Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Plot? What Plot?

I tend to have reasonable amounts of trouble navigating around places unknown. London, being full of strange streets and stranger people, can therefore prove something of a challenge. I’m fairly infamous (in my own mind, at least) for being completely capable of losing the British Museum. No, honestly; I get off at Tottenham Court Road and I just can’t find it. Bearing in mind it’s a very large building, even when armed with a map I tend to be pretty stuffed. I just acquired a GPS-enabled smartphone the other day, which you think would help, but for someone who spends as much time as I do messing around on the internet I can’t operate Android to save my own life (or find a museum, for the less melodramatic).

Still, the other day when I decided to go to the museum as I had no place else to go (seriously, when it closed at eight-thirty that night I sat on the steps and cried), I thought maybe I’d try my luck from Holborn as I was on the Piccadilly line anyhow and really couldn’t be arsed moving my ass to Central. Lo and behold, I found it. No issues. And after eventually discovering the Enlightenment galleries just as it was closing for the evening, I stumbled back the next morning to investigate some more. When I left that time, I didn’t return to Holborn station, I decided to go towards Tottenham. I actually found Leicester Square instead, but that’s just how much of a retard I really am. What’s more relevant to this entry is that I found along the way a store called Forbidden Planet.

I have trouble with geek-oriented stores. For instance, there were three late-teen boys in there I wanted to punch in the mouth for being total pretentious pseudo-emo posers. Seriously, the nonsense they spouted as they criticised various drawing guides…god. I hate these stores, mostly because while I enjoy anime and manga I have very little patience with comic books and graphic novels, or tabletop games, or trading cards of any kind. I’m not even a true-blue speculative fiction fan in some respects, although I made a beeline for the title with “Eldritch Abomination” in it, I can tell you. Of course that’s hilariously ironic as I write spec fic, but I think it’s just I like stuff beyond the pale. I just want to read something that takes me out of the ordinary world; the subculture itself is not really strong enough to do the same job.

Still, I went into this store principally because I wanted to see their manga. I had myself a good wee read of Hellsing, and then was amused to discover some of the Code Geass manga. Which is where this entry really begins; yesterday I was all about setting, today it’s the characters.

I have a very odd relationship with Code Geass. It’s a fairly recent Japanese anime series; I first started watching it in 2009 and finished it…earlier this year? I can’t actually remember. I got into it after watching another series called Death Note, which is a series I’d generally recommend to most people. Not so much with Code Geass, though, and that’s the curious thing.

Like I said, Death Note is an interesting series for all I absolutely despised the lead character by the end of it. Light Yagami’s not meant to be sympathetic, not exactly, but it’s still pretty remarkable to get to the end of the show and hate a character so much. …although it wasn’t that I hated Light, I suppose. I think I just hated what he’d become and why. Characters can and should change over the course of a story, but Light just took a path I could not follow. I had empathy for him in the beginning. By the end, I just…didn’t. But the characters kept me watching the show the whole way through, particularly as Light and L, the initial antagonist/protagonist duo, have a fascinating relationship. I was told to watch Code Geass as the two male leads there, Lelouch Lamperouge and Suzaku Kururugi, also had a similar dynamic; two young men who could and should have been the best of friends, but were driven apart by the vagrancies of fate and belief. (For a Western equivalent, we’re probably looking at the equivalents of Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr.)

Interestingly enough, while it was quite a ways into the series before I really took a dislike to Light, it was within the first two episodes that I took an immediate and deep dislike to Lelouch. Who is the main character. I just…really. What ended up keeping me watching was Suzaku, and then Suzaku and Euphemia had the most ridiculously cute relationship that made me flail my hands with glee every time they spoke. Totally my OTP of the series, yes.

But as the series went on…Lelouch started to grow on me. He’s an extremely complicated character, and I have a real weakness for that. It helped that while Lelouch was painted as being the darker half of the friendship, as time went on you began to see that Suzaku was not as light-hearted as he appeared, and in the end I was just broken. By all of it. But I have to emphasise that it was the characters that did it to me. To this day I really cannot explain what the fuck happened in that damn show. I just didn’t follow the plot at all. And while I suspect some of that was your basic garden variety idiocy on my part, I also believe that the series really didn’t focus much on the story. Which didn’t matter, as I was just in love with the characters anyway.

And I’ve noticed that as a weakness in my own writing. It’s probably not that surprising, in that I build stories based on characters. Generally the plot can just go hang. Which is probably why I so rarely finish anything, at least with the longer things; short stories are a bit easier for me to shape into a finished product as I can clearly define the ending and the beginning when I create the document file, and having a word count usually keeps me in line. Novels, however…well. Put it this way. I wrote a short story back in 2005 called Stockholm Syndrome, and now in 2011 the characters have attempted to give me a novel. It’s currently in three pieces; the first two thirds have completed first drafts at wordcounts of 81,090 and 122,424 respectively, and the at least half-completed third part is already at about 82k. And that’s happened simply because the plot…well. What plot?

