Hell of a week this week, folks. On top of a last week which was a hell of a week. Tell ya, I'm getting a mite too old for this ridiculousness. But the world we live in now is all ridiculous all the time so I suppose I better keep being used to it.
Wanted to talk a little about process, it being *squints at cloc* 5:20 pm on a Friday and this is the first real work I've done all week, thanks, world. I talked a little bit about this on my Twitter feed earlier this week, but let's dig in a bit more. And hey, if you read, I guarantee you that I'll give away at least one perfectly good writing idea. That stuff's like gold, right? Everyone wants ideas. Get an idea and the rest just sort of happens, yeah?
So I've mentioned that I'm working on a short story collection that ties into the HAZELAND series, entitled ASPHALT TONGUES. (Don't worry. I'm sure that the title will apply to at least one story in the book. I hope.) HAZELAND being the umbrella title for the series of books that starts with QUEEN OF NO TOMORROWS but will grow into a whole bunch of related stories, some just shorts, some even being standalone novels. It's a place to play with a bunch of my favorite ideas as much as anything else. But don't worry, I won't just run a travelogue. They'll be actual stories. Promise.
Short stories are something I approach totally differently than novels. A short story can be sustained from just an idea. Look at it like a single facet rather than seeing the whole diamond if that helps. So I start shorts off a single idea or a phrase that suggests an idea, something bigger than itself. Now these can be really small things. That's fine for a short story.
But an idea by itself isn't a short story. It's just a little chunk of a bauble to play with, something to build a bigger thing around. Just don't ever have it come out like that, where the idea is right in the middle of the story and everything else is simply accreted around it like the grain of sand in the center of a pearl. It all has to feel like it's one continuous thing, even if what you started with isn't really what you ended with.
Idea isn't story. Hell, setting isn't story either. A populated setting isn't necessarily a story though you might be able to pull a narrative out of it if you try.
Anyways, here's an idea. Godzilla versus Cthulhu. Home-grown king of the monsters taking out the high priest of the great old ones mano-a-mano. Great, right? Hell of an idea. And easy enough to file the serial numbers off. Go, take it. Go with Godzilla. I ain't even worried about giving it away (because it's worth precisely what you paid for it.)
It's neat. But it's not a story in the slightest. It's barely even a pitch.
Sigh. Pitches. I'll talk about them another time.
It's two monsters fighting in whatever setting. You can pull a narrative out of that, sure.
But it's people who make a story into a story. And yeah, I guess you can try to personify Godzilla or Cthulhu enough so that you can pass it off as a story. I'm sure people have already (I told you it wasn't a thing worth paying for.) But without actual characters working through the story through their actions, you're not going to have a story.
And as an aside, if I gave that idea (you can call it a prompt if you like) to ten friends of mine and myself to write out a storyline for, I guarantee you, you'd get eleven different stories. Sure, some elements might overlay (kaiju slugfest for one) but the execution would come off very very differently. And that's if we just kept it to the two major characters. If we went wide to a potential cast of human characters, then who knows what themes/ideas/concepts would be explored and eviscerated or elevated in the process? The execution matters, dig? And different artists are going to execute differently.
The idea in a lot of ways simply doesn't matter. Sorry. It's just not that important without execution. I've got notebooks full of ideas. And maybe one day they'll become something more than that. I've got more ideas than I could hope to execute in my lifetime and they just don't shut up. A lot of 'em don't even get written down. I'm really not trying to have this come off as a flex, because it doesn't feel like one to me. It's just my yappy brain making connections.
Okay, back to HAZELAND and ASPHALT TONGUES. I'll share with you an idea that I'm working on in one of the stories. Here it comes. It's a good one.
Somewhere out there is a map to all possible maps.
Yeah, I know. That's pure Calvino (if not an actual ripoff of Calvino, and if so, I'm sorry, maestro.) Now, that's an ephemeral, ineffable kind of magical realist idea. But it's not a story, right? Not unless you have a woman using that map to get around and collect all manner of seemingly unrelated artifacts and experiences to assemble something while she's being driven around by an increasingly uneasy and unsettled rockabilly unlicensed cab driver in his piecemeal nineteenfiftysomething Cadillac and he's signed on for the fare and really wishes he hadn't. That's almost resembling a story. There's some pieces missing. But it's certainly a narrative frame to work within.
The hard part is sitting down and writing it out, making connections that are unexpected and being willing to jettison the plan when something better comes along. And who knows, maybe the narrative I described above won't happen. Maybe something better will come along or some weirdo connection that I never foresaw will be made and I'll just go off in that direction. That's a thing I try to allow to happen in short stories (novels, not so much or else I get myself in real trouble.)
But the point remains, without humans in danger or growth or pain or struggle or cosmic realization, you're probably not going to have much of a story. You may have a narrative. Hell, you'll probably end up with a thing that people even want to read. But it won't quite be a story. That's where the rubber hits the road.
Your ideas are useless until you turn 'em into stories.
Anyways, clocking out for the week. Catch you on the proverbial flipside.