To Talk or Not to Talk?

News Flash: The anthology Fantasy for Good was officially released yesterday.  In addition to my short story “Knight’s Errand,” it features a wide variety of both reprint and original stories.  All — and I mean every penny — earned by the anthology goes to the Colon Cancer Alliance.

At a loss for what to buy someone for Christmas? Consider doing good on many levels.  Your gift recipient will get a great book and you’ll help raise money to find a cure for colon cancer, a disease which robbed our field of both Jay Lake and Roger Zelazny.  Seriously…  What’s not to like?

And now, back to our regularly scheduled Wander…

Right now – well, not exactly “right now” because I’m writing this – I’m working on a short story to submit to the Shadows and Reflections anthology in honor of Roger Zelazny.

Storming the Brain

Storming the Brain

The deadline is the end of the year.  This sounded comfortably far off until it suddenly wasn’t far off at all, especially since my mom is coming for Christmas (yay!) and I plan to spend her visit with her and Jim, cooking a wide variety of good things and talking, not hidden in my office struggling to meet a deadline.

(There’s also the possibility that my kitchen is going to get torn up right before Christmas, just to add to the chaos factor.)

So last week I put all my other projects on the side and turned my attention to the projected story.   I wanted to set story in one of the two universes that Roger invited me to share with him: that of Donnerjack or that of Lord DemonLord Demon won because it would also give me a chance to play around with Chinese material again – something I haven’t had a chance to do since I concluded Five Odd Honors some years ago.

As those of you who read my Friday Fragments may have noticed, I re-read Lord Demon a couple of months back, rather surprising myself when I realized that enough time had gone by that I could read the novel without remembering writing it.  It’s a very odd experience to find yourself getting lost in a story you helped to write, but one I completely enjoyed.

While I was planning for this story, I was also getting Wanderings on Writing ready for press.  (In case you were on another planet and missed my happy dance and songs of joy, it’s now available as both an e-book and a POD.)   And I started re-reading my short fiction for the collection you folks requested.  Then the proofs for Artemis Invaded came in…  Suddenly, it was late November and my self-imposed somewhat before the end of the year deadline was looming.  I resolved to shift my priorities.

I started last week by re-reading the notes I’d written to myself when re-reading Lord Demon.   During the last week in November, I read Lafcadio Hearn’s book Some Chinese Ghosts.  This gave me some interesting ideas.  I decided that I wanted to set this story in Kai Wren’s past – before he became known as Godslayer and Lord Demon.  I did some calculations and worked out when this would be on the timeline of Chinese history, so I wouldn’t stumble into anachronism.

By last Wednesday afternoon, I felt as if I had a jigsaw puzzle spread out before me.  However, some mischievous imp had stolen the box, so I had no idea if I had all the pieces or even what the picture was.  That there was a picture, I felt certain.

I was sitting on the sofa, eyes half-shut, when Jim (who was at home that day) quit work and came out to join me.

“Everything okay?”

“I guess, I think… I can’t seem to get the story started.  I feel as if I’m missing some little bit that’s going to make it all fall into place but…”

“Want to talk about it?”

I almost said, “No, thanks,” since most of the time I find it best to keep my ideas under wraps until the words start flowing on the page (or computer screen).  This time, probably because I’d been fussing with various elements for months, I decided talking couldn’t hurt.  At the very least, I’d find out if Jim thought I needed to research some more.

So I started talking.

Have you ever tried to tell someone about a dream and found yourself unconsciously linking various elements, even though those elements weren’t actually linked in the dream?  Dreams were the first stories I ever told, my audience being my younger sister, Ann, who never seemed to tire of these twisted, inconclusive tales.

I had a similar sensation as I started talking to Jim.  When the cascade of words ended, he nodded enthusiastically, “I like it.  I think you should go with it.”

“Really?”  I considered for a moment.  “I think that helped.  Some of the things I said to you – I hadn’t thought about them that way.”

So the next morning, I started writing.  I got more down on Friday.  As word count goes, my production wasn’t anything to brag about, but it was a start.  Over the weekend, I considered where to go next and came up with a solution for…  Well, I won’t go into details.  I wouldn’t like the ideas to lose their freshness.

To talk or not to talk about an idea – whether for a short story, a novel, or any other creative venture – is a perennial question among writers.  Some swear by these “brainstorming” or “plot-busting” sessions, saying that the combined energy of the participants adds to the writer’s enthusiasm for the project.  Others tell cautionary tales about how talking too much can denature a story, robbing it of its freshness, sometimes to the point that the writer no longer feels any desire to write the piece – after all, the story has been told, worked out to the finest detail, so why bother?

I’m curious as to what you think.  Usually, I’d come down firmly on the “Don’t talk the idea to death” side, but my recent experience reminded me of the value of giving an idea – especially one that is hesitating to take shape – at least a little outing.

Thoughts?

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9 Responses to “To Talk or Not to Talk?”

  1. Heteromeles Says:

    Sounds like fun. Since I’ve got a section of a story I’m working on that’s sort of set in ancient China (and by ancient, I’m talking Shang to Qin), if you need some background stuff, I have some references on my shelves.

    One thing that struck me about the ancient Chinese was how much the aristocracy was into archery both for war and for determining status. Confucius worked as an archery instructor at one point in his life. My assumption, that modern Chinese martial arts and culture were ageless, turned out to be not accurate at all.

    That’s one of the neatest things about writing these kinds of stories. Who knows what you’ll find?

  2. Debbie Says:

    I understand both sides. However, coming out of television where everything is done by committee, I do like to talk story, especially with Paul. I find that sometimes I make assumptions that I don’t realize I’ve made. Talking out the story brings those to light so that I can either change them or build on them, whatever best fits the story. A simple example. Paul might say to me: “Why is she a police officer? Wouldn’t it fit the story better if she were a fireman?” Something this simply can break a story wide open for me.

  3. Paul Dellinger Says:

    My modus operandi is usually to go it by myself, at least until the piece is finished. But then I don’t have someone as receptive as Jim to bounce ideas off.

  4. Chad Merkley Says:

    Is that a wooden marquetry clipboard in the picture? If so, I think I’ve suddenly developed clipboard envy.

    • janelindskold Says:

      Yes, it is. I bought it when I lived in Virginia, carried it to hold my notes when I was teaching college, and, not so incidentally, wrote quite a lot of fiction on it. It remains on of my favorite writing tools.

  5. Tori Says:

    I don’t think I could ever come up with a good story /without/ talking it out. But that may be because I am not a natural storyteller by any means.

  6. Nicholas Wells Says:

    I’m somewhere in the middle. When I’m really stuck on something, I go directly to my mom and talk it out. She’s my sounding board, and sometimes all she has to do is sit there and listen, no feedback required. The act of talking it out makes me look at it another way that always breaks through the block.

    Outside that however, I’m in the camp of keep things tight. Few details, limited conversation. Some of it is just that the idea can change. That sci-fi that’s ever simmering on my writing stove features an alien race that’s been tweak, modified, and drastically changed several times. The plot has also undergone some significant changes. So the story I talked about last month may no longer exist. Otherwise, I’m just protective. I don’t want the ideas to get out too much before the final version.

    I would say, find 1-3 people you trust, that don’t mind going with the changing flow, that you can talk through blocks with. Otherwise, teasers only. Little-to-no details.

    • janelindskold Says:

      You and I run roughly parallel, I think.

      Sadly, “protective” cannot be overlooked. I know one friendship that has not recovered from the strain of one person feeling that another stole an idea.

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