Kissing and Making Up, Take Two

May 15, 2010

Home from the show, which was actually kind of beyond amazing and made me crave some sort of performance outlet. Not that I was ever a theater kid, or a band kid, but up until now I’ve always been around a stage, speaking in front of people, prepping for something or other–you know, being behind the scenes or introducing the show. If I lived anywhere besides NYC, I’d be back in community theater, but there are too many aspiring actors and directors in the city for me . . . I just like the rush of having rehearsal to go to and the quiver of adrenaline before I start to speak, I don’t want to get discovered or make an epic statement with my symbolism.

Anyway, back to the meme.

11. Who is your favorite character to write? Least favorite?

Favorite is going to be Tycho or Murdock, easily.

With Tycho, there’s this very deep well of experience that has a profound impact on his actions (not that he realizes it), surrounded with this controlled, deliberate behavior that makes everything measured and meaningful. Writing Tych is a dream . . . nothing I type is wasted; anything he speaks or does has a point, and eventually I figure out why he’s doing it. I’m happiest when he’s alone, though, because adding other characters can quickly muddy the scene and cause it to get away from me. One night I wrote a piece where he couldn’t fall asleep, and it is probably the only writing I’ve done that I can read through and *not* hear my voice echoing in–just him. It’s lovely and haunting and I sometimes wonder if it really came from my keyboard.

Ahh, Murdock. How does that phrase go? Murdock is a cypher (cipher?) wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a mystery. Every time I revisit the very simple question of his sanity, I come away with a different answer, and the fact that he won’t tell me makes *me* crazy. Writing Murdock is always an adventure–the patter and the voice and the randomness come naturally, which is strange because I don’t actually speak anything like him, but I can put him in a situation, open the notebook, and just go, scribbling as fast as I can to record the movie that’s playing out behind my eyes and in my ears. And in those rare, wonderful moments when Murdock’s guard is down and I can get inside his head . . . mmmmmm . . . it’s like being given private access to an amusement park, but not just to the rides themselves, but to the actual *guts* of the experience. You can ride the roller coaster, feel the thrill, and see the structure and the engineering that make the thrill possible. I am always impressed by how much WORK Murdock puts into everything–he makes it look so easy, and it’s so complex!

Least favorite–Lessa. I hate hate hate writing Lessa. I don’t have a great deal in common with her, we don’t get along, we don’t particularly respect each other, and our points of commonality are not those best suited to a legendary writing relationship. Part of it has to do with how I found that story . . .

One night I was sitting in the study lounge of our dorm, falling asleep while I listened to my friends talk–one of the things that I love most in life. Y’know those hypnogogic (spelling strictly theoretical, I don’t feel like googling) images? The ones you get when you’re not quite awake, but not quite asleep? I kept getting flashes of a group of people around a campfire. They weren’t my friends, but when any of the girls talked, the person by the campfire that talked would stay consistant with them. J for Meddan, Jenn for Theo, etc. That campfire stayed in my mind the next few days–I remember it disrupting my Arabic exam, which frankly I didn’t need help to do, and finally I started picking into the actual characters, figuring out why those figures were around that campfire, what their mission was, and what was going so very wrong back home. About a year later, I would be going three rounds with Kieran. Two years later, Rae would be up for the Academy nod. Anyway–the friend that corresponded with Lessa is someone that I have a similar complicated relationship with, and the frustrations that are inherent between D and I because of our personality types are echoed in the problems I have getting inside Lessa’s head to write her.

Of the characters you know, I struggle writing Face. He’s auditory and inflectionary, but not particularly verbal, and there’s only so many “ehhhs” and “hmmms” and “ers” you can type out without falling into bad writing habits.


12. In what story did you feel you did the best job of worldbuilding? Any side-notes on it you’d like to share?

I was thinking about this question when I was getting ready earlier, and I came to a realization that I probably should have been able to put into actual words literally *years* ago, but I didn’t, and it explains a lot about the challenges that I had when I was working on Madac and Kieran’s universe, which is still my most ambitious.

I read a lot of fantasy, and I love to find a universe that’s subtle and layered and well-nuanced and rich in tapestry and language, but I really LOATHE italics. A bit incongruous, no?

