Sunday, March 19, 2006

My Queen

Writing seems sometimes like a combination of cribbage and chess, to follow a tangent Tanya ( see sidebar) sent me on by a comment.
Reminded me that genre conventions are set by the readers who like them - not the writers who write them.
(Writers sometimes operate under the tail>dog fallacy, which see, associated with cart>horse, egg>chicken variants and others.)
The siren call for "new! fresh! orginial" does not mean abandonment of stuff that works.
I like conventions.
I like to abuse them.
Something like real life, you follow selected conventions out of conviction, not just because they are there.
My Damie's an example.

(1) She has long unusual hair.
"Long flowing tresses" convention.
Check. 15/2.
Not just a primary physical differentiation from "raven locks, fiery curls, blonde waves," etc., though.
Not just to excite the heero's cojones.
Also supports the plot, facilitates suggestion of a semi-mythical personna, provides humor, etc.
A mild pawn.

(2) Her name: Damery Dionysia Tempest.
Capable of diminutive. Suggestion of passion. Ooh.
Check. 15/4.
Avoids the prevalent over-use of Rowan, Raven, Rhiannon, and - if you can believe one agent's complaint - Kate.
Small note: While agents may be tired of Kate and Catherine, considering the generational popularity of Kate and Catherine and variants, I doubt that readers are.
Name also advances a plot theme and is genealogically correct.
Another pawn in play.

(3) She's bee-u-tiful. Has a sexy figure. Nice T&A.
Standard convention. 15/6.
But the "lovliness convention" has produced a contra-convention, the "ugly duckling."
May cancel. No points this hand.

Writer rebellion.

(4) Age restriction convention.
She's in her forties.
Bucks the no-heroine-older-than-thirty convention, as well as the real life stereotype that all middle-aged women have sagging tits and fat asses - unless prevented by severe diet, gym membership or nip-and-tuck.
Not emphasised, however, by the conventional mirror-staring, birthday-oh-me-god-the-years angst or anything. Just there. Explains her composure, much more reasonably than if she were 20-something.
Knight advances.
Possible bad gambit.
There's still character and plot to check in this hand, without mentioning strip poker.

Do you check your writing against convention templates?


Carla said...

Not consciously. Conventions can be quite slippery things - didn't Rick make some good points about conventions versus archetypes?

Bernita said...

Rick usually does make good points, as you do on your blog posts about the subject.
I've found that after one finishes a story, one can be quite surprised how "conventional" some elements turn out to be.

Carla said...

That's probably narrative causality working.

Bernita said...

Sounds so much better than "follows the standard conventions."

Erik Ivan James said...

I don't think about "conventions" at all. I'm still naive enough in writing not to worry about them. I just describe the characters as I picture them in my mind. Probably a big mistake. Don't know yet.

Regarding Damie being in her 40's---I know several real life women in their 40's that would have turned me into jello back in my shining-times.

Bernita said...

Don't think it's something to consider until after, Erik, unless you're the type to formally outline plot and character beforehand.

And yes, I've known a number of women who retained all their assets.
One even had five children.

Erik Ivan James said...


I NEVER outline plot, characters, location, anything. I just write the stuff down as it comes out of my huge gut. Probably another big mistake. One day, hopefully not too far away, I'm gonna have to print it all out then get down on the floor and see if any of it fits together. So much I don't understand, so much to learn [sigh].

Ric said...

So which do you use? Do you go with the conventional or jump into something off the wall? The whole distintive name thing has me wondering if we're not shooting ourselves in the foot. Is it Rick or Rich, Ric or Ryk?
It seems an agent or editor would raise an eyebrow at Ryk.

which isn't to say that Damie doesn't work for me.

Gad, Bernita, why do you make me think so hard so early?

Bernita said...

Erik, there is no "right way."
Some people are improved by a stricter discipline; others, it stiffles. Gets them caught up in form over substance; method over material.
When you do print it out, and start fitting, you might find a number of themes to tweak and enhance, and discover approaches you do really well.Strengths.

I have general things, Ric, an idea of main character(s), good and bad, and bare plot elements (who, what, where,when, why); then, like Erik, I pick a point and spew. Scenes are not necessarily written chronologically but as they leap into the mind.
Lots of odd scraps of paper float around, with lines to improve something already written or ideas about something that isn't.
Find that other characters, twists, appear and gaggle aroung as I try to logically get A to B (how, and expand why).
I think that short story I wrote, La Belle Dame, was the first thing ever to begin at the beginning and go to the end. Even then I went back to flesh out stuff.But there, certain elements were already in place, so one didn't have to dither over them.

I like "Ric" as well as "Rick". Both good names.
"Ryk" would depend, I think, on the character.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Great topic.

In my corner of the field, an awful lot of the protagonists seem to start out 40ish. I've gone significantly younger.

