Themes, Conscious and Unconscious

Some themes can recur in a writers work whether wanted or not, simply due to the things generally thought about. Similar to the way writing tics can crop up, and with similar methods of recognising and excising those we don’t want. There are two main themes I’ve noticed recurring through my work.

 

Politics

I know I’ve used politics a few times in my writing, and for some types of story it can be unavoidable – fantasy stories where you’re dealing with those who rule. It’s also something I have a philosophical interest in, and I have examined different systems in different stories to varying degrees.

Geographicide, Expressions of Freedom, and Glyphpunk are probably the most overtly political stories, possibly because their shorter lengths make it easier to focus on without it becoming overwhelming. Geographicide is basically my view of the current state where political power is moving away from governments, whereas Expressions of Freedom explores the possibility of a direct democracy in the future (and how we’d inevitably try and mess it up).

Glyphpunk (and the in-progress Glyphwar) has corporate political control over a generally monarchic fantasy setting. It’s similar to Geographicide in its political outlook, and is probably a more detailed look at it from a made-up perspective.

My other stuff also has a fair helping of politics: Blade Sworn looks at the traditional fantasy monarchy, interacting with other forms of government; and Grey Engines (and the in-progress Grey Enigmas) have a kind of communist democracy, which wasn’t planned initially but was how the setting made sense after the first draft.

In fact now I consider it To Hunt Monsters and The Sin of Hope may be my only novels that don’t have much politics. They have religion instead.

While all can be seen to reflect my political views, they’re not really simple enough for me to choose one to claim as my own. I don’t necessarily think there is a perfect system of government, although one may be better than others at a given time in a given situation. I’m probably more inclined towards direct democracy (which should be achievable given modern technology), but that’s mainly because it would democratise blame for the inevitable cock-ups we’d make if we had it.

 

Disease/Infection

It was a couple of years before I realised many of my stories involved disease in one form or another, especially Broken Worlds, which serves as a kind of lynchpin to the links between a number of the books.

Broken Worlds (the most in need of a revision, or even a complete rewrite) sets up things passing through from other dimensions that require hosts in this world. Manifesting in different ways (some changing the host physically) they serve as an explanation for any monsters I want to use, such as zombies, mutated animals, werewolves, and vampires (the latter two used in To Hunt Monsters, without making explicitly stating the cause of their diseases). This infection/possession is also a central plot point in Blade Sworn.

Rainbows in Eclipse has super powers as infection, although I’m undecided whether that’s in the future of the combined setting of the other stories or a separate continuity altogether.

It took a few years before it fully dawned on me that it was probably influenced by my father’s cancer. I’m not sure what purpose it served doing so, or whether it was simply a subconscious influence that was knocking about in my head, but looking back on them it was obviously a factor.

Since realising that I haven’t really used it much in my work, although when I go back to writing further in the worlds I’ve already established with it (Blade Sworn is the most likely, since I have a series vaguely planned there; also another series tangential to Broken Worlds and To Hunt Monsters). Not that these are planned for the immediate future, since after revisions on the current novel and two novellas I want to finish a short story series and write another novel (I’m scared to write down all the project ideas floating around in my head).

Cliffhangers

I dislike the overuse of cliffhangers. As a tool to build up tension they can be useful, especially if used right before shooting off to somewhere else. Where I like them less (in prose and on tv) is when they’re used as a hook to get the audience to keep with the story.

It seems pointless. If the story’s well-written enough the audience should come back anyway, if it isn’t a cliffhanger may just irritate.

There’s at least one writer I read who at one stage seemed to end each chapter with a cliffhanger, which started to irritate. Too many and the payoffs will never feel worth it. That tic has passed, or at least become less prevalent, but any cliffhangers in the stories brings back the uneasy feeling.

While it’s one thing to use a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter – where you can immediately go on to the next one – using it at the end of a tv show is different. For some shows it becomes a staple, so something you grow used to. Where it can get irritating is a show that only uses cliffhangers at the end of a season (I’m looking at you CSI franchise).

Is that meant to hold the audience’s interest while the show’s off air? How long do they think before the interest turns to irritation? Or before the audience forget the details of what happened.

