Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Before I start - Caitlyn posted this link early this morning, which you may miss: www.writeaboutdragons.com, which may be of interest to many of you, so I don't want you to miss it.
On May 26, 2012, Inkling wrote, ...I've almost kinda decided to start on my book, but I'm having issues. It's set in a post-apocalyptic version of the southern U.S., but I'm having trouble working on the time period. I want enough time to pass (after the disaster) for everyone to forget what happened, but I still want houses standing from when the disaster happened. Then, when I try to write the beginning (which I thought I had planned out), the wording doesn't sound right! I can't figure out how to put the backstory in, and I'm pretty sure it needs to be told fairly early on. I would be EXTREMELY grateful for any help!!!!
In response, carpelibris wrote, Inkling, what are the houses made of? From this list, it looks like the oldest houses standing in the US are from around the 1600s: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oldest_buildings_in_America
How long it takes everyone to forget will depend on if you have electronic communications, newspapers, books, widespread literacy, professional lore-keepers or storytellers, etc.
What doesn't sound right about the wording?
And Inkling answered, I'm not really sure what the houses are made of (the thought never occurred to me!), but probably about the same as the houses today, since that's what they look like. No electronics, whatever happened knocked everything back about 200 years from now. There's still books, but literacy is considered useless for the most part. My MC can read, though, and has read several books she's found. Most of the people are pretty much nomads, and just wander around to different houses. There are still some "towns" but they’re more like old west towns.
I'm trying to fit all the info about my MC's family into the first few paragraphs since she leaves at the beginning of the book and you never actually meet them. I'm having trouble figuring out how to do this without it seeming all shoved in there.
When I followed carpelibris’s link, I noticed with pride that my house falls into the time line on Wikipedia’s list, although it certainly isn’t anywhere near the oldest continuously occupied home in the U. S. It was built in 1790, a simple wooden farmhouse, and it’s probably good for another few centuries, as long as it’s kept up. If it hadn’t been lived in and maintained, it probably would have rotted and collapsed long ago. We also still have the outhouse (just for historical value). It’s wooden too, and the effects of weather are obvious; it gets eaten away bottom up. If we don’t deal with it every few years, it will be a goner. So upkeep would be another factor for Inkling to factor in.
carpelibris suggests several areas to think about: composition of houses and other buildings, communications infrastructure, historical records, storytellers, interest in the past, education, possibly degree of civilization. I’d add that if people are nomads, you’ll probably need to know what the roads are like and how people are getting around, whether by car or mule or bicycle, whatever.
Usually I work this background info out in my notes. I don’t have to know everything at the outset, just as much as I need to get going. I can figure out the rest as I move along.
Inkling is asking several questions: how to figure out the world; how to drop in the backdrop while still moving the action along; how to find the right voice.
For the first, carpelibris and I have raised some topics to consider. More may come up as Inkling continues. But there was another part to the question. Everybody in this post-apocalyptic world has forgotten the disaster, which worries me a little.
One of my greatest challenges as a writer is my tendency to over-complicate my stories. I put in elements that strain credulity and then I have to explain them. Sometimes the explanations introduce new complexities that demand further explanation until I’ve erected such a tall, wobbly structure that it all comes crashing down, and I have to build fresh out of the rubble, and if it’s going to work, the next assemblage has to be much simpler.
An entire population forgetting the disaster that destroyed their civilization sets off alarm bells for me. How could they forget? How did they fall into general illiteracy? What happened?
The collective amnesia does tie into the question about the houses. How much time would be necessary for such forgetting to happen? Would all the artifacts of the earlier civilization have to have disappeared, been buried, been obliterated?
It’s interesting to consider. The classical world was all but forgotten, I think, in the Dark Ages and then gradually rediscovered during the Renaissance. How that happened might be worth some research.
I confess that my knowledge of events before I was born is spotty. I know only the high points that I was taught in school, those that I remember. And I’ve forgotten a lot that’s happened during my life. But many people do know. The knowledge is available.
Anyway, maybe Inkling has an answer. Whatever it is, probably simplest is best.
If Inkling hasn’t come up with an answer, I’d suggest reconsidering the forgetting. Is it necessary? And for everyone else (and me!), I warn us all of the dangers of basing our stories on a premise that’s hard to explain.
On to the second question, how to drop the info in. I’ve written posts on this, which you can find by clicking on the labels back story, backstory (sorry about that!), fantasy world introduced, and flashbacks. A Tale of Two Castles begins similarly to Inkling’s story. Elodie leaves her family and doesn’t see any of them again for the rest of the book. But she thinks about them and brings them to life for the reader with her thoughts and without interfering with the forward action. So I’d say that background can be dropped in in short bursts at quiet moments in a story, generally in thoughts and narrative, sometimes in dialogue.
For example, Kiara leaves home while her family is sleeping so she doesn’t have to say goodbye. She pauses to look down on the form of her brother Bobo in his bed. He’s an imp when he’s awake, but, oh, how sweetly he sleeps, nose to nose with his stuffed toy chipmunk. On a hook by the door hangs her mother’s blue scarf, which smells of carnations, her mother’s scent. Kiara takes it and ties it around her own neck. She’s about to slip out when she notices her father’s umbrella with the broken rib. She takes this too, even though it’s the dry season. Her father never buys anything for himself, and this will force him to get a new umbrella. The tears are flowing when she closes the door behind her. As she walks through the silent streets she thinks more about her family. Later, at important moments, if we decide to go that way, she can be guided - or misguided - by what members of her family would advise or do in her place. She can be homesick sometimes and recall a memory in her thoughts. In A Tale of Two Castles Elodie now and then spouts her mother’s sayings.
As for voice, I suggest trying different ways until you find something that pleases you. Here are a few possibilities imagining the moment when Kiara stands over her brother’s bed.
Bobo, how chilled out and all innocent you look there with your silly toy. Do you want your big sister gone, no more Miss Bossy forever? No more me always knowing your secret mischief? You going to remember to keep safe against old bad Mr. Milton?
A shaft of moonlight illumined a curl in the center of Bobo’s forehead. How could I leave that curl? And the rest of him, that knowing look when he caught me in a lie to Father. But he never told. I mouthed the words: "Take care, Bobo. Give Mr. Milton a wide berth."
Leave, Kiara, I told myself. Ignore Bobo and his chipmunk. Harden your heart. Think of yourself for once.
And of course there’s the choice of POV and tense, both of which will influence the voice.
This has been a long post! Time for prompts.
∙ Write Kiara’s departure as told by an omniscient third-person narrator. Keep going with the story.
∙ Write it in the voice of Kiara’s older sister, who is pretending to be asleep. Keep going.
∙ Write a page of notes about how the disaster came about that destroyed a civilization. Explain how the descendants of the survivors have lost all knowledge of what went before.
∙ Write a scene in which Kiara discovers an artifact from the past. Her curiosity is aroused. She decides to find out the meaning of her discovery, but there are forces that don’t want her to succeed. Continue with the story.
Have fun, and save what you write!