The name thing is a tricky one, because many people complain about not knowing how to pronounce names. Ian Rankin's books are set in Scotland, his one female character is "Siobhan" and people in the US pronounce it wrong all the time. He started referencing people calling the character by the dreaded abbreviation "Shiv" to give the pronunciation cue.

I've been raked over the coals for the common names (apparently my group with Jack, Carly, Van, Tal isn't original enough) and had complaints from others over the god-awful names Lara and Tymen.

You can't please everyone.

So you do the best you can to make yourself happy first, your agent/publisher second, and then just deal with it.

At least, that's how I keep from stressing about it.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Sandra.
There, you've tweaked a convention in the other direction.

I guess no one told Lee Child that "Jack" doesn't fill the bill.

If Rankin's "Siobhan" carried a knife, they'd miss the point entirely.

Personally, I don't care for fancy male names, but I do like unusual female ones - as long as I haven't seen them five hundred times - or if thy're cutey-poo spellings.
The metro-sexual version of female names - using male associated names - may have run its course, too.

kmfrontain said...

I like to twist conventions, too. Actually, that was one of my main purposes writing my series. I took conventional fantasy and twisted the shit out of it. No purely straight relationships for anyone. No purely beautiful people. They had to have a flaw or a catch of some sort to go with the perfection, even if it was just being a bastard, or temporarily ugly. And the main character had to have a massive curse of a time because of beauty. Everything that's supposed to make life easier, is supposed to make it harder. The problems must expand, go exponential, almost cave the hero in, and in the meantime he has to keep on being a hero. Well, that's pure convention. But it's how bad I made it and for what reasons that makes it different from typical fantasy. And then of course, I ultimately chuck the fantasy and start inserting science. And of course, it's still not 'ok ok' to have sex in fantasy epics. Not really. That sort of shoved my work off into the erotica side of the scale. But then I didn't have sex after sex after sex after... Well, you get the point. It had too much plot, didn't do a pwp on it.

Erik! :-) I'm like you, write on the fly, no notes, just a general goal. If it works for you, don't change. I only write small notes on scraps of paper if there's a good line I thought of in the shower and don't want to forget it. If the story is big enough, and I do have to keep track, then I write little goals to remind me. But not at the beginning. Then it's just chuck in characters and give 'em hell.

And names. I read an advice from Orson Scott Card to never use names that sound similar, as in no same first letters, stuff like that. Well, I chucked that out. Rules can stifle too much sometimes. They can ruin a point. They can be ruined to make a point. Same with conventions. Ruined to make a point.

I've shown this little web address numerous times, but here it is again for you guys. All about fantasy convention. An absolute must if you want to ruin some of them, if any of you are at all into the genre. :-)

Rick said...

Bow and doff of cap for your kind words!

I plead cheerfully guilty - my protagonist has red hair and green eyes, and one major character even calls her Cat. (Should I email smelling salts to Agent Kristin?)

My justification is that the expectations of romantic fiction (in the broad sense) are different from those of realistic fiction, and a character like mine should have a striking appearance. The conventions versus archetypes thing.

Bernita said...

I think she was speaking mostly about YA, Rick, but your point is good. I agree with it anyway.
And that stricture on Kates/Catherines I thought was rather...well...short sighted, shall we say?

KM, thought what you've described ( conflict/flaws) is supposed to be one ( two actually) of the rules of good fiction.
I, of course, break them.

Dennie McDonald said...

At this point I think I have no clue as to what I write. I write as the story comes to me, I don't think about it too much - having said that, I read profusly in my particular genre so I am probably inclined to copy/follow style i.e. convention.

Don't know - I am in a mind tangle of WIP's right now - and second guessing every little thing - so - hmm...

Bernita said...

Good luck with that, Dennie. Point is, you know it works.

Gabriele C. said...

There are quite some clichés in the first draft of Kings and Rebels - or maybe, it's archetypes of historical fiction from the Illiad to Sir Walter Scott. I've got rid of some and tried to twist the others but I still have the shieldmaiden Ragnhild who refuses to put that sword away. And I can't see Alastair being interested in your average Stay At Home And Embroider Altar Cloths women - if he hadn't met Ragnhild he might have married one of these and sired a few children but the marriage would have been a lackluster affair.

Oh, and I have the obligatory Jewish physician. *grin*

Since I have developed into an outliner, I try to steer away from clichés in my Roman books though I think I still have some archetypes. Talorcan who almost destroys his own people in his revenge war might come close.

Also, my male MCs tend to be quite attractive. Why should I want to write about an unattractive hero with a sagging belly and a double chin?

And I so break Scott Card's naming rules.

Rick said...

What are Orson Scott Card's naming rules?

Savannah Jordan said...

"I like conventions.
I like to abuse them."

Hence the reason we get along so well! :)

Conventions be damned, I write what I want.