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The End of a Year

On my birthday in 2011, I got an idea in my head – to write fiction every day for 365 days. It was based on the many 365 projects that I had seen around the web. Some people documented their meals or took pictures of their feet or whatever. I decided to use this idea to get back into something that I really knew I was good at and that I enjoyed doing – writing stories.

For a while, that worked out brilliantly. I think I got all the way to February of 2012 before everything collapsed, but more on that in a bit. During the year, I created worlds – hundreds of people, companies, small towns. I made new histories, societies, and hinted at things that even I wasn’t sure about. I saw the beginnings of new societies and the last throes of the universe, and it was really good fun.

Every night I would come home and start writing. The Boyfriend didn’t really get what I was trying to do – I would try to explain what I was writing, and usually after a few sentences he’d had enough and just wished me Good Luck. Sometimes he suggested I take a day off, or maybe even a weekend. I said no – if I took a day off then I’d take another, and then another. I didn’t want that to happen. In retrospect, all I can say is that I hate when I prove myself right.

I posted everything I came up with, even the ones that imploded halfway through. A few of them were long, multi-day epics and others were flashes of barely half a thousand words. I wrote things for #fridayflash and for the fine people at Worth1000 (who must think I’ve died or something). I blasted my way through NaNoWriMo, something I hadn’t even attempted since 2004 or so. All in all, I probably wrote about 250 entries over the course of the year.

And then the end of the school year approached, with the finely-tuned mental and organizational chaos that only comes in that time and that place. And I was dumb enough to start playing Skyrim, even though I knew – I knew – what it would do to my attention span. February 12th pretty much marks the last regular day of posting. 263 days. A few interruptions due to vacation or illness, but still.

263 days of fiction.

So in the end, how do I judge this experiment? Did I succeed or did I fail?

Well… Yes.

Believe me, when I started, I didn’t think I would last nearly as long as I did. I figured a few weeks, at best, before I either got distracted or disheartened. Making it as long as I did is a feat unto itself. It helped that kept meticulous records of my progress, filling up several spreadsheets with data. There was one that kept track of the dates and titles and word counts, another for the characters, and a third for world-building. I used mind-mapping software to see how my stories fit together, and even tried drawing some of the characters.

I showed that I could not only build a world, but I could build those connections within the world. I could make a place varied and interesting enough that characters could not only have their own stories, but they could have new and interesting stories with each other. I could examine their backstories and motivations and work out some sense of a future for these people and places. I wrote in a variety of genres and made conscious attempts to write outside my boundaries, both in terms of style, genre, and character.

I did more writing during this year than I have at any time in my life. So in that way, it was a success.

On the other hand, I didn’t make my goal of a full 365 days. The title of the blog proved to be highly inaccurate, and I let my weaknesses overcome me. I know that one of the biggest requirements of a writer is that doing this needs to be the most important thing in his or her life, and I dropped the ball there. I let life get in the way of writing, and even though I’m sure any writer will tell me that these things happen, I still feel a bit bad about it. I made a plan and I failed to follow through with it. That sucks no matter how it happens.

In addition, I gained a small following of readers, people who subscribed to the blog and left very kind comments and feedback, and I feel like I let them down. Not on a George R.R. Martin level of let-down, mind you, but still – I made a promise to these readers, and I did not fulfill it. For that, I sincerely apologize.

On balance, though, I’ll call this a success. I proved that I can dedicate myself to a goal, as long as I am realistic about both its limits and mine. I found where my strengths and weaknesses are as a writer, and worked to improve them. And, most importantly, I built up a body of work that will serve as a foundation for future writing. I think there’s a lot more gold in there than I ever planned on finding, and I’ll mine it as best I can.

If you’ve stuck with me through this year, you have my deepest appreciation. I’ll keep this blog here, and as I pick myself up and dust myself off [1] I’ll use it as a place to try out new stories and new ideas.

The project isn’t over. It has only changed.

And as any writer will tell you, without change there is no story.

Thanks, all.

– Chris

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[1] Perhaps after I’ve removed Skyrim from my computer. With a crowbar if necessary.

Categories: Reportage Tags: ,

Day Two Hundred and Twenty-four: Four Worlds

January 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Well, it’s time to wrap up December and World-Building month. It’s been an interesting experiment, with some good ideas and a fresh look at some characters and institutions that I kind of came up with on a whim sometimes. Probably the most fun is to look at those things that came into my head very well-formed and with some depth and look at them from another angle, explore their histories and motivations and find out new things about them. Doing so, I hope I can craft new and better stories with them in the future.

So, to close out this month and this year [1], let’s look at the four worlds that I’ve made – that I know of [2].

1: Outer Space

Not so much a world as a universe, and I put it by itself because I can’t yet connect it to any of the other three. Its most likely link would be to Earth Prime, but there’s no reason it can’t hook up to Urban Fantasy Earth or even High Fantasy Earth. That’s the nice thing about the future – put it far enough away and there are many ways to get there.

There have only been about three stories set here, and one of them technically isn’t canon so I guess that makes it two in all. There are a lot of challenges when you’re writing Space Fiction, not the least of which is thinking of things that haven’t been done before. But that’s something you can only manage if you plow through all the things that have been done before, and if you’re going to do that then you may as well have fun with it. I’ve got a few alien races to play with, one universe-weary human pilot, and the End of All Things. Other than that, my cosmos is wide open for exploration.

