Yesterday was a busy day for me, as some of you may have noticed. Two posts, a few videos–I did one that I posed in a group of the snowfall here in Harrisburg that was freaking everyone out–and then the late night videos I did on makeup. I did a lot of editing. I watched movies. I listened to music. I even started working on a segment of Annie’s an Kerr’s life that, in retrospect, needs to be changed, because given things that have happened to them in their A Levels, and things that will happen to them in the future, there are incidents in their lives that make no sense.
Today is Science Fiction Sunday on TCM, with Forbidden Planet starting at eleven, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind finishing up at eight, with a 2001 and 2010 interlude in-between, so I expect to spend most of the day watching that. Three of those four movies are among my favorites, and these days I don’t get to see 2001 as much as I would like. I have, however, watched the trailer the British Film Institute put out last year when they did a special release of 2001 on 28 November, 2014, and it’s a thing of beauty that always brings a tear to my eye. Seeing it on a computer does not do it justice: it needs to be seen on a huge screen with the sound system cranked all the way up. And having seen this movie in theaters three times, I know what that’s like.
Today I answer another reader question, and this time it’s from Kim Jameson, another of my HodgePodge Crochet friends who knows the difference between a hook and a needle. Her questions are a little like the one I answered yesterday, but at the same time they’re much different.
Do you plan your story and build a world ahead of time? Do you know the ending before you begin? How do you pick character names?
I’ll tackle the first one first, because it’s–first? Actually it’s an easy one to answer, because I pretty much sorta answered it yesterday–
I am what is known in the writing business as a plotter, which means I figure out the story ahead of time before one word goes into the story. I do that for a novel that’s gonna run a couple of hundred thousand words, and a story that will run ten thousand. I do that so I don’t get lost about a third of the way in, thinking, “What do I do now?” and start thinking about the next story I could screw up the same way. (Trust me, I’ve encountered this phenomenon more than a few times from other writers.)
And for really big stories, like A For Advanced, when you’re dealing with incredible events happening to a couple of kids who aren’t expecting anything out of the ordinary–beyond the extra-ordinary that’s already happening to them–one wants to make sure that you aren’t setting yourself up with unnecessary plot holes to fall through by winging the damn thing as you go along. The entirety of the recollection of the dreams between Annie and Kerry, and getting Kerry to remember them, could have been screwed up completely if I didn’t know where they had been, and where they were going, story-wise, with the matter being further complicated by stretching the story out over a quarter of a million words. Write that on the fly? Not a chance.
And building a world ahead of time? With A For Advanced I had to know as much about the World of The Foundation before I started writing about the events at Salem. I knew the cities where The Foundation ran their business, the headquarter locations of the Protectors and Marshals and Guardians, and where every school The Foundation ran was placed and what they were named. During the Day of the Dead attack, when Isis starts talking about schools she can no longer contact, though the names were mentioned that one time, they exist in a file, ready to be pulled up if I need that school, or another like it, in a future story. When we are discussing a world-spanning organization that spends all its time hiding in plain sight, you better know where those hiding places are.
Do they all come to me at once? No, not really. I had the world built in October, 2013, before I started writing, but bits and pieces came to me as I went along. The CDC as a Foundation location didn’t come to me until probably March or April of 2014, and that happened because I was thinking of using it in one of the future novels. But it seemed perfect, and so it was used. Now to see if any of the real underground bunkers I mentioned get used. The show The 100 use Mount Weather as a location, so it’s not like it’s something new.
Do I know the ending before I begin a story? Yes, pretty much. Maybe I don’t have it locked down one hundred percent, but I know how a story will end before one word goes down. That actually comes from something Issac Asimov once said:
Know your ending, I say, or the river of your story may finally sink into the desert sands and never reach the sea.
Since Issac wrote about everything and anything with fascinating clarity and intelligence, and did it hundreds of times throughout his life, I tend to believe he knew what he was doing when it came to the written word. And I’ve seen this one happen many times before as well, where a writer who’s just pantsing the hell along (“Pantsing” is the term for a writer not knowing the story, but rather writing as it comes to them, like “I’m writing by the seat of my pants”) when, suddenly, they’re like, “Where the hell did my story go? How the hell am I gonna finish this sucker?” It’s fin and dandy to be a character in a Bob Seger song and just roll me away, but there exists the real possibility that because you have no real destination in mind your ass is gonna end up stranded in the middle of nowhere ’cause you ran outta gas, and then where you gonna be, bitch?
And that last question: how do I pick my character names? That’s easy: I just roll names around until I come up with something I like. I might find a first name and think about last names to plug in, or a last and then look for a first, but that’s sort of it right there. I may latch onto a famous name–Lovecraft was one that I used in A For Advanced, which I used for both a Founder of Salem and for Helena’s family name. It was the same with Erywin’s family name, which was taken from the then recently deceased actress Elizabeth Sladen–or I may just pull out one that sounds good–Kerry’s family name is like that; it simply sounded right to me–but there’s nothing elaborate in the selection process. Once I know it’s right, then it’s right.
There you are, a little more of that which makes me a writer unveiled for you. And if you have any questions you want me to answer, have a go and post one. You never know what I might say if I pick yours.