Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,

Arisia panel: Tell Me a Story (I Couldn't Tell Myself)

For some reason I find creative-writing-process panels fascinating, probably because all my writing abilities are so decidedly on the nonfiction side.


Authors sometimes say that they started writing because they were looking for a story to read that they couldn't find. What happens when you can't find the story elsewhere and you can't make it either? What fragments do you have sitting around, ideas you wish someone would write for you and plot bunnies that plain up and died on you? Have you ever found something you wanted in a story in other media?

Erik Amundsen (m), Greer Gilman, Sonya Taaffe, Trisha Wooldridge

Erik wanted this panel because most of the ideas he comes up with on own, go into trunk; stories that go somewhere tend to be ideas from someone else; so panel is about trying to cope with ideas can't use, using ideas you have

Trisha: writer, first novel out in December, similar experience to Erik

Sonya: writer, editor: came at panel from completely different direction, was thinking of it in terms of, see someone else working with idea that you have been working with for long time, what do you do? As far as angle by prior two people, engaged in ongoing project with brain where has incredibly vivid dreams and people always say "that would be a great story," managed to get two stories out of dreams so far, considered "victory over my brain because it gets all the plot and I don't"

Greer: two books that can't do thumbnail description of, elevator pitch for (Sonya: I can), then got something that thought was a neat idea ("Ben Jonson, private investigator"), so came to see if could talk self into more plot bunnies to follow down rabbit holes

Erik: found quote on Internet and hasn't been able to source, but someone talking about Tom Waits, every once and a while would get idea while driving and wouldn't be able to do anything about it until much later, so used to tell the song, go find someone else, go talk to Leonard Cohen [a thing changed by advent of tech, presumably!]; few weeks ago had dream, clearly wanted to be story, but written by a friend not him

Erik con't: so first question: most writers he knows, start writing because want to read something that no-one else is writing: what is something you want to read but haven't been able to write?

Greer: brand-new contemporary Jacobean revenge tragedies (has trouble writing drama; no-one's going to stage)

Trisha: friend started romance line, appreciate genre but can't write it, has bunny in head for series, "Cowboys and Fairies" (so many Scots, Irish moved West), but every time tries ends up with non-romance plot

Sonya: things with trees. Has two elemental touchstones: (1) sea, which can write about and does a lot; (2) forest, which can't write at all. Has to look elsewhere (examples, which I missed, except for anti-example of movie _Avatar_ because terrible ecosystem)

panelists decide they should have a gauntlet for each other: Sonya is to write about trees

Erik: Q: ever successfully written a story that was not probably addressed to you?

Trisha: friend had a dream and after heard about it, wrote it into poem; haven't come to agreement with friend yet about what to do about it re: publication

Greer: strange dream with post-apocalyptic imagery, dreamed as a film that another friend had made (though not filmmaker, would have been her kind of film), turned out to be "Down the Wall" (and then became non-canonical after second novel)

Sonya: gets fairly high proportion of poems that were clearly intended for someone else (dream that was clearly a [name didn't catch] story, all his obsessions, just ended up in my brain)

Erik: Q: so how to do you approach?

Sonya: makes self much more unsure done it properly, or have I just pastiched my idea of what they read like; since usually happens re: people knows, can get instant feedback, at least, if beautiful or puzzling;, mostly cares about whether that person is going to like it ("don't appropriate other people's brains")

Erik: are there people you go to for inspiration?

Trisha: co-writes with (name?), can finish sentences in fiction but co-write in distinct single voice that is not either of own; each got idea to rework Peter Pan, was nervous about telling friend because friend had idea first, but friend thrilled because entirely different takes, can share research and conversation and each is being better for it

Greer: sometimes things are just in air, who would have thought two movies in one year about (something) fairies [I have no idea what this is]

Sonya: this is like the "where do you get your ideas" question; a lot of things that turn into active stories/poems, are things that not looking for, come from conversation or things seen online (someone posted picture of bike covered with volcanic ash, "look, I made you a bike!", found self writing flash about slightly-stalkery volcano [sounds very Night Vale, though says not funny]) (more information); influenced a lot by music while writing; don't usually pull books off shelf for inspiration, that's "fuck, I need to do research!"

Greer: Internet so changed things, many fewer ideas used to be available in the middle of the night, back when getting things a book with due deadline at a time

Sonya: most of primary drive for writing is "there's a thing in my head, I have to get it out"

Greer: if writing long fiction and very slowly, like her, then idea has to live in head for a long time and put down infrastructure, can't move out (thrown gauntlet: write short! 8k words)

Sonya: was trying to write story about Mad Sweeney (Irish medieval king, basically cursed with panic attacks in which turns into bird and can't touch ground (Wikipedia)) in city, liked her Sweeney but couldn't figure out what her observer-protagonist was doing; three days ago, read a story about woman who is artist living in NYC, and started seeing Sweeney, because she was very badly agoraphobic so on same wavelength, not story would have written but it worked and was out there, yay!

Erik: that happen to anyone else? For instance, accidentally did to self recently: wrote one story, currently unpublished, then wrote another that thought was completely different until went back and looked and discovered was actually mirror image of prior (the second sold)

Trisha: along those lines, tried for two months to write story but couldn't, needed to be a poem (and has happened the other way around)

Greer: thinking of things that have already been written by other people and now can't do them: girl geniuses and time, darn you Tom Stoppard for writing _Arcadia_

thrown gauntlet: write that and have it not turn into Arcadia, 8K words

(hands are hurting, slowing down and summarizing more)

Sonya: first story ever regarded as an actual story rather than words on page, thinks not very good now but very proud at time; year later, story got collected that was also about same premise but didn't lead to same place, was upset at time, but happy to realize later that later story was actually good

Sonya: question: ever seen someone tell story you were working on telling and think they completely bollixed it up?