My task this year: write more Space Fiction. Come up with some weird worlds and strange cultures. Read up on astrophysics and look at the kinds of worlds that the Kepler program has discovered – how could they be used in fiction? And now that we know so much more about what’s out there in space, what benefits are there to going out? How will culture or business or society change? And is there any reason for aliens to invade Earth anymore? Lots of questions to address…

2: High Fantasy

I generally define High Fantasy as being a story where magic is available to the characters, and technology generally hasn’t progressed much beyond what we had in, say, the 15th or 16th century. Lots of swords and horses, kingdoms and city-states and the like (except for that one prince who managed to build an airplane).

While I’ve written a few stories that can be slotted into the High Fantasy genre, I’m still not entirely sure that they all belong to the same world. There’s no reason they can’t, of course – one of the general flaws of High Fantasy fiction is the conceit that all the interesting stories must take place on one continent, or even within one nation. There’s no reason why grand political battles can’t happen in more than one place at one time, where evil wizards try to usurp good but ineffectual kings, terrible monsters ravage the countryside and ancient prophecies foretell great changes in everything we know to be true.

Look at Lord of the Rings, for example. As interesting as its story was, that was still just one tiny corner of the planet on which it took place. Who knows what other amazing stories might have been happening at that time, with absolutely no one involved either knowing or caring what happened to Frodo and the ring?

So as long as all the rules or magic match up, there’s no reason why all my High Fantasy stories can’t occupy the same world. If there are discrepancies in those rules, then they either have to be explained properly, or the whole story has to be shuffled off to another universe. And again, much like with space, there are a lot of stories that have already been told in this genre. The trick is to figure out what’s been left out. I’ve found myself interested in the introduction of technology to a magic-heavy world, just to see what would happen there. How would freely available, post-Medieval technology change the political and social landscapes in a world where you have wizards and dragons? No idea, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

And yes, I’m sure someone’s already tread that ground. But I can do it with my characters and their stories and still make it a fun read.

3: Urban Fantasy

I’m a big fan of Urban Fantasy, which is generally depicted as modern Earth, but with magic. My favorite example of this is the Dresden Files series, which has an entire world of magic-users and monsters that co-exists with the more mundane world, always keeping itself just out of sight. Some of the most interesting stories come at the intersections of the magical and the mundane, which is what makes this series so fun to read.

I would also classify Harry Potter as urban fantasy, except that Rowling tries as hard as she can to stay away from the mundane world. But there’s no reason she can’t write stories of wizards and witches that are set in modern-day London or New York or Moscow. She’s just chosen not to.

I’ve got a few stories in this world, with golems and a university that specializes in magic, fairies that show up when you’re hung over and people who actually create dreams for pay. As with the High Fantasy world, I can’t say for sure whether all of these stories occupy the same universe, but for now it looks like they do. In the meantime, there’s no reason I can’t mix and match and play with the world and how it works. One of the most fun tropes of Urban Fantasy is that magic – and all that comes with it – is not much more than another tool to be used. It won’t make your life easier, and will in all probability make it much more difficult. Putting those magic-problems together with the regular gripes and issues of the modern world is always fun.

4: Earth-Prime

This is where nearly everything happens. Anything that doesn’t contradict what’s already been written can be shoehorned into Earth Prime sooner or later, and I have such fun playing in it. We have super-heroes, of course, because I’ve been a fan of comics for ages and ages. There is some magic, but it’s not as pervasive as it would be in either High Fantasy or Urban Fantasy. There’s a Hell Dimension next door, through which strange creatures sometimes travel. There’s ghosts and time travellers and shape-shifters all manner of strangeness in this world.

I have huge cities and small towns, Evil Corporations and Secret Societies. I’ve got some celebrities and artists and politicians, and there’s plenty of room to grow.

Now you may ask: why? Why set all of these stories – and there’s a lot of them – in the same world?

Because it’s fun, that’s why. As I mentioned above, I’m a big fan of comic books, and when I was a kid some of the best stories were the crossovers – when you got to see a bunch of heroes working together who normally would be confined to their own books. It was a thrill to know that Gotham City and Metropolis were on the same continent, and that Batman and Superman could get together and hang out, if they wanted. As a reader, just knowing that these characters all inhabited one giant universe meant that there was so much more going on than we were told, which made me want to read more.

As a writer, having a shared universe means more potential for conflict and collaboration. For example, I already have at least three super-geniuses in this world – Julian Harcrow, Kevin Truman, and Paul Barbeau. What would happen if they got together on something? Hell, what would happen if they went head-to-head against each other? I have no idea, and that is awesome. [3]

The more stuff I add to Earth Prime, the more possibilities arise from it. Not all of them will be good stories, but hidden in there will almost certainly be some gems.

There are a few unplaced stories, which don’t seem to belong together and which don’t comfortably fit into one of these four worlds. And you know what? That’s okay. There’s no reason I can’t make another universe when I need to – they’re cheap.

Thanks for hanging in there while I navel-gazed for a month! The new stories should begin shortly, and then it’s a full-court press up to the end of May and the completion of this project.

See you there!

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[1] And yes, I’m writing this on the morning of January 1st. One of the biggest things I’ve discovered this year is that being on vacation plays merry hell with my sense of deadlines…
[2] Gentlemen.
[3] Note to self: Make some Lady Geniuses.