Story Notes

Story Notes: Shine

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I was so pleased when my short story ‘Shine’ was recently published over at Empty Mirror, a wonderful publication for essays, art and prose with a soft spot for Beat Generation writers.

To read the story just head on over to Empty Mirror!

Because I love to know about the origins of a story from the writer’s perspective, I thought I would share some notes about this story with you.

Spoiler Alert: There are spoilers in the story notes below. So if you want to read the story with fresh eyes check it out first at Empty Mirror before reading the notes.

About ‘Shine’

Once I heard a story about Leonard Cohen’s muse for ‘Suzanne’ living in a trailer park. It wasn’t even true (find the true story of Suzanne here) but it made me think about muses and how they are often forgotten and left behind. As someone who loves to inspire I hold a special place in my heart for my sources of inspiration—whether it’s an orange blob on the sidewalk or an eccentric neighbour. I hold my muses as sacred.

I loved the idea of a muse in a trailer park, forgotten but still powerful, going through her endless cycle, filled with words and melodies that are never shared. I love the juxtaposition of gods and the sacred against the mundane and dilapidated.

So this is my ode to the muses who are lost and forgotten, who inspire then move on and never expect anything in return. The artist needs the muse just as the muse needs artists. Both are integral to the process in whatever form it takes.

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You can’t spell Urban Fantasy without exposition

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I used to think I liked Urban Fantasy, but now I’m not so sure.

I like the concept.  A world of magic and mystery just beneath our own, adventures in the city where mythical creatures come to life and secrets unravel.  It all sounds so exciting in theory.

So I’ve been reading some Urban Fantasy of late, because I thought I had written an Urban Fantasy novel.  A girl hitchiking from Toronto to California, encountering subtle magic and finding the magic in herself, sounds pretty UF right?  Apparently not.  I am missing one important factor in my novel to make it Urban Fantasy it seems, exposition.

Whether it’s Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’, Doyce Testerman’s ‘Hidden Things’ or TV’s ‘Lost Girl’, they all share one important feature, massive amounts of exposition.  I have to admit I had to put down American Gods because it was too obvious for my tastes, I like my magic subtle.  What possessed me to finish Hidden Things I can’t say as it was pretty unbearable, but I did get it from the library which provides a magic motivator for me to get through it as it won’t stick around forever.  In terms of Lost Girl we gave up on it in the second season as we felt they were treating us like morons by explaining every last bit of what was going on.

So what is it about Urban Fantasy that inspires people to hand hold and spell out absolutely everything?  Shouldn’t it be obvious to readers/watchers that magical creatures are coming to life without having to say it aloud?  Do we really need to explain the fundamental magical underpinnings of reality in all its convoluted detail?

It turns out I don’t really like Urban Fantasy all that much, I like Magic Realism.  Although the differences could be debated eternally, to me it’s about the obviousness of the magic and the use of magic as metaphor.  The magic in Urban Fantasy seems to take a front seat, becoming the star of the show, whereas with Magic Realism it becomes a part of the backdrop, an element mixed in to add flavour and metaphorical meaning to the world and the lives of the characters.  The magic in Magic Realism is typically accepted, without need for endless explanation and exposition, it just is.

I don’t want the magic of the universe to slap me in the face, proclaim its awesomeness and try to show me how clever and inventive it is.  I want it to support the cast or characters, add meaning, metaphor and a bit of mystery.  I want to fill in the blanks myself, not have some over-explain-y character do it for me.  I want to use my imagination to create the connections, to do the work.  I believe that sometimes there are things that are better left unsaid.

Another problem with exposition in books where mystery is a strong component is obscurity.  The balance of explanation and obscurity can be hard to strike without just being plain annoying.  For example, in Hidden Things the main character had a ‘guide’ to the world of magic, but there were many things that the guide refused to explain.  So we got part of the story and the rest was written off as ‘something unexplainable’ by the guide.  He obfuscated, confused and tried to act mysterious and because of this it simply came off as annoying.  You can’t have it both ways, you’re either explaining it all or you’re not, but to try and walk the line is just unbelievably obnoxious.