Erik: yes but can't remember details! at age eleven decided to become writer because convinced could do better than some bad fantasy series

I mention Abigail Nussbaum's blog post about Sherlock's third season (SPOILERS for season): regarding the first episode, she writes, "My first reaction when I watched the episode--which in general I think vies with 'The Blind Banker' and 'The Hounds of Baskerville' for the title of Sherlock's very worst installment--was 'I've read this fanfic, and I liked it better then.'"

Sonya: entire feeling about Star Wars prequels; made parents sad, but knew that fan speculation had to have been better, couldn't prove it, then found _Adventures of Dark Vader_, not very good but had backstory that was better than Lucas's, so thank you unknown person on the Internet! (I haven't turned up anything obviously a prequel with that title, but one with the title of "Adventures of Darth Vader" (I may have misheard) turns up high in Google and may include backstory?)

audience: does it ever happen that there are ideas that need to be in world but you discover you're not the person to do it?

Erik: every time I got to a panel that is "what we would like to see more of", come out having at least three ideas, and then . . .

Greer: need orphanage, hiring fair

Sonya: plot bunny free to good home (look at these lop ears and iridescent scales)

Trisha: tried giving away idea to writers' group, but they kept pestering about it and eventually wrote it as a novel

Sonya: what makes it something you want to write but can't? could be: amount of research; do not belong to this demographic and panic attack about Internet jumping on me (incidentally: not a good reason)

Greer: can't do screwball; if you don't have comedy timing, can you learn it?

Trisha: tried romance so many times, can't

audience (who is probably reading this and can take credit if they want!): what about when someone comes up to you with idea that they really want you to write and you can't (particularly: relatives)

panelists generally sympathize at difficulty of responding

Sonya: this is a social guidelines question, how to politely disengage without saying "that's stupid" -- "oh, I couldn't possibly do it justice, I want to hear what _you_ would say"

audience: re: homages, style: describes fanfic exchanges to prompts

Greer, deliberately: "sometimes it's just better if someone else does it for you"

audience con't: if you're too in love with your plot bunny, may be unable to write

audience: re: relatives etc. demanding write their idea: tell them that they have to write you the outline first!

audience: ever had an idea, resulting story is good but not _that_ story, keep doing over and over again

Erik: yes, turns out wasn't story at all but a situation, wrote as tabletop game

Greer: genre or medium switch sometimes what's needed

Sonya: completed stories that just don't work, sad, entirely different conversation, "story autopsy" panel

Greer: like Dutch still life painting of dead bunny

Sonya: dead plot bunny

Sonya: trying to teach self to write recurring characters, led to very stillborn story, been trying to give life to for 7 years; want autopsy, what's wrong with it, not someone else to write

(Trisha draws sad-eyed plot bunny)

audience: ever found when reading specific genre that afterward, able to write with same voice

Sonya: yes, which is of very variable utility, e.g., _Ulysses_

Greer: you mean you're not doing the James Joyce paranormal romance?!

Sonya: that gauntlet is Hark a Vagrant; most use for this is in historical fiction, which finds very difficult, to get voices

(Trisha draws dead plot bunny)

Sonya: do other people find language contagious?

Trisha: husband, major beta reader, tells her don't have own voice (can pick up Gaiman book and always know)

Sonya: have polyphony of voices

Trisha: also mimics accents without realizing it too

Greer: can be a problem, know you're doing bad TV version of accent

Sonya: try to figure out why sticking with you, what can you learn about and use in your own voice

Greer: obsessed with historical periods, language has to be recognizably modern but still based in those periods; but become her style, so difficult if decides to do something else

(digression into crew socks as gauntlets)

audience (who is also probably reading this and can take credit if they want!): difference between idea that know immediately can't write, that try 10 times and nope, that in 10 years I could do this justice; do you know immediately or just find by trying?

Erik: has idea that's already 3-4 years old and starting to worry about it (thought would be okay in 5-10) and doesn't know what needs to be able to write it

Sonya: tends to start writing and then find that amount of research would be demoralizing and write poem instead, gives example about alt-history fantasy which I did not summarize because sleepy and hands, but giant looming problem of not erasing cultures & histories on North American continent (but has to start writing first, to see giant blank expanses)

Trisha: works on 5+ projects at time, so often goes back to comatose / dead plot bunnies, even if can't revive may get unstuck on something else (but when discusses them with friends, offers for adoption--or maybe shared custody, I guess?)

Greer: in for long haul, just keeps banging head on wall until wall breaks

audience: re: Trisha's "Cowboys and Fairies", one way to do it write universe so someone else can write romance stories in it

audience: what about when don't know what comes next, get lost on way to Point B?

Trisha: work on something else, change medium

Greer: talk to someone

Sonya: try to figure out why it died; may have been for completely good reasons; write other things, no self-loathing spiral

Erik: even if you've never worked in another medium, try it anyway

Trisha: even if shift to other medium doesn't work, may unstick

(Sonya draws plot bunny with lightning bolts, may have been resurrected but looks anxious)

And here is the picture of the various plot bunnies I took with my tablet, which does not have a great camera but is better than nothing:

[Image: three ink drawings of bunnies, one big-eyed and sad, labeled "abandoned plot bunny"; one lying on its side, ears and legs out, labeled "dead plot bunny"; one with wide eyes and pointed ears, with lightning bolts around it, labeled "plotbunny resurrected? (it's not quite sure)"]

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Tags: cons: arisia: 2014, writing

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