There’s also the danger of the series not being renewed for another season, so ending on a cliffhanger that could just irritate the fans. Which isn’t the same as intentionally ending the series on a cliffhanger. Angel‘s ending was perfect for the series. They’d tied up the plots, and there was no sense of being cheated by the ending (it did get continued in comics a while later, although the continuity of the series that immediately followed it was thrown into question – but that’s irrelevant to my point [yes, I have a point., Shut up]).

This could be worse for books, where the work (generally) falls on one individual. If they can get it done in a reasonable time then there’s (probably) still a long gap between books. And does it really offer anything? If the writer particularly wants to end it in that way then fine, but if they’re using it as a hook to try and get the customer to come back in a year for the next book then I’d have thought it more likely to irritate.

The nearest I’ve come to cliffhangers at the end of a story is in the Shadows of the Heavens series, and even there it was a kind of soft cliffhanger (and they were released weekly, all being written before the first was published, so there was less danger of reader irritation). I may use them within a story – although only sparingly, given the way I tend to write – but I prefer each story to feel relatively complete, even if part of a larger story.

Any ongoing story will have some ongoing threads that’ll be unaddressed at the end of a particular segment (I’m avoiding using the word chapter), but I try and give some sense of resolution. But ending on an indefinite note simply to try and keep the audience feels crass.

Dwimmerscout

I’ve released a new short today. It’s one of a couple I’ve had on ice a few months, not wanting to interrupt the Shadows of the Heavens release schedule. The other one’ll probably need more work, sometime after Glyphwar has been advanced.

Dwimmerscout

Dwimmerscout small

Rumours of a remote magical resource becoming active again attract disparate factions.

Artous is a dwimmerscout who examines such resources. His regular duties don’t include getting between warring factions. Sometimes it can’t be helped, forcing him to negotiate a peace amid violence and veiled motives.

A 3,400 word fantasy short story

 

It’s available free at Smashwords.

 

It’s a kind of proof of concept for the setting for a longer story. As was Silent Echoes, and that’s still on the back burner at the moment, but this one I have more of the story in a concrete form (although it might be a series rather than just a novel).

Plans Aflounder

I’ve finished this year’s NaNoWriMo, passing the 50,000 word mark on the 7th. So my idea of writing slower didn’t really work, possibly due to the pressure of a deadline, no matter how far off.

Maybe I’d be better limiting myself to a maximum word count per day of a few thousand, with a minimum amount of time spent writing it. I’m not sure forcing myself into writing slower will do much beyond making the end seem that much further away.

The way my writing process has developed, the first draft is the most laborious section to force myself to do. When writing it isn’t so bad, but the idea of getting down to it, and how far off the end is, can be dispiriting. I usually have a detailed outline so I don’t run into blocks worrying what should happen next, or logical inconsistencies with the story (these do still occur, but the most blatant get weeded out during planning). It can at points make the first draft nothing more than transcribing and expanding, although conversations often go off at tangents (only meeting back up with the plan later on).

Revisions are when I feel less of a time constraint, so I focus on sections as I go along and spend more time getting everything right. The revision cycles usually go on until I’m sick of the story anyway.

Maybe I’m simply worrying too much about the state it is in the first draft, and should focus instead on making the necessary changes in revision. My attempts to take a more structured revision approach haven’t yet been successful, but it could be worth a try.

 

Story Length

The stories were disappointing in that what I thought would be a shot novel and a novella turned out to be a novella and a shorter novella. I seem to have become unable to gauge from even a detailed outline how long a story is going to be. Not exactly a new problem, but I haven’t been this far off before.

Part of this may be addressed in revisions, where I could well expand on the descriptions which get only spares detail in the first draft. They’re the main thing that tend to change in revisions, since I’m not naturally inclined towards descriptive bits. I prefer to be getting on with the story, so in first draft my impulse is to stick to the fundamentals of plot and character without going into detail on the stage dressing. I tend to glaze over on this stuff when reading too, favouring the more abstract view of the story. So this is likely to be harder to alter in my writing style.

 

With the NaNoWriMo done I’ll hopefully be able to come up with some material for the blog. In between revisions for Glyphwar.