Clouds but no storm

I think I’ve worked out why my storm chasing novel has stalled. It’s bugged me for ages because I’ve got all the characters and an outline of all the things I want to happen to them but when I sit down to write it I become disengaged really quickly and struggle to put anything down on paper.

And now I know what it is: in all my planning I’ve somehow managed to leave out all the character arcs. I’ve got all the outside events plotted out in a way that should rise to a very exciting climax but I don’t have any notes on how these events will affect my characters internally…you know…that really important part of a story that actually engages the reader.

Whoops.

Minor oversight there. Especially since from the start I’ve wanted to make this a character-driven story.

This is probably something that’s generally been missing from all my writing up to now. I tend to get so caught up in creating new and amazing worlds and exciting and terrifying events that I forget that all the emotion is still just inside my head. Not that it’s completely absent or anything. I just need to put a whole lot more work into bringing out my characters’ internal journeys to make my stories resonate better on a human level.

This means that I’m going to have to go back and write histories and life stories for all my storm chasing characters and fill in all the stuff that readers of the story won’t ever see but that I need in order to bring the internal worlds of my characters to life. Only then will my actual story be able to take off. Or, in meteorological terms, the atmosphere has enough moisture and wind shear for a severe storm, but the convectional lift is missing and the clouds just aren’t getting enough punch.

It’s surprising how much writing this story feels like trying to lift a couple of tons of air. The end result will be amazing, though.

Plenty of nice clouds but not enough for a storm.
Plenty of nice clouds but not enough for a storm.

Tense atmosphere

Storm season again in Brisbane has put me back onto my storm chasing story. Reading back over my planning, I’m actually really excited about this story. I feel that it will work really well. It has a lot of great elements that will, with enough work, go together to create a great narrative.

_DSC0571

I’ve been caught in a couple of the big storms recently and for this story I want to capture the tension of the season–of always having the weather hanging over your head, no matter what you are doing and where you are. I want to capture the reluctance to drive anywhere in the afternoon in case your car gets wrecked by hail; the drama and excitement of a severe storm impacting the city and totally disrupting routine and timetables; the nagging fear that you may not have a house to go home to at the end of the day.

Untitled_Panorama1

It’s one thing to chase storms but quite another, I’ve discovered, to watch a rotating updraft base form right over your house. That’s probably the best place for it, all things considered, because that means it’s unlikely to cause damage before it moves on. But the ominous swirling clouds, the deadly stillness on the ground, the oppressive heat and the faint hail roar are enough to trigger a very primitive awe and fear. And that sort of tension is gold for a story.

DSC_0004_00001

Steampunk Christmas Murder Mystery

_DSC0173

Lord Abraham Pennington-Smith has once again invited his family and friends to his annual Christmas party aboard the skyship Astral Ranger. Of course, this year might be a little…tense.

There’s a rumour that Lord Abraham is planning on revising his will. And there’s his recent acquisition–the most powerful focusing crystal in the world. And the fact that every one of his guests has a secret might also complicate things. But it’s sure to be a wonderfully festive event…

_DSC0258

My steampunk Christmas murder mystery party went better than I expected. We ended up with 9 players/characters–each with their own backgrounds, motivations, secrets and goals–aboard a drifting, sabotaged airship trying to solve the murder of a wealthy old man. Valuable game items were stolen and traded; secrets were uncovered; people were double-crossed and betrayed; the murderer accidentally fell to her death trying to escape at the end.*

What really surprised and pleased me (aside from everyone having a great time, obviously) was that the twist I tried to put in at the end even worked.

In case you’re wondering, the reason why I’m being so cagey with the details is that, at the end of the night, one of my friends suggested that I should publish the game. That was something that hadn’t occurred to me, despite the amount of work that I put into it. I was just doing it because it was fun.

Now, though, it seems like a great idea and I’ve added it to my list of projects. In some ways I think a game might be easier to finish than a full novel. A lot of the work is already done–I wrote almost 5,000 words just to make it playable. Now I just have to explain the mechanics so that anyone could pick it up and play, set up all the material that needs to be printed in a sensible format and commission an artist to make it look a bit more special.

_DSC0264

The game itself is designed to be very free-form. Players are given a character, some information about what’s happened, their relationship to several other characters and a list of personal goals. The host then reveals the situation and it’s basically up to the players to unroll the story from there. Not all of my characters were interested in finding the murderer; some were actively hindering the investigation and others were just out to create chaos for their own ends. It’s designed so that you could play it with different groups of people and get completely different experiences each time.

Once I’ve got a draft together, I’ll have to run it again (or get someone else to run it) to iron out any issues, sort of like a drafting process. By Christmas time next year, I plan to have a murder mystery game on the market. And that is a sentence I never imagined I would ever utter. It’s as exciting as it is unexpected.

_DSC0195

* In-game, of course. Only fictional characters died.

 

A literary photo

Stared with a look of distant horror,
A pale and broken, upright queen.

Framed by neat-bound, white-straw hair,
A young and absent, line-scratched face.

Haunted and watery jewel-bright eyes;
A blank and naked, all-seeing stare.

Looked at my face without a form;
A lost reflection.


A novel without a main character is…just…not. I’ve been struggling with this one for a year. I have a fantastic setting based on storm chasing but the pitiful main character I had was in danger of turning the whole thing into a B-movie disaster and that’s already been done.

Then, coming home on the train tonight, I realised I’d been staring my main character in the face for ten minutes without even seeing her. She had this amazing, haunted, beautiful expression. All I could see of her in the crowd was her reflection, and the scratched and clouded window probably went a long way to enhancing her appearance of ethereal grief. For all I know, she could have just been thinking about a broken photocopier or wondering what she had in the fridge for dinner. For me, though, her face and expression triggered the creation of a complex and fascinating character (I hope), strong enough to carry a novel and withstand a tornado.

This is a literary photo – an instant or image or feeling that connects with something inside, lights up like a supernova and blasts stories out into the galaxy.