Something Happened

Something Happened

Joseph Heller (author of Catch 22) published Something Happened in 1974. I read Catch 22 shortly after leaving the military, so the theme and humor wasn’t lost on me. I thought Something Happened would be a good read too. It was a good read in a very strange way. I won’t spoil the books in case you haven’t read them.  Something Happened was–as Kurt Vonnegut Jr. called it–deeply unhappy.

something happened | Guy L. PaceBut, something did happen.

That’s the point of writing a story or novel, isn’t it? Something happened. You develop characters, settings, motivations. Then something happens.

Unlike Heller’s second novel, more than the thing happens in most of our writing and usually much earlier in the story. Short stories may have one or two things happen. Novels can have a lot of things happen. In all cases, though, there is one key thing that happens and that drives the story or plot.

In my current work in progress, the main character Amy is working and living in the community her friends, family, and neighbors built after the collapse of everything, “the Troubles.” She’s mentoring Paul’s little sister, dealing with jealousy, and working in a subsistence lifestyle. Then something happens. It isn’t the really big something happens, but it does lead to other things. She gets involved in dealing with that, and something else happens.

Gardening

Think of a writer as gardener. The gardener plants a seed. Between the soil, the moisture, nutrients, and the seed; something happens. The seed sprouts and emerges out of the ground. The writer nurtures this new life to see it grow, bloom, and produce fruit. The result depends in large part on what seed the gardener chose, what kind of soil, and if the plant got enough moisture. It also depends on the nurturing the writer pours into it.

What follows after something happens spins on your character(s). Characters react and respond in ways true to their nature and believable to the reader. That, then, takes your story to the next thing that happens. And so on.

In the end, the reader find the fruit. The reader knows that something happened.

Keep writing.

 

The Unknown

The Unknown

Unknown Road | Guy L. PaceYou probably heard of or read the poem by Robert Frost of “The Road Not Taken.” It is sweet poetry and one most of us heard in school. My take is a little different. Any road traveled leads to the unknown. You can never predict what you’ll find around the next curve, or down that little lane through the trees.

It’s the unpredictable, the unknown, that helps drive the story and develop the character. As the author, you should have some idea of what is going to happen in the story. There is a purpose and reason behind the writing, after all. Right? But, sometimes you must let things surprise even you.

In Sudden Mission and Nasty Leftovers, I allowed the story and the characters to surprise me as I wrote. As the characters moved through the United States in the first book, and Washington, D.C. in the second, I had an idea about what they would find or do in the end. But I didn’t have a complete, detailed plan for how the characters would get to that end, or what they would meet on the way.

One mantra I use as I write is “what could go wrong now?” That usually brings surprises.

Adventure

Turn down an unknown road, take a new route–that’s where the adventure begins. The unpredictable, the unknown awaits beyond that next curve. You’ll find it down that tree-lined lane, or over that next hill. The drive to seek adventure is part of what makes us human. Characters we create for our stories are no less prone to taking that unpredictable turn, or finding that tree-lined lane irresistible. They will roll on the throttle and charge into the twisting curves of a new road with the same enthusiasm we have in the same situation. They seek adventure with wild abandon.

When your character finds the adventure–that’s when the story gets interesting. That’s when you drag the reader kicking and screaming into a fight against a horde of zombies. Or, encounter aliens for the first time, and your character isn’t sure if they are friendly or not.

Not everyone is open to adventure. Some are afraid of the unknown. Sometimes, that is all thrust upon them anyway. That tree-lined lane holds terror and horror for them. But, they must go down that lane and they must face that horror. This is a trope you find in horror movies and novels. The young babysitter hears a noise at the door. She approaches and the audience or reader shouts, “Don’t open the door!” But it is in our nature to open that door. Take that new road. Charge ahead. We can’t help it.

Sweet dreams, and …

Keep writing.

 

Something Simple

Something Simple

Old Timer | Guy L. PaceThere are times the tool you need to save the world is something simple.

The Old Timer pocket knife given to the main character, Paul, in Sudden Mission didn’t play a huge role right away. That changed in Nasty Leftovers. I’m not going to give anything away here. The Old Timer is a simple story element. Why did I choose an Old Timer. Well, almost every adult male I knew growing up carried one of these little knives made by Schrade. Grandpa had one. He wore the blades down to almost nothing because he’d used them so much and sharpened them so many times. He finally bought a new one. Probably paid all of five dollars for it then.

They are small and fit in a pocket. Most of the ones I saw when I was young were two-blade folders like the picture here. Simple. Useful. Vital. Easy to carry and always in the pocket. If you needed a bit of twine cut, there it was. Need to trim your finger nails? Here you go. Want to whittle a bit on a stick or carve a buffalo head out of a chunk of cottonwood? Yep, you got it.

Fathers handed Old Timer pocket knives down to sons. Or, granddads to grandsons.

Now this is from my memories growing up in the western US. Your mileage may vary. But, when you find that item in either book, you now know where it came from and why it holds so much value. Something simple. But something that fulfilled a tremendous role in the story.

Save the World

Can you save the world with an Old Timer? Maybe. Maybe not. You might be able to build a civilization with one. Or save a life.

When you put your own story together, think about the simple things attached to the character or the action. What impact do they, or could they, have on the outcome? What impact might they have on the character and his or her development? Are the other characters in the story impressed by this simple thing? Something simple can feed the story’s crisis and conflict, or help the main character find the solution.

We often overlook the little things. The simple things.

In the case of the Old Timer, it was something simple Paul carried around with him. Until he needed it.

Keep writing.

 

Note: This isn’t on Tuesday because, well, life. It happens. Enjoy!

Doors

Doors

Doors to open | Guy L. PaceWhen one door opens …

We’ve all heard some version of that. Whether it is the doors closing or the doors opening, we see it as new opportunity or opportunity lost. From an observer’s perspective, though, the door is just a door and it is either open or closed. To the character it is a portal. The character can watch the door open or watch the door close. That can make a story pretty boring.

Or, the character can take control of their own destiny (especially in a story) and open or close the door. That’s what can bring a reader into the story. The reader can identify with the character and follow him or her into the portal to discover what is on the other side.

Waiting for a door to open or a door to close tends to make a story boring. Give the character the motivation and desire to open the door and pass through the portal.

You might want to make sure the character closes the door behind them. Or, maybe not. It depends on the kind of story you are writing.

The character opens a door and enters. He or she continues through and leaves the door open. What could possibly go wrong in that scenario?

Just a little food for thought this week.

Keep writing.

 

Can Christian SF&F be Good?

Can Christian SF&F be Good?

Well, can it?

Can Christian SF&F be Good? | Guy L. PaceI struggled with this for a long time. I tried to read some Christian science fiction and fantasy, and fiction, and some of it was … well … not so good. So, if you have an opinion that it isn’t good, you may have found some of the same work I did.

That is the reason I wrote Sudden Mission and Nasty Leftovers. I wrote something I wanted to read. Something different, fresh, exciting. As a result I also met a few other authors who are writing Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy (SF&F). And, what they write is good! Here are some of my favorites:

Tabitha Caplinger

Joshua McHenry Miller

Nadine Brandes

What sets these (and–I hope–my own work) apart from the rest? Story, mostly, and character. Christian fiction, including SF&F, shouldn’t vary that much from mainstream fiction at all. The only thing that should differentiate Christian fiction from mainstream is the characters. The characters, or the main character, is Christian and the story should center on that character’s struggle with faith. But, that isn’t all the story should address. The real world throws all kinds of situations, problems, and hassles at people. It doesn’t matter if they are Christian or otherwise. The whole point of the Christian part of science fiction and fantasy is how the characters deal with the same situations, problems, and hassles as their mainstream counterparts.

Challenges

In Sudden Mission, the main character (Paul) gets a mission to correct reality. This is a straight up “hero’s journey” with Paul as the reluctant hero–right out of Joseph Campbell’s concept. The mission challenges his faith and his willingness to obey God. As a friend recently said about the book: “You throw everything but the kitchen sink at him. And then you add the kitchen sink.” But, that’s what good stories do. Characters  must work toward a goal in spite of their flaws or limitations, and meet challenges for which they are not prepared. None of this is the sole domain of mainstream fiction or SF&F, and I know of no rule that says Christian fiction can’t go there.

Tabitha Caplinger’s The Chronicle of the Three series (the first two are out and available) throws her main characters–Christians who have varying levels of faith–to the wolves, er, demons. Each character has their faith, or lack thereof, challenged as they face the situations Tabitha so creatively pushes them into.

Nadine Brandes’ Out of Time series follows Parvin through both the life and death struggle to survive in a malevolent future dystopia, and her journey to understanding of Christian principles to help guide her life. Parvin faces characters who at first seem to be friends, but turn out otherwise, and makes mistakes that cost her much (I’m not going to spoil anything here).

Neither of these, or my books, hammer Holy Bible passages at the reader. That’s not what makes them Christian young adult or teen SF&F.

Joshua Miller’s book Tyrants and Traitors is a little different. The setting is ancient Israel. It is a retelling of the story of Saul and David (using different names) based on the Old Testament scripture in Samuel I and II. While this isn’t directly Christian, it is about faith, learning about God, and learning to serve God. The bonus in this one is Joshua gets you into the ancient culture, politics, and history, and it feels like you’re right in there. I understand more is coming. Soon, I hope.

Too Much

Some young adult or teen fiction you see in Christian book stores is a bit too sweet, not pushing the boundaries, no action, no adventure, and ends up with too much preaching. Some seem to have a Holy Bible verse on every page, or read like a long devotional. Teens and young adults want adventure, action, a little romance, and sometimes some scary, dangerous events.

Like the teens and young adults we write the stories and books for, the characters should have to deal with real issues from problems at school, problems with parents, bullies, growing up issues, sex and romance. If you don’t address these issues in Christian young adult and teen fiction and SF&F, those teens and young adults are going to read stories about those issues in other genres.

Granted, we, as Christian young adult/teen authors, use Bible references where appropriate. Of course we have to put a disclaimer in the front matter to provide attribution for the version and edition.

So, to answer the question: Yes. Christian SF&F can be good. Not just good, but great.

Keep writing.