Friday, May 27, 2016

Mental Can Openers & Writer's Hash ~ It's Like Magic

Today we learn about magic...a very special kind. 
Brad may not call it brain magic, but I do. 
Take it away, Brad.   

I often remind people, "ideas are easy." By that I mean it's easy to suggest changes and solutions but a lot harder to implement them. The same is true for books, especially in the planning stage.

I ran into this with my current fantasy novel. Fantasy thrives on innovation. So, with every scene I ask, "Is it boring or predictable?" "Could it be conveyed with a fresh twist?" While I work for excitement, too many innovations can lead to trouble.

Let me illustrate. Tom Clancy's first novel, Hunt for Red October, was a huge success. It featured a Russian submarine equipped with new technology. But the Russian captain wants to defect. He has to outsmart a fellow Russian sub chasing him, while trying to let his American counterpart know what he intends.

Now what if Tom had wanted to add to the tension and excitement by having an actual war confrontation (rather than potential) between Russia and America? What if the hunt for the defecting Russian submarine had to be conducted while major fleets clash hundreds of feet above on the Atlantic's surface? Could Tom weave the Red October's reactor allegedly going critical so it would impact that surface battle? Wouldn't this add to the tension, drama, and scope of the book? It's tempting.

But it would amount to combining his second book, Red Storm Rising, with Hunt for Red October. Would the combined books be better? Or would the whole thing collapse in a morass of too much, too complex, too hard to follow? Not to mention difficult to plot.

Though we don't have a combined book for comparison, no one questions that Tom Clancy did it right. Two separate books.

Or what if J.K. Rowling had tried to combine the first two Harry Potter books? The current Voldemort seeking the Sorcerer's Stone while Tom Riddle (Voldemort as a Hogwarts student) lives in a diary and sets loose the Basilisk? Again, too much.

I can see it now, but like a dwarf stumbling into a micro-brewery with an empty beer stein, I had gone thrill happy. I added challenges, magic, relationships, puzzles, and villains like Congress adds pork to a spending bill. Soon, even I was lost in the maze.

Six months later, a 'hung over', bleary-eyed, writer realized his hero's climax had to include challenging a sheriff, outwitting goblin assassins, defeating a witch using new-found magic, saving the head chandler, and earning a home by solving six puzzles. It finally dawned on me, I might have overdone it a bit. And would you believe my first reaction was to consider what I might add to fix it? Ha!

When I went to divide the various portions of my original story, it fell into two halves like oil separating from vinegar. I had two themes, two act one turning points, two climaxes. Weeks of re-writing. What a mess, huh?

Then it occurred to me. Voila! Like the magic I write about, a sequel had appeared!

Stay tuned. Brad always has something ... interesting to say.  
I love having him as a blog guest.   ~L.A. 


  1. Thank you L.A. I appreciate the opportunity to share with your audience, both the excitement of success and the mistakes that make for growing skills.

  2. Brad, I love how your mind works. It's spooky at times, but never dull, LOL! Can't wait to see hhow your brainchild becomes a trilogy.

    Thanks for making me laugh!

    1. Thanks Audra. I was always fascinated by those who could think outside the box. I look forward to our next meeting and lunch.

  3. Brad, I like the way you used Tom Clancy's work as an example. Made it very clear. Cheers

    1. Thanks. I hoped people could either relate to Clancy or Rowling. There's always so much emphasis on being fresh, creative, original, that we can forget too much is not a good thing?

  4. Brad -- I had a similar issue way back when (and no, I won't say how many years ago) when I was plotting the story of three sisters. It was going to be one very, very long book with the three stories entwined. When I told my agent about it, her reaction was immediate -- three books, not one.

  5. A trilogy. And three sisters would make an interesting study in Romance -- how each were the same, how each were unique. Agents get to see the world more from 20,000 feet, so things see that forest while I wrestle with a tree.