I don’t do exposition.  The magic in my novel just is.  It is only very occasionally remarked upon by the protagonist, but overall it’s just a part of the world, like traffic and streetlights and fresh cut grass.  This leads me to believe that my story is not actually fully Urban Fantasy, but Magic Realism with a hint of UF.  I’m certainly open to other interpretations though.

So at the end of the day I feel like all the exposition in UF ruins the mood for me.  I don’t want to know exactly how and why magic is there, sometimes it’s just enough that it is.  I’d love to read more UF with a Magic Realism slant, but I’m not entirely sure how to look for that.  I don’t want my hand held or some character yapping in my ear telling me about the veil between worlds or the hierarchy of gods, I don’t want all the secrets unravelled for me.

I haven’t read a load of UF, so I certainly can’t comment on every book out there, but there seems to be a growing trend in the things I’ve read and watched that I’d like to veer away from.

Have any suggestions for more Magic Realism based UF?  Think I’m dead wrong about exposition?  Let me know!

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How I plan

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The truth is, I’m not much of a planner.

I’m more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kinda gal.

I think I’m too impatient for planning most of the time and sometimes it’s gotten me into trouble, other times it’s led me on the greatest adventures of my life.  I flew to England a while back with the single goal of going to Stonehenge for the summer solstice and the rest I left up to the winds of fate.  I ended up living in Brighton, making friends and hitchhiking around Europe.  Hooray for no plans.

When it comes to writing I have difficulty planning as well.  Having a vague idea for a story constitutes a plan for me.

My most recent completed novel (in beta reading now) started out as an idea and I didn’t really start plotting until later when events unfolded that needed to be explored.  It was an adventure to be sure, but still a little unnerving as it left me wondering, is this going to work?  As it turned out it did (at least Ben and I think so, we’ll see what other people have to say), but after that writing free-for-all I thought it might be a good idea to try the next book with an actual, full out plan.
Ben and I started that process yesterday.  After a bumpy start (sitting there staring at each other), we went for a walk (apparently the only way we can actually think) and worked out some ideas.

So here’s how the planning is going so far:

Step 1: Idea – the idea for the book came from a short story I wrote (which is how it seems to go for me) and I told Ben.  Ben said…‘hmmm…interesting….’ and off we went.

Step 2: How to plan as we’ve never officially done this we had to work out how to plan, which basically consisted of a discussion about the best way to approach the idea.

Step 3: Characters/research – as many of the characters are based on gods of various pantheons we had to do some research, so we spent some time on good old Wikipedia.

Step 4: Define characters – as this more of a character study than an adventure, the characters seemed more important than the plot.  The plan is to create the plot around the characters but first they all need names, backstory etc…

Step 5: Define the world – as the world has limitations we needed to make some decisions about what it is and how it operates.

Some basic ideas about all of the above is as far as we’ve gotten, but it seems to be going well.  The next steps will involve plotting and more fleshing out of the backstories so that they connect with the main plot and create a little drama.

Ben is perfect for me for a million reasons and one of them happens to be that he loves plotting and planning stuff like this.  We’re essentially planning the story like it’s a D&D game, but instead of playing it, I’ll be writing it.  Personally, I love the writing part most, making the words go together and sound beautiful and interesting and meaningful.  I like to live in the now, minute by minute.  He’s a bigger picture kind of guy which works for me perfectly, because without him, I’d probably just write a lot of rambling novels.

So planning.  I’m still trying to work it out, but it seems to be going well and I know the more we plan now, the smoother the process of writing will be and that will make it even more fun in the long run.

How do you plan?  Have any hints or tricks you use to plan effectively?

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This is a post for www.writesofluid.com’s blog writing challenge.  One blog post a day for all of June!  Check it out at the website or on twitter: @sofluid or #wpad!