But it’s not–here’s my epiphany from tonight. It has entirely to do with POV. If the characters that the reader is going to follow are of a particular world, the author doesn’t *need* to be using italics. Every object the character comes across should be at least somewhat familiar to them–it’s a part of the same universe they’ve been living in since babyhood. I don’t go to my kitchen and pick up a fork, a tri-tined utensil careful smoothed to lie balanced in the hand. I go to my kitchen, pick up a fork, and eat my spaghetti. There’s nothing alien in it, and for the reader who is spying on me it shouldn’t be, either.

NOW–if the character, having been affiliated with the reader (and thus establishing a standard of “normal”), goes on to experience things that are extra-universe to them, then italics are merited. It’s conceivable that I would go to the kitchen of the home I’m visiting across the (town, state, country, continent, whatever) and take the sa-bim na that’s handed to me, pausing for a moment to admire the way it’s flattened bowl will likely help to cool the soup I’m about to eat before it burns my tongue, and also the delicate birds hand-painted along the handle.

I would even be *moderately* okay with the host of this hypothetical kitchen having a bit of chintzy dialogue to the effect of, “Here, take this. It’s a sa-bim na. It means, “breath of the cool north wind”, and will help to cool the soup you are about to eat.” (I would, however, roll my eyes at least 72 degrees, because in my experience very few people know the *meaning* of the words they use daily, much less the actual pre-“Modern” etymology. Unless my host is a great historian, they are unlikely to know that sa-bim is Old Language for “snow”, and before that was Pre-Calanossian for “white.” Most of the time, it’s just an aaawww-thor showing off “shit they can make up to sound special.”)

I shall now take my new-minted knowledge and go spend it on some fancy I-talics in my universe.

13. What’s your favourite culture to write, fictional or not?

Well, this is going to ding my ego, because I don’t know that I necessarily write that many different cultures. The “culture” of a talented military unit, maybe–if one were inclined to count that.

I also tend *not* to place my characters in the culture they grew up in. Most of the time, a journey is involved, because it’s way more fun to put a character in that pressure-cooker and watch to see what pops. It’s no fun if they have their Mom and Dad and dog Spot and Great-Aunt Fifi and third-grade teacher Mr. Carver to prop them up and keep them sane. Much better to put them in the wilds of space, or on the run, or raiding wizard outposts, add rain and cold and perhaps a lame horse. . . and chuckle a devious, devilish chuckle as the characters turn to you and say, “Is this really necessary, Ali?”

‘Cause, y’know, it *is.*

14. How do you map out locations, if needed? Do you have any to show us?

Hell, no, I’m not showing you.

I have a strong tendency to swap east and west, left and right when I’m reading–it happens in every book, and I have no idea why, because north and south stay where they belong, and the author was already kind enough to tell me that the Ansala palace was in south-eastern Keban, on the left bank of the Sunel river.

Hey, I literally just made that up, and if I had to overlay it on the map of the US, my finger would be pointing to somewhere around Albequerque, New Mexico (that’s the Southwest to my English friends), and it’s on the eastern shore of the river.

Isn’t that weird? I do it with apartment and house descriptions, too (“The foyer sat to the left of the kitchen, and through it on the right was the guest bedroom. And Frank. Mostly Frank. Unwilling to deal with Frank so soon (and equally unready to face those hideous green curtains with clusters of purple grapes), I detoured into the den and looked wistfully at the french doors, the patio beyond, and after that the street. Freedom was so near. . . but I had resolved that this would happen today, and wouldn’t let myself escape with it unfinished.”)

So, yes, I will sketch maps. I will draw paths through my landscapes and my seascapes and my treacherous mountain passes, and even my city infrastructure (Kieran has an escapade in some pipes that I’m pretty sure no one but me and some ancient–and imaginary–city planner have diagrams of. . .the king’s guard certainly didn’t know their way through them)–and more to the point, I will draw them before I even *think* the words I’ll use to describe their navigation. That’s the trick–if it’s on paper, and I see it in front of me, I know that The Bluffs lie west of the city proper, and that the fishing boats tie up on the southern edge of them, and that Madac, Lessa, and the rest of that family live about two miles east, just on this side of the inlet that separates the wizard’s side from the merchant’s side (there’s some fairly sticky city politics involved, not that the reader will necessarily ever know that part of it).

But while I can write with relative clarity and perhaps even a little skill, I cannot draw to save my life, and thus you shall make no cartographer of me!

And that, ladies and gents, brings me up to speed again.


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