Hello Brigit’s Flame [waves]
I have a special post for you today! Saturday I attended the Wizard World Comic Convention and sat in on a storyteller’s workshop with Michael Golden.
It was only a forty-five-minute seminar, but the venue was intimate, maybe thirty people in all. Mr. Golden was patient with the enquiring minds and seemed to give deliberate and sincere answers. There were aspects of his advice that I disagree with, but I definitely took away some valuable tips I intend to try as I continue to work towards completing my novel.
Michael Golden kicked things off with the advice to keep it simple. As creative people, we are inclined to elaborate, and to describe and craft complex worlds of wonder and grace (my words). But if you want to be a commercial success you need to keep it simple because the consumers of your product don’t want your epic brain child, they want to be entertained a bit are secretly hoping for explosions.
Do I even need to tell you that this was the first point I disagreed on?
Yes. It was his first point. Miss Manners shushing me in my head was really the only thing that kept me from walking out. By the end of his talk, I had come to terms with what he said, though. It’s part of why literary agents advise you to know your market. I believe that we have a large population of people who want the dumbed down-BOOMed up version of what many storyteller’s have to offer. Do you want to be a commercial success as a writer? Or do you want to write for a smaller audience and share your imagination with like-minded individuals for the love of the story? Will you be marketable to a large publishing house if you go for option two? Possibly not. If you go with option one appealing to the TL;DR crowd? Sadly, this option is more likely to get you published.
Even if we want to never sell-out as artists, we will have to accept that compromises will be made, self-publishing not excluded. Finding an audience of 100 or 200 versions of yourself may never happen. The writer may create the work, but without readers there is no energy. We need to build up inertia to keep our writing going.
Michael Golden went on to talk about the elements of writing and singled out plot-driven tales as being better suited to short stories and character-driven stories being better suited to longer works. He actually said character-driven were his favorite type of stories as a reader and editor. Did I mention that he is the man who created the character Rogue of the X-Men? Definitely supports his statement as truth.
For the creator, he suggested a technique I have tried and not been as consistent with as I should have. I’m going to put the time in with Adrift to see if I can avoid the mess I made of the first iteration. RicoChey has tried a version of this and is having great success in moving through her novel. I warn you, though, this is super high-tech stuff.
He described buying a huge package of assorted color Post-its and assigning a purpose to each color. Gold is your climax, blue for character development, pink for plot, green for setting and environment. Then you write summary information on each Post-it and stick it on the wall. As more information goes up you sort through the pieces and reorder them until you have a complete line that leads to your climax. That’s when you write the scene and smooth all of those pieces together with good writing. If you don’t have a wall to clear enough to use as your storyboard, there are several programs that can offer the same function.
Another recommendation from Mr. Golden that I intend to try, possibly today, is something I have heard before. It took sitting through a lecture by someone I didn’t quite agree with to finally have the lightbulb come on. I honestly think this is the element I have been missing for the last seven years.
Write the ending first.
It’s such a simple piece of advice. I finally realize this is why I can’t finish a long work of fiction (and some of the short stories I’ve started). I begin from the beginning, quite often from an impression or a line of dialog. A few months ago I started writing a short story because I wanted to write a new fairy tale with modern sensibilities. I never finished it because I was writing for a concept instead of telling a good story. I had no idea how it ended even after writing about 3,000 words. I spent a week running various ending scenarios by myself and never landing on one that felt right.
I wrote Adrift from the same remove all those years ago — 165,000 words and no ending in sight. I knew where the characters were going, literally, but in my minds eye I never saw them arrive. In a way, I’m writing my reboot with the same blind spot. I intend to change that. And here’s another piece of advice from Michael Golden that I realized was missing from my work:
Know why you are telling the story.
Writing the climax or ending first allows you to not only see how it ends but choose a path to a certain destination. As I was driving away from the Con, I thought about Adrift and why I am so intent on writing this story. Originally I had a memoir in my head of a woman who was leaving Earth and she was saying goodbye as the big blue ball receded into the background. When I started writing, she became someone who was lonely and isolated on a ship by herself and Earth became a future version of itself that had been warred over, used up, and was ready for the trash heap. In contrast, I threw in a character of alien origins who was upbeat and came from a lush planet where the people were more connected to nature biologically and therefore, more careful with it. As the writer I knew the two would one day meet, but both had a long journey ahead in getting to that point. But that’s not a why. Am I writing this story just to amuse myself? Is that enough?
I doubt Mr. Golden’s instruction to “Know why you are telling the story” was a prompt for some large moral or environmental message. He likely meant, know where you want to leave it. Write your ending first. We writers know that it isn’t chiseled in stone, there will be fluxations that ripple down to the end we will have to adjust for, but if you know why you are telling the story when you do make those ripples they won’t add up to a huge course change. I’m going to play with this concept some more over the next few weeks and see if I can come up with a purpose that’s more than, “because I want to”.
Back to the advice. On character development, Mr. Golden had a few data points he threw out and spoke on briefly. Mothers and older brothers make great villains. I chuckled inwardly at this because most of my stories tend to have a mother who is, at the very least, part of the problem. In Adrift, there is a morally questionable mother who will make some poor choices that will help lead to the destruction of an entire planet…so I can check that one off as done. But I don’t think he meant literal mothers so much as figures who project a mothering personae. Although he did say the reason they make great villains is because they love you. And, I would add, for most of your life they have ultimate power.
He went on to share how Stan Lee used to dedicate one full page to Doctor Doom’s speech to the people of Latveria on how he was looking out for them and only had their best interests in mind just before he blew up a whole village for not doing something his way. (And OMG I just realized that Bashar al-Assad is Doctor Doom…without the uber-awesome comic bookness, what a terrible adaptation.)
What else did he say about characters? O, one of those moments I hugely disagreed with him. Mr. Golden believes a bad guy should be a bad guy and that anti-heroes are terrible characters. He used X-Men for a few examples. In Michael Golden’s world, Wolverine is a murderer and should not be confused with a hero. I wish I had thought to ask how he felt about the tangent of Rogue having such a huge crush on Wolverine. He also responded to some questions about Magneto’s story arcs and the aspects where they make him out to be a sympathetic villain who is just a product of his experience. He said he fought against those threads. Magneto is a bad guy who chose his path with full knowledge and forethought. Michael Golden even called Batman a psychopath. At a Comicon! Is Rogue starting to make a little more sense to you now?
Okay…aside from the effrontery of dissing beloved comic book heroes he did offer up a last piece of advice that I thought was truly helpful — pay attention to everything around you. Specifically, watch what people do and listen to how they talk. What do they say? What are their hands doing? How do they stand or sit? How does a dog move or behave? What can you glean about personalities from these observations (including the dog)? When we write we speak from the mouths of many characters, but we need the twitches and shuffles to really show who they are and distinguish them from each other.
His suggestions were not limited to people. He proposed we familiarize with the basics of things like how a car operates, then we can use the knowledge to describe how our spaceship operates. I’m not retelling it right, but that was one and “If you know how a dog moves, then you know how an alien moves.” It’s one of those concepts you can get if you squint your eyes and waffle your shoulders up and down.
Overall, I’m glad Miss Manners kept me in my chair when I jumped to the conclusion that he had nothing to teach me. Still…that Wolverine thing…O! and he said there is never a need for a prologue. Prologues are my favorite bits 😦
#gowrite in darkness! We have a great prompt and an approaching deadline. Ready your Post-its and try writing your ending first.