Confluence of Inspirations

(Originally posted on LiveJournal)

I attended Loscon this last weekend, and had a great time. The various discussions gave me a real lift in the spirits, re-energizing my writing impulses. (I talk more fully about the whole Loscon experience here)

Anyway, in the middle of one of the panels, a fit of inspiration hit me.

Recently, I’d been mulling over various options regarding… well, to put it baldly, making money writing. For many years now, my thinking has been focused entirely on screenwriting and novels. I hadn’t tried my hand at short-story writing (per se) since my days as an undergrad. I suppose you could consider comic book scripting as a form of short-story writing, but I tend to think of it more as related to screenwriting (the full effect of the story will be achieved by a collaborative effort with others in both comics & screenwriting).

Aym Geronimo

Aym Geronimo

But a couple of months ago, a friend, J. Morgan Neal, asked me to write a prose short story based on his comic book creation Aym Geronimo & her Post-Modern Pioneers. He wanted the stories November 1 – he’s intending to publish the book as print-on-demand, and had asked several writers he knows to write stories. Even though I’d had nearly two months’ notice on this story, I put it off and put it off. Part of that was feeling unsure that I had a handle on his character – I didn’t want to mangle her, or sound an off note. I’d had a couple of IM chats with John about his characters. But I still put it off. Until about 2 days before his deadline. Then I corralled all my various thoughts for the story, sat down, and pounded out the story, trying to keep it tight, tense and exciting. I was pretty satisfied with it. And was happy when the esteemed Mr. Neal was pleased as well.

That got me thinking again about short-stories. I even went so far as to look up Fantasy & Science Fiction in the 2009 Writers Market, and recheck their submissions requirements. I had submitted a couple of stories to them back when I was an undergraduate (I still have the form letter rejection slips!). And yes, they were still saying that they needed more hard science stories. Not exactly my forte, but not impossible for me.

Anyway, as I sat in this panel at Loscon, I remembered an encounter I’d had at ComicCon this last summer. At one point in the weekend, I’d sat down at a table to take a break and got into a conversation with the other woman at the table. When I’d asked what she did, she said she was into comic and desgining jewelry. But I went on and drew her out about her day-job. Turns out she’s an engineer and designs turbines. My father was an electrical engineer and designed power plants, so I knew a thing or two about turbines. I went on to draw her out further about that, and she started to light up inside. She mentioned how some students she had studied with had left engineering for other things, but she really loved designing turbines. It turned out to be a very vivid encounter, and it came back very clearly to me during this panel.

TurbineIt also arrived with a title in tow, that won’t be shaken off: “The Beauty of Turbines”.

I was jazzed — even though all I had was this intriguing title, and the memory of that woman’s love of designing turbines.

When I got home, I fired up the computer, dashed off two intro paragraphs to the story (don’t know yet if they will stay through the writing process). Then I proceeded to ask myself a bunch of questions about what the story would be: what would the conflict be, the opposition? What was the challenge to her love for turbines? As the ideas flowed out, some of them surprised me — a lot. “I didn’t know the story was going to involve that!” I thought of one particular element. But it seems to have come together very nicely, even so. I still have to do some more research about some aspects of it – not being an engineer, I’m not up on the latest aspects of power generation.

But I just love this feeling of inspiration and work coming together in a very promising idea.

It’ll be great…. as long as I don’t continue to procrastinate.

Comments

sartorias – Dec. 2nd, 2008

Yay! Go for it!

scribblerworks – Dec. 2nd, 2008

Doing more work on it today! Heh. “Strike while the iron is hot!”

godswraith – Dec. 2nd, 2008

I love that story. And I love the story title. I often start writing projects for the stage by first getting a good name 🙂

T

scribblerworks – Dec. 2nd, 2008

Thanks. And I agree, a really good name can hold you to a project for a long, long time. (Another example of that for me is a play I have sitting partially completed: its title is “The Wrecks of Glory”.)

kalimac – Dec. 2nd, 2008

Sounds neat.

I’m interested in writers’ career histories – traditionally most genre SF writers, for instance, start with short stories, then most of them move gradually to writing novels and pretty much give short stories up except for an occasional one. But in the last 30 years or so many more writers in the field have started out with novels than were formerly common.

scribblerworks – Dec. 2nd, 2008

I think it’s true that writing short stories is being treated as a lesser thing these days. I think some of that has to do with money: you’re just plain not going to make as much money writing a short story as you will writing a novel. And I find it disappointing that “mere money” should become such a controlling factor.

But beyond that… You spend the same amount of time creating the “world context” for a short story as you might getting the initial idea for a novel. You might not carry the world-building through to as much detail as you would for a novel, but it still has to be done.

But I also think that for a really good short story, the writer has to focus in much tighter on the story in a craft sense than you do for a novel. In a novel, you can indulge yourself in presenting the context, spending a chapter on set-up of characters and setting. You don’t have that amount of space in a short story.

When I actually sat down to write the story for my friend, I realized it did need to be tighter than I was used to writing. That more needed to be conveyed by narration than I might do in a novel (where you have the space for lots of dialogue). The challenge of conveying “the same picture” but with tighter presentation, well, it was fun to meet. It reminded me of a story-telling form that I haven’t practiced in a while.

So… I like the challenge of this story. I admit that venturing into attempting even a sort of hard science story is unsettling. Will I make an incredible theoretical gaff? Have I overlooked something that more knowledgable SF writers would know off their cuffs? Can I make it credible? I don’t know. But I want to try. The prospect is fun — like standing beside the toboggan looking down the steep slope of the run; soon, I’ll jump on the toboggan, hold onto the grip-rope and hurl down that slope, the wind whipping the skin of my face, a complete adreneline rush.

🙂

kalimac – Dec. 2nd, 2008

The question in my mind is not why the short-story writers turn to novels – they are indeed, as you say, less work per page and more remunerative – but why some eventual novelists begin with shorts and some don’t. I guessed that, at least in the days when magazines propelled the SF field, shorts were easier to sell, and it may also be easier for beginning writers to work on the smaller canvas. But if the latter is true, then how have other writers plunged straight into successful novel-dom without the smaller-scale practice?

About Sarah Beach

Now residing in Southern California, I was born in Michigan and moved to Texas when 16. After getting my Masters degree in English, I moved to Hollywood, because of the high demand for Medievalists (NOT!). I love writing all sorts of things, and occasionally also create some artwork.
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