Views From The Captain’s Chair! Episode Twenty-Two: David Dunwoody!
Over the next few weeks I’ll be taking a step back and letting some other writers get into the captain’s chair. Well, not literally because the captain’s chair is MINE ! MINE MINE MINE! But I am going to let them do some guest blogging. It’s always nice to have other opinions.
This week I give you the one, the only, the The Dunwoody- David Dunwoody!
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David Dunwoody writes subversive horror fiction, including the EMPIRE zombie series and the collections DARK ENTITIES and UNBOUND & OTHER TALES. Most recent is his post-apocalyptic novel THE HARVEST CYCLE. His work has been published by such outfits as Permuted, Chaosium, Shroud, Gallery, Belfire and Dark Regions. More info and free fiction at daviddunwoody.com.
The Idea: From Inception to Perception
It usually starts with a “What if?” Often, at least in my experience, it’s “What if this happened instead of that?” Many such notions flit through a writer’s head every day, and a handful of them get snagged in your writerly web and start to become more than just notions.
Developing an idea into a premise – something to be built upon, a three-dimensional framework supporting characters and feelings and color – is a process which varies widely from person to person. It doesn’t always come naturally with each effort. When I was younger, many of the stories I wrote were what are sometimes called “idea stories.” That is to say, they present the “What if?” and then…that’s kinda it. I didn’t invest much in character development or in describing a rich environment – unless, of course, those things were essential to the “What if?”. For example (and I’m just making this up as I write) say the idea is “What if a human werewolf was exiled to Saturn? What would the multiple moons do to him?” The story that followed would pretty much explore the different possible answers and then it’d be done. The exile would have a thin backstory about how he ate his wife or something. Some cursory reading on Saturn would inform me that it’s considered a gas giant and I’d change the planet to Neptune, and then get lost in details like gravity and atmosphere. Would probably invent some flimsy futuristic technology to explain those problems away. (So now not only is the character suffering, I’m getting lazy because I want to focus on how wild and freaky the werewolf is going to be.) Then I’d need to explain why a werewolf would be shot to freakin’ Neptune instead of simply being shot with a silver bullet. Okay, he’s an unkillable super-werewolf who contracted lycanthropy while on a space mission, so they send him back out there.
Now, somewhere in this mess there was a character who I haven’t named yet. And I think he ate his wife so he’s sad.
The character’s experience and emotion is what anchors the story and draws the reader in. It makes the world real and can even make an outlandish starting point (like our Neptunian werewolf) seem real. At the very least, the reader will be willing to suspend disbelief.
Embarrassing as it is to say, there was a time when I thought the initial idea with all its bells and whistles would suffice. Eventually I began to notice that the fiction I enjoy doesn’t just have neat ideas, it has characters who feel authentic, even if I’ve never met such a person in my life. Especially then.
Our tragic space oddity – Major Tom will do for now, why not? – has an entire lifetime’s worth of memories and feelings, many of which have nothing to do with how he wound up on Neptune but are just as important. And he didn’t eat his wife. Maybe he had a wife – maybe they were divorced long before he took his first spaceflight, maybe she’s long out of the picture but he still thinks about her. Even now, in the frozen hell of Neptune, his body being torn asunder by the effects of its fourteen satellites, he still thinks about her. He knows she doesn’t think about him but he thinks about her. And while being locked in a monstrous cycle of transformation at the ass-end of the solar system doesn’t bring him and his ex any closer, it turns out she doesn’t feel any more distant than she ever did. So he lets go, he embraces the beast. And then maybe he sees a giant ice worm and jumps on it with a baleful howl. ICE WORMS.
That’s a start, at least. I want to know why Major Tom became a spaceman in the first place. I want to know how it felt to be condemned by an entire planet. Did it help to have traveled beyond Earth’s orbit, to have seen the pale blue dot from the outside? Or was it worse? Most of all I want to know why she doesn’t think about him, even now. That’s the most intimate question and I think I know the answer, but I’m supposed to be making some sort of point about writing. I guess what I’m trying to illustrate is that, even if you’re an idea writer and still struggling with characters, the fact is that delving into the world inside a character can be just as mysterious and compelling and fun as sending a werewolf to Neptune. Plus, remember that you are also sending a person to Neptune, and it’s on the person’s back that your reader is hitching a ride.
Many authors say you should write for yourself first, then the audience. I agree with that. I also feel that, if you have come to the outrageous conclusion that people should pay to read your stories (and though we never phrase it in that way, it’s what we believe) then you ought to at least keep the reader in mind. Don’t cater – challenge them as well as yourself – but don’t forget them in the rose-hued puppy love that often accompanies a new idea. And never forget that you are a reader and that you love great characters too.
Thanks, David! Great post!
Be sure to head to The Dunwoody’s website and check out all the awesome fiction he has waiting for you there!
Posted on June 4, 2014, in Views From The Captain's Chair! and tagged drabble, fiction, genre, horror, indie publishing, Jake Bible, publishing, science fiction, scifi, self-publishing, writing. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.