Monday, August 1, 2011

Intermission & Behind The Scenes

I know most of you were expecting to see another part from The Jade Runner today, but I decided we could use a short break. In fact, I’m looking at shaking up the format here on Imagine the Stories. I can’t make any promises at the moment because all the work to make that change happen is still in process and knowing how my Summer has gone so far, plans (like rules) are apparently made for the breaking. (I’ve had some health issues on and off this year, but most seriously since early June and every time I start getting better it seems I have a sudden relapse.) My intention, however, is to provide all of you with a little variety in my thrice weekly postings. If most things go as planned, I’ll be rolling out the new format in a week or two. I’ll make a post on the Sunday prior to the change to let you know what to expect.
In the meantime, I thought I’d take today and talk about some of the behind the scenes work I do when creating stories. On Wednesday, I’ll be sharing a new article and on Friday, a related story will be posted. The Jade Runner will return next Monday for those waiting on the edge of their seats to find out what happens next to Kit Wilde and friends.
The image centered above is, obviously, a map. If you didn’t know this, either my art skills or your eyes (It’s probably my art skills, but to make me feel better we’ll pretend it’s your eyes) are in desperate need of replacement. The map (the horribly bad drawing at the top page) is supposed to represent a town in the American Old West. It’s fictional, so I got to make up all the details all by myself (okay, I did have some help from a very good friend) and I named this fictional town, Jasperia. (No, it wasn’t a play on Desperate Housewives.)
Now why would I go to all this work to draw (finger paint? scribble? chicken-scratch?) a map of a fictional place just to write a story?
Because it helps. Yeah I know, stupid answer, stupid question, blah, blah, blah. Okay, so let’s get a little more in depth. When I write I tend to visualize the scenes in my head (this is significantly different from seeing things that aren’t there). And it’s really hard to see the way an entire town is laid out in my head. Even a real town can confuse the mind, that’s why people get lost. So, to help myself visualize the places in my story correctly and the same way from scene to scene throughout a story, I draw (or at least something close to drawing) the important places.
The map seen here is just a first step. With it, I know where all the key place in downtown Jasperia are located and how my characters might traverse from one place to another. I also know, or have a good idea, the amount of time those different trips will take in comparison to each other. That matters a lot in writing stories because without having this consistent image and knowledge about the location, I could inadvertently have my characters time traveling or worse, violating the laws of physics and being in two places at the same time.
For shorter stories, like Shop & Spank these issues don’t usually come up because the story is rarely more than four to five scenes pieced together in the first place. With longer stories though, things can get more complicated with many different locations coming into play and literally dozens of scenes. When moving from scene to scene, I try not to bore my readers with unimportant details, like how many cracks they stepped over on the sidewalk and how many pot-holes (or heads) were in the road. Instead it’s more fun to focus on the action (paddles swooshing, canes swishing, straps singing, belts whizzing, hairbrushes clapping, and so on and so on). I’m sure you agree it’s more fun to read too.
The problem with leaving out the mundane is that the mundane is often what gets us from point A in our lives to point B. And believe it or not, the same is true for characters in stories. Most writers leave out these mundane parts because they are incredibly boring and sleep inducing which means we jump from point A to point B (kind of like the way a girl goes from bending over to standing straight up when a spanking gets a little too intense). When jumping from point to point (talking about writing here, not spanking) or scene to scene or location to location, it’s easy to make mistakes in directions and time.
For example; Lucy McCoy visits the sheriff in Jasperia at his office and they engage in a scene (It doesn’t have to involve spanking, but it could). After that scene (corner time not included) Lucy might decide to visit the train station (who doesn’t want to take a long trip, sitting on a hard wooden bench, after a good spanking?). Now let’s say she was at the sheriff’s office and heard the town clock chime high noon (cause low noon is only at the saloon) and when she gets to the train station she needs to buy a ticket for a trip on the 12:15 to Denver. That wouldn’t work too well unless she was leaving the sheriff’s office when the bell was chiming, now would it? The train station is two blocks away from the sheriff’s office and even though with a blur of my fingers, I can transport her from one location to the other, in reality (or my detailed fantasy, if you prefer) it would take her several minutes to walk across town. By the time she got to the train station, the 12:15 to Denver would already be boarding, if not pulling out of the station and heading on toward Denver.
Some people would say these kinds of details don’t matter and that it’s a waste of time to even think about them, but for me I have to figure these things out or I can find myself stalled in the process of writing. When scenes don’t mesh up with logical progressions I get hung up on the flaws. I’m sure some of you would get hung up on those flaws too and others, think those of us that do are simply crazy. Still, I think most of us can agree that a story with a clear and reasonably accurate progression of time is more enjoyable than one which seemingly violates the laws of the universe.
So, there you have it. This is why I draw maps. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that in drawing maps I also find scene ideas I might never have thought about otherwise. I mean look at Jasperia, imagine the stories that can be explored with Lucy visiting all these locations. What happens at the Bath House? Is she allowed to buy candy at the Candy Shop? What would she do for that pretty hat in the window? Will the school kids tease her on the way to dentist? How much money does she have and what will she do with it? What surprise might she get in the mail? To whom would she send a telegraph? What’s the big story in the paper? Who’s going to hang? Will Lucy get into the Town Hall for a meeting with the elders? And it goes on and on and on and, yes I know, you got the picture (not the one above, although I guess you got it too).


Paul said...

Ash. most decent authors that I know do something similar.
After all it's almost impossible to write a coherent story without a plan.
Sorry to hear about your health, I hope that things improve for you soon.
Love and warm hugs,

AL said...


Good job on the map and this story idea sounds interesting. Glad to see you taking a break too,everybody needs a break especially good writers. and you been putting a lot of good material up too nonstop for a while. Hope your get better soon.
looking forward to more stories to come.
AL :)

Ashley J said...

Paul, I won't say it's impossible (because I have done it once or twice) but it sure is a lot easier with a plan. Thanks.

Al, We'll see if the idea turns into something I can share or if it dwindles into obscurity. Thanks.