Monday, January 19, 2009

Horror nerdery, yarn addiction, and story concepts

My roommate Kiah and I saw My Bloody Valentine 3D yesterday, and I can say with absolute certainty that my two hours and $23 were well spent. It was the kind of terrible horror movie where you guess the killer twenty minutes in, the plot holes may as well have their own dressing room, and none of the characters have more depth than "He's crazy, Sarah." Now, all these elements normally make a bad horror movie watchable to me. But add the fact that this one features Jensen Ackles (star of my favorite show, Supernatural, and Kiah's girlish fantasies since she was fourteen) and has 3D gore splattering everywhere...just brilliant. Sitting in the slightly too cold theater, watching a man's jaw get ripped from his face and flung at the audience, I felt the sort of giggly contentment that only comes from fully enjoying something that by all rights should be terrible.

Afterwards, Kiah and I wandered through the mostly-closed mall talking about the apocalypse and noting ominous kiosk advertisements. ("You are here," read one, "Do you know where your family is? Make an emergency plan!" "Cross your fingers.," read another. But my favorite was an image of a candy heart inscribed with "Will you be my handbag?" which--seriously, how did they not expect that to not remind people of Silence of the Lambs?)

We sang the Bad Horse theme on the bus home and continued the Jensen Ackles Day experience with Ten Inch Hero and a couple of episodes of Dark Angel. At some point I played leg-guitar, in honor of Jenson's stirring "Eye of the Tiger" performance on the Supernatural set.

And now you know exactly how big a nerd I am. Still with me? Super.

Aside from the intense bouts of nerdery/awesomeness, I also got some major progress made on my Snow White sweater.
That's about 30 rows in a day, which translates to about 4,300 stitches. An average knitting day for me is maybe half that, but I couldn't put the damn thing down. Y'see, the yarn I'm using is Malabrigo Worsted. This stuff is rub-on-your-face soft, and the hand-dyed colors are beautiful. Even though the pattern is 2x2 ribbing (translation for non-knitters: slow-moving tedium), it seems to fly by because I'm using the yarn equivalent of chocolate. And it fits just right - I tried it on last night.

I wasn't nearly so productive in writing yesterday, though I did have one potential plot-epiphany appear for novel #3. My characters in this story are very eager to hop onto the chopping block and offer themselves up for dramatic death scenes, which I usually talk them out of (they're more useful to me alive, generally). But this time one piped up with, "Excuse me, could I die undramatically off-screen?" and that's just such an bizarre request I'm considering it, along with some of the related ideas brought up. So, no words on the page, but lots of scribblings in my Book O' Scheming.

And I'm taking a page from The Ferett on the evolution of story ideas. The short story I'm working on today, "No and the Walking House," started off like he describes - an interesting idea (in this case a house coming to life and taking a stroll) that needed a character at the heart of it. I've been working on the main character for the past week, building her up into a character I can believe. Some questions that have helped:

Why is it this particular character who gets involved in the interesting story idea? What does she have that makes her pivotal in this story's rising action? These helped me flesh out No Porter as a useful character, an element of the plot - what she's capable of, how she affects the action.

What does this character want, outside of the interesting story idea? How does that tie into the interesting story idea? These led me to the heart of the story. Because "No wants to stop the house from walking" is a pretty lame motivation.

The difficulty of writing speculative fiction is the concepts themselves are foreign to your readers - the chances of finding a reader who will pick up your work and say, "Yes! I know exactly what it feels like to have your spaceship run out of gas forty hours outside any inhabited planet!" are pretty slim. You have to bring the story home by means other than the wild ideas themselves. Find an element of the characters that readers can identify with. Loneliness, desire, guilt, betrayal - something human. Once you've got the human element, you can convince a reader that they know what it's like to be stranded in the middle of space (or in a walking house, or in a fantasy world in their wardrobe, or whatever), because they identify with your characters' emotional experience. The interesting story idea is secondary. Even if it's really really cool.

And now, I'm off to let a little girl explore a house.

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