.

The arc that I laid out last week has action for six books. Each book has three parts, where the action is progressed on a variety of fronts. Politics, war, religion, economics, so forth. I see it as episodic, so that the public can easily digest such a big story. In time I will revise the main arc, perhaps par it down to five books or expand to seven. Who knows. But the point is that I have a franchise in my mind’s eye. A franchise that wouldn’t have to end when the series concludes.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What I’m trying to say is this project will be long. Very long. My plan is to write the first book, establish in detail the full arc of the series, and begin shopping it out. Books are as much an art as they are a business. To walk that line requires a vast amount of egoism and determination. We’ll see if I have enough of either. Well, I probably have the go.

So the Ira Glass voice didn’t work for me. Which is a fucking problem because I have 45 pages written that way.

I’m now thinking about having the whole story told by one old man, recounting the whole adventure. Must I have encapsulation though? Why do I insist on having someone tell this story? Why can’t I just have multiple narrators? And all right, I just re-read part of Chapter 4 and I love the American Life inspiried narration. I am torn.

What if I merge the two ideas? Keeping some of the inter-textuality (like news reports) but then simply roll into a first person narrative when done with them. I can afford to drop the Ira Glass narrator I think, the omniscient narrator, and simply use multiple first person recounts as I go. This lets me drop the boring paragraphs of explanation. I can’t believe I even wrote this stuff. I’ll give this reformation a go soon.

Leave it to me to say, when I began this entry, that I’d leave the convoluted method at home for this novel, only to reneg on that about six paragraphs later.

Foundation: Scope

Posted in novel planning by Sam X. on 11 May 2009

The scope of this project is huge. I’m getting cold feet regarding the scope; not overall, but at least initially. Let’s look at the arcs I laid out last week, hmm? In the first book, I introduce probably 80% of the main characters, at least two secretive groups, a fake economy, a fake empire and rebellion, and an entirely new galaxy for readers to wrap their heads around.

So I don’t know, you tell me — is that too much?

No poll necessary; the answer is yes. That’s too much. That kind of scope is acceptable from the third book and on, maybe even the end of the second book. The less I dunk the reader into, the more mystery is created, the more desire to stick around for the entirety of the series. I need to trim it down. I need R2D2 in the desert, Bilbo Baggins and his magic ring, the Dursley’s and their family-embarrassment of Potters.

An introduction to mystery where you don’t even realize you’re curious until it’s too far, far too late. You’ve bought everyone in your family a copy.

I think the initial skirmish on Nasirryah, between Ellis, Old Spy, and Vizol would meet this requirement. We meet two of our charming main characters — old man Ellis and the neophyte Spy — plus the mysterious Vizol, who will change sides frequently. In fact, this initial action introduces two of the prevading mysteries of the story: is Vizol good or evil, and what exactly is Yehidah? Instead of switching to Leone, Ferry, and Lane, I think I’ll stay with those three characters for a good while, anywhere from 100 to 300 pages. That’ll give us a good grounding in the galaxy.

We’ll take it from there. At a certain point, for this story to be told properly, the scope is going to blow up. But I can give the readers at least one book of narrow view.

Update 1: While it seems that Star Wars is the primary source of inspiration for this story, I would argue that there is no singular inspiration. Star Wars is a great story, but focused on a handful of major events. The entire original trilogy is built around two battles. I think that, realistically, New Hope and Empire would be one written book. Or, as two separate books, they would have a lot of additional scenes and battles.

As I have expressed many times, I want to write an epic story, but I also want to play around in this universe that I’m creating. That’s really where the episodic idea of my storytelling would fit, but we’ll see if that ever happens.

Foundation: The End of the Story, pt. 3

Posted in novel planning by Sam X. on 1 May 2009

If I’m going to go the “different realities” ending, I need to figure out the different strands that be left diffuse upon conclusion. The destruction of the universe is an easy ending, the stakes are automatically high. But if the universe isn’t being destroyed, I need to make sure my stakes are high enough.

Is it bad that I’m this lost with the end of my novel? I have such a clear vision of the world of the story, of the things I want to tell, but when it comes to the final payoff, I feel so confused. I guess that’s at least partly because I know it has to be good; it has to inspire replayability, as it were.

Okay. How do I want to leave this galaxy? Do I want the Doveirons to still be in charge? No, they should be out of power. Do I want any other house to be in charge? No, I want the “house” system removed. That’s endgame number one, a fundamental change in the government and economy. No more monopoly by a handful of elite houses. This is good, I have something finally. Character’s endings will rely on circumstance, I’m not even going to begin to arc those out yet.

Next. Do I want the invaders to win their war? No. But I don’t want them wiped out; perhaps they establish a colony in our galaxy. Are they aliens? Or humans? I wanted to make them human until Battlestar kind of ruined that idea. It might be more pragmatic if they’re aliens. The symbolism is a bit easier. So okay, they’ll be aliens. Not grotesque but whatever. Perhaps they’re a collective of different aliens?

Hmmmm. That’s interesting. A little Federation-y, but I could make it different enough…. I like this, I think I want to use this idea. One of the principal mysteries of the novel could be where this invading force came from and why they’re invading. For a long time we’ll assume they’re simply an aggressive conquering force. But eventually we’ll learn that they banded together after their own galaxies began crumbling. Their method of conquering is an attempt to extract the strongest and most resourceful people into their herd, so once the current galaxy they’re in does fall, the best people from that galaxy come with them and they move on, finding a new galaxy that is at risk of falling to… dark matter, or something like that. So one of the big revelations of the novel is the invading force’s true purpose; this reveals the endgame mystery box, that the human’s galaxy is at risk of collapsing.

Sub-plot note: It would be interesting if one small group of our main characters sides early with the invading force. We won’t know it at the time, but this group who joins them has been told their true purpose. We think this group has turned “bad” but late in the game we find out they’ve been “good” all along.

Sub-plot note: I like the idea of one help of the invading force staying in our galaxy once it is stabilized, and one half leaving to ‘help’ other galaxies.

That’s two good end points resolved. For now, until I waffle again. Whatever, it’s progress! I hope. I just wrote out a basic arc for the whole plot, and it looks good as a rough outline, though I’m concerned about the lack of presence both the dead houses (Sandmason and Evremond) have. That’ll need to be fixed.

And what will happen to the Sandmasons and Evremonds? Obviously their houses don’t hold any official power, so the dissolution of the house system doesn’t really affect them. It might be nice if Vizol & Jackson join the force who will go to other galaxies… with a better plan than culling the weak, of course.

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