I have a deep dislike of the novel Twilight, mostly because I couldn’t read it. I really couldn’t. Largely I believe it's due to the way it is written; the language and the phrasing reads to me as clumsy and ill-chosen, and as someone who’s fairly lyrical in her own writing I just couldn’t deal with it. But I also read a description of the novel that said most of that first book was just Bella and Edward staring at one another until the plot suddenly drove into the front room forty pages from the end, stumbling from the car drunk with a paper bag and a bottle of cheap whiskey shrieking “SORRY I’M LATE NOW THE PARTY CAN START WHOOP WHOOP!” and I thought “Oh my God, that’s it exactly!” Nothing happened until very, very late in that book. Which just made it so painful to me, because the characters meant nothing to me and so even when the plot finally did deign to put in an appearance it was too late for me to give a damn. Which is why I don’t like cricket…er, Twilight, I mean. Ha.

But I did have to turn around and take a look at my own writing. While I sincerely hope I have a better style and manner of expression, plot just isn’t my strong point. I’m a character author; most of my little voices turn up in my head fully formed and just…do what they like. Because of the way they play off each other I do eventually get a story out of them, but I waste a lot of words and effort getting to that point. I mean, my first real completed novel suffers from this; while the first half is actually rather readable, the second half was written without much of an idea of the actual plot, and suffers dreadfully for it. I still haven’t got around to rewriting the damn thing, it depresses me that much. (Sorry, Andy and Julia; Andy, your half is fine. Julia, I hate you. I hate you and your melodrama so hard.) And this is because the first half was written for NaNoWriMo in 2003 and I knew just what I wanted to do. I had to plan it in order to succeed in that timeframe. The second half was written over a year and lacked direction and drive and it just…yeah. Fell very, very flat.

The Juniper Bones, the incomplete novel I mentioned first, is going to weigh in at over three hundred thousand words by the time I finish the first draft. Not that I have any idea when I’m going to manage to finish it; the damn plot I ended up with is so convoluted that I just can’t keep it straight half the time. With that said I will have to strip so much out of it once I do have it sorted, because really? In the early days I was just playing with the characters. And my god, they’re a delight to do that with…but so much of their interactions are irrelevant to the plot I ended up with that I just need to cut it out. And it makes me sad, because like I said…I write for the characters I meet. But I don’t want my own novels to be like Twilight or Code GeassTwilight is just hollow all over to me, and the only reason I go back to Code Geass is because the creators of the franchise seem to have realised that the plot is irrelevant. There are that many different variations on the theme that really, it’s just the characters people come back for.

But I want a story in there, too. It’s just finding it that’s the problem, most days.

Incidentally, I realise some of you probably realise that my blog’s title is shortened to PWP, though obviously I wasn’t talking about that. Which isn’t to say I haven’t tried to write some of that myself, but again I can’t do it. The damn characters just take off on me and start talking and…yeah. Although with that said, when Irene kept me out of New York City late last month I ended up in Vancouver, and I have to wonder if they’d have been so happy to give me my cheerful little entry visa stamp if they’d realised I was going to de-stress over the situation by spending that five hours in their lovely airport writing smut. Ha. (I’m not very good at writing smut, like I said; I get distracted by more important things. THIS TIME I DID NOT. Maybe I should try writing longhand in public every time I need a sex scene in a book. Huh. Talk about exhibitionism…)

But on an ending note, The Juniper Bones needs editing, yes…but I am always going to be writing idiotic short stories for these characters because I do adore them. With that said, we’ll close with the beginning of a Halloween tale I wrote for my spec fic group back in Invercargill. It seems appropriate, considering it was done because I was having one of my little fits over Twilight. Again. ^_~

“Do you know any vampires?”

He freezes in the act of picking up the little blue car. “What?”

“Vampires,” she repeats, and he knows he’s screwed because the impatience in her tone is growing exponentially. “I want to know if you know any vampires.”

Setting the little plastic piece back in the box, he doesn’t bother to hide his grimace. “I thought you wanted to play The Game of Life.”

“Fuck Milton Bradley.”

“I think they’re dead. I’m not into that.”

Of course that idea doesn’t particularly bother Morgan; she instead stares thoughtfully off into space as if contemplating the mechanics of it all. It’s rather to his relief when she says curiously: “Are they real?”

“What, Milton and Bradley?” Eliot stares at the game box for a minute, and then shrugs. “Well, if they’re not, some fucker’s making a mint off Cluedo and it’s not me.”

“Don’t be a dickshit,” she says, sharp enough to make him glad she hadn’t tried to shove the gameboard somewhere painful as an incentive. “I meant vampires. Werewolves. Ghosts. Elves, fairies, Eskimos, gargoyles, dragons, whatever. Are any of them real?”

For a short moment he considers taking a running leap out the nearest window. The fact that they’re two storeys up isn’t what stops him. It’s more that he knows from past experience that Morgan will likely as not winch herself out the window two seconds later to gleefully assess the damage. And then make it worse. “Why are you asking me this?”

“Because you’re real.”

“The last I checked, yeah.” He eyes her empty hands. He doesn’t trust empty. Also past experience. “And if I say “please don’t stab me with a fork to see if that’s true,” will you please not stab me with a fork to see if that’s true?”

She holds up her supposedly empty hands in a gesture of mock-surrender. “I can’t always control the fork.”

(Incidentally, the thing that will always amaze me the most about Code Geass is that it actually made me like a Coldplay song. I'm horrified, yes. If you're curious, the video is here, although it's one very, very massive spoiler for the whole show. And it's gorgeous. DAMMIT.)

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