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Friday, May 16, 2008

Short Story Laments/Music in the Madness

I've been working hard on my short stories lately. They suck.

They're not that fun to write either. I plunk down a few words, then see something shiny and shift+tab away. I don't think anything's really bad about the stories, but they don't have the same zip that the ones I'm reading do. And if I don't feel the zip, the reader won't either. I don't know if that's something I can fix in post, or it's hopeless now, or maybe it's because I didn't concentrate enough on what I was doing.

At the same time, I'm looking over webzine/magazines, seeing what kind of stories they're interested in, and seeing if they're right for me to submit to. I got Avatar back from Weird Tales, so that means I'm out of places to send it. There's a lot of places with e-mail submissions out there, so I'm going to save the stamp and try some of those next. I heard a good panel on short story publishing that said print magazines are dinosaurs that only let you in if you're on the list, and e-zines and webzines are the way to go. Basically they said if you're a new writer and you're using a stamp, you're wasting your money. Sounds like good advice to me.

What I've discovered is my story and writing is nearly half as good as what's out there. These authors can make me feel emotions in less than 3,000 words. Everyone's sharp, everyone's witty. Everyone's got a joke every other line. Some of it reminds me of how I wrote things like CS Wars - lots of energy, and not a lot of thinking about if things made sense. Everyone writes simply, elegantly, quickly, shortly. No one writes a paragraph more than two sentences. Everything feels organic and amazing. Everything isn't a slow, family-friendly story. Every story isn't a cliche about some MMORPG.

So I'm looking at these thinking, how the hell am I ever going to be able to get my craft up to where it's as good as these. That's why they suck. That's why I feel like I've got so far to go before you can ever hear me on Escape Pod. I just can't make a short story as good as that. I never start any organically, I pretty much have to have a world already established to make a good story. That's why Fairy Story failed - there was no world for it to take place in. I didn't have the right characters. White Mage and Vampire feel like their going to fail because the dialogue isn't sharp enough.

But the novels I have got going on. I should be able to go back to Black Hole Son within the week, I hope. That should be fun. Plus mermaid story, I'm still busting with ideas for. For some reason it's the long idea (as Scalzi says) that gets my gears going. I don't know what it is about the short story, but I just have no stomach for appetizers, even if they're more delicious than the main course.

I think it's got something to do with 'hearing the music'. If I don't hear the music in the story, I can't write it. Let me explain. For all my major stories - Gatecrash, The Heretic, Blood, Blood 2, Baby Blocks, The Takeover, and Black Hole Son, there was a soundtrack. I mean I literally put together a soundtrack, complete with CD labels, as if it was a movie soundtrack, for these stories. They had music in them. Where do I pull these songs from? They're songs that remind me of the story. They could be just contemporaries, or they could exhibit some aspect. This song demonstrates this scene. This song is so-and-so's theme. This song is the main theme. And so on.

Those major works that didn't, often didn't get off the ground. ZerOthello is one such example. It took me a long time to finish that, because I never wanted to get started. Not just because it was difficult because i had to be both new and the same at the same time. I also just couldn't feel it. Looking back on it, it seems like a good story, but I'll never put it on my curriculum vitae. It just doesn't feel like one of my major works. It was just something I got far enough on to publish it.

Guitar Hero is another example. Everytime I play this game or hear the music from it, I can feel the story behind it. And this game has no story, just pressing buttons at the right time while plastic dolls walk around the stage. But I feel there's something behind this. Maybe something with a magic guitar, or some man's quest to go rise to stardom and all the characters he meets along the way. I know there's a story in Guitar Hero. I feel like I want to write a story about it, but I'm trying to stay away from fanfiction.

So, in conclusion, I don't have a lot of faith in my short stories, but I have faith in my novels. The catch-22 is that no one's going to want a 150,000 word novel from a rookie with no previously published material. Quite the leap of faith.

BTW, go read "Little Brother". You'll be glad you did. It's free, so you have no excuse.
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