Friday, October 27, 2006

The Prestige

Last Friday night, I did a rare thing for me: I saw a film with friends. THE PRESTIGE is about the lifelong rivalry between two performers, and how their obsession with the rivalry wrecks their lives. The costuming seemed perfect, Nikolai Tesla was a minor character (a plus in my view), the acting was excellent (which is to say, you weren't particularly conscious of it), and the dilemma resonated long after I left the theater. I gather it's based on a Chris Priest story, yet it's hard to imagine it -- with its focus on illusion -- as anything but a film. But that's the wonderful conundrum -- every film starts with a script, and every script starts with an idea. In the end, it's the convincing idea that shapes the whole.

-- Rachel Holmen

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Mulling over craft -- learning from stories that fail

I think that some of my first awareness of the craft of writing came from reading a Heinlein story about a failed labor union strike. Heinlein had no sympathy for unions; I, on the other hand, am the daughter of a man who ran the first non-crooked election in an Arizona hod-carriers union during his twenties.

At any rate, I read the story with some shock as Heinlein belittled his union-member character. As you might expect, I found the story unbelievable. But even more, I had suddenly seen the bones behind the skin of a story for perhaps the first time. Heinlein's opinions were clearly visible in his portrayal of his characters, and I was led to think about the author's purpose for selecting this particular set of incidents as the setting for the story.

So even when you read stories that fail -- or PARTICULARLY then -- look for the bones, and look for the structure of the story, the premises the author establishes, the way certain language has failed to carry the story that the author intended.

(Mind, this approach won't work if the story is completely muddled. But the failed attempts of masters such as Heinlein can teach a lot.)

-- Rachel Holmen

Monday, October 02, 2006

Sad September

The fantasy/science fiction world lost two noteworthy men this fall: Charles Grant, a publisher of fine-quality small press books, and -- far more painful to my heart, for although I admired Charles I must say I didn't feel I knew him -- Mike Ford, brilliant and funny, who never had major fame but wrote a lot of stuff I really liked. I never exactly had a crush on Mike, but that's sort of how I felt about him. He wasn't quite 50, but diabetics have a tendency not to last as long as we would like. The Nielsen-Haydens have some nice links on their blog to his work. Farewell, friend.

-- Rachel Holmen

In Media Res

(At least that's how I think you spell it.) It means, begin the story in the middle, at some really interesting point in the action. Then, once you have the reader hooked, fill in some of the background. Then move on to the story's dramatic -- or inevitable -- or wrenching -- or heartwarming -- conclusion.

It's an old technique, but tried and true.

Examine some of your favorite tales. Where does the story begin? When you find yourself relating a bit of the story to someone else, WHERE in the time sequence is the bit you relate?

-- Rachel Holmen