Thursday, February 24, 2022

Fear of the Unknown

I know, I know. I’ve been really bad about this lately. As some of you may be aware, it’s been a wild month for me. New book comes out next week, so I’ve been doing tons of promo stuff, some interviews, scheduling other promo stuff and interviews, and also—when I can—trying to work on my new book. The one everyone’s going to be asking about week after next.

Oh, and I also spent some time going up on the roof (twice!) trying to fix a tarp. That ate up a fair amount of time.


Also, random fun fact-- this is post #750 here on the ranty writing blog. Yay to all of us for sticking with it this long. Hopefully you’ve gotten something out of all these random rants and musings.

Also-also... holy crap this has been a stressful week. We’ve been dealing with some horrible stuff here in the states and as of last night a large chunk of Eastern Europe kind of spiraled into.. well, hell. So I completely get it if you’re not up to this right now. It might help get your mind off things, but it also might feel kind of frivolous, both me writing this and you reading it, and stress you out even more. I know why I’m here, but seriously-- if you need a minute to not look at a screen, to just close your eyes and listen to music or something... go for it. Take ten, take a few deep breath, put your favorite song on repeat. Take care of yourself, okay? You can’t do anything if you’re a wreck, so do what you need to keep yourself together.

Anyway...

I wanted to talk to you real quick about that unknown thing. You know the one I’m talking about. Yeah, that.

And fair warning, this is one of those posts inspired by a Saturday geekery movie.

So, hey, I was watching a Saturday geekery movie a few weekends back, and the actors, director, and even the writer didn’t know what the monsters were. From a production point of view, anyway. Y’see, it was pretty clear the movie was done very cheap and on the fly, without much of a script. It’s my educated guess that they just shot the movie and figured “well, when we’re in post we’ll see what the special effects house has for cheap models and CGI in some kind of monster then.”

The problem, of course was... well, they’re filming now. And the actors need to look at that spot on the driveway and pretend there’s something there. But they can’t say anything definitive because nobody knows what it’s going to be. Maybe dinosaurs. Maybe giant insects. Maybe dragons. Who knows. Again, we’ll figure it out later, right? For now, just... be vague. Act confused.

Which they did. A lot. And it got thin really fast. Because while it was unknown to them, filming the movie, the monsters were very clear and visible to us watching the finished movie. So nobody’s reactions made any sense, because nobody knew what they were reacting to. What it was doing, how big it was, nothing. People were looking past monsters, above monsters, at one point kind of uncomfortably at a monster’s crotch.

Plus, nobody’s dialogue made any sense because it was all about “those things” rather than what those things were. I mean... that’s a dinosaur. No question. Even if it’s secretly a giant robot or an alien, it looks exactly like a dinosaur and it’s kind of silly for nobody to say that. If anything, it makes the characters look really stupid.

Perhaps even more jarring, nobody ever talked about why these things were there. I mean, if you and I went outside and almost got killed by a dinosaur/giant spider/dragon and ran back inside (slamming the door behind us), it makes sense we’d be yelling “WTF was that?!?!” But after things calmed down a bit and we had time to talk... wouldn’t we wonder how there’s a dinosaur in the driveway? Maybe question where these giant spiders came from? That’d seem kind of natural, right?

But the characters couldn’t have these conversations because nobody actually knew what was in the driveway. A bat-winged demon with a spiked tail and a killbot with missile pods on its shoulders would spark two very different discussions. But we don’t know what it’s going to be, sooooooo... the characters need to talk about something else. And not the giant monsters outside. Maybe about how she hates her job. Or why they wish they hadn’t argued with their girlfriend this morning. Maybe a little monologue about faith or humanity's basic nature.


Anyway, have you figured out how this applies to writing in general?

It’s pretty common in fiction to have “unknown” elements. The faceless enemy. The mysterious figure. The unseen monster. Things that leave our characters confused and maybe angry and trying to figure out what the heck’s going on.

But... at some point they’re going to find out what that unknown element actually is. Either that, or we need to have a serious talk about it’s aggressively unknown state. And once it’s known, everything still has to make sense. The way Phoebe reacted in chapter four. Dot’s vague statements in chapter eight. How Wakko was killed in chapter fifteen. All of that’s going to line up and make sense with the now-known element, right? And, yeah, even if I want to keep things unknown to my readers (and maybe my characters, too) for the whole story, I still need to know what this unknown element is.

Y’see, Timmy, the world I’m creating needs rules. because my readers are going to sense if I’m just sort of winging it and saying “anything goes.” Doesn’t matter if it’s sci-fi or supernatural or ancient elder evil from the dawn of time—my story comes with an unwritten promise that all this makes sense. I’m not cheating you, there really is a logic to this. I might not directly tell it to you, but you should still feel it and see its affect on things.

So, yeah, I can use the unknown. But at the least, I need to know which unknown I’m using. because believe me... they’ll know.

Next time...


Crap, like I said above, there’s a lot happening between now and then. The Broken Room comes out next Tuesday, and if you’d like to pick up a copy in your preferred format, that’d be super cool. If you’re so interested, I’m also doing signings Wednesday at Mysterious Galaxy and Saturday at Dark Delicacies. You could pre-order from either of them, wherever you are, and get a personally-defaced copy shipped to your doorway. If you order from Mysterious Galaxy, you can watch me babble about the book online in real time.

Anyway, next time, I’d like to talk about making stuff up.

Until then, go write.

And seriously. Take ten. Take a few deep breaths. Drink some water. Listen to some music.

1 comment:

  1. Woot! Ordered up a defaced copy from Mysterious Galaxy. I've enjoyed your work from the PP days and honestly think each book has been better than the last. Greatly looking forward to reading this one. Thanks for writing it.

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