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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Stories of Old

Unroll your parchment. Dig out your quill pen. Dust off your IBM Selectric. Pick your favorite historical period and write about it for fame, glory, and untold wealth. Children's Writer is sponsoring a contest for a 1500-word historical fiction short story targeted at 13-year-olds. Check out the complete rules at Historical Fiction Writing Contest. Deadline is October 30, 2010, so there's still plenty of time to conjure up the past.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Possibilites in Plausibility

I can't count the number of novels, plays, and movies ruined for me because I'm so picky about plausibility. "Wait, why would he do that?" I ask myself so loudly, it drowns out the story's own dialog. "Why didn't the CIA notice that?" "Where did she get that rope?"

Rarely would I raise this complaint about 007 movies, say, which routinely defy the laws of physics (let alone the probability that a trained marksman will hit his target) in the name of escapist entertainment. That said, the eternal question of "where does the Highlander stash his sword when he rides his motorcycle?" is, over time, wearying.

The problem mainly bothers me in more serious, introspective, or supposedly frightening works, where a deus (or simply a res) ex machina and downright magical luck can sever my connection to the narrative and my belief in the characters. Being picky is a curse, but many curses can be re-conceived as blessings.  My duty, then, is to use my overactive incongruity sensor to improve the details of the plots I write.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mysteries of Creation

Don't misunderstand: I claim no godlike skill. But I must insist the creation of a plot is a thing of wonder, an inexplicable thing. If I am so amazed at my own meager ability to make a story where there was none before, imagine the electrification felt by a genius at work. No wonder so many of them drink.

This isn't a joke. I am amazed every time I can come up with a story. A topic comes to mind, a setting, a main character, a basic conflict. That, in and of itself, is heartening. But what really astounds me is how, every time I sit down with this story, more details come to me. Plato believed that there was no real learning or experience; it was all recognition from past lives. I have to admit, curmudgeonly skeptic that I am, that I feel like I am remembering stories when I write them. As each layer of detail gets added on, I have the sensation that my memory has simply become clearer.