Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Feedback (Not the Rush Covers Album)

So I went into the workshop Monday with a fantasy story that was barely more than a rough draft. I felt like, in places, the writing was a little better than my average rough draft, but it still left a lot to be desired. I also knew there were major issues like places where I'd summarized instead of writing scenes just because I was on a deadline and in a hurry. Then there were the places where I'd forgotten to include information and written inconsistent information. Sometimes my rough drafts are little more than brainstorming sessions where I throw ideas against a wall and see what sticks, and I don't always go back and correct earlier sections with the new information. I figure I'll make sense out of this mess during revision. Unfortunately, this time all I had time to do was go back and try to fix the worst of the inconsistent information, and maybe spare the class the three different names for the village in which the story is set and the two different names for one of the major characters. I was finishing this up on Sunday about 6:00 p.m., and if I didn't get it posted in time to give my classmates Sunday evening to read it, I would basically derail everything.

My disappointment in not being able to at least edit the word choice and grammar mingled with my normal anxiety when I'm going to be the center of attention in class (see my worries about my exercise facilitation). By class time on Monday, I was too insecure about this particular draft to do a reading. I was afraid if I tried to read, I would spot some bad writing every few seconds, and my reading would would go something like this: "Lorem ipsem--D'oh!--e pluribus unum--Gah!--que sera sera--Dammit!" Basically, it would sound like Tourette's Syndrome Theater Presents: Dramatic Readings of Amateur Fiction

Fortunately, at this point in my life, I've advanced past the point where I can differentiate my writing from my own ego, so I was able to smile and nod as the critiques came in:

"Too much summarizing" (Fair)
"Love interest isn't well-developed enough for the main character to accidentally kill his whole village over her" (Totally fair)
"Main character doesn't have much of a reaction to killing off his village" (Yep, I was really in a hurry writing that last scene)
"All the magic's in the last half" (Yeah, definitely dropped the ball on that, given that one character uses magic in his everyday life)
Etc., etc., etc.

However, I did get a few ideas I had never thought of. Most notably, there was the idea that the content of this story, fully realized, would be the first few chapters of a novel, not just the opening chapter or the first of a series of linked stories. Now that I think about that, I can completely see it.

The written feedback was also helpful. Just tonight, I started going through all the questions about the plot and the setting that my classmates came up with and writing answers down. This gave me the opportunity to do some more detailed world building than I'd even done before. In particular, I was able to sit down and really examine the magic system. The world in which this story is set was originally supposed to be a D&D setting, but since I'm using it for fiction first, I decided that I should go down the list of D&D conventions (I'm talking pre-4e, BTW) and decide which ones I want to keep.

When it comes to magic, the first major tropes to go were
  • "Fire and forget" Vancian magic. This system was added to D&D for game mechanical reasons and isn't found in non-D&D fiction outside of Jack Vance.
  • The planes as a source of magic power. I guess this one isn't a standard D&D trope, but I had originally had a system where my spellcasters got their powers from different planes. I decided that talking about things like the Ethereal Plane in non-D&D fiction, even though WotC doesn't claim to own any intellectual property in them, would be a little like talking about dilithium crystals in any sci-fi setting other than the Star Trek universe.
Having started to slough off the conventions foisted on the original setting by archaic game design, I'm now liberated to think about things in terms of what makes a compelling fictional universe and what works for the kind of stories I want to take place in this world. The only problem is that, once this class is over, there are still going to be at least a couple of other projects ahead of